Shipton Gorge Parish Council

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Florence Childs

It 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.

Virginia_House
Virginia House, Shipton Gorge
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. 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 Havisham! 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 dogs and 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