Thursday, July 18th, 2024
A Century Of Stories: Conversation With One Of Rockdale House’s Oldest Residents

A Century Of Stories: Conversation With One Of Rockdale House’s Oldest Residents


Reaching 100 years of age is a rare and glorious milestone. In 2022, only 0.03% of the UK population was made up of centenarians.

Extraordinarily, Rockdale’s Senior Living Village is a place which SIX centenarians call home. 600 years of life – can you imagine the ways they’ve seen the world change and their stories that have unfolded over the century?

Last week, we had the opportunity to sit down with Claire, who joined the 100 club in March, at Rockdale House Care Home in Sevenoaks.


Claire, rockdale house resident



What’s the secret to such a long life?

Naturally, this was our first question for Claire. We’d already been struck by Claire’s sweet disposition, her constant smile and how she views everything around her with such positivity. It didn’t surprise us that her response was fitting:

“You just keep going for as long as you can. You get up in the morning and you need to be organised – don’t rush things.”

We think we’d all do well to take note of this, slowing ourselves down and taking in everything around us. As Claire says, “it’s all part of life’s journey.”


Claire, aged 18


Women of World War II

Born on 6th March 1924 in Cheadle Hulme, a village just outside of Manchester, Claire was the eldest of three children.

This month, the nation commemorated the 80-year anniversary of D-Day, the Normandy landings. “That takes me back” Claire remembers.

World War II broke out when Claire was just 15 years old and still in school. She recalls her family taking in the evacuees coming out of London and her father working as an air raid warden.

Once old enough, Claire took a break from her studies to join the war effort and work as a Wren’ – a.k.a. WRNS (Women’s Royal Naval Service).


At primary school (bottom centre)



Family and the fifties – why this was the best decade

You often hear the fifties hailed as part of the Golden Age, and it certainly was for Claire who declared the 1950s to be her favourite decade. She says, “Everything was emerging again after the war and things were improving.”

It seems that the 1950s were all about family for Claire – it was in the 50s (1955, to be precise) that Claire married the love of her life, Geoff Haworth Smith (a French teacher and later headmaster), in a quaint church in Prestbury.

Geoff and Claire had known each other since childhood and their families were close.

The newlyweds honeymooned in Ireland and soon after, started a family in Bromley. Together they had 3 children (as well as 2 dogs and 5 cats over the years!).

They moved to Sevenoaks in 1974 and sadly, Geoff passed away in 1995.

To date, Claire has 5 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren.



“Music can change the world” – Beethoven

Throughout our conversation, there was one topic that Claire kept returning to: music.

It’s clear that music has played a huge role in Claire’s life. She’s had a lifelong love affair with the piano, having learned the instrument from a young age. In fact, Claire still plays the piano to this day at Rockdale. Most incredibly, after donating her books to Sevenoaks Bookshop, Claire plays from memory!

Claire studied music and movement as soon as she left school. She continued to study AND teach at various institutions all over the country, from Cheshire, to Hampshire.

Her elder son, Jonathan, shared with us that Claire ran a playgroup in Chipstead for several years, played the organ in Otford Catholic church and played the piano for several ‘music and movement’ groups.  One such group was in the Vera Robinson School of Dancing in Sevenoaks (coincidently this school was established in 1950s!). Claire played there into her nineties.

“Be happy doing what you do” were Claire’s wise words to us.



Celebrating 100 years

In her lifetime, Claire has seen 5 monarchs reign on the British Throne, 20 Prime Ministers in the Houses of Parliament, a world war, a moon landing, England winning the World Cup and so much more.

She remembers strawberry picking in summers and visiting London Zoo and Leeds Castle with her grandchildren in the 1990s, being taken to ‘Sleeping Beauty’ at the Royal Ballet for her 80th birthday in 2004 and visiting the Handel museum in London with her daughter Anabel in 2008 and being allowed to play the harpsichord there!

This milestone could NOT pass unnoticed.

Claire’s family and loved ones threw her a shindig worthy of her 100 years and gifted her a beautifully put together book filled with a century’s worth of memories. From photos to paperwork, Claire’s life immortalised.
And of course, she received a very special card from King Charles III too.


100th birthday party with a very special card from His Majesty



Colouring books, casseroles and cake – Claire’s life at Rockdale

Claire seems as fulfilled with her life at Rockdale House Care Home as she has done throughout her 100 years.

As well as playing her beloved piano, Claire also enjoys watching André Rieu and the Johann Strauss Orchestra on TV and the endless supply of cakes at Rockdale! She takes part in a monthly percussion music workshop, is often seen scribbling in her very mindful colouring book and loves when casserole is on the menu for dinner.

Gesturing out of the window at the well-kept gardens around Rockdale House, Claire smiles as she says, “look at this lovely nature all around here.”  A big fan of the outdoors, Claire’s family often visit and take her for days out around Kent and Sussex.

It’s apparent that Claire’s life is still so rich with family, joy and music. And this could be the secret to a life well-lived.


In Sainsburys Otford at 98 in 2022


Get in touch with Rockdale 

Rockdale Lodge
Rockdale Road
TN13 1JT

01732 458762

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Learn more about fundraising and donations here.


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