WILFRID POTTER (1922 -
Wilfrid, dated May 1st 1932, near Bournemouth.
Courtesy of Kate Rundle & Alison Griffin Wilfrid spruced up and ready for his trip to Lords Cricket Ground, Summer 2006
Eve Higgs writes … everybody who knew him has their own story to tell about Wilfrid. This is mine. My husband John and I moved to Thorncombe in July 1998. Our house backs on to Potter’s Field, as it is known locally, so we got to know Wilfrid as near neighbours. He used to let us burn our garden rubbish on his field and would often join us for a chat in front of the bonfire.
Until his death in 2008, Wilfrid Potter lived at Worcester on Chard Street. Mr Potter had lived there since boyhood and was descended from an old Thorncombe family. He was a much loved and respected member of the local community. Wilfrid’s grandfather, William Bonfield, was the village blacksmith. William is pictured here outside his smithy in front of Little Orchard on what is now known as the High Street, previously Fore Street. Thomas’s Place is in the background.
The Bonfields were also the licencees of the Crown public house further down Fore Street and Wilfrid’s uncle Albert, Marina Atyeo’s grandfather ran the shop opposite the Royal Oak. Wilfrid’s mother Dorothy Bonfield, is seen here with her sister Helen outside the Crown.
Wilfrid grew up in an all female household consisting of his mother and his grandmother Bessie Bonfield, who is said to have ruled the roost. He told my husband John and me that his father, Ernest Potter , who was the tenant at Thorncombe Farm, lived separately from his wife and child on Granny Bonfield’s orders, and that as a child Wilfrid had to visit his father in secret at his house on The Terrace at 4 High Street. Bessie sold Worcester and the field behind it to Wilfrid for £450 in 1948 but continued to live there for the rest of her life. He also told us that he was threatened by his grandmother with disinheritance if he continued to court a Winsham girl who’d caught his eye. As a child Wilfrid was forbidden to play with local children, so his seems to have been a lonely childhood with only books for company. Mr Potter’s strict upbringing resulted in him often being all things to all men.
Unmarried and childless, his gentle nature brought out protective instincts particularly in women. But while he was always amenable face to face, Wilfrid might subsequently claim to others after a given event, usually involving an invitation which he always claimed he felt obliged to reluctantly accept, that he had been coerced into acting against his will, which could result in misunderstandings between neighbours springing to his defence.
During World War II, Wilfrid was in one of the tank regiments but evidently not the most effective of soldiers. One day, he fell asleep while guarding a group of German prisoners, and narrowly missed being put on a charge, the prisoners waking him up and handing him back his rifle just in time as his senior officer approached.
A great cricket enthusiast, animal lover, and pianist, often to be heard playing at night, Mr Potter was a keen choir member throughout his life. Wilfrid was also a classics graduate from Worcester College, Oxford, hence the name of his house and had a career as a Latin teacher at various schools in Sussex, and in the Cotswolds, returning to Worcester in the holidays, before retiring to Thorncombe in the 1980s.
A gentle shy nervous individual with lovely old-
Back at Worcester, he appeared to live on Heinz tinned soup which was lined up neatly on a wooden shelf above an old electric cooker, next to a rickety 1950s ‘kitchenette’ cupboard with glass sliding doors and drop down flap. In his incredibly untidy kitchen, a snug country bachelor cave, the table was piled high with torn envelopes, letters, papers and books etc. The last time I saw Wilfrid, he was sitting on his wonky armchair in front of a very shiny halogen fire, reading Cicero in the original.
Such was the local affection which he enjoyed it was inevitable that during his final illness, Wilfrid would be looked after by a devoted team of local friends and neighbours enabling him to stay in his beloved Worcester almost up to the end of his life. There was standing room only at Wilfrid Potter’s funeral which filled the parish church. It seemed as though all of Thorncombe had turned out to say goodbye. Buried in the same grave as his father in St Mary’s overflow churchyard, father and son are finally reunited.
With the exception of the first photo taken in 1932, these photos were among those found in Wilfrid’s house after he died and given to his cousin Marina Atyeo who has kindly given permission for them to be reproduced here. If you have your own memories of Wilfrid to add to these recollections, or would like to write a memoir about another Thorncombe resident , or have photos of old Thorncombe you would like to share, please email us at .
For more memories of Wilfrid see the account of former evacuee Louise May Silver