Who was Alice Cross?

Alice Cross with clergyman
Alice Cross

 A Celebration of a Caring Life
By Viv Wilson MBE

“In 1995 a light that had burned brightly in Teignmouth for more than half a century – flickered and went out. When Alice Beatrice Cross left the cares of this world behind her she left a remarkable legacy as well- one of a shining example to all around her to be selfless, caring and utterly dedicated to improving the welfare of elderly people.

Pause with me dear readers and consider a few aspects of her    remarkable life of service to others.

Born in Exeter on February 2nd 1895 Alice and her family took up residence in this town two years later.

She was the ninth of 14 children and her health was considered delicate. For this reason her apprenticeship to a dressmaker, after finishing Exeter Road Board School, was curtailed. Instead she worked at home attending to all the sewing and mending needed by her siblings.

Alice became a Sunday School teacher, this as with all other tasks accepted throughout her life- she stuck to and worked it for many years.

Following the Great War, she spent four years carrying out welfare work among the soldiers who had formed the Army of Occupation in Germany and by that time based at Tidworths’s YMCA.

The devastation of the war indelibly imprinted upon those servants of King and Country must have contributed greatly to the nurturing of Alice’s compassionate nature.

Upon her return home she became the honorary secretary for the Waifs and Strays League which cared  for foreign girls working locally as domestic servants.

Alice Cross and Mary Collins in costume
Alice Cross (left) and Mary Collins in-costume for performance circa late 1930s.
Photo: Courtesy of the Wilson Archive.

Further charitable work was done with the Girls Friendly Society who staged concerts and show in the Parish Hall. Alice’s love of acting come to the fore during those happy and busy years but folk dancing was possibly her leisure activity. She was part of a team which competed successfully in national championships and characteristically she shared her enthusiasm for the art by running country dancing classes in the town, Alice turned her attention to carnival events and raised money in that quarter as well.

Perhaps without realising it she had discovered how to unite hard work with the pleasure resulting in a net gain by some deserving sector of the community.

When World War Two broke out Alice was 44 and had been training with the Red Cross for a year and that experience was put to the test. Along with many others the heartbreaking tasks created by conflict had to be shouldered. Almost immediately after the end of the war Alice turned her attention to the welfare of the elderly.

She had been inspired by the Sunshine Girls – a group of local domestic servants who raised funds by sewing in their spare time in order to put on a Christmas party for the old folk. Many recalled these pre-war gatherings with pleasure and Alive set out to revive them.

The first cost just £50 and catered for 210 pensioners in St Michael’s Church Hall. She became a founder member and honorary secretary of the Service for Others committee and was soon organising concerts outings and holidays.

In 1950 this work was formalised to the Old Teignmouth Old People’s Welfare Committee dedicated to fill gaps in the provisions from State Agencies.

A choir was established and a festival for visiting choirs- sometimes involving over 300 singers- was organised annually for almost three decades. At that tie over 2,000 people aged 65 plus resided here.

In 1963 , the Rotary Club helped Alice and her team to set up a rest centre for them using an adapted Nissen hut on a site near St James Church. Thousands of hot meals were provide by the stalwart volunteers, some of whom were still involved in 1995.

Building of the new Centre in 1978.
Photo: Courtesy of the Wilson Archive.

Alice had a desire to see housing provision for the elderly- an idea  that was realised when Quinnell House was developed in 1964. Week in and week out the work went on and suddenly it was time to struggle hard to fund new premises. The purpose built centre cost £ 61,000 and was opened in 1978 when Alice was 83.

Little did anyone realise at that point that it would be another 15 years before Alive finally stopped her daily duty at the centre.


In later years she was honoured in many ways through local and national channels but all the laurels were of no great consequence to this lady who had demonstrated her life long single mindedness to her cause.

At 97 she did a sponsored walk from the lighthouse to the pier and raised £100 for Arthritis Research. That was so typical of her determination to keep going at all costs. And she made it to her 100th birthday bless her!

On that day Alice was shown a trophy which was to be a perpetual annual award to the person who had shown the greatest devotion in service to others. It is appropriate that the trophy and the Day Centre bear her name.

She was also presented by a ‘This is your life’ styled volume compiled with great dedication by Barbara Wright. It provided the details for this tribute and I am indebted to Alice’s life long friend Kathleen Warne for the loan of it.

The book cover bears a small brass plaque which reads  ‘Alice Cross BEM a Life of Service.’ She will be remembered as a paragon- an invincible lady whose spirit overcame obstacles in the name of compassion.”