THE VILLAGE SHOP - June 1992
Jennifer Maureen Cox, known to most of us as Jenny; a small, stoical and independent lady. She had her regular habits, including a daily walk around the village, and we always knew where to find her on any given day of the week. She never admitted to a day's illness and had never had a day in bed, but was unfailingly polite and ready with a smile to affirm that she was well, thank you, even when looking up from her wheelchair a week before her death. Her story started when, after seven years' engagement, a young couple had saved enough money for their cousin Ron Jeffs to design them a bungalow called Litton. Six years later Jenny was born of Jim and Eileen Cox in that bungalow on Burton Road, she was their second child. Her older brother David was born four years earlier in the same house, and a second generation would later be born there too. Shortly before Jenny's birth her paternal grandfather, George, had died, so her parents moved down the road into the farm house at Wych with Maud and Gran Cox. Wych Farmhouse had four bedrooms but no electricity until the 50's. Maud disliked the new electric so the house was still usually lit by oil lamp. Wych Farm was where Jenny grew up, cycling into school in Bridport, first at the Convent then The Grove School. The extended family all kept closely in touch; the Jeffs kept a caravan on the farm and the Tappers would bring their tent, so the summers were full of cousins camping on the farm. At Wych there were two small 'heavy horses' for the work on the fields, where corn and flax (used to make local rope) was grown. After the death of one horse in 1943 a Ford Standard tractor was purchased. There were always at least two dogs and many cats, all with a useful purpose, living at the farm. In 1958 David bought a whippet. Days later the back door was opened to find a bundle of fluff left on the doorstep as a present for Jenny. The fluff proved to be a border collie dog given to Jenny by neighbours. Monty learnt to drive out rabbits from the fields and Zoe the whippet caught them. Monty was to live a long life in the comfort of the indoors, curled up on an old car seat under a blanket with Zoe. The dairy herd also boasted a bull which was brilliantly named Willy. As well as cows, the farm had pigs and plenty of chickens. When Jenny was a teenager she was in charge of these chickens. She developed an egg round and would load up her bicycle to deliver the eggs to regular customers, adding metal jugs of milk to the load. She became a bit of a favourite with some of them who occasionally left her small gifts. In the winter of 1963 there was a fire at the farm that destroyed a barn full of winter feed. At four in the morning Jenny cycled across the fields in the dark to alert her brother David who lived on West Cliff. They rushed back to assist the firemen. Family habits included a roast beef Sunday lunch, cooked in the Rayburn in the lounge, with both grannies at the table. Attendance in church was at least once, often twice with Sunday School for the children. Whilst they lived on Burton Road they were members of St. John's in West Bay. The radio would be a source of entertainment. They listened to ITMA comedy and "Ray’s a Laugh". For years Jenny had to put up with listening to the The Archers because the other women liked it. The family would attend the operatic shows in Bridport, whose cast would often include members of the Roberts family, who would later become David's in-laws. Jenny's other grandparents lived in Litton Cheney running the blacksmith and village shop. Her grandfather George Curtis had died the year before Jenny was born and May, known as Little Gran, had continued with the shop. Eileen and Jenny frequently travelled to Litton, for years using bicycles, to help May, especially as she grew frail with age, until her death in 1967. It was then decided to give up the farm and have a change of life style. Settling into Beech House the two women ran the shop and Jim turned the large expanse of land into a profitable vegetable plot to supply the shop. The orchard at the bottom was put to the traditional and infamous use of cider making. Jenny, then in her late twenties, always had her extra jobs. This time she became a house keeper to a local lady. Also people would phone the shop to leave a shopping list and Jenny would later deliver the boxes to individual houses. If there were workmen regularly in the village Jenny would make sandwiches to sell to them. When it was time to 'shut shop' the shutters were closed and tea was laid, but the evenings were always interrupted by knocks at the house door by villagers requesting the little things they had been unable to purchase during the day. Jenny decided it was time to learn to drive, it took several years, but she had a very patient teacher in Jim Collins. Eventually she gained her licence and happily tore round the windy local roads in her little cars. Every Wednesday would be 'cash and carry' day. The trip to Dorchester always necessitated egg sandwiches to be made, because egg sandwiches were always made, back in the day when the trip had taken far longer! Her travels took her across the stretch of Dorset to visit family or friends. And she continued the habit, started in her youth, of taking an afternoon Sunday drive, offering when possible to take dear friends out with her. Eileen played the organ and Jenny joined the choir at St. Mary's in Litton. She was a member of the women's institute. She played whist and bingo. She had pen friends from the days of her youth. She had a legendary skill, or knack, of winning things, but refused to play the Lottery. Her 'Jenny Cakes’ have also become a bit of a legend of their own; she made two types, lemon drizzle and farmhouse. Each and every time they came out perfectly. If ever she knew that family was visiting she would make a cake for her visitors to take home, in bags stretched with the weight of them. As we moved away from the area, friends have come to appreciate Jenny Cake in Hampshire, Sussex, Somerset and Birmingham. Jim died in 1981 aged 76, at home in Beech House and Jenny helped her mum care for him. Many years later when her mum grew frail Jenny cared for her too, enabling Eileen to stay at home. Every day Jenny would take her mum out in a wheel chair for a walk round the village, so they could both enjoy the fresh air and chats with neighbours and friends. Eileen died in December 1999 aged 92 in her favourite armchair. Jenny then closed the shop and sold the house that had been owned by the family for nearly a century. With the help of her brother David she found a new small and sunny home in Manor Farm Close. The tiny pocket handkerchief sized garden was packed with vegetables poked between flowers, she was far too successful and gave her surplus away to the neighbours, and every year more pots of gaudy annuals were added to the front patch. Shortly after moving in she suffered a house fire on Boxing Day. Undaunted Jenny continued to have an open fire, where she could make her favourite teatime treat with a toasting fork, and used the same fire guard that had failed her that Boxing Day, but with it bashed into a safer shape. At any family event Jenny would like to be there, and has been very much part of the life of David's four grandchildren. Christmas was always spent with the families of either Cindy or Jim. She would arrive armed with home made Christmas pudding, a wobbly pink blancmange trifle, pickles and beetroot jars. Always a helpful guest she happily threw herself into a noisy Christmas last year within the household of Jim's extended West Indian family. Jenny enjoyed the thought of our family stretching across the world. She had maintained contact with a cousin Muriel who had been born in Canada. One week before she died the niece and great niece of that cousin came to call on Jenny during a European visit from Canada. Their noses were the same shape and they were the same height! Jenny was delighted. It was only Wednesday 16th May that Jenny was suddenly taken into hospital. The day after her 72nd birthday she was told her life expectancy was seriously short. With the help of her dear cousin Mary and the hospital chaplain she prayed for strength and courage to face the coming weeks. She unhesitatingly made major decisions about medication and life choices and by Monday 11th June she was back in her little home. She thoroughly enjoyed being looked after by the many varied carers and nurses. She kept her door unlocked so that her house was open to all her many visitors, and she spoke very warmly of her neighbours. Sadly she did not have long to enjoy this spell of relative health. Her passing was quiet, the morning after Jim gave her the last rites, tucked up in her own bed with Cindy sat beside her, she left this world to join the party in heaven. Jenny was a special little lady with an inner strength that could surprise us. We had imagined that she would enjoy a long life like many of the women of her family. We imagined that our birthdays and Christmases would be marked for many years yet with an envelope containing the same freshly minted paper note inside it that we have all been given all our lives. So we are grateful for those times of fun memories, like her 70 birthday party, hair raising trips in her car, tea in the cafe on market day, bags of things that she had won but didn't want and her Jenny Cake. God bless you, our Aunty Jenny
The Cox Family
Mrs Eileen Cox just after her 80th birthday. At the time she said she had no intention of retiring - although she liked the open air, she didn’t find the change from farming, milking cows and looking after chickens ‘too bad’!
HISTORIC ARCHIVE
Eileen Curtis (Mrs Cox) in 1914 (at the front)
The following tribute, compiled by her niece and family, was read at Jenny Cox’s funeral on Wednesday 4 th July 2012
Eileen Curtis (Mrs Cox) ‘did her bit’ in the 1914-18 War by Collecting Eggs for the Troops at the Front
Jim Cox ‘did his bit’ as well
in the Bride Valley Litton Cheney Village Dorset
THE VILLAGE BAKERY
The Birth of the Dorset Knob This is the story of a Dorset woman who founded and ran a bakery in Litton Cheney where the first Dorset Knobs were baked and sold. William Pitcher, the first son of Samuel and Mary Pitcher, was born at Powerstock, where he was baptised on Christmas Day 1789. Maria Longman, his wife, was born in 1795 at Rimpton Mill, near Yeovil, Somerset. They were married at St. Georges Church, Fordington, Dorchester on the 22nd of March 1815 and soon after moved to Litton Cheney. Their 10 children were all baptised in Litton’s St Mary’s Church. Li Jesse on 11th of August 1816; Mary Brown on 31st of May 1818, John on 5th of March 1820, Nimshi on 13th of October 1822, Levi on 26th of March 1824, Daniel on 9th of September 1826, Maria Brown on 11th of August 1828, Elizabeth Martha Longman on 25th of July 1830, William Longman Brown on 19th of May 1833 and Jane on 18th of December 1834. Their 7th child, Maria, was said to be a formidable woman with striking looks and great strength. She could handle a sack of flour as well as any man and was known for getting her own way. Early in 1852 Maria married John Bligdon, a man born and raised in Litton Cheney, where he was a boot and shoe maker. Soon after their marriage, Maria, who until then had been working as a servant, persuaded her husband to let her start a bakery business in the village known as White Cross Bakers. The business started in a small way with one assistant but quickly prospered. In 1881 Maria Bligdon employed three bakers and two servants, all living on the premises. Her husband continued his business as a cordwainer. One of these bakers, a Mr Moores, brought with him a recipe for Dorset Knobs, a round savoury biscuit that quickly became popular with the customers. It is named after the Dorset knob button. The recipe consists of bread dough to which extra sugar and butter are added. The dough is then shaped into round balls by hand and baked three times, the end product being crumbly and similar to a rusk. Thus, Maria Bligdon could not claim to have conceived the recipe for the delicacy but she was certainly instrumental in its birth and growth in popularity, particularly in West Dorset where it is still produced. Nellie Titterington, Thomas Hardy’s parlour maid, revealed that the author “would most enjoy a cup of soup, followed by two boiled eggs. He finished his meal with Dorset knobs and Stilton cheese, both favourites of Mr Hardy, Dorset knobs especially.” With fat bacon the Dorset Knob formed the main diet of the men employed by Maria Bligdon at her Litton Cheney bake house and the biscuits were despatched to Dorset soldiers fighting in Africa during the Boer Wars. Pound Cake was another speciality of the bakery and sold for sixpence a pound. Her gooseberry tart was also very popular as was the making of dough cake. The dough was supplied by the bakery to the villagers who made it into cakes which were then baked at the bake house. Those living off parish relief and seeking employment were given penny bread tickets which the bakery accepted towards the cost of a loaf of bread, at that time about four pence. The bakery accepted about £5 worth of tickets every month. With two hundred and forty pence to the pound, Mrs Bligdon’s bakery was obviously extremely busy. Maria Bligdon was buried at Litton Cheney on 8th of January 1891 aged 63. Her husband John died in 1896. As there were no recorded offspring, it is believed that a nephew took over the business and closed it in 1916. When Mr Moores left the bakery he went to Morcombelake where his sons started a business and produced Dorset Knobs. That business still exists today and, during January and February, continues to bake Dorset Knobs.
C G FRY & SON
The firm which is now C G Fry & Son was started in Litton Cheney not long after the First World War. More than 90 years on, the company still has its base in the village, though its operations are spread across the south-west of England. In 1918, nineteen-year-old Charles George Fry came out of the army and started work with his father George, who was the village undertaker in Litton Cheney as well as doing general house and building repairs. Before going into the army Charlie had been apprenticed as a wheelwright and wagon builder – a skill he now brought to his father’s business. At that time just one other person, Neddy Pye, was employed. The 1930s saw Dorset farmers starting to use tractors and mass-produced trailers. The wheel and wagon business faded away and the company concentrated solely on building work. In 1935 Charlie Fry built his first house – a stone house in Chalk Pit Lane at Litton Cheney constructed for a chemist from Weymouth. The firm was growing, and before the outbreak of the Second World in 1939 there were five employees. Most, however, were called up for war service, leaving only one. After the war the labour force was restored to its former size, augmented by its first apprentices. In 1950 Eddy Fry, Charlie’s son, was apprenticed to a Dorchester building company, George Tate Ltd, as a bricklayer. After completing his apprenticeship and then his National Service he became increasingly involved in the running of the company, overseeing refurbishment work, new buildings and general repairs, working on most of the large houses in West Dorset. In the mid-1970s came Eddy Fry’s first speculative development – a single house built on a site in Puncknowle. In 1980 the company was formed as C G Fry & Son Ltd. At that time Charlie Fry retired from the firm. A site of eight houses was developed in Litton Cheney, and while the contracting work was maintained, the house building side was gradually increased at other small sites in West Dorset. In 1991 Eddy was joined by his son Philip, who had completed a degree in Quantity Surveying, subsequently working for a building contractor in London. Together they expanded the development side of the company, with award-winning developments in Abbotsbury and Broadwindsor. In 1992 C G Fry & Son won a tender from the Duchy of Cornwall for the first phase of the building of Poundbury, and the firm has since been responsible for the construction at Poundbury of more than 600 new homes, offices and shops. Poundbury helped put the name of C G Fry & Son on the map as a leading regional construction firm, and the company now operates in Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Wiltshire and Hampshire.
Charlie Fry & Team in Litton Cheney
Charlie & Eddy Fry
Maria Bligdon
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