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 https://soundcloud.com/user-177849604/gold-hill-museum-talk-the-beckfords-of-fonthill

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.

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.