‘The two Beckfords of Fonthill’ Podcast

Thanks to Keri Jones for creating, and former Lord Mayor of London Sir John Stuttard for contributing to, a six minute podcast about Sir John’s forthcoming talk on the William Beckfords, father and son, at Gold Hill Museum on Tuesday 05 December at 2.30p.m. This lecture is free to Shaftesbury & District Historical Society members, while non-members may pay £3 at the door. The podcast is available by clicking on this link https://soundcloud.com/user-177849604/gold-hill-museum-talk-the-beckfords-of-fonthill

Alderman Beckford portrait

Wealth, Power and a Sex Scandal in the next Gold Hill Museum talk

A former Lord Mayor of London will present his research into two local landowners who enjoyed influence and massive wealth, before a sex scandal forced one of them into exile. Next month Gold Hill Museum is hosting Sir John Stuttard’s talk on the 18th century lives of Alderman William Beckford and his son William. Keri Jones has spoken with Sir John, and provides the text of this article.
“Both of them were the wealthiest commoners in England in the 18th century,” said Sir John. “One was a great politician and the other was the greatest fine art collector of all time.” As a former Lord Mayor of London Sir John became interested in Alderman Beckford, who held that position twice.
Alderman Beckford, the father, was elected MP for Shaftesbury in 1747 but, unlike today’s politicians, he would have had little contact with townspeople. Shaftesbury’s parliamentary seat was termed ‘a rotten borough’, where the wealthy or the aristocracy effectively decided who was elected and how they voted in parliament.
Beckford was politically savvy though and saw an opportunity with the growing movement for political reform. “The Alderman’s three addresses to George III were all about the King abolishing parliament and preventing these rotten boroughs. Yet, earlier, Beckford had been elected as an MP to a rotten borough. He is an enigma,” mused John.
Alderman Beckford’s free trade ideals made him very popular in the City of London, and that’s why he’s the only Lord Mayor with his own statue. But Beckford’s liberal views might seem at odds with the source of his wealth – Jamaican sugar plantations.
If tabloid newspapers had existed in the 18th century, the lifestyle of the Alderman’s son William would probably have filled the front pages.
“He was bisexual,” John explained. “He had a relationship with a boy who was eight years younger than he was. There was a scandal associated with letters that he wrote to the boy. He was shunned by the aristocracy,” said John. “He was about to be offered a barony but he didn’t get a peerage.”
Beckford went into voluntary exile to Portugal. When he returned to Fonthill he began constructing a stately home that would reflect his immense wealth.
Fonthill Abbey sported a 90 metre-high tower, briefly. The structure collapsed due to construction problems. Very little of Beckford’s grand country home has survived. Eventually Beckford had to sell his entire art collection and the Fonthill Estate.
“He blew a huge fortune,” said John. “It was his money and he spent it.”
Sir John Stuttard will give his illustrated talk on The Two Beckfords of Fonthill at Gold Hill Museum on Tuesday 05 December at 2.30p.m. Lectures are free to members and admission for visitors is £3, on the door.

Website Launch and Podcast

‘Shaftesbury Remembers The Great War’ Podcast

Shaftesbury & District Historical Society member Keri Jones has created a superb 16 minute podcast relating to the launch of the Shaftesbury Remembers website on 11 November. You can hear interviews with Ann Symons, Claire Ryley and Chris Stupples (seen above with website designer Rob Frost, far left, and the Mayor and Mrs Lewer) as they describe the process and heartache of compiling a comprehensive record of those from Shaftesbury and surrounding villages who served and died in World War I. There are surprising details too about the town during the war years.

The podcast can be found at https://soundcloud.com/user-177849604/shaftesbury-remembers-report

Shaftesbury Remembers Website Launch

‘Shaftesbury Remembers’ Website Launched on Armistice Day

It was standing room only in the Anna McDowell Garden Room at Gold Hill Museum for the official launch of the ‘Shaftesbury Remembers’ website created by The S&DHS Great War Community Project team. Ninety Project contributors, accompanied by the Mayor of Shaftesbury and Mrs Lewer, saw the website demonstrated by designer Rob Frost (far left) and explained by Project leaders (from left to right) Ann Symons, Claire Ryley and Chris Stupples. Heritage Lottery Funding and a huge amount of voluntary effort have gone into creating an archive of the stories of people commemorated on 25 local war memorials and of information about contemporary life in Shaftesbury and district. Participants also enjoyed tea and cake, and were able to view folders of stories, documents and artefacts collected by the Project. Work continues to find details about individuals hard to identify, and to input the stories of those who came back.


My Family And Other Smugglers by Roger Guttridge

Roger Guttridge is a direct descendant of North Dorset’s most notorious smuggler and proud of it. In his talk at Gold Hill Museum on Tuesday 07 November at 2.30p.m. he will tell how family legends about his ancestor’s exploits first sparked his interest and led to his first book, Dorset Smugglers, published in 1983. He will also reveal that smuggling was not the gentle, part-time occupation portrayed in the traditional romantic image but a major industry that affected the whole of Dorset and many other counties. It involved huge amounts of investment, vast profits and not a little violence.

Roger’s talk is free to members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society while non-members may pay £3 at the door.

Craft Workshop

Half-term Autumn Crafts Day Wednesday 25 October 10.30a.m.- 3.30p.m.

An all-age Autumn Crafts Day at Gold Hill Museum on Wednesday 25 October will enable participants to try their hand at pressing apples, making Dorset buttons, and clay and paper crafts. Nick Crump will lead special workshops at 11.00a.m. and 2.00p.m. in the art of making woven fish. These workshops are suitable for ages 6 and above, with adult help, but places are limited so please make a prior booking at the Museum to avoid disappointment. Phone 01747 852157 to book.

Though entry is free donations towards the cost of providing materials would be appreciated. Children must be accompanied by a responsible adult.

King Alfred: Man and Myth – the facts at Shaftesbury Town Hall Tuesday 03 October 7.30p.m.

One of two English kings named “The Great”; saviour of Anglo-Saxon Wessex from the Danes; creator of a chain of fortified “burhs” including Shaftesbury; founder of Shaftesbury Abbey; law-maker, scholar and father of the English navy. Alfred’s list of achievements is long and impressive, but how much of his reputation is based on contemporary spin and image-building by later generations? Noted historian of the Anglo-Saxons, Professor Barbara Yorke of the University of Winchester, will consider the real and the legendary King Alfred in her illustrated lecture for The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society at Shaftesbury Town Hall on Tuesday 03 October at 7.30p.m. The first of the Society’s winter series, this lecture is free to members while non-members may pay £5 at the door.

Chairman David Silverside with Trip Advisor Certficate of Excellence

TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for Gold Hill Museum

Travel website TripAdvisor has awarded its Certificate of Excellence for 2017 to Gold Hill Museum. 61% of nearly 200 contributors to the website rated the Museum as “excellent” while the average score was 4.5 out of 5. The most recent reviewers enthused about a “brilliant MUST VISIT museum with FREE entry.” Chairman David Silverside, pictured in the Museum Garden with Certificate, was “exceptionally proud that the dedicated work of our 60 volunteers has been recognised. The Museum offers something to interest all ages – film footage of D Day tanks rolling along Shaftesbury High Street, Dorset’s oldest fire engine, and photographs and paintings showing how the town’s appearance has altered.” Shaftesbury’s top tourist attraction, according to TripAdvisor, is open daily 10.30a.m. to 4.30p.m. until 31 October.

2017-18 Programme

Lord Mayor and Diplomat Feature in New Season of History Lectures

Contributors to the 2017-18 programme of Shaftesbury & District Historical Society lectures include a popular local history writer, a former Lord Mayor of London, an Ambassador to Japan, two leading academics, and a student of statues. The historical subjects covered include Dorset Smugglers, William Beckford Senior, Statues within 50 miles of Shaftesbury, Shakespeare’s Guildhall, and a 13th century Abbess of Shaftesbury. Professor Barbara Yorke of the University of Winchester starts the season at Shaftesbury Town Hall at 7.30p.m. on Tuesday 03 October with an assessment of King Alfred: Man and Myth. Lectures are free to S&DHS members while non-members may pay at the door.

Centenary of Passchendaele Remembered

Researcher Chris Stupples has listed 31 men from Shaftesbury and District who died in the ill-fated Allied offensive of autumn 1917, known also as the Third Battle of Ypres. The display in Room 8 of Gold Hill Museum highlights brief biographies of eight: Privates Harry Gray, Walter Hodder, Arthur Mayo, and Tom Roberts; Gunners Charles King, Wilfred Merefield, and Frederick Sweeting; and Bombardier Frank Brine. The dates of their deaths recorded on local memorials span the full duration of the Battle from 31 July (Frank Brine) to 10 November (Tom Roberts). Five miles of swamp cost 300,000 Allied casualties.