Pat Ashworth talks to Annie Hall who was sworn in as High Sheriffon 6th April.
SPRING is arriving in Ashford-in-the-Water and the view from Annie Hall’s living-room window is of a rural idyll, as English as they come. The house, built into a former quarry, stands high above the road and the windows look out beyond the meadows and winding river to the green and gentle slopes beyond.
It’s a little like sitting in an observatory, but there’s not going to be a great deal of time for that in the coming year. Not that Annie has done much sitting around in her life so far, to be honest: born and brought up near Wincanton on the Somerset-Dorset border, where her parents were both involved in the family business. She went to local Catholic schools from the age of five and diplomatically describes her secondary school, St Antony’s Leweston, as a place where scholastic excellence was not important.
‘I remember going back some years later and saying to one of my former teachers, “You know, I don’t think the education was really that good.” And she said, “No, my dear. Leweston aimed to turn out charming young ladies who married well.” I don’t think anyone ever told my parents that. But it was a nice education and a beautiful setting.’
She embarked on training to be a psychiatric nurse at Herrison Hospital near Dorchester. ‘It had originally been the county asylum and still retained many of its features including its own farm,’ she reflects. ‘A number of patients had been there for years, mostly for illnesses that nowadays do not require hospitalisation. Thankfully it has long closed but working there gave me an insight and a lifelong interest into mental illness.’
Marriage and a subsequent move to Bedfordshire meant she didn’t complete her training, although it has informed much of what she has been involved with in latter years. The newly married couple decided to start their own business. ‘My husband had an entrepreneurial boss, what used to be called a self-made man,’ she remembers. ‘With all the arrogance of a 21-year-old, I looked at the large house his family lived in set in several acres with the Bentley and the Jensen on the drive and not a book in the house, and thought making money couldn’t be that difficult.’
They came to Derbyshire, ‘with no money, no business qualifications and frankly, no plan. But I had married someone who was an entrepreneur and I always say my role was the sweeper. He would have the idea and I would look at it to see if it would work – it couldn’t be a leap into the unknown.’
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