The Mayor & Mrs Lewer, Ray Simpson and Roger Guttridge

S&DHS Members Snap Up Signed Copies of Shaftesbury Through Time

At the official launch party held at Gold Hill Museum on 28 March, over forty members and friends of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society were quick to snap up signed copies of Roger Guttridge’s latest book. In the presence of the Mayor of Shaftesbury and Mrs Lewer, and introduced by S&DHS Librarian/Archivist Ray Simpson (centre), Roger (right) was keen to acknowledge the importance of historic photographs from Gold Hill Museum’s Collection and the indispensable help given by Trustees Ray and Claire Ryley. Also featured in Shaftesbury Through Time are twenty vintage postcards loaned by Barry Cuff. The book juxtaposes Then and Now photographs, with explanatory text. While seeking the same viewpoints as earlier photographers Roger was frequently frustrated by lines of parked cars and much taller trees and shrubs.

Shaftesbury Through Time is available in the Museum shop at the discounted price of £12.50 and each sale benefits the funds of The S&DHS, a registered charity.

Janet Swiss and Byzant Mural

BV Dairy Sponsors New Gold Hill Museum Exhibitions

Gold Hill Museum opens for the season on Saturday 24th March with two new exhibitions, sponsored by BV Dairy.
One of the displays features life on a North Dorset dairy farm in 1940. It reveals how we take modern luxuries for granted.
“I want people to realise how recently mechanisation hit farming,” says organiser Janet Swiss. “Our featured farm employed four men and three horses. All the muck-spreading and milking was done by hand,” she says.
“Each cow was known by name – like Princess, Daisy and Queenie,” Janet adds.
Janet’s display includes a life-sized cow, as well as a scale model of the riverside farm that straddled ‘chalk and cheese’ arable and dairy land. The display also features the farm’s first foray towards modern mechanisation – a model of a small Massey Ferguson tractor.
Janet is hoping that visitors will have fun guessing the use of a more unfamiliar implement – a mangold chopper.
“Thomas Hardy referred to this area as ‘The Vale of Little Dairies.’ I wanted to record how important these farms were in the social history of our area,” Janet says.
Jim Highnam, Managing Director of BV Dairy, says, “It is a pleasure to be asked to support the Museum’s latest exhibit, which obviously has such a close connection to our business. We hope it brings pleasure to the many people who will visit Gold Hill Museum in 2018,” Jim adds.
Shaftesbury-based BV Dairy was founded in Kington Magna, a village in the Blackmore Vale.
“The Dairy continues to have strong relationships with, and purchases milk from, farms within this beautiful area,” Jim says.
You’ll be inspired to dig your garden in a hunt for treasure when you visit the museum’s second exhibition, also sponsored by BV Dairy.
‘Found Underground’ features sixteen items discovered by locals on their land.
Whilst you’re unlikely to find artefacts to rival the 1940s ‘Shaftesbury Hoard’ of 11th century silver coins, Janet says most objects uncovered reveal an interesting story.
“Oyster shells are regularly unearthed here,” says Janet. “The shellfish was considered cheap food and was transported from Poole to a fish market on Gold Hill.”
Visitors will be able to touch all the exhibits, including a hoop of metal called a patten. It formed part of an overshoe. “It would keep your shoe off the ground and out of the wet. People had damp, cold feet until very recently,” Janet says.
If your own digging reveals an unusual item, you can bring it to the museum for identification by Ciorstaidh Trevarthen, the Finds Liaison Officer for Dorset, on the morning of Saturday 14th July.

BV Dairy’s award-winning Dorset Clotted Cream is available in many independent retailers throughout Dorset and they produce a range of specialist chilled dairy products for the manufacturing, catering and food service industries. These include soft cheeses, mascarpone, yogurts and other cultured milk products. BV Dairy also produce cultured milk and yogurt drinks for the retail sector. See, or telephone 01747 851 855.

Click here for a podcast created by Keri Jones.

Shaftesbury Through Time compilers

New Photo History Book: Cameras Capture Decades of Shaftesbury Development

Shaftesbury Through Time is published on 15 March by Amberley and available at Gold Hill Museum from 24 March. Click here for a sound podcast.

A new picture-filled book reveals how Shaftesbury has changed since the early days of photography.
Journalist Roger Guttridge (left) and Gold Hill Museum volunteers Claire Ryley and Ray Simpson have produced Shaftesbury Through Time.

The book includes over 200 photographs with some dating back to the 1890s. An archive image and a snapshot of the current view illustrate the story of each location.
Claire thinks readers could have fun by covering up the newer images and trying to guess where the archive pictures were taken. “You can go around the town with the book open,” says Claire. “It makes you much more aware of how places have a history,” she adds.

Roger has worked as a journalist in Dorset since 1970. Although Roger is an experienced writer, he says the help of the Gold Hill Museum team was critical. “I couldn’t have done it without access to the museum’s old photographs. The book would not have happened without help from Claire and Ray,” Roger says.

The timing of Roger’s approach to the museum was perfect because the volunteers have recently collated photographs of Shaftesbury for their Great War project.
The museum has also recently digitized its collection of over 400 photos.
“We were very lucky that there was a photographer in the town in the first two decades of the 20th century and he took many photos of Shaftesbury and the surrounding area,” Ray says.
But capturing new photographs for the book proved a challenge in some parts of town. “Many streets have vans or cars parked there, sometimes 24 hours a day,” says Roger. “There are parts of Bimport that are never free of cars.”

So how much has changed in Shaftesbury?
“The town centre hasn’t altered as much as people would imagine,” says Roger. “Gold Hill and Park Walk have changed very little and long may that continue,” he adds.
The High Street is still recognisable from the old photos until you go back to the period when the market hall stood in the middle of the street.
“We have included drawings from those pre-camera days to illustrate how different that scene was,” Roger says. “We’ve also included a sketch of Shaftesbury Abbey in the 16th century, when it was being ruined.”

Roger recognises that most major differences have occurred on the periphery of town with the new housing developments.
Readers would be unlikely to identify the scene of children walking down a rural country lane as Mampitts Lane, even though the modern view of new homes reveals the location of the archive picture.

Some of the most contrasting old and new images feature the town’s roundabouts.
“The houses at Ivy Cross appear the same but the modern roundabout, petrol station and fast food shops add a rather different perspective,” Roger says.
“Outside the Royal Chase Hotel there was a toll house until about 60 years ago,” Roger continues. “It was in the middle of the roundabout at the place where the Salisbury and Blandford Roads met,” he says.

Claire thinks readers will notice many changes if they study the pictures closely. “I was keen for Roger to include a picture of the former police station on Bell Street,” Claire says. “The library is on that site now and the only clues to the former occupant are the posts, which are decorated with crowns.”

Not all change is bad. The book’s images portray some changes that could be considered improvements. Greenery and trees have flourished in the last 100 years. “You could see much more in the old Victorian and Edwardian pictures looking towards St James from Park Walk,” says Roger, when reviewing the lack of foliage back then.

Claire also feels that the modern town centre is neater.
“The Town Hall had public lavatories, which were like scruffy conservatories on either side of the entrance,” she says, adding that the older pictures revealed a cluttered streetscape. “There used to be signage all over the place and zebra crossings,” Claire says.

As an experienced press reporter, Roger found the pictures relating to the St James’s fire of 1955 fascinating.
“Seven terraced cottages went up in flames,” he says. “We have three old pictures of that and a modern image of the same location. The exact spot was hard to pinpoint because the cottages appeared very similar.”
But Roger had a stroke of luck. “I stopped a woman in the street and showed her the fire pictures. She recognised her grandparents’ house and she told me that the blaze started when a decorator’s blowtorch set fire to a thatched roof.”
Back then thatch was often covered by galvanised iron. “That meant they couldn’t rake off the burning roof and it spread quickly in the strong winds,” he says.

The new book’s pictures also reveal long-forgotten social and entertainment venues.
“There were proper cinemas in Shaftesbury,” says Ray. “There was one near the Bargains shop and the Savoy Cinema was in Bimport, where Savoy Court is today. There was a third cinema in the market, which you could walk through from the High Street to Bell Street.”

Claire lives in Salisbury Street and the book’s images reveal that it was once an extension of the High Street, with many more stores. She has enjoyed collecting stories about the former businesses there.
“Next door to the recent shoe shop called Stomp was a wonderful old store owned by a Mr Peach. When snow caused a water shortage everybody went there because his supply was deep underground and didn’t freeze. I’ve spoken to the current owner and the supply is still there,” says Claire.

Roger is hoping that residents who buy the book will learn more interesting facts about their immediate neighbourhood. “Few people know that part of the workhouse on Umbers Hill has survived. Today it is a single storey property, tucked away in the middle of a modern bungalow estate,” he says.
Roger has read many of the previous Shaftesbury history books in researching the new publication and he believes that the pictorial format of Shaftesbury Through Time will ensure a broad readership, although there is still a lot of information for readers to digest.
“Surprisingly, it contains around 11,000 words, which are used in captions, heading and descriptions,” he adds.
Shaftesbury Through Time by Roger Guttridge will be available from 15 March and Roger can rely on at least one sale.
“I’m very pleased with it. I’ll buy one,” laughs Ray.


Shaftesbury Abbess

Veteran Diplomat Talks On His Ancestor Mabel Giffard

Mabel Giffard was elected Abbess of Shaftesbury in 1291. She would be one of the most pre-eminent women of her day, as head of the most prosperous Abbey in the south of England, founded in the ninth century by Alfred the Great. Retired diplomat and local resident Sir Sydney Giffard shares the results of his researches into his ancestor at 2.30p.m. on Tuesday 06 March at Gold Hill Museum. This talk by Sir Sydney, formerly the UK’s Ambassador to both Switzerland and Japan, is free to members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society, while non-members may pay £3 at the door.

Snowdrops Gold Hill Museum Garden

Make Your Own Snowdrop Dragon on Thursday 15 February

Tickets for the Shaftesbury Snowdrop Festival event at Gold Hill Museum on Thursday 15 February 2-4p.m. are now available from the Bell Street Tourist Information Centre at £3 per person. Participants will be making their own Snowdrop Dragon using natural materials. All ages are welcome but children must be accompanied by a responsible adult.

This is the first of the 2018 Programme of All Age Events jointly organised by Gold Hill and Shaftesbury Abbey Museums. There will be a Pilgrims’ Trail to follow on Good Friday and a Viking longship to build on Sunday 02 September. Further details about these and other free events by clicking on the link and by emailing

Dr Kate Giles of York University

Leading Academic Returns Home to North Dorset for Guildhall History Talk

An expert in Britain’s historic guildhalls is crediting her Child Okeford childhood and local history teachers for her successful academic career. Dr Kate Giles, from the University of York, will talk about the opening up of Stratford-upon-Avon’s Guildhall, where Shakespeare went to school, during her Gold Hill Museum lecture on 06 February. “Growing up in Dorset you’re surrounded by the past. I used to go looking for prehistoric pottery on Hambledon Hill,” Kate said.
Kate, who is now a senior history lecturer at York University, says she felt at home when she arrived in the city. “I went to York, which seemed like a big version of Shaftesbury. I fell in love with the historic buildings there, such as the Minster. I became the cathedral archaeology fellow for ten years,” Kate explained. “When you are choosing your degree you don’t know where it is going to take you. I didn’t think I would end up in academia but I did want to know more about buildings. It was a natural progression,” Kate surmised.
Kate says that she is grateful to her Sturminster Newton High School history teacher, Norman Damerell, whose creative approach proved highly engaging. “He used characters and story telling,” Kate recalled fondly. “He was a great impressionist and used to bring all characters from the past to life. People couldn’t wait for his history lessons,” Kate laughed.
Shaftesbury was the logical choice for Kate’s ‘A’ levels. Sturminster Newton did not have a Sixth Form then, and Shaftesbury offered a curriculum focused on the Tudors and Stuarts. “I was inspired by another history teacher, Ian Kellett, who used visual images of Renaissance art and architecture,” Kate said.
“The 15th and 16th centuries seemed a time of really interesting change,” said Kate. “In the medieval period Shaftesbury and its abbey were at the centre of an amazing, powerful network of patronage and religious life.” The medieval guildhall was replaced in 1569 by a newer structure standing in the middle of the High Street. The current building was built in the 19th century.
“One of the wonderful things about these buildings is that they were so flexible,” Kate explained. “Guildhalls were built in our smaller towns in the 14th and 15th centuries. They were not only centres of government and trade but also the hub of community life, such as music, dancing and feasting,” said Kate. The Reformation radically altered the religious framework across England. “If guildhalls had a link with a craft guild or a town council, as was the case with Shaftesbury, then they survived. If the religious guild disappeared, those buildings were often converted into houses,” Kate stated.
Kate’s talk will centre on a £1.4 million project to open up Shakespeare’s schoolhouse, the Guildhall in Stratford-upon-Avon. She’ll offer her thoughts on how the building might have influenced the Bard. Kate promises that you don’t need knowledge of the Warwickshire town in order to enjoy her session. “Shakespeare is somebody that everybody can relate to,” said Kate. She says that the talk will allow attendees to learn how the buildings in which he lived and went to school developed his imagination.
Kate’s Shaftesbury & District Historical Society lecture takes place at Gold Hill Museum on Tuesday 06 February at 2.30pm. It’s free to Society members. Non-members can pay £3 at the door.

Pen knife

Taking a New and Critical Look at Our Statues

On Tuesday 02 January 2018 at 2.30p.m. at Gold Hill Museum Dave Martin will talk about Cast Bronze Reputations in the Wessex Street. Author of history textbooks and frequent contributor to The Historian magazine of the Historical Association, Dave travels the country in search of statues in public places. He seeks to answer the questions: Whom do we choose to commemorate in our streets and public spaces, and what does this reveal about our ourselves and our relationship with our history?
In this illustrated talk Dave takes his audience to Dorchester, East Budleigh, Bristol, Portsmouth, Poole, Southampton, Winchester and Weymouth. They will be looking at hats and hems, penknives and swords, books and boars, and asking Reverence or Remembrance? and Veneration or Vandalism? Audience participation is encouraged.
This lecture is free to members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society while non-members may pay £3 at the door.

Beckford-2 - blog

‘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

Alderman-Beckford-portrait - blog

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.
“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.