Louise and Yvonne Veness had a lifelong love of wildlife
Older residents of Newbury may remember Louise and Yvonne Veness, who ran an unofficial hospital and rehabilitation centre for injured wildlife of all kinds, from their various home addresses throughout Newbury from the 1970s. The grey-haired pair were familiar figures in the town centre and could often be found tending injured animals; they were the first port of call for anyone who found a bird in distress.
As long ago as 1966, Louise, who was once the verger at St Nicolas Parish Church, was getting up four times a night to feed a blackbird chick. She told a NWN reporter “Children often bring me birds that are damaged or too young to look after themselves. Last year I looked after about 40. One that recovered was a baby kingfisher which I kept about four weeks, feeding it on minnows, before it was ready to fly away.”
Lifelong animal lovers, the pair had a music and dancing act in cabaret, performing in London and the clubs of the North, until ill health forced them to stop. They moved to Newbury and started their wildlife hospital in 1964 in the back garden of the cottage they were renting in Oxford Street. When their landlord wanted to redevelop the cottage in 1976, they had hopes of moving into the Old Bluecoats School in Thatcham, which was under renovation. But instead the council found them new premises in two run-down cottages in the aptly-named Pelican Lane. In 1979 the ramshackle cottages were the subject of an oil painting “Newbury Wildlife Hospital” by local artist Christopher Hall, who died in August of this year.
The couple lived in one and converted the other into a home for their rescued birds and animals, which included at various stages muntjac deer, a pelican, a kestrel, several owls and a heron, as well as many smaller birds. They financed their work from antiques and bric-a-brac shops in West Mills and Oxford Street, as well as appealing for donations from well-wishers. Whilst on a badger-watching holiday in Devon in 1974, they came across an inn run by the son of famous tv cook Fanny Cradock; he put on a special fundraising evening for them, which raised over £200 for the care of their sickly charges.
The Veness’s moved to the old cemetery lodge building in Newtown Road in 1980. By this stage they had attracted a considerable local following, and had even featured in the national press, as part of a Telegraph feature on Britain’s animal rescue organisations. There were also features in “Titbits” and the Mail on Sunday magazine. Yvonne made many television appearances, on Nationwide and Country Ways, as well as the children’s programme Magpie.
Louise and Yvonne were named in Radio Two’s “Top Team” in 1985, the same year they achieved Ministry of the Environment recognition as a wildlife rehabilitation centre.
A few years later when they needed a freezer to keep the birds’ food stocks in, an appeal was made on the (Diddy) David Hamilton show on Radio 210, and lots of kind-hearted listeners phoned in offering help. The couple were able to take their pick of freezers, and the NWN even stepped in to deliver the new one in a newspaper delivery van.
Louise died in October 1991, aged 78. In an affectionate tribute to her in the NWN, a friend remembered especially the surprised look on the faces of shoppers the day Louise descended through the showroom of Camp Hopson’s bearing a swan in her arms rescued from their roof; the fallow deer she called Rupert, nursed back to health which escaped and ran amok in the cemetery; and Bambi, the baby muntjac reared in their sitting room which played with their dog. Yvonne died in August 1997, leaving Newbury much the poorer for their passing.