In June 2018, The (Hitchin) Comet ran a story which featured an exhibition by the
Lilley Group painters. This included a photo of Judith Wray (above, with dog, the
widow of Rodney Wray) and Preston resident, Val Rivenall of Chequers Lane. As a result,
I felt it was time to include an article about Rodney and Judith because many Preston
residents would know them and also because Rodney was my first cousin once removed
and therefore part of my paternal family.
I met Rodney and Judith at their homes in Mill Lane Gosmore and, then, Tilehouse
Street, Hitchen. After his father, Charlie Wray’s, death (see link: Charlie Wray),
Rodney managed his shoe repair shop at Hitchin Arcade.
Rodney Gordon Wray was born at Hitchin on 19 June 1934. He was the only child of
Charlie and Elaine who were living at 16 Crow Furlong, which is off the Pirton Road,
Hitchin. He attended Queen Street School, Hitchin and, later, Hitchin Grammar School.
After leaving school, Rodney learnt the family business of shoe making and repair,
later developing the retail side of the shop. In the 1950’s, shoes and boots mostly
had leather soles, so that the core of the business was repeat orders.
Rodney was called up for National Service in the early 1950’s. In around 1952, he
was sent to the battle zone of the Korean War. Just prior to his death, he revisited
South Korea and was amazed and moved by the dramatic transformation of what had been
a war-torn, barren country.
He returned to the family business at Hitchin and also continued his enthusiasm for
veteran two-seater, open-top cars, attending hill climb venues and track events at
Brands Hatch and Silverstone.
He married Judith Patricia Davison at Hitchin in the summer of 1959. The couple had
a son and two daughters.
Holding the baby, Rodney’s mother, Elaine Wray and (left to right), Lilla Wray (Rodney’s
paternal grandmother), Rodney, Charlie, Judith and Arthur Wray (Rodney’s grandfather).
Rodney and Judith settled first at Thatched Cottage, Lower Green, Ickleford. They
were both directors of Hitchin Arcade Ltd, Judith having an interest in a bric-a-brac
shop in the alley. Rodney actively worked to retain Hitchin Arcade as a core feature
of the town. In 1982, an employee said, “Rodney carries things on in much the same
way as his father before him”. But Rodney remarked, “After the war, everything changed
a lot, but we still try to be old-fashioned - to give a good service”. The business
expanded to include engraving, photocopying and printing.
Rodney (l), his son and Charlie by the Wray shop in 1982
Rodney passed away on 8 May 2011. He was described in his school obituary as ‘friendly,
easy going and well-liked’.
Of Judith Wray
As well as being part of the Lilley Group of painters, Judith was a life-member of
Hitchin Art Club. She was described as an artist ‘with a strong love of colour and
lively use of paint’. She largely works in acrylics and inclines towards abstract
art. Examples of her paintings are displayed below.