Surprises for diamond anniversary couple on return to Matlock church

Betty and John Cooke with the Rev Brian Smith on a special day at St Giles' Church.
Betty and John Cooke with the Rev Brian Smith on a special day at St Giles' Church.

A Derbyshire couple enjoyed a diamond anniversary surprise last week as they returned to the Matlock church where they married in 1959.

Derby residents Betty and John Cooke, 85 and 89, had been planning a visit to St Giles’ Church on Thursday, March 21, to mark the special occasion at 3pm, exactly 60 years on from their big day.

But they had no idea their daughter, Sonia Hardy, was making plans too.

They were thrilled to receive a letter of congratulations from the Queen on the morning of their anniversary, but were totally taken aback when a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce arrived to help them make the journey to Matlock in style.

Sonia, 50, said: “Dad worked for his whole career looking after the bosses’ cars at Rolls-Royce. He was a company man, so it really made it his day to see one pull up outside their house.

“They were both really excited and happy. I presented mum with a bouquet of freesias, the same as she had at her wedding, and tied it to a prayer book she had kept. She held it tight all the way.”

The surprises did not stop there however. On arrival at the church, they were greeted by the Rev Brian Smith, who said: “Hello, I’ve been waiting 60 years for you.”

As they made their way into the church, a team of six bell-ringers began a celebratory peel, which Sonia had also arranged with Mayor of Matlock Helen Legood.

Rev Smith then led an impromptu ceremony in which Betty and John renewed their vows, with only Sonia and her partner as witnesses, before more bells rang them out of the church.

Sonia said: “It was lovely, a wonderful memory I will cherish forever. They were so happy, they couldn’t believe all this had been done for them.”

The couple stopped in the church door to recreate their favourite wedding photo.

Another shot of their wedding appeared in the Matlock Mercury in the week of their wedding, with an article which noted that one of their hymns was O Perfect Love.

It added: “The bride’s full-length gown was of white lurex brocade. She wore a coronet of white orchids and pearls with three-quarter veil, and carried a white prayer book and mixed freesias. A reception was held at the Sycamore Inn.”

John originally came from Darley Dale, and first met Matlock resident Betty at a dance night in the Matlock Bath Pavilion.

While John went to work at Rolls-Royce, Betty worked as a home help. Sonia arrived a long time after they had hoped to start a family, and they now also have two grandsons, Joshua and William.

Sonia said: “They called me their miracle as they had been trying to conceive for years.

“They have been wonderful parents, loving and giving, always there for me and helped so much when I had the boys.

“I don’t think there is any great secret to their long and happy marriage. It’s about always being there for each other, looking after each other, understanding, and knowing how and when to compromise.”