A small village in Dorset

Village Faces

Graham and Sharon Bowditch by Barbara Wilton

"She'll come back saying either she never wants to see him again, or 'We're getting married'"

Graham and Sharon Bowditch are among the most familiar faces in Evershot and few couples work harder on behalf of the village. It was great to spend an hour or so in their company, finding out something of the story behind this indomitable partnership.

Graham and Sharon have lived in Fore Street since 1984, but Graham's family has been in Evershot for generations. By the time Graham's father, Arthur, was born (at Hazel Farm, Melbury Sampford) in 1920, his grandfather had been shepherd on the Melbury Estate for many years. Arthur was one of thirteen children and would talk of them all walking from Hazel Farm to school in Evershot. Graham himself was born at East Chelborough but came to Evershot at the age of two and also went to school at Sticklands. He then went to St Aldhams in Sherborne where one day, as part of a detention, he had to plant a line of trees which is still standing tall today! After years of working for other people, Arthur Bowditch set up his own haulage business and Graham joined him. They specialised in the transport of livestock and were so successful that, in one three-month period, 27,000 sheep passed through their hands.

Sharon was born and grew up at Minety, near Malmesbury, and was the sixth of the nine children her father had promised her mother they would have. With such a large family, it was a case of the older children looking after the younger ones – a practice that worked very well. Her father kept cows and horses at home, so Sharon grew up with a love of the animals that were to be such a big part of her life. She was at school in Minety, then in Malmesbury, after which she worked for a company making battery chargers, first in their factory, then in their office. Much of her spare time was spent riding out with either the Beaufort or Vale of the White Horse hunts.

Not a bad haul

During the 1977 Silver Jubilee celebrations at Minety, Sharon met Edward and Sally Green and soon started working for them, helping with their children and their horses. In September that year Edward Green was appointed Estate Agent for Lady Tessa at Melbury House, and in January 1978 they all moved to Evershot. Arthur Bowditch was due to transport their horses – but he decided to do second horses for the hunt and got Graham to drive instead. "He was an hour late," said Sharon, "And he got more than he bargained for, because I was there too!" From January to April, before Moorfields was ready, the Greens and Sharon were based in Summer Lodge. "It wasn't quite as luxurious in those days," said Sharon. "It was a lot colder and darker than it is now!"

In the February, Sharon went back to Minety for a friend's wedding. Graham collected her in his car but on the way back the snow was so bad they got stuck in Warminster for three days. Sally Green remarked, "She'll either come back saying she never wants to see him again, or that they're getting married!" In the event, they married in November 1978 and lived at Moorfields for the first year.

"It's about having time for children and grandchildren"

Graham and Sharon spent four years at Maiden Newton, then moved into 12 Fore Street. By 1985 they had three children, Tim, Leanne and Ben. Their busy family life revolved largely around animals, especially the children's ponies, and they would all go in Graham's lorry to many gymkhanas and fun rides. No one was bothered about getting rosettes – what mattered was taking part and having lots of fun. The ponies – Rupert, Solo, Ginger Pop and Trigger among them – were hugely loved. "What horses do for human beings is extraordinary," says Sharon. "They are so honest, and they try so hard for you."

2011 saw the birth of Ben and Louisa's daughter, Lily Grace. Graham and Sharon make as much time for their grand-daughter as they did for their children, while somehow fitting in their work – Graham is with Heron Construction near Yeovilton and Sharon is in the Financial Services section of Yeovil Hospital. They look forward to having more time to spend on their animals and their garden and another of their main interests, National Hunt steeplechasing. Sharon has also been Chair of Evershot Parish Council since 2007 and is very optimistic about the future of the village. "People seem to welcome new ideas. We're all getting involved and pulling together – and when we do that, we really enjoy ourselves!" Evershot is very lucky to have them both.

George and Ruby Robinson by Barbara Wilton

"I bet a friend half-a-crown that I'd have a date with her by the end of the evening – and I did!"

George and Ruby Robinson have lived in Back Lane since 1970. George was born and brought up in Manchester, while Ruby was born in Newcastle-on-Tyne. They were both at school in Manchester but when war broke out Ruby, aged ten, was 'evacuated' to live with her grandmother at Woolcombe and went to school in Evershot.

During the war George served with the South Staffordshire Infantry. His regiment landed in France the day after D-Day and was heavily involved in the campaign known as the Falaise Gap - when the Allies planned to trap the German army in a pincer movement around Falaise. 18-year-old George was seriously wounded in the shoulder and legs and permanently lost the hearing in one ear. Meanwhile, at the end of the war, Ruby went back to her parents in Manchester where, in 1948, "I tripped over George!"

They met at a works dance organised by the factory where Ruby's mother worked as a machinist. George arrived at the dance with another girl, but then he spotted Ruby. "You'll never get a date with her!" remarked one of his friends.

"I bet you half-a-crown I will!" replied George – and he did. Several dances later he took Ruby home – with her mother walking in front! Once they'd been out together a few times, George's mother said to Ruby, "You'd better marry him – and tame him!"

Rooms with a view
George and Ruby married in March 1950 at Old Trafford and, from the windows of his father's house where they lived, they could see the football ground, the cricket ground and the dog track! After their son, Jim, was born, they came south to live with Ruby's parents in Frome St Quintin before moving to Holnest. George worked at a quarry, putting to use his wartime experience of handling explosives. From their house, Ruby could see the smoke from the explosions and hoped George really did know what he was doing! Then followed a series of moves – to Melbury Osmond, to Princes Place (where they both worked) and finally to Evershot. During these years George took on a wide variety of jobs, as a sub-ganger on the railway, at the Co-op bakery and Westlands in Yeovil. Then, for three nights a week, he was a porter at Verrington Hospital in Wincanton, while during the day he and Ruby ran an ice cream van. Their 'round' took them as far as Chard, and at night they parked the van at the side of their house in Back Lane!

Ruby once intended to train as a nurse, but she reckons she's been kept a lot busier being married to George! Their three children (Jim, Carol and Roy), six grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren must have kept her on her toes as well! Naturally they've seen many changes in Evershot over the last forty years, with the building of houses and the loss of shops such as the butcher's, the post office (once separate from the village shop), the little jeweller's and a wooden hut in the Tanyard that sold newspapers. But their own sixty-two years together haven't really changed George and Ruby, who maintain that there is no secret to a long, happy marriage, other than making sure you always talk over problems and never stay angry with each other at the end of the day. We wish them well for the next sixty-two!

Alex and Jenny Mollett by Barbara Wilton

"I'm not marrying you until there's a kitchen in that house ... !"

When Alex Mollett set about finding a house, he was looking first for a beautiful village, then a suitable property in it. The former was easy enough because villages don't come much better than Evershot; the latter proved more of a challenge. For while 1 St John's Villas was certainly attractive, it needed a fair bit of attention. His girlfriend, Jen, wouldn't move in until the kitchen was fixed and even Sam the Labrador preferred to take his meals in the car rather than the house! Finally, in May 2007 Jen moved in and, though they had to make do for a while with a microwave and the sink propped up on a piece of wood, they both knew they'd found the perfect home. But now that she had a kitchen of sorts, for Jen one other matter remained outstanding.

She had once remarked to Alex, "If you do ever get around to proposing to me, it will have to be in England, and somewhere really romantic." Never one to do precisely what he is told, when the moment came Alex certainly chose a romantic setting, but rather further from home than Jen might have imagined. He went down on one knee to pop the question, but only when they were on Mount Cook in New Zealand!

They were married in July 2008 in the city where Jen had grown up, Lichfield in Staffordshire. It was a real 'coming home' wedding for her, with her multi-talented family celebrating the day by tap dancing, playing jazz and singing folk songs, with Jen herself performing the song 'All Right, OK, You Win'!

A touch of 'Allo, 'Allo
Though he was born in the village of Bodicote near Banbury, Alex's mother is French and from a large family, many of whom were bakers or butchers. This is perhaps why he grew up with a tremendous love of food and cooking – a passion which Jen shares. He spent the long summer holidays in the countryside not far from Paris. Alex's grandfather was a chef during the war years and was obliged to cook for the German officers who had taken over the local chateau. They would come to the kitchens to inspect the food he was supposed to prepare for them that day and he would show them the very best cuts of meat, the freshest vegetables and the finest wine. When the time came for dinner, he would serve the German officers tough, gristly pieces of meat, mouldy veg and the roughest wine, while smuggling out the top quality food for the French Resistance and Allied soldiers. If he'd been caught, he would have been shot.

Alex and Jen met through their work in the aerospace industry, based in Dorchester. Jen complains that while her job takes her little further afield than Bristol, Alex gets the glamorous business trips all around the world! In addition to their love of cooking, they both enjoy walking and hiking. Following the sad loss of Sam earlier this year, they are looking forward to getting a new dog with whom to share favourite local walks, such as to Golden Cap. Their favourite holiday destination is the Lake District and they are planning a special walk later this year, from St Bees in the Lake District to Robin Hood's Bay in Yorkshire. Jen is on the Evershot Parish Council and also plays baritone saxophone with the Wessex Big Band in Yeovil, who perform at many local gigs. They are both great rugby fans and fervent supporters of Bath.

They have settled very happily in Evershot and only wish that work didn't prevent them from getting more involved in local activities. "People were so welcoming when we first arrived," says Alex. "We've loved learning about local history from those who've lived here a long time, and we really like the great mix of people and age groups in the village."

"Learning everyone's name was difficult when we first arrived," adds Jen. "We found the best way was to learn the dog's name first, then the owner's afterwards!" They say they still have a great deal to do on the house and garden and are looking forward to many more years' commitment to their home and Evershot itself.

Taffy by Hugh Newbury (1989)

The flags were out in Evershot last month. David Jones raised a large Union Jack in his garden and shared a bottle of champagne with his sister Audrey. They had not met for nearly fifty years.

David has lived in Evershot since soon after World War II, when he married Muriel Acreman. But he was born in Wales, and his friends call him Taffy. His mother died when he was about 7 years old, and for a while he, his elder brother Billy and his two sisters Audrey and Sylvia were looked after by a neighbour. One Saturday morning the three younger children were playing in the garden when their foster mother called them into the house and gave them a bath. "I knew there was something wrong," says David. "We never had a bath on a Saturday morning." Within the hour a stranger came and took them off to the Dr Barnado's home in Cardiff.

Visits from the family were not encouraged: his Grandad was told not to come, and David never saw him or his Uncle Bill or Uncle Christmas again. His brother Billy had somehow avoided being taken to Dr Barnado's. Soon even his sisters were taken to another home. He ran away three times, but was always brought back. Then, when he was about 12, he was taken to a home in London, at Stepney Causeway. Next door, over a high wall, there was a home for girls, and one day he saw his two sisters going up a spiral staircase outside the building. He managed to get next door and asked to see them for a few minutes. The next day they had gone, taken to another home, he never knew where.

David himself was also moved to other homes and eventually at 14 joined the Union Castle line as a deckboy. The war came, and when he was old enough he volunteered for the navy and then volunteered again, this time for the submarine service. It was when he was in Glasgow that he heard (he has forgotten how) that his sister Audrey was in London and used a week-end leave to go and find her. (He overstayed his leave by 24 hours and had his leave stopped for six months.) That was the last time he saw Audrey – until July 1989.

David's elder brother Billy kept in touch with him, and they met occasionally, the last time 12 years ago. David thinks it was Billy who eventually traced Audrey in Staffordshire, and Audrey, on holiday in Bournemouth, came over to Evershot to be greeted with champagne and a Union Jack. But of Sylvia there is no trace. She was last heard of in Watford, but whether she is married (and if so, what her surname is now) David has no idea. He has not seen her since they were both in the home in Stepney, over fifty years ago. If she too could be found, and the whole family reunited once more, the flags would really be out in Evershot.

The Gasters by Hugh Newbury (1989)

Basil and Helen Gaster came to Evershot in 1937, just before they were married. He came as locum for his father, who had been a medical missionary in India (Basil himself was born in Quetta).

Pre-war medicine was a highly structured affair. Patients were divided into "Parish", whose treatment was covered by the council; "Panel" who were all employed people; others in various contributory schemes; and lastly private patients who paid for their treatment, in varying amounts. The first three groups were seen in the surgery, at first just a shed at the bottom of the garden, with few facilities such as telephone and quite unsoundproofed, so that one's symptoms might well become the subject of earnest discussion among the queue waiting outside. Private patients, on the other hand, were given more secluded interviews in the drawing-room. Most patients, private or not, felt the doctor was not treating them seriously if he sent them away without a bottle of medicine, and many liked to comment on the particular brew they had been given ("Not half as good as the week before, doctor!") as though it were beer or tea. They did not know (nor did it matter) that the "medicine" was mostly a mixture of gentian and sodium bicarbonate or of bromide and valerian (catnip) which had a pretty pink colour and was incidentally a mild sedative. Medicines were often taken round by the postman, or left in a box in the surgery entrance for people to collect for themselves, until one day a man ("A Londoner!" says Basil with great contempt) took the wrong bottle.

Real diseases were all too often fatal: diphtheria, diabetes, pernicious anaemia, and pneumonia were all killers until remedies and drugs were found. Insulin, the sulphonamides, M&B, penicillin and the tetracyclines all came in during Basil's time. An epidemic of polio killed several people in the area, which today's immunisation would have prevented. But diseases do not stand still either: Basil has never had a case of AIDS, which has occurred only after his retirement.

The war took Basil to the 8th Army in the Western Desert and Italy, where his medical experience stretched to such unpleasant things as malaria and even rabies. (He refuses to tell the story of how he damaged his knee making a parachute jump.) On his return to Evershot he took up practice again, and in 1948, much to his relief, the NHS was started. With everyone in the scheme it put paid to "that hateful time every quarter deciding who you could charge and who you couldn't". But the new service was not without its problems: the NHS doctors threatened to resign unless their pay was reassessed (as the government had promised before their entry), and after the resulting judicial review Basil got an extra £1000 a year.

The practice itself worked well, says Basil, because it was "a community thing". He keeps coming back to how kind and helpful everyone has been: it couldn't have been done without that, he says. "Mind you, there was a strict hierarchy – it was all very feudal." Nor could it have worked without strong gentle Helen as anchor lady. If the spotlight seems to fall on Basil rather than on her, it is because that is the way Helen likes it. They have clearly made a good team over the years and, as a team and as people, have quietly done infinite good to a huge number of Dorset men and women.

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