The Hon Mrs Mary Hay Corfield OBE

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Mary came from a distinguished Scottish family. Her grandfather, Sir George Burns (1795-1890), was one of the founders of Cunard Line and her father, John Burns (1829-1901), 1st Baron Inverclyde, Bart., of Castle Wemyss, was chairman of Cunard Steamship Company.

Sir George and his wife, Emily (1840-1901), née Arbuthnot, had two sons and three daughters of whom Mary was the youngest: George Arbuthnot Burns (1861-1905), 2nd Baron Inverclyde of Castle Wemyss ; Agnes Caroline Burns (1862-1928); James Burns, 3rd Baron Inverclyde of Castle Wemyss (1864-1919) and Jane Cleland Burns (1865-1909).

Married twice, her first husband was the Rev. Ernest Murray Robinson, vicar of Merton (1858-1904). In 1906 she married the Rev. Canon Claude Evelyn Lacy Corfield (1857-1926) with whom she had worked in the Derbyshire mining area before moving to Taunton. They had one child, Mary Burns Corfield (1908-1998).

Deeply religious and ever conscious of the welfare of her fellow man, Mary became President of the Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Bath; Divisional Commissioner for Girl Guides in West Somerset and member of the Church Assembly. During the First World War she worked in a hospital supply depot and, for her efforts, received the Order of the British Empire.

The Corfields moved to Wokingham in 1926. Shortly afterwards, Canon Corfield died and was buried in All Saints Churchyard. Nine years later, in February 1935, Mary was instrumental in providing the parishioners of St. Mary’s, Taunton with the Corfield Memorial Hall in her husband’s memory.

Active during the Second World War, Mary was organiser of the chief depot of the Red Cross and St. John Emergency Committee 1939 and the County of Berkshire Hospital Supply Depot which, for five years, supplied clothing, medical supplies and various comforts to the war-wounded of the army, navy, merchant navy, R.A.F. and the populations of liberated countries. The original headquarters was a shop at The Terrace from which Mary and assistants distributed material to country depots which, before long, totalled 169. The completed articles were quickly returned and distributed. Quite soon the premises were found to be inadequate whereupon Mary offered the facilities of her home as a central depot.

During this period, Mary, her daughter, served in the A.T.S. and spent most of her time on a gun site near London. She had a miraculous escape in 1944 when the huts in which the crews normally slept were completely demolished by a flying bomb. On this occasion she and her fellow crew members were sleeping nearby in huts.

Eventually Tithe Barn was taken over and became a vast warehouse of clothes for adults and children, towels, razor blades, walking sticks, hot water bottles, wool, bales of materials and mattresses. It was served by an army of volunteers who also managed to find time to collect £35,000 with which to purchase more supplies. In 1941 the Wokingham Hospital Supply Depot was visited by the Princesses Helena Victoria and Marie Louise, and later, Queen Elizabeth and the Duchess of Kent.

In her speech at the ceremony of her election as Alderman in April 1950, Mary said, “As the first woman Mayor in Wokingham I am anxious to give a present to Wokingham”. She then produced a reproduction in embroidery, worked by herself, of the Wokingham seal encircled by a floral leaf.

Mrs. Corfield was chairman of the governors of Holt School for over twenty-five years and served in a similar capacity at Wescott Road School for a number of years. When St. Crispin’s School opened she was among those invited to form the first governing body. She retired in 1960. Her interest in education was also reflected by her election as chairman of the former local committee for further education.

Another of her principal interests was in the work of the British Sailors’ Society. A few months before her death she held a garden party at her home to raise money for the society. As a result of her invitation, the Queen Mother sent a gift to be auctioned.

One of Mary’s hobbies was needlework in which she was quite skilled. Until her death she occupied much of her time with embroidery, many examples of which, were on display in her lounge.

A talented writer, Mary had a number of publications to her credit, amoung them were The Loyal Heart, an anthology; Service and Perseverance the Memories of a Scotswoman; Beauty; and Claud Corfield - Chronicle of a Busy Life, a tribute to her husband.

Mary died at her home, Wemyss Lodge in Gipsy Lane, on Thursday, 19th of August at the age of 94. She was buried beside her second husband in All Saints’ Churchyard.

Corfield Green, off Emmbrook Road, was named in her memory.


Former Mayors of Wokingham from 1947 to 1979, by J Bell.




“The Hon Mrs Mary Hay Corfield OBE,” Wokingham's Virtual Museum, accessed September 22, 2020,



Mayor in 1947, 48 and 49.

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