It was love at first sight for Bev when he saw Mary cycling past his parents’ pub, The Lamb, in The Street, Rustington.
They have been married for 70 years and together they have charted the history of the village, forming Rustington Heritage Association in July 1983 and contributing to many exhibitions at Rustington Museum.
Both are now 91 and living at home in North Lane, Rustington, with their youngest son, Graeme.
It is a house that was built by Mary’s family in 1931 and was first owned by her grandparents, then her parents, before Mary and Bev moved in in 1974 after her father died.
Graeme said it was her father, Edgar Sopp, who encouraged Mary to start recording Rustington history.
He explained: “When he became ill, he said he was the last of his generation in the village and nothing had been written to document it. The doctor suggested she needed something to do and one day, she asked for a notebook and started writing it all down.”
Mary has written a number of books and, together, Mary and Bev have gathered thousands of photographs and documents, a vital record of Rustington history that will eventually be passed on to West Sussex Record Office in Chichester.
Although Mary’s family came from Rustington, she was born in Brighton, with the Queen’s physician carrying out the caesarean. He had happened upon her mother, Queenie, by chance on a visit to Brighton Hospital and said he would do the operation as she was such a tiny woman.
Bev was born in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, and his parents, Harry and Muriel Taylor, came to Rustington in 1946 to run The Lamb. It was there, in the summer of 1950, that Bev first spotted Mary while he was waiting on the doorstep to welcome lunchtime customers.
His eye was caught by this young woman cycling past on her way home for lunch and Bev said it was love at first sight. Every day, he looked out for her and finally, he plucked up the courage to ask her out, drawing alongside her on his motorcycle.
They took the train to Brighton for their first date and as soon as they started talking, it was as if they had known each other all their lives.
Mary was working for antiques dealer Frank Ellery, who had a showroom in an old barn in Cudlow Avenue. His enthusiasm for antiquities rubbed off on her and was one of the influences shaping her fascination for the past.
Mary and Bev were married at Rustington Parish Church on October 27, 1951, and they have two sons, Andrew and Graeme.
The couple have been the village’s official historians for more than 30 years and, through painstaking research, have pieced together the events which shaped their seaside community.
Bev worked as an engineer at Ford and Tangmere airfields but at the latter, he suffered a serious spinal injury while working on a fire engine, which, combined with throat cancer shortly afterwards, effectively ended his working life.
Graeme said his mother had a vision that something was going to fall and he should move quickly out of the way, and it was this warning that saved his life. He rolled when he heard the crack but was hit on the back and was in a coma for six months.
Around this time, Mary had begun her historical research and the opportunity for the couple to work together on projects proved the perfect antidote for Bev after his career was cut short.
He designed and laid out most of Mary’s books and kept on top of their extensive archive of old photographs, postcards, documents and other material relating to Rustington.
Graeme said: “Dad did so much research from old wills and parish records. He did all the maps, and they are beautiful maps.”
Mary and Bev received the Rustington Parishioners’ Award in 1998 and in June 2012, Mary was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to the community in Rustington.
Mary was a parish councillor in the 1980s and served on the management committee for Rustington Museum, as well as on the committee of Rustington Twinning Association.
One of the couple’s favourite events was a whole week of activities they helped to organise for the 900th anniversary of the Domesday Book in 1986.
Graeme said: “Local history has always been part of family life. It is a really close family and they have always been so supportive.”
Mary and Bev have nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, and enjoyed celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary with family.