Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Chester Locke

Two lovers banished from each other's sight when they conceived an illegitimate child nearly 40 years ago have been reunited by their daughter and are to marry.

Christine Orchard, 57, and Chester Locke, 64, from Taunton, Somerset, fell in love after meeting at a youth club in 1965.

Mrs Orchard discovered she was pregnant two years later, aged 16, but her mother said she could only keep the baby on the condition that she cut Mr Locke, then 21, from her life.

The daughter they had together, Tracey Orchard, now 40, decided to hunt down her birth father 12 years ago, moved by the death of her grandparents.

Together at last: Tracey Orchard (far left) reunited her parents Chester Locke and Christine Orchard who were forced apart for having Tracey out of wedlock

But she never dreamed her parents would fall in love all over again and that she would be at their wedding, due to take place in a fortnight's time.

Mrs Orchard told BBC Points West she was delighted to be marrying her childhood sweetheart after social stigma kept them apart for so long.

The former shop assistant said: "Being an unmarried mother back in the 1960s was still frowned upon. My parents decided they would bring the baby up but I had to sever all contact with Chester."

Tracey Orchard said her first motivation for the search was to dispel rumours that her father was a "waste of space". She was amazed when the romance rekindled so quickly.

She said: "My intention was to get him to meet his grandchildren and great-grandchild. I'm shocked but it is lovely. It's wonderful to see them where they should have been 40 years ago."

Mr Locke, who works in a saw mill, joked: "I'm a bit angry at her for making me wait!"

He was told never to contact Christine or his daughter Tracey - who was raised by her maternal grandparents - and went on to marry another woman and raise his own family.

But Tracey, now 40, set about rebuilding her broken family following the death of her grandparents and staged a surprise meeting between Ms Orchard and Mr Locke.

And despite their long and difficult separation, the pair - who were both divorced - fell head over heels in love for the second time - 40 years after their relationship ended.

Incredibly Christine, now 57, and Chester, 64, are set to marry later this month and fulfil their lifelong dream of living side by side.

Ms Orchard, of Taunton, Somerset, said: 'There was always quite a lot of hoo ha about Chester because of the age difference.

'When my parents found out I was pregnant my Mum and her sisters went into a room and basically decided my future.

'They told me that if I wanted to I could keep the baby and they would bring her up, but I had to stay away from Chester.'

Family ties: Christine Orchard holds daughter Tracey

Retired shop assistant Ms Orchard added: 'Mum told me that if I saw Chester in the street I should walk away, so I didn't see him again for 35 years.'

Ms Orchard fell pregnant aged 16 after a whirlwind romance with local 'heartthrob' Mr Locke, an engineer who worked in her local launderette in Taunton.

But Ms Orchard's late parents Flossie and Fred 'ruled with an iron rod' and insisted the pair were separated for ever.

Christine was allowed to keep the baby on the condition that neither had any further contact with Mr Locke.

Mr Locke eventually married and bore another daughter, Amanda, who is now in her 30s.

Meanwhile, Ms Orchard married in 1972 and produced three children, Russell, 35, Nicky, 31, and Ryan, 27.

She separated from her husband in 1998 before divorcing him last year.

Mr Locke also separated from his wife and divorced in 2007.

But when Fossie and Fred died 12 years ago, mum-of-two Tracey moved out of the family home and began thinking of ways to reunite her parents.

Single Tracey, who lives with daughters Jennifer, 21, Alison, 17, and son Christopher, 15, said: 'I was always told my Dad was a waste of space but I needed to find out for myself.

'After all, everyone changes in 35 years. After my grandparents died I lost a big part of my life and I wanted to fill in the gaps.'

Tracey finally tracked down her father, who still lived in Taunton, in 2003, but both he and her mother were still married.

She secretly kept in touch until Ms Orchard's marriage - like Mr Locke's - broke down and Tracey arranged for a surprise meet at the local pub.

To Ms Orchard's amazement and delight, Mr Locke had also been asked to come and the long-lost pair set about rebuilding their relationship.

Grandmother-of-two Ms Orchard said: 'When we met up that first time we were talking and laughing so much we didn't leave for five hours.

'It felt very safe going back to someone I already knew. I suppose in a way we were reliving our youth.'

Mr Locke, who works in a saw mill, popped the question earlier this year and the couple are now set to wed on September 27 at a chapel in Taunton with family and friends.

He said: 'We've made our mistakes but she's the love of my life and I couldn't be happier.

'If you'd have told me ten years ago that I'd be marrying Christine after all these years I would never have believed you, but here we are.

'Getting married means a lot to me. I can't wait to spend the rest of our lives together as man and wife.'

Tracey added: 'I think it's going to be a new beginning for the whole family.'

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