Alexander ‘Sandy’ Innes Hett


A collection of intimate family memories, which formed the Tribute at Sandy’s funeral held in St Peter’s on 3 May 2024, has been donated to the Society. Some extracts have been reproduced below with the kind permission of the family. Many Society Members and residents will remember Sandy well. He was a familiar presence and supporter of so many Ardingly events and groups, including this Society, and a member of both St Peter’s Church and Ardingly College choirs. He was present at many village occasions during his life.

What links us as family and friends, whether here at St Peter’s, a church that meant so much to our Uncle Sandy, or watching online, are our memories of an amazing fellow. A man for whom memories were made, because he never forgot them. Memories arising from the six tenets of his life; his family, his faith, his charity, his love of his community, his absorption in nature, and his passion for art.

Sandy was a Sussex Downsman to the bootstraps of his ancient grain leather walking shoes. He was born in 1928 in Cuckfield Hospital and christened Alexander Innes, Christian names by which he was never actually known, apart from by his nanny Bella “Bo” Ramsay. He would remind us she had, on occasions, been visited at Hapstead by her nephew, the then Prime Minister, Rt Hon Ramsay MacDonald.

A brief stint at Sharrow School in Haywards Heath was followed by five years at The Dragon School, Oxford, from which he emerged in 1941 as a prize-winning violinist and with a classics scholarship to Clifton College. A National Service commission in the Royal Artillery came between school and Chelsea College of Art. This was followed by two years at the prestigious Slade, under the eminent artist William Coldstream. It led him into a successful career as an art teacher.

He returned to Bawtry in the 1960s where he entertained family on numerous visits. He was a lovely and definite presence, either in the house or out bicycling (of which he was so fond) and at happy family weddings. Sometimes appearing a rather silent figure to a young person, he found solace in his painting and the drawings he would share.

Sometimes we felt there was a “Peter Pan”-like quality to Uncle Sandy. While every child dreams of playing outside in the snow, one snowy winter Sandy literally created a winter wonderland on Bawtry’s front lawn. He built us a full-size igloo that we could all sit inside, just like the ones you see in the National Geographic Magazine. It was built out of blocks of hard packed snow hammered by hand into giant bricks and featured fir branches as added support beams to ensure the snow roof didn’t fall in on our heads.

That love of the outdoors was shared with all of his nephews and nieces. He had a love of nature, wood, arts and crafts, and pastoral Sussex life. He loved a simple aesthetic and he had a wonderful office at Bawtry filled with wooden furniture, art, books and objects curated from natural materials or collected from nature. Some were antiques but most were simple artefacts, a cross carefully saved from church at Easter, and wooden boxes in which he stored his pens and pencils. I remember how much pleasure he got from feeding the birds on his handmade and very rustic bird table. He showed an interest in any wildlife, deer, slow worms or birds nests spotted around Bawtry. I remember as a child, he asked me to guess the age of a hedgerow whilst out walking, and I was so pleased to guess correctly!

In his late eighties he had made his weekly trip to the Yews charity in Haywards Heath, a visit he had been making every Wednesday for forty years to record the talking newspaper for the blind. Amongst the twenty five charities he would actively support this was a cause close to his heart. Having sensibly given up his 90cc moped a few years earlier he would catch the Wealden coach service there and back, never failing to board the right bus. Until one pitch black winter’s night when he caught the wrong bus back, ending up in Horsted Keynes. The next morning he told his housekeeper, Sheri, without an ounce of drama that he had then calmly walked through the pitch dark the three miles as the crow flies back to Ardingly, across fields, over ditches and through woodland. No map, no torch and certainly, being Uncle Sandy, no phone. He was 89.

Later he continued to entertain family at Compton House. Cousin Nico visited last May to tell him about the Vermeer exhibition in Amsterdam. Sandy was looking very dapper in a blue top and a boater with a red and blue ribbon. He was so interested to hear about the pictures Nico had seen and which he knew well. Fiona was another regular visitor and helped him attend St Peter’s until very recently. He will be greatly missed.

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