Origins of The Fox at Orchard Cottage

Phil was born in 1949 when his parents David and Mavis, his sister Jane and brother Steven were living with Phil’s grandparents in St Albans. When Phil was six months old the family moved to a house in station road, Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire called Orchard Cottage which was a couple of doors down from a pub called The Fox where David liked to drink with the locals.

When Phil was about 14years old he inherited £100 following the death of a family relative. When his parents asked him what he wanted to do with the money Phil said he would like a sailing dingy. There was an old barn in the garden of Orchard Cottage which David used for doing odd bits of carpentry and he said he would use the money to build Phil a boat.

The design they chose was a Fleetwind – a chined, one design class with a high aspect ratio sail, designed by Alan Eckford, a Second World War hero who lived in Bourne Cottage, Broxbourne.  Although only 12 ft long, the mast was 20 ft high and the dingy was designed to sail on the nearby river Blackwater in Essex, where  the Fleetwind’s tall mast enabled the sail to catch the wind even though at low tide the river banks were very high. David bought the blueprints, timber etc and worked away at his task. You can see the fruits of his labour in these photos, taken in the garden of Orchard Cottage on the day the boat was finally finished.

David and Phil decided to name the boat “The Fox” after the pub.  I know the pub ceased to operate as a public house at some point and was subsequently sold as a private residence, but I don’t know the date that this happened. Maybe it happened around the time David was building the boat. These days the only sign that it used to be a pub is the brass knocker on the front door which is in the shape of a fox’s head.

Phil had great fun with his boat for the rest of his life. Benj Lefevre remembers sailing on the Thames with Phil in her. One summer the end of the seventies  Pip Pyle drove Phil and me, Pam and all the children to Cornwall for a holiday with The Fox on a trailer behind the van. We had such fun. Phil and I with Jack Monck and his wife  used to take her sailing at Stone on the river blackwater within sight of the Bradwell power station when his sons were small. Jack has photos of this which I will add to this post when Jack comes back from Spain.

The Fox was kept in the barn at Orchard Cottage when not in use. The last photo, taken after the death of his parents, before the house was sold, shows Phil with The Fox – all freshly varnished – before her last journey by road to Broxbourne Sailing Club where we took her sailing for several years. There she rests now, abandoned after Phil’s death, in what condition I know not. Farewell little Fox, Phil really loved you. Next week in OPUS we are posting Phil’s composition The Fox,