IDENTICAL twins – possibly the UK’s oldest – have turned 100.
Devoted sisters Nora ‘Joan’ and Joyce ‘Peggy’ Barter live at The Aldbury care home in Poole and marked their big day with a party.
Sporting matching tiaras, blue dresses and gold sashes, the pair were joined by family and friends for the occasion, hosted by the Colten Care home.
One of only four sets of twin centenarians, Joan and Peggy are understood to be the oldest identical twins in the UK.
Born near Bath, Joan went on to become a teacher, eventually head of Sherborne Girls’ School, while Peggy was a radiographer in Birmingham.
Guests at the party included Robin Ponting, grandson of the twins’ cousin Doris Ponting, whose life was further proof of the family’s longevity.
Born in 1898, Doris passed away aged 106 in 2004, having lived in three centuries.
In a heartfelt speech at the party, Robin recalled visiting the twins when he was a boy and much later, the pair of them attending family celebrations such as Doris’s birthdays and his parents John and Elizabeth’s golden wedding.
He said: “Although Joan and Peggy have lived some distance from us, they have always been close family and we saw them frequently on visits.
“They have always looked after each other. There is something so very special about them, a deep, lifelong bond and an understanding that you could read as telepathic.
“As they’ve steadily grown more and more frail in old age, family members and carers have seen how if one is faltering in a conversation, the other will step in to help continue it.
“If Peggy is not feeling so well, Joan will help out as the stronger one and vice versa. We’ve seen this kind of role reversal on many occasions.”
Joan and Peggy were born in 1923 on the outskirts of Bath where their father Clem ran a hardware and clothing shop and their mother Doss was a housewife.
Robin has cherished memories of family trips to see them when he was in his early teens and the twins, having long left home, were on visits from their jobs elsewhere.
Robin said: “Doss and Clem were the kindest of people whenever we visited.
“I remember one occasion when I was absolutely spoilt with chocolate biscuits, much to the envy of Joan and Peggy.”
The twins attended schools and colleges in Bath before leaving to take up their separate careers. Joan became a teacher, eventually moving to become a headmistress of Sherborne Girls’ School.
“I was told by former pupils that Joan was firm but fair and would do anything to help them,” Robin went on.
Neither twin married nor had any children and with their respective retirements coinciding with each other, Peggy returned south to join Joan in her house in Sherborne.
Robin added: “Peggy’s retirement present was a new kitchen while Joan’s was a baby grand piano which just fitted in to the front room. Joan would go on teach starter piano lessons from home for many years.”
As time went on, it became clear old age was starting to adversely affect the twins’ ability to live at home.
They first moved to Colten Care’s Sherborne care home, Abbey View, for respite care, eventually making the transition to full-time care there and later at Newstone House, the provider’s home in Sturminster Newton.
Robin said: “There have always been caring and sensitive discussions about their best interests, with the move to Newstone House being chosen because it had facilities more tailored to their changing needs.
“They spent several happy years there before their eventual move to dedicated dementia care at The Aldbury four years ago.
“It reflects the progression of their journey with dementia, while receiving the very best of care available and still getting the best out of life.
“At all three homes, they have had separate bedrooms but been relatively close to each other, sometimes on the same floor.
“The Colten Care teams in Abbey View, Newstone House and The Aldbury have proved time and time again that they give professional care and help, both to the twins, and to help and advise myself and family members.
“Their unstinting support has been continuous, always looking for the very best solutions when there have been additional challenges. Both as individuals and as a group, Colten Care staff are firmly and unquestionably part of our own family.”
Melissa Siat, of The Aldbury Companionship Team, said: “When we asked the twins how they would like to celebrate their birthdays, Peggy said ‘It would be nice to have some of our relatives around and have a piano concert’.
“Joan didn’t say anything but Peggy knew that her twin sister loves listening to piano music as she used to play and teach the piano.”
As a birthday surprise, Melissa and colleagues arranged for piano tuner Jonathan Pope to make sure The Aldbury’s lounge piano was in tiptop shape and invited professional musician Caroline Pugh to come and play at the party.
Amid disco lights, banners, balloons and old photos, Caroline performed hits from the 1950s and 60s including a selection of the twins’ favourites.
Melissa added: “Peggy was smiling and singing along to ‘You Are My Sunshine’. A full house of staff and residents attended the party, singing and dancing, shaking the shakers and pom poms, swaying ribbons and having a lot of fun.
“Our chef, Izzy Turczyn-Kuzma, baked a beautifully decorated cake, the twins received their 100th birthday greeting cards from the King and they got dressed up and had their hair done by one of our Healthcare Assistants, Maureen Gostling, who came in specially on her day off to help. The twins really did look fabulous.”
According to publicly available national statistics, the longest living twins in the UK, Elma Harris and Thelma Barratt, celebrated their 103rd birthdays in August 2022 in Stockport, Cheshire, and Kirkham, Lancashire, respectively.
When Joan and Peggy were born in summer 1923, Britain was a nation still recovering from the devastation of the First World War and the global Spanish flu epidemic.
It was only five years after the long-running suffragettes’ campaign had finally changed the law to secure women’s voting rights.