Welding, Ships and Friendships

Viv Sandy, who turns 90 in December, was born on the estate and has rented a workshop onsite since the 60’s. He agreed to share some memories of his time at Boconnoc, although modestly confessed before we began, that he wasn’t sure if he’d have anything interesting to say! 

Viv was, and still is, a master welder. He started renting a workshop on the estate in the mid 60’s when most of his work took him down to the docks in Fowey, repairing ships that carried china clay and other mining cargo. Alongside this, he would also do odd welding jobs for local farmers and the estate. 

He reminisced about receiving calls to head off to work on ships all along the South West coast; Plymouth, Falmouth, Southampton. “Viv, my boy, we need you here”. 

“One Boxing day, I received a call to go down to the dock at Fowey to weld a three inch gap that had been missed on a ship; can you imagine what would have happened if it hadn’t been fixed? My wife didn’t much approve of the timing, mind”.

Viv’s work on the Estate

His first job on the Estate was to fix a cattlegrid, a job secured through a local friend, Gordon Levett, who he had served alongside in the Army. Gordon lived on the Estate and was the Clerk of Works and the resident carpenter at the time. 

The workshops, then, were occupied by Gordon the carpenter, Bill the mason and Viv the welder. “We had all sorts of adventures here” Viv shared. 

Viv worked on the iconic metal fencing that cradles the Estate, he built the metal bridge near the pond and he has built and repaired multiple cattlegrids over the years. Most impressively, in 1995, he and Gordon, with the encouragement of Anthony Fortescue, worked on the restoration of the sawmill, saving its fate. When the sawmill fell into disrepair it ‘broke Gordon’s heart’ claimed Viv and thanks to their skilled work and dedication it is one of the few water-powered sawmills in the country that is still in operation today. 

Viv officially retired 25 years ago, yet still comes up to his workshop twice a week to ‘be sociable’ and to pass on his welding skills. “Oh, and I was born on the estate too” Viv exclaimed, “in one of the Estate lodges. I lived here for about 6 weeks before my family moved to a cottage down near Polruan. Not that I can remember any of it of course”. 

He shared a fond memory of a moment, just before his retirement, when he was sitting with Gordon and Bill outside their workshops, one relaxed afternoon when someone shouted; ‘You lot look like The Last of the Summer Wine’. His smile was soft and reflective as he recalled that simple, sweet moment, shared with his friends. 

Viv shared many stories of his time working on the Estate for ‘The Captain’, through the 70’s and 80’s, all vivid with character and charm. One of our favourites is when Mrs Fortescue senior, wife of Captain Fortescue, asked him to make a weathervane as a surprise gift for her husband for Christmas. Someone spilled the beans so no surprise present, but the weathervane still sits proudly above the clock in the Stable Yard, seen by the Grooms House and the Head Grooms House today. 

Viv’s stunning work can be seen dotted throughout the holiday cottages and on the Estate, including the dining table in the Dairy House, which was designed by Sarah Fortescue and the late Anthony Fortescue, and is topped with Boconnoc oak cut in the sawmill, the side tables found neatly placed beside the sofas in the Head Grooms Cottage and the gate, leading to Boconnoc Church opposite the Dorothy Garden, which adds such romance and charm to a place where so many choose to celebrate their love by getting married. Most recently Viv has helped restore the shed where coffin boards used to be stored in the 70s after they were cut on the mill and dried onsite.

Each member of the Boconnoc team have their own favourite story that Viv has shared with them over the years. Including a plane crash in one of the fields of Boconnoc when he was in School during the war. Then, much later, when digging for water pipes in that same field, Viv decided to play a practical joke on everyone and welded a fake bomb and buried it. Only the joke went a bit too far and a bomb disposal crew were called in!

Viv has seen the Estate change and grow over the years, but in so many ways remain the same, holding an essence of authenticity and a sense of home. His twice weekly visits back to his workshop are vitally important to him, as he suggests that it ‘keeps his mind working’ and gives him something ‘useful to do’. 

Some people form part of the fabric of a place, and Viv’s playful nature and craftsmanship is as present as ever here at Boconnoc.

So from us all – have a very Happy 90th birthday, Viv.



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