You are in [Artefacts] [Matchstick models by Billy Cox]

This article and the accompanying photos were kindly sent by Dr Jimmy Whittaker, Sep 2019.

The Matchstick Man of Hungerford

Many of us are familiar with the matchstick men depicted in the urban landscapes and drawings of Pendlebury, Lancashire by the famous artist, L.S. Lowry. Well, Hungerford has its own famous matchstick man, namely Billy Cox.

If you walk into St. Lawrence’s Church in Hungerford, just on the right hand side you will see a model of the church enclosed in a Perspex case. Its silver-
coloured inscription plaque tells us it was built by William C. Cox in 2000 and in the same year it was displayed for the first time at a garden fete held in the
Croft Field.

Whilst photographing the model of the church, I learned from Joyce Page, one of the flower arrangement team that Billy had created a number of other models of Hungerford landmark buildings including The Church House, the Town Hall, The Fire Station and the old Police Station. So the quest was now on to track them down. Joyce also told me that Dean Lavisher could provide some history. It transpired that Billy Cox, was the great uncle of Dean, who had once lived in Church Way .

The Town Hall

My enquiries to Jed Ramsey, Chief Executive of the Town and Manor, informed me that this model was in the custody of Stewart Hofgartner, proprietor of Upstairs Downstairs. Stewart gave me the keys to one of his secret lockup storage units, first drawing me a “treasure” map to the site. Lo and behold, I found the model on a top shelf covered in a large plastic bag.

Apparently, the model had been used recently in a flower arrangement display somewhere in the town.

The Fire Pump in the Town Hall

When I took the Town Hall model down, in its forecourt was the model of the fire pump which now can be seen in the entrance to the Corn Exchange.

The Church House

Nick Lumley, the present Constable of the Town and Manor of Hungerford, advised that the model of the Church House (now the Croft Hall) was to be found in the John Newton room situated inside the hall…now that is something that I didn’t know.

The Police Station

In one of my books (“The Changing Faces of Hungerford, Volume 3”), I mention that there was once a model of the “Old Police Station” in the foyer created by Billy Cox. A newspaper cutting from the Newbury Weekly News reported that Billy presented this model to local community police bobby, Ron Hoyes sometime around 1999. A phone call to the curator (Colin Boyes) at Thames Valley Police Museum at Sulhamstead House, where the Thames Valley Police Training Centre is located, revealed the museum was temporarily closed but would reopen at the White House in Sulhamstead sometime in September (2019). Perhaps more importantly, PC Colin Boyes confirmed that the model was under wraps in a Perspex storage case but would soon be on public display once the artefacts from the Great Train Robbery had been sorted out and exhibited in their new home.

The “new” old Fire Station

In conversation with Dean, I also learned of this model and Dean kindly sent me a photograph of it. Interestingly, Dean had served in the local fire service for a
number of years. It turned out that when Dean and his grandad (Tony May) visited Billy on a Sunday morning that they would find him in his shed almost up to his neck in matchsticks, creating models. Apparently, Billy never bought any matchsticks but Hungerford’s smoking population would save them up for him. Back in the day, whenever I saw Billy in the High Street, he had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Sadly, he died in the Royal Berks hospital in 2003, as a result of lung cancer but the legacy of his models lives on!

Billy’s other models included fire engines, carts and windmills.

How did he make his models?

He collected many matchsticks, cut them to size and glued them together. Now here’s the interesting bit. He didn’t use photographs to fashion his models on , he visited the buildings several times over the course of months and relied upon his memory!!

So what do we know about Billy then?

William Charles Cox was born in Hungerford on 2nd February 1931 and was the son of Frederick William Cox and Dorothy E.I. May. During the war in 1939 he lived at 25 Dog Lane (Church Way) and in 1955, we find Billy living at 35 Church Way. Dog Lane was sometime renamed Church Way and the houses
were probably renumbered at the same time. Dorothy May is related to Tony May and Tony’s family members including Peter, Leslie (deceased), Tina and
Ann and their children such as the Mays of Bulpit Lane, the Lavishers (such as Dean), and the Mays of Australia.

Billy’s father, Frederick Charles Cox, who worked for Berkshire County Council was born in Hungerford on the 10th January 1909 and died in 1980, and
his mother Dorothy E.I. May was born on 14th May 1911. Billy was probably named after his grandad William Cox who lived in Park Street and worked as an
“engine man “at Hungerford Station.

Billy himself worked as a painter and decorator. Billy died in February 2003 aged 73.

Acknowledgements

I am grateful to the following people who helped me uncover details of Billy’s work: Dean Lavisher, Joyce Page, Jed Ramsey, Stewart Hofgartner and Nick
Lumley.

Photo Gallery:

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- Billy Cox's model of St Lawrence Church (photo by Tony Bartlett)

- Billy Cox's model of the Town Hall (photo by Dr Jimmy Whittaker)

- Billy Cox's model of the old Fire Pump (photo by Dr Jimmy Whittaker)

- Billy Cox's model of the old Police Station (photo by Dr Jimmy Whittaker)

- Billy Cox's model of the old Fire Station (photo by Dr Jimmy Whittaker)

- Billy Cox's model of the old Fire Station (photo by Dr Jimmy Whittaker)

- Billy Cox with his mother (photo by Dr Jimmy Whittaker)

- Billy Cox (photo by Dr Jimmy Whittaker)

- Billy Cox and Ron Hoyes with Billy's model of the old Police Station (photo by Dr Jimmy Whittaker)