If you bought apples from Dennis Jeeps, what you got was excellent
apples. If you attended one of his talks on Old Willingham, you enjoyed a
well-prepared, well-presented treat of historical knowledge, delivered
with wonderful witty asides. While his cousin Mike Hopkins was alive, the
Old Willingham occasions were joint performances. After Mike's death,
Dennis continued with them - to everyone's great delight.
Dennis was a perfectionist. He was an amateur local historian of
distinction, who over the years immersed himself enthusiastically in the
history of Willingham. His approach was rigorous, but it was also focused
on the human: he was interested in, and knowledgeable about, the people
who had walked the Willingham stage.
He was also an excellent photographer. He recorded many of the 'great
occasions' of village life, but his photographic interests were much wider
than that. He had, for example, taken photographs of misericords in
churches in many parts of Britain, and his talks on that subject were
extremely informative and rooted in deep historical knowledge.
Dennis could have been a professional historian. He would have been a
first-rate teacher. He did not, however, follow that route, but went to
work with his father and elder brother as a fruit farmer. He brought to
that role the same high standards that he brought to everything else. And
he had the knack of encouraging and enthusing the young.
His affection for Willingham, and his deep sense of its history, were
immensely valuable when the old school in Fen End finally ceased to be
used (in 1975, when the new school opened in Thodays Close). The main
building and the school teacher's house belonged to the British School
Trust, which had been set up to provide the school, which had been opened
in 1856. Now that it was no longer needed as a school, the Trust had to
sell school and house, to invest the money to provide continuing
educational support for the village. It was typical of Dennis that, as one
of the Trustees, he made himself an expert on charity law and practice,
and wrote the new Scheme, which was accepted without amendment by the
Charity Commission, and which still provides the framework for the
continuing positive contribution of the Trust to the village.
Dennis Jeeps was a 'one-off' - erudite, witty, warm, enthusiastic - a
major contributor to the life of the village.