A photograph recently acquired by the Heritage Lottery Funded Shaftesbury and the Great War Community Project shows a group of local men, possibly at the Wimborne St Giles camp, who had enlisted in the Dorset Yeomanry. On the left (seated) is Frank Pickford from Melbury Abbas, and behind him is Ernest Foot from Compton Abbas. But who are the others, and what happened to them? Ann Symons and Claire Ryley will be delighted to hear from anyone who can help identify these soldiers of the First World War. Ann and Claire will be reporting on the progress of the Project to members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society, and anyone else interested, at Gold Hill Museum on Tuesday 07 March at 2.30p.m. If you can’t make it to their presentation, they can be contacted by phoning 01747 852157 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Dorchester author Philip Browne gave a graphic account of The Unfortunate Captain Peirce and the Wreck of the Halsewell as The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society’s February lecturer. The Halsewell, an outward bound 800 ton East Indiaman, foundered beneath the sheer cliffs of the Purbeck coast in the early hours of 06 January 1786, in the teeth of a ferocious winter storm. By daybreak, so the Reverend Morgan Jones reported, the ship had been smashed to pieces. Over 160 crew and passengers had drowned, including Captain Peirce and his daughters and nieces, who were perhaps hoping to find eligible husbands among the British in India. News of the tragedy had enormous impact, evoking responses from artists, poets and composers, and King George III made an excursion to the clifftop from Weymouth in 1789. There is a mass grave but no memorial, as the East India Company – consistent with its current fictional depiction on TV – was less than generous in its treatment of the disaster.
Philip Browne describes his struggles, first to find a publisher and then persuade bookshops to stock his admirable book, in the current issue of The Historian, the magazine of the Historical Association. His book is available from Hobnob Press.
A few winter weeks have seen the passing of three strong supporters of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society. The death of Rachel Caldwell was followed on 28 December by that of Trustee and Treasurer Marjory Kellett (above). A graduate of Glasgow University, Marjory taught A Level Maths in Hamilton, Carlisle, Sherborne and Shaftesbury, and began to apply her facility with numbers to the finances of Gold Hill Museum in 2014. Always calm, good-humoured and friendly, Marjory could also be found stewarding at Museum Reception and helping husband Ian in the Museum garden. A talented pianist blessed with a fine singing voice, Marjory became the long-serving organist at Bell Street United Church, Shaftesbury, where a Service of Thanksgiving for her life starts at 2p.m. on Friday 20 January.
In January another Museum stalwart to fall was former Trustee, Secretary and fellow Scot Alex Selbie. Alex did sterling work organising the Museum library and answering queries, while dealing with floods in the basement and then the upheaval of redevelopment. The S&DHS, and indeed the town, are the poorer for the passing of these three.
A full house at December’s Shaftesbury & District Historical Society lecture heard a lively presentation from Dr Wayne Bartlett on Cnut the Great – a Shaftesbury Perspective. The English crowning of the conceivably twenty-one year old Cnut took place at Christmas 1016 and by 1027 he was a major figure at the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor in Rome and styling himself “King of all England and Denmark and the Norwegians and of some of the Swedes.” Though as ruthless as any Viking, Cnut was a generous supporter of the Christian Church and received a positive press from contemporary monastic chroniclers. The story of his failure to command the tide dates from a century after his death at Shaftesbury in 1035 and was intended to highlight his humility rather than his vanity.
On Tuesday 13 December at Shaftesbury Library from 2.30 to 3.30p.m. the Shaftesbury and the Great War Gold Hill Museum Community Project will be recalling Christmas in Wartime with authentic wartime recipes. Details from Ann Symons and Claire Ryley at email@example.com
At the AGM of the Dorset Museums Association held on 24 November Chris Stupples of Shaftesbury was honoured as one of the Dorset Museums Volunteers of the Year. Chris was nominated by both Shaftesbury Abbey and Gold Hill Museums, and received his award at the newly-opened Steve Etches Collection, a remarkable display of marine fossils at Kimmeridge. Chris has been a prime contributor to Gold Hill Museum’s Heritage Lottery Funded Shaftesbury and the Great War Community Project. From 22 War Memorials in the Shaftesbury area he has researched the backgrounds of 377 named individuals, 111 of whom have no known grave – 7 still remain elusive, perhaps because of discrepancies in military records. Claire Ryley (left) and Ann Symons gave a well-received presentation to their Dorset Museums colleagues on the growth of the volunteer-driven Project, which currently involves 190 local people and plans to make its findings generally accessible through the launch of a website in the spring of 2017.
A moving commemorative event organised on Saturday 12 November by volunteers of the Gold Hill Museum Shaftesbury and the Great War Community Project attracted over 130 people to St James Church. Against a background of images recorded during the Heritage Lottery Funded Project, relatives of World War One participants, Shaftesbury School students, and the Community Choir contributed readings and choral items, with music played by Heather Blake. Researcher Chris Stupples, at the lectern above, presented a roll of honour, held aloft by Project leaders Ann Symons and Claire Ryley, listing the histories of every individual on the St James War Memorial. The two minute silence was accompanied by the Last Post and Reveille played by Sharon Hawkes, and followed by afternoon tea. A retiring collection raised £380 to be shared between St James Church Refurbishment Fund and The Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal.
Chris Jones of Smith and Jones Design Consultants popped into Gold Hill Museum to position the graphic panels for the North Dorset Museums’ Cabinet of Curiosities publicity campaign at half-term. Pride of place on the front page of the campaign leaflet goes to Gold Hill Museum’s medieval carved alabaster panel showing the entombment of St Catherine – or is it Edward the Martyr? This art treasure was discovered in the 1920’s concealed in the wall of a house in Shaftesbury High Street. St Edward features in Shaftesbury Abbey’s display, while Blandford Museum, Sturminster Newton Museum and Sturminster Newton Mill also contribute to the Cabinet of Curiosities. As the leaflet proclaims: visit them all! Further details at www.visit-dorset.com
On Tuesday 01 November at 2.30p.m. in the Garden Room at Gold Hill Museum, Parliamentary and constitutional consultant Barry Winetrobe will talk about Langport’s most famous son Walter Bagehot. One of the early editors of The Economist, Bagehot stressed the importance of the central bank as a bank of last resort in the event of a financial crisis, but is probably better known for his classic political commentary on The English Constitution. Though written in the 1860s and 70s, Bagehot’s works contain insights no less relevant today. As Chair of the Bagehot Memorial Fund, Barry Winetrobe has been instrumental in reviving interest in Bagehot, who had an asteroid named after him before being rediscovered by his home town at the heart of the Somerset Levels. This lecture is free to members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society, while non-members may pay £3 at the door. Further details via 01747 852157 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Ninety-plus Shaftesbury & District Historical Society members and guests crammed into the Town Hall on Tuesday evening 04 October to hear Professor Caroline Dakers give an engaging and informative Teulon Porter Memorial Lecture. The advertised title was The Beckfords at Fonthill but in fact Professor Dakers ranged over the builders and owners of six mansions in the Fonthill area, from the late sixteenth to the twenty-first centuries. Not all were as eccentric or ambitious as William Beckford, ruined by a collapse in the price of sugar, but many were movers and shakers, and at least two were beheaded. John Bradshaw, who presided over the trial of Charles I in a bullet-proof hat, lost his head posthumously. The question was posed as to why such a small area of Wiltshire should attract so many repeated displays of built wealth. Professor Dakers plans to answer many other questions about Fonthill in a book to be published within a year or so.
The subject of the 2016 Teulon Porter Lecture for The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society, given by Professor Caroline Dakers, is “The Beckfords at Fonthill.” The venue is Shaftesbury Town Hall (above), at 7.30p.m. on Tuesday 04 October. This event is free to S & DHS members, while non-members may pay £5 at the door. (Annual membership is available on the night and costs £15 for an individual, £25 for a family, and £3 for a student.) Please use the entrance at the left-hand side of the building, as you look at it from the High Street. Free parking is available after 6p.m. in the car park accessible from Bleke or Bell Streets, adjacent to Budgens supermarket. This is within 5 minutes’ walk and just around the corner from the Town Hall.