Janet Gugenheim

Janet on her 90th birthday in her house in Allam Street

4th April 1932 - 18th May 2023

Posted - June 27, 2023

Born in 1932, Janet was the only child of parents always known to us as Mopperly and Popperman, living in Little Chalfont, Buckinghamshire. Popperman was a stockbroker who commuted daily to London. Both her parents died relatively young, when Janet was in her early thirties. 

After going to an all-girls boarding school – which she absolutely loved – she moved to London in her late teens. This was the early fifties; she lived in a flat in Chelsea with some other girls, who were to remain lifelong friends. She studied photography at St Martin’s School of Art, subsequently working as a photographer. Introduced by mutual friends, she met Peter Gugenheim, a German refugee who had studied at Cambridge University. In 1954 Janet and Peter married and bought a house in Fulham, London.

Peter worked for Unilever, travelling often to West Africa on company business. They had three children: Camilla, Jeremy and Julian. In 1964 they bought Horsehead Farm in Kent, where she was able to pass on to her children the horse-riding skills she had learned as a child. This place holds many wonderful memories for everyone: building camps, swimming in a homemade pool, playing in the snow, climbing the huge chestnut tree, as well as lots and lots of riding. An English setter, Selina (“Semolina”), joined the family there. She set about doing up the farmhouse and garden during the holidays, while working on the house in London during school term-times.

In 1970 Peter died from cancer, leaving Janet a widow at just thirty-eight years old. By this time all the children were living away from home, boarding at different schools.

Janet then had a relationship with John, an entrepreneur with whom she was able to fulfill her love of travel. Together, they spent a great deal of time in Europe going to Italy, France, Germany and Greece.

She also always loved the country life and for a while helped a family in Wales with their sheep farm. Later, living on her own again, she enjoyed travelling further afield to places such as Morocco, India, Venice, Egypt and Petra, immersing herself in the culture and the history of these places. Her love of art took her back to art school; she became an accomplished artist, and many of her drawings and paintings may still be seen at Allam St. She was a member of the Chelsea Arts Club, spending much of her free time there enjoying the company of fellow artists.

In 2002, at the age of seventy, Janet bought an old farmhouse near Angoulême, Southern France, and began to undertake its restoration. During her ten years there, she relearned French and integrated herself into the local community and way of life. She would spend all summer there, returning in the winter to the house she had bought in Fulham so many years earlier.

In 2012, she finally sold the house in Fulham and moved to Jericho – to start another restoration project. She absolutely loved living in Jericho, quickly making a host of new friends, who became very important to her. She also became very involved in local projects such as the campaign to re-establish the Jericho Boatyard. She was a passionate supporter of Greening Jericho, working hard in the Mount Place Garden; even when restricted to her mobility scooter, she would spend time each day picking up litter and making sure the plants got watered.

Meanwhile, she sold her house in France and bought a smaller place in the nearby town of Le Rochefoucauld. Over the following seven years she did much to restore this, but with the aftereffects of Brexit, followed by the pandemic, it felt like time to devote herself full-time to Jericho.

In 2022, after feeling less dynamic for a while, she was diagnosed with cancer of the kidney. She was determined to recover and decided to undergo a risky operation. Sadly, despite her indomitability, she never properly regained her strength, remaining bedbound for many months after the operation. She died peacefully in her own bed surrounded by family and friends. Janet is survived by her three children and five grandchildren.

Jeremy Gugenheim


Maggie Black adds:

I first met Janet Gugenheim in May 2019 at a public meeting in the Jericho Community Centre to discuss the cast and content of a new film about Jericho being made under the auspices of the JCA and Film Oxford. Janet whizzed along in her buggy, and I was impressed she had made the effort to come.

Afterwards she invited me to the first of many teas in her house, a jewel in the Jericho crown of magic living places. Her affinity with outdoors was obvious, with the birds who lived in her trees and her golden touch with flowers and plants. Janet was full of stories about her friends and acquaintances, some of them very distinguished, and her joie de vivre was infectious. She would make toast with honey or some other small treat that we enjoyed like schoolchildren, and we talked about France, art, books, houses, fancy dress or whatever was on her mind.

I continued to visit after she finally got back from hospital late last year, and even though she was skinny as a rake and barely able to leave her bed, she remained a smiling tour de force. You still came away from seeing her with a sense of privilege at having glimpsed into a really well-lived life. She not only had great reminiscences to share, but she made you feel pleased to be alive and in her company in that moment. Janet loved Jericho, her family, her friends, the birds in her trees, and up to the end still took an interest in people whose paths, like mine, had only briefly crossed her own. No doubt many others in Jericho and its near beyond will miss her. And, oh yes, I am glad to report that, whizzing along in her buggy, she did make a tiny appearance in Our Jericho the film.

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