Sybil Weissenberg

Sybil Weissenberg, geb. Barnes: 16 October 1927 to 13 March 2014

Sybil was born in Sunderland, living at Moor House, County Durham (now a Scout camp) in early childhood, moving to another location in Sunderland when she was about 9 years old; the family lost most of their businesses and financial stability after the 1929 financial crash.

Sybil was born to Frances Barkiss Tindle (b. 27 April 1896; d. 09 February 1980) and Joseph Barnes (b. December 1888; d. 31 May 1965); she had an older brother Russell and younger sister Jean. Joseph was a tailor by trade, and Frances was a housewife. Frances was the daughter of William Tindle (a motor engineer) and Frances Tindle, geb. Barkiss, a housewife. Joseph was the son of Joseph and Jane Barnes (geb. Bateley); great-grandfather Joseph was also a tailor. Sybil’s parents, Joseph and Frances, were married on 11 September 1923.

Sybil attended a convent school (founded by a family member, I believe), with the exception of some time during the war years when she was evacuated away from the city. When she left school she attended Bingley teacher training college. She started her teaching career in a challenging environment in the docklands area of the north east, and at another point she taught at Bede Grammar School for Girls. Such diverse teaching choices ran throughout her career.

Sybil had two passions when younger – walking and singing. She trained for many years and had an extraordinary range and strength as a soprano singer, at one point gaining a contract with Sadlers Wells, although she was to give it all up for the sake of her family. Growing up, Sybil had also gained a love of hill walking with her father, and later she and her good friend Dorothy used to travel far and wide on walking expeditions, which must have been unusual for two young women at the time – we know of her climbing in Switzerland and Norway, for example.

At some point in the late 1950s, Sybil received a job offer to supervise teaching in an area of Nigeria, but over the same period she also attended an interview for Elland Grammar School in Yorkshire, where she met Werner Weissenberg. Although both had come to it somewhat late in life, by the norms of the day, there was something of a whirlwind romance and they were married on 20 February 1960.


Sybil and Werner had two children, in 1961 and 1965, exactly four years apart to the date, which we teasingly attributed to our dad’s sense of Germanic precision. For most of the years in which we children were growing up the family lived in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. In the domestic sphere, Sybil was a good cook, a careful seamstress, and a brilliant embroiderer. She seldom watched television without somehow also managing to have some knitting on the go, and to be reading a book.

In 1983 (when their children left home for university), Sybil and Werner moved to Kent to be nearer her brother, sister and their families. They went on holidays together and visited many a Kentish National Trust tea room.

Sybil was devastated to lose Werner to cancer and heart failure in December 1990. He would have been 80 at his next birthday, and Sybil –  still only 63 years old – had already been starting to plan the celebrations.

As her own retirement progressed in a different direction from that she might have wished for, Sybil very much enjoyed the company of her friends; she moved again, to live in the county of Essex with her daughter, son-in-law and their three children. She adored her five grandchildren – her son’s children live in South Africa, so she didn’t see nearly as much of them as she would have liked to, but she still managed to visit around twice a year until very late in her life. Sadly, Werner only knew two of his grandchildren – he died before the others were born, but at least it was in the knowledge that his family was now growing again.

And he knew that they were safe.

Sybil, the children, and grandchildren created among them the kind of noisy chaos that lies at the heart of any family. And while we could never replace the missing German parents and grandparents, the aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends, it would have been impossible for Werner to miss the fact that he once more had a family to call his own.

And my mother Sybil was always the beating heart of that family.