Update 27th January
I found out this weekend that Rob Knight died recently. It was a great pleasure to spend time with Rob and to document his memories with Kit for this piece.
We were planning to record more with together but we still have this. So here it is, in dedicated to Rob Knight.
A tribute to Rob from his local parish newsletter is posted at the end of this post.
Visiting Rob Knight
Recently I have been visiting Kit Vaughan in his woods in West Dorset. Kit is a woodsman, an environmentalist, an activist and someone who understands the importance of creating space. Prime coppice is a healing place, a creative space, and on a dark winter afternoon with the fire light flickering, it is a place for new ideas to be born.
One such idea was to visit a close neighbour to the woods, a gentleman called Rob Knight.
Rob Knight is a 92 year old resident of the Dorset village Whitchurch Canonicorum.
Kit and I visited Rob to talk about his memories of the village.
Rob was born in Whitchurch Canonicorum and, apart from his military service, has remained there all his life.
Rob played us a recording from the only tape of the dawn and evening birdsong at Prime Coppice, recorded in 1970. He shared his thoughts on changes in the village, its harvest customs and the changes in bird migration and the local wildlife.
Rob has a bird caller, it makes the sound of an owl or a wood pigeon, depending on how hard it is blown. Next to it, Rob placed a picture of his great grandfather Samuel Clifford, who worked the woods long before Kit lived there.
Samuel is buried in the local churchyard, which attracts pilgrims from around the world to visit the shrine of St. Wite.
So back to Prime Coppice, a 52 acre woodland located in the beautiful Marshwood Vale in West Dorset. It is the last large remaining block of ancient woodland coppice of this size in the West Dorset Area.
The wood was once a vibrant and thriving working woodland, hence the name Prime Coppice. Historically the wood was an excellent example of a community working woodland. It provided a wide range of livelihood and coppice products eg: employment, training, cider, firewood, charcoal, timber, hazel and ash hurdles, baskets and bean sticks. Historically the area next to the wood was known as the kings moot, where the local leaders would meet to discuss affairs. Surrounding the woodland there is a rich history, including the finding of a bronze age Viking axe head and the old Marshwood castle and deer park. The woodland and Marshwood vale where the wood sits, is ringed by a series of 7 ancient hill forts including the famous Pilsdon Pen.
Here is a piece I made from the morning with Rob, I think of it as a radio broadcast from Prime Coppice
Remembering Bob Knight from Whitchurch Canonicorum
“Robert Gifford Knight was born on 31 March 1927 and was the only child of Charles and Florence who lived at Morcombelake. It is assumed that the Knights are the oldest established family in this area of West Dorset as they can trace their ancestry back to 1603.
Bob was a general engineer and started his apprenticeship at Buglers in Beaminster aged 16 during the Second World War and was then called up to the armed forces and joined the 16/5 Queens Royal Lancers and did his national service in Egypt. He then spent eight years in the aircraft industry. Two of these were with Vickers Armstrong, and then six years with Westland in Yeovil.
On his mother’s death in 1966 he returned to Whitchurch Canonicorum and did general engineering in West Dorset. He converted the church clock to
electrical winding and worked for Pitfield Brothers building company for a time. Bob could put his hand to most things and spent quite a lot of his time gardening for people in the district. Bob was a great naturalist being born and brought up in what was then a thriving rural countryside. He spoke fondly of a local economy that had a blacksmith, tinker, tailor, baker and a large number of local tradespeople. He knew many of the local birds just by their calls and was an avid naturalist. He loved his garden having bees and producing a wide range of fruit and vegetables.
He was also fond of his daily cider right up to his nineties and talked fondly of cider making together with other local folk, especially Alan Pitfield down at Prime Coppice. Alan was in charge of the apple mill (scratter) which chopped up the apples to make the pomace to fill the cider cheese in the press. Cider would be drunk and passed around the circle – all drinking from the same two handled cup.
Bob and Alan Pitfield had a strong friendship working in and around the woods together, and they also hunted deer for the pot. Bob was able to deploy his considerable mechanical skills fixing Alan’s old crawler tractor and machinery.
In 1964 Bob married Diana Seale-Crisp at Whitchurch Canonicorum and they first lived with his parents at Goodens Hill. A little later on they purchased land at Morcombelake and built a cedar wood bungalow on the plot and named it Cedarcote.
During the Second World War Diana was in the RAF as a CO Driver. Later she worked in the Meteorological Office for six years. Diana passed away in 2009. Bob remained at Cedarcote until his death in January this year.
Bob was a kindly man with a good heart and a great friend to many people in the village.
He will be sorely missed as one of the last true remaining Dorset country gentleman.”
Kit Vaughan, Sylvia Creed-Castle and Jim Coe