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History & CommunityDorset & Quirky ... a winning combination

Dorset & Quirky … a winning combination

Margery Hookings catches up with an old friend to find out more about his ‘Dorset’s Legacy’ book series and the successful business he started from scratch, which is now a niche firm supplying branded items to top football clubs

 

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I’d bumped into Michael Wood at the Melplash Show late last summer. I hadn’t seen him in ages.

It was a lovely surprise to meet him there in the Kitson & Trotman hospitality tent. I knew him years ago when he ran Mikkimugs, an enamelware business in Uploders, near Bridport.

We chatted about this and that and then he told me about the new book he was planning to bring out.

I knew he’d written a number of books, and the subjects were all to do with quirky things in Dorset, which, to me, is a winning combination.

“I’ll let you know when it’s published,” he said. Some months later, true to his word, I received an email to tell me about his latest book in the Dorset’s Legacy series, which he writes under his full name of Michael Russell Wood.

“I went to do a talk in Dorchester once and I’m pretty sure they were expecting Michael Wood, the historian and broadcaster. I think they were terribly disappointed,” he tells me when I visit him at his house.

Michael has lived in Dorset since 1955, and is well versed in local tradition and countryside. He was born in Hertfordshire where his father had a mixed arable and dairy farm.

He went to Harrow and did his National Service in the Intelligence Corps before going to Cambridge where he studied for a degree in agriculture.

“In 1955, my father bought the Ashley Chase estate, where he worked to reclaim much of the farmland there. I worked with him for a time before starting my own agricultural engineering business—Bredy Supplies, specialising in milking machines and grain handling equipment.”

He sold the business to his partners and went into landscape contracting, working along the M4 corridor on the Trust House motels.

“Then I bought sixteen tons of nuts and bolts from BSA motorcycles when they closed down and retailed them in smaller amounts to motorcycle enthusiasts. At the time, I was living in North Dorset and there we started on the idea of decorating enamelware. We started with a tiny kiln, doing one mug at a time and that became quite a successful little business.”

He moved to Uploders in 1976 after the death of his father and built up the business—Mikkimugs—and then moved into plastic plates, mugs and high quality tableware, many of which are destined for Premier League clubs. Mikkimugs is now run by his son, Sam.

Michael has been writing the Dorset’s Legacy books since 2011. All of them have been about things many of us take for granted—such as bridges, corrugated iron buildings, inscriptions and bus shelters.

It’s a labour of love for Michael, 83, who has great affection for the Dorset countryside and ‘all these quirky little things that people pass by without generally looking at—they have all got so much to say.’

He used to go around on his motorbike, photographing the subjects for his book, but now explores in his car.

“The first book I did was about plaques and signs, the kind of thing everyone ignores and doesn’t even think about.

“And then I did one on corrugated iron buildings. Having previously been involved in farming, these had an attraction for me and I knew where a lot of them were. There is so much history in them.

“The little chapel at Dottery in Dorset features in my book, as well as the Baptist Chapel in Sherborne which was bought by a local philanthropist and donated to the Amateur Players of Sherborne.”

The more he searched, the more he discovered, and it’s been the same with all his books.

The latest, Dorset’s Legacy in Public Statues, features some well-known figures, such as Thomas Hardy in Dorchester and George III in Weymouth, alongside lesser-known pieces including a skateboarder by the sculptor Greta Berlin in the garden of Wimborne Library and Eric Gill’s obelisk in Briantspuddle.

He was inspired to write it after seeing the statue of Sir George Somers in Langmoor Gardens in Lyme Regis.

Somers was the founder of Bermuda and the statue by Ron Mole was unveiled in July 2016 to mark the twinning of Lyme Regis with St Georges, Bermuda.

The book illustrates statues in public view in the county as well as some oddities, telling their stories and the myths surrounding some of them.

For example, the obelisk by Eric Gill, known for his typeface design (including Gill Sans), is reputed to have been brought to Dorset on a horse and cart from his studio in the south east, with the sculptor subsisting on ham, bread and cider.

The Martyrs memorial at the eastern end of South Walks, Dorchester, is by Dame Elizabeth Frink. It marks the spot where the gallows once stood and shows two of the martyrs in front of the hangman. It symbolises the hundreds of people who were persecuted for their religious beliefs during the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

St Aldhelm’s statue sits in a niche on the front of The Digby Memorial Church Hall in Sherborne, which was built in 1910. At the time, a master of Sherborne School described the statue ‘as one of the very worst specimens of cheap modern Gothic extant’.

St Aldhelm, who died in AD 709, was a scholar who built churches and schools. He was also famous as a writer and one of his noted works was De Virgintate (About Virginity) written for the Abbess and nuns of Barking. The author tells us that when Aldhelm was Abbot of Malmesbury ‘he would often stand in the icy waters of the nearby stream in order to subdue the desires of the flesh’.

The chapter on animal statues includes the real story of the five-legged deer on a disused entrance arch to Charborough Park, the home of the Drax family for over 400 years.

 

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