A man of the town: David Wills

During his childhood, David Wills often helped out at the local blacksmith; perhaps not representative of an afterschool activity in 2017, indeed, it would be very difficult to draw any parallels between his experience growing up and that of a child in Oundle today. In fact, one wonders how many children in Oundle today will still be living here at the age of 81, in the house where their father was born?

david wills

Oundle was a very different town in October 1935. On the site of the Oundle School library there was a fire station, the book shop was an ironmongers, and Waitrose was a gasworks. This was the Oundle that David Wills was born in, and the Oundle in which he attended the Church of England school on Milton Road.

After what was not an unusual childhood for the time, Mr Wills’ story really begins at what was then Ted Freeman Builders in 1951, (now Coles Builders Merchants). At the age of 16, he started his long and varied professional career , which included three years national service in Hong Kong from 1953-1956. This was the longest period he ever spent away from Oundle, doing training exercises in the Chinese hills. He then returned to Oundle and enrolled at another building firm, where he did ‘ever so well’ for himself and earned ‘a whole £10 a week’.

After that, he spent the bulk of his working life at Fairline Yachts at the Oundle Marina, building boats that for the most part, were sent to Africa. During his many years there, he rose through the ranks and eventually became a manager. During this time, he met and married another Oundle local who, like David, came from a family who had lived there for over 100 years.

Between the two families, over the last century they have shared a history of having lived on nearly every street in the old Oundle.
Even now, in his retirement, he remains an active member of the Oundle community, volunteering at St Peter’s Church, the Oundle Museum and numerous local charities.

He has a very large garden which he opens to the public and hosts local events. The garden contains many full grown trees which he planted, including one for each of his grandchildren, and an apple tree that has been there since his father was a child. He has resisted many offers to purchase his land for development.

In many ways David Wills is among the last of his kind, an authentic one-town man in an increasingly inter-connected and mobile world.

In generations gone by, the bond between a man and his hometown was much stronger, as he would very likely live there his whole life.

This is very much the philosophy that David would have grown up with, and he has therefore long felt a strong connection with Oundle. Nowadays there is a perceived greater need to move about, people feel a pull less so towards their home, but to what is beyond it. It is a sign that the times are changing, as travel becomes cheaper, and we have a greater understanding of other countries.

David says he could never live in a big city, as the small town life is all he has ever known. The more relaxed pace, and friendly atmosphere of towns, rather than cities, have inspired his motto, the wisdom of 80 years condensed into one short phrase: ‘Go with the flow’. He says that life is too short to worry about things too much. ‘Just take it easy, and you’ll find that life is happy that way.’

Harry Squire
December 2017