Will Sanders


Will SandersAlexander William Sanders (known as Will), his twin brother Joseph Henry (known as Harry) and his sister Sabina were born and brought up in Shipton Gorge. The family lived at Vine Cottage in Cuckoo Lane. They went to Shipton Gorge School and the picture below, taken circa 1900 outside the school, includes all three children, although it is not possible to identify them individually. They were brought up by an aunt (Mrs Matthews) as their father was in the navy and it is believed their mother died in childbirth. On the original photograph the words SHIPTON GORGE SCHOOL can just be made out on the chalkboard held by one of the pupils.

Shipton Gorge School PictureBoth boys saw active service in the armed forces in the Great War (1914-18). Will was in the 1st Battalion of the Dorsetshire Regiment. Harry survived but Will died on 2 May 1915 at Hill 60 near Ypres, as a result of the second chlorine gas attack ever mounted by the Germans in which the Dorsets suffered over 300 casualties, of which some 150 died. His death was reported as follows by Bridport News:


The sad news of the death of Private Alexander William Sanders No. 6614 of the Dorset Regiment by poisonous gas on May 2nd reached his father and relatives on Friday and great sympathy is felt for the family in their bereavement. By command of His Majesty the King, a letter of condolence has been sent by Lord Kitchener, and Mrs. Matthews,

Pte Will Sanders, 1st Bn Dorsetshire Regiment

an aunt, has received a letter of sympathy from his lordship the Bishop of Salisbury. The deceased was only 21 years of age, of good physique, and of great promise. He was

a keen bellringer at the parish church, and joined in the ringing on the last Sunday he was in England before joining the Expeditionary Force in France. We offer our sincere sympathy to the family of this gallant young soldier.

On 1 June 1915 Harry, who was serving with the Royal Marines, wrote a very poignant letter from on board HMS Zealandia in which he said:

I suppose you have seen in the Bridport News the death of my brother at the front. I used to work in Mr Gundry's factory but after that I joined the Marines. But I didn't know that I should have this lot to go through but I suppose it will be over sometime or the other. But I very nearly dread the thoughts of coming home again to find my Brother gone, but I trust he is better off now, but how I shall miss him for we are twins you know.

Will is commemorated on the memorial triptych in the Parish Church of St Martin together with three other Shipton men who died in the Great War, namely Private John William Gale of the Duke of Cornwall s Light Infantry, Private Reginald George Stevens of 5th Dorsets and Sapper Ernest White of the Royal Engineers. Will's name also appears on the Menin Gate at Ypres in Flanders (Belgium), a memorial to over 54,000 officers and men who died in the Ypres Salient in World War I and have no known grave.

Grateful thanks are due to Barbara Montgomery, granddaughter of Will's brother Harry, for providing the photographs and information about the Sanders family. Barbara's mother, May Sanders, was born in Shipton Gorge and brought up in the nearby village of Loders.

Ernie Thomas

Florence Childs

Virginia_HouseIt seems wrong, even now, to call her Florence as she was always known to everyone as Mrs Childs! She lived in Virginia House for many, many years having moved there with her husband and staying after his death. They were a farming family from near Beaminster and continued to run a smallholding from the field and orchard beside the house.

Mr and Mrs Childs are buried together in Toller Whelme, the family home. After Mr Childs died, she lived on alone in the house almost until her death. She had by all accounts had a hard childhood, having been brought up by her father and archetypal wicked stepmother, or so she described her. Eventually she eloped with her husband over the hill to Toller Whelme and never returned! She was indeed one of those great village characters that epitomise the old farming traditions and ways of the mid 20th century.

She continued to keep a few hens and her two cows until they died of old age. They must have been the oldest cows in Britain but she still managed to get just a little milk from them right up to the last. She would offer this to neighbours, but alas it was too little and usually too sour so everyone took it gratefully and then disposed of it secretly! She thought of all of her animals as her pets and companions and not as beasts at all.

She didn t trust modern things and almost until her death she continued to use oil lamps and candles in the house, despite having electricity available. She cooked on a small gas stove and went to bed when it got dark taking her candle and candlestick. Her greatest pleasure was her transistor radio which she ran on batteries rather than using the mains electric, and which used inordinate amounts of large batteries which neighbours and friends were dispatched to purchase for her on a regular basis.

She kept the whole house much as it had been before her husband died; his coat and boots were still on the hallstand in the entrance hall - a real life Miss Haversham! Her bedroom was reminiscent of the 19th century with its feather mattress and turn of the century furniture.

She will be remembered particularly for her love of animals, her cows have already been mentioned but also her love of dogs or indeed any and every animal that she came across. She had a series of Jack Russell terriers towards the end of her life and when the time came for each one to be put to sleep she would have them interred in lead lined coffins which she kept piled up beside her bed, all apart from her last one which friends persuaded her to bury in her garden. These little coffins were buried with her at Toller Whelme. She also adopted a racing pigeon which arrived one day, probably exhausted from a race. She immediately took care of it, kept it in her bathroom, fed it until it was fit again and became very attached to it. When one day she left the window open and it flew away she was distraught and spent the following weeks sitting in the garden waiting for its return it never came back.

Mrs Childs was a real village character, the like of which we may never see again.

Mary Boughton

Jim Chaplin

Jim and Irene Chaplin came to the village in the early 1960s, moving into one of the bungalows that had just been built in Gulliver's Orchard. Their youngest daughter, Hazel, lived with them and attended Colfox School.

Jim was to play an important part in investigating and recording the history of Shipton Gorge. He was an avid historian and wrote the booklet "Shipton Gorge, Some Notes from Its History"  which is a very comprehensive document on the history of the village and its inhabitants going right back in history.

Whenever you went into their home the radio was always on, but it was always the Home Service, or Radio 4 as it now is, that they listened to. They both were keenly interested in current affairs and had an insatiable thirst for knowledge of all sorts. Jim kept pigs in his field at the end of Bonscombe Lane and enjoyed his new life here as a pig farmer. He was a life long Labour party supporter and so he must have been delighted when Harold Wilson came to power in 1964. Irene had studied botany as a young woman and had a lifelong love of nature and plants, knowing the Latin names of many of them. She was also involved with the Women s Institute and always attended their meetings.

Jim's Tree

Jim was interested in archaeology as well as history and in 1969 when land was being cleared for the construction of Rockway, he found two carved stone heads. These are thought to be of Celtic origin and are now to be seen in the Archaeological Department of Dorset County Museum in Dorchester.

 Later on Jim was chairman of the Parish Council for many years and contributed a great deal to the life of the village.

During the 1970s Jim and Irene built a bungalow on their land at Bonscombe Lane and called their new home The Croft. They lived there for many years and after Jim's death, Irene moved to Cumbria to be with her son Robert and his family until her death during the 1990s. Their daughter Hazel moved to New Zealand where she married and raised a family, although she did make the journey back with her family to visit her mother not long before she left the village.

Jim planted an ash sapling on the green triangle at the entrance to Bonscombe Lane which grew into a good strong tree, until unfortunately it succumbed to ash die-back and had to be felled in 2021.  It was replaced by a young Turkey Oak which was donated by Barbara West of Hickory Hollow, who had grown it from an acorn taken from the trees by The Croft.   A fitting replacement which we hope will grow into a fine specimen.  Every year as you watch it grow bigger and stronger, please remember both Jim Chaplin who planted the original ash and Barbara West who grew the oak.   

Jim was an exceptional man who, though not born in the village, came here to live, loved the village immensely and left us the legacy of his writings.

Mary Boughton