Alfred's only contemporary portrait

Alfred the Great comes third in BBC History Magazine Hot 100 List

Readers of BBC History Magazine have voted King Alfred, founder of Shaftesbury Abbey, into third place in the History Hot 100 for 2017. Alfred was pipped to the post by Eleanor of Aquitaine and Richard III. Decide for yourself whether Alfred deserves this rating by attending this year’s Teulon Porter Memorial Lecture at Shaftesbury Town Hall at 7.30p.m. on Tuesday 03 October. Professor Barbara Yorke, Professor Emerita of Early Medieval History at the University of Winchester, will give an illustrated talk on King Alfred: Man and Myth. Professor Yorke, a leading and much-published expert on the Anglo-Saxons, is an engaging speaker. Admission is free to members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society while non-members may pay £5 at the door.

Churchyard Statue (3)

Decapitated Statue – but where and of whom?

The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society is shortly to publish its programme of lectures for 2017-18. At 2.30 p.m. on 02 January 2018 in the Garden Room at Gold Hill Museum historian and writer Dave Martin will discuss Cast Bronze Reputations; statues in the Wessex street. Dave promises that all the statues featured will be visible to the public and within 50 miles of Shaftesbury. But where is the somewhat decayed stone statue in the photograph? (Please click on the image to see the whole statue.) Who is the headless figure and for what was he well-known? A year’s membership of The S&DHS for the first entirely correct answers submitted to Gold Hill Museum.

Trustees elected at 2017 AGM

King Alfred backs Trustees

At the July AGM of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society, four very good servants and supporters of Gold Hill Museum were elected or re-elected as Trustees. With King Alfred looking on, they were (from left to right) Ken Howe, Sheena Commons, Janet Swiss and Ray Simpson. After 15 years’ sterling service, John Parker has decided to retire. The Society would be delighted to hear from any volunteer willing to take on John’s Buildings brief, or one of several other important roles such as Fundraiser, Administrator, Lecture Co-ordinator, or Minutes Secretary. For further details, please phone 01747 852157 or email

Brigit Strawbridge and Bee Hotel

Bee Hotels in ideal spot says Brigit Strawbridge

Renowned wild bee advocate Brigit Strawbridge has expressed her delight at discovering a perfect location at Gold Hill Museum for two nesting boxes provided by Shaftesbury Bee Group’s Big Bee Project. The boxes, funded by Shaftesbury Town Council, are designed to provide maternity homes for solitary cavity-nesting species such as Mason and Leafcutter bees. The bees fill tubes with pollen as food for their larvae, performing a vital role in plant pollination in the process. Their offspring pupate in the autumn and emerge as adults in the following year. These bees are harmless to humans and pets as they do not sting. Planting in recent years in the Wildlife Friendly Gold Hill Museum Garden  by Ian Kellett and his late wife Marjory was always intended to be pollen-rich and attractive to insects and birds. The garden is free to visit during the daily 10.30a.m. to 4.30p.m. opening hours of the Museum, also free.


Fonthill Old Abbey with modern house

In the footsteps of William Beckford

The 06 June summer outing of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society brought 30 members to the site of William Beckford’s great Gothic folly at Fonthill Old Abbey. Only a fragment remains of the original cruciform pile, built on the proceeds of sugar and slavery. That the tip of the northern limb of the Abbey still stands is a credit to the current owners, the Morants, who have added a modern house in sympathetic style. In the Tower Room Sidney Blackmore of the Beckford Society outlined the ambitions of the son of Alderman Beckford, a former Lord Mayor of London and MP for Shaftesbury. William’s own dreams were frustrated by his association with scandal – he was gay in an intolerant age – and he compensated by grandiose building which later collapsed, as did his income from the sugar plantations. He was still wealthy enough to remodel numbers 19 and 20 Lansdown Crescent in Bath, where Beckford Tower is his monument. The afternoon concluded with a delicious tea at The Angel in Hindon, where members thanked Lavender Buckland for conceiving and Claire Ryley for organising a memorable outing.

Tisbury Tithe Barn and Fonthill Old Abbey

On the afternoon of Tuesday 06 June members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society have the opportunity to make privilege visits to Tisbury Tithe Barn and Fonthill Old Abbey. The Tithe Barn at Place Farm, reputedly the largest in England, is now a venue for art exhibitions and events. The history of the Fonthill estate will be described by Sidney Blackmore of the Beckford Society in the tower room of the surviving remnant of Fonthill Old Abbey, and in the grounds, courtesy of Mrs Morant. The afternoon concludes with tea at The Angel in Hindon. A great deal of interest in Fonthill was stirred by Professor Caroline Dakers’s Teulon Porter Lecture in October 2016 and this promises to be a fascinating follow-up. Details of membership of The S&DHS can be found in the About Us menu of the Gold Hill Museum website.

Restored Sun and Moon Sign

Sensation at The Sun and Moon November 1906

Hanging once again outside Gold Hill Museum, above the passageway down from the High Street, is the newly restored Sun and Moon Inn sign. During the winter months Shaftesbury & District Historical Society Trustee John Parker repainted and repositioned the sign, derived from the crest of the Bowles family after whom the Bowles Arms (or Sun and Moon Inn) was named. Having told us last month of the lively goings-on at the Edwardian lodging house in Sun and Moon Cottage, fellow Trustee Ray Simpson has revealed another sensational episode involving assault and possible murder in the Spring issue of The Byzant, the Historical Society Newsletter. This can be accessed in the About Us menu of the Gold Hill Museum website.


19 Lodgers at No.1 Gold Hill in 1911

Members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society were treated to a diverse range of local insights at their annual Tea and Talks on Tuesday 04 April. The cakes baked by Elaine Barratt were excellent too. Ray Simpson unfolded the tangled story of Pasqualino Fuoco, the Italian proprietor of the Edwardian lodging house in Sun and Moon Cottage. Business was booming at the time of the 1911 Census, when there were 19 pedlars and hawkers staying at No.1 Gold Hill, but there were later court cases and marital disputes. Jo Rutter (centre) looked at some of the occupants of Maudlin / Magdalene Lane in 1851, while Matthew Tagney (right) took as his starting point a flyer for the Sale of the Liberty of Alcester in 1809. The revenues from this Liberty to the south-west of Shaftesbury supported the Abbey of the original Alcester in Warwickshire. By judicious comparison of maps Matthew was able to identify many of the convenient buildings and exceeding rich meadowland for sale in 1809. The eagle-eyed Richard Clarke (left) pointed out differences between published versions of the 1615 Map of Shaftesbury. Members departed amused, informed and refreshed.