Bearwood… Recollecting the Past

The name given to an ancient woodland, once part of the Canford Magna estate, where, as far back as the eleventh century, Lords of the Manor have been recorded. The Parish itself covered some 25 square miles, and was bounded on the north by the River Stour, on the south by the seashore (Canford Cliffs), on the east by the Dorset/Hampshire border, and to the west by the Roman Road, leading from Badbury Rings to Hamworthy.

In the late twenties, a Mrs Francis bought a part of the woodland, where a notable feature was a manmade lake for breeding duck. Sluice gates controlled the level of water and visiting shooting parties from the Manor included King “Teddy” (Edward VII). Still all there when we were young, my two brothers, friends and myself played in and around the location – quite oblivious of any potential danger, on reflection! Upon inspection, anyone will notice that 66 Wood Lane is still, in fact, called “Old Lake”.

Riley J Linn from Bransgore was a nephew of Mrs Francis, and a recently qualified architect at the time. He drew up an imaginative development plan for the construction of individually designed, cottage-style dwelling houses, arranged along a “Lea Way” and a crescent road. Wood Lane follows the line of the latter in one direction, but No 56 (Waney Edge) on Magna Road now occupies the site where it would have met the A341 again at the other.

Mr Linn, who was years ahead of his time environmentally, recycling the felled timber and featuring it both in load-bearing situations and as decorative elements, took down only trees as absolutely necessary. Many oaks beams and elm boards are still very much in evidence, as can be witnessed, for example, at 1 Lea Way and at the Post Office, originally built incidentally as a tearoom. “Quick” hedges were also the order of the day. Totally out of character and alien to such a sensitively verdant, if not unique area, definitely no interwoven panels as in popular use of these days!

The development was a family project in every sense, and it brought together a little band of local craftsmen, with Ernest Butler as the carpenter, and his apprentice Len Sheppard, Edward (Ted) Shiner the plasterer (my late father), and his deceased brother Albert who was the bricklayer. My late grandfather Jesse, himself a master bricky, frequently lent a hand with his trowel, too, I believe.

Seriously wounded on the Somme, Ted had served as a Colour Sergeant in the 2nd Battalion, Dorset Regiment, where a tour of duty in Southern India had taken him to the Nilgiri Hills. With Ern next door at No 19, the plot Ted chose to build a little bungalow home for himself and his family, was at the end of the cul-de-sac, but more significantly at the top of a hill, so he called it by the same name, “Niligiri” (No 18).

The poultry farm of Mr Spice, who lived at 72 Magna Road, in those days joined Ted’s garden and, abutting the field of Knighton Farm all along, extended in the other direction, right through to the main Magna Road, where No 88 now stands.

On some of this land, and in later life, Edward built my house, 2 Wood Lane and that of my brother, James, No 3.

Trees can very easily become endangered specimens in the modern world, and it is thanks to Preservation Orders and vigilant residents that Bearwood retains the singular character such important standing timber gives it.

Another endangered species, the bear, was far more in evidence it seems in years gone by. Tradition has it that a man who once lived in a hut beneath all the canopy kept a performing bear, thereby giving a name, not only to a woodland, but ultimately to a whole district, created largely and ironically on green field sites, what is more, where, for the most part, hardly anything arboreal even existed!

I treasure Mr Riley J Linn’s draftmanship, manifest on the original plans for “The Bearwood Canford Magna Estates Co”, and dated 1935, the document having been in the possession of my father until his death in 1991, aged ninety-six years!

In an equally valued photograph, which he also left me, one of the little Estate houses is shown during its construction. Ernest Butler is a tall man on the one side, and next to him is Edward himself. Leonard Sheppard is certainly one of the two younger men in the picture, with Albert Shiner on the end. Framed between two scaffolding poles, cloth caps, collars and ties were the order in those days, even the odd top-pocket handkerchief!

Didn’t they do well!

Christopher J Shiner
“Old Canfordian, Man of Dorset”
Copyright by arrangement

Contributed by Justin Taylor. Posted: 1 Mar 2001