Our members are participating in the A-Z Blogging Challenge for 2018 with the theme People of My Place. Today's entry is from Elizabeth Preston.
I met Bessie very briefly when my husband and I moved to Enmore Green just before Christmas 2002; the day we moved into our house we joined a group of locals to go carol singing around the “village.” As we stood at Bessie’s open front door and sang to her, my eyes were drawn to a photograph on her wall of a man who looked just like my grandfather, Sidney Charles Brickell.
Sadly, Bessie became ill early in 2003 and died, aged 98, before I had a chance to get to know her, and I have not yet found a link between her Brickells and mine, even though they all came from the Shaftesbury area.
I soon realised that much of what went on in Enmore Green was centred on St John’s church and Bessie.
Bessie was born in Enmore Green on 26th May 1904, the second of six children born to Charles and Louisa Brickell. Charles had suffered from rheumatism after service in the Boer War and worked as an agricultural labourer, moving around the local area for work.
Charles moved his family into Knapp House, Enmore Green in about 1911, initially paying rent of 3s a week, but later managing to buy it for just over £100.00. In common with everyone else they had no running water: it had to be brought from local wells. As Bessie’s mother took in washing to make ends meet, a lot of water would have been needed especially on Mondays. (I learnt some years ago that there is in fact a medieval well under Knapp House.) Bessie recalled taking a kettle of hot water in winter to break the ice on the well, and covering it with brown paper in an attempt to stop it freezing.
Bessie attended Enmore Green school from the age of three and was disappointed to have to leave school at thirteen; she would have liked to go on to further education. Bessie didn’t want to go into service – she wasn’t going to be anyone’s skivvy and as the unmarried daughter of the family she was expected to stay at home and look after her parents. So, when a firm in Yeovil advertised for girls to train as home glove machinists – an occupation undertaken by many women in Shaftesbury, she took the opportunity. The gloves were collected fortnightly and she received four shillings for twelve pairs.
In 1940, at the age of 36, she applied for and became the village postwoman, a job she did for two and a half years. She cycled all around and because it was wartime, when lights were needed they had to be half lights. In 1944 she trained as a telephonist and worked as the night time operator. All calls came through the exchange to be connected; few homes had their own telephone, most people had to use call boxes. Some nights there might be calls from soldiers who may be stranded at the railway station. A team of women volunteers was available who took turns to go and pick them up.
In 1947, the year her father died, Bessie moved to day work and after training in Bristol for the automatic system, she returned to work in the new Shaftesbury exchange, above what is now the Post Office, where she worked for 27 years.
When Bessies’s mother died in 1957, Knapp House was sold but Bessie had a bungalow built in the grounds where she lived for the rest of her life.
A Miss Belfield and Miss Jeffreys had arrived in the village around 1915 and started various groups, including a choir, which Bessie joined, Scouts, Guides, Brownies. The choir took part in festivals, including one at Alexandra Palace in 1937. Bessie was a keen member of the St John Ambulance and when she retired from this in 1972, she started 28 years of working in the Oxfam shop.
Bessie became a member of St John’s church council in 1927 and the secretary a month or so later. When she retired from the council in April 2002 at the age of 97, she had completed 75 years of dedicated service to the church in many capacities – secretary, sacristan, cleaner, bell ringer; she had opened and closed the church every day until well into her eighties, even though it meant climbing a pretty steep hill twice a day. The Bishop of Salisbury praised the outstanding contribution that Bessie had made to the life of the church and the village of Enmore Green.
As she said at the time, St John’s had been pivotal to all she had done over the years.There are still many people who remember Bessie with fondness and no-one will be able to match the service she gave to her church and community and the legacy she left behind. Our church community is small but active; we have a weekly service, monthly coffee morning, memories afternoons and other ad hoc events but no scouts, guides or brownies. The school was the meeting place for most of these weekday activities and that closed about thirty years ago.