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. Maria Bligdon 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.
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
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