Thomas Cromwell Visits Shaftesbury Abbey

Thomas Cromwell Visits Shaftesbury Abbey (Perhaps)

In the instalment of Hilary Mantel’s new novel ‘The Mirror and the Light’, read by Anton Lesser on Radio Four on Tuesday 24 March, Thomas Cromwell arrives incognito at Shaftesbury Abbey. (Episode 7: Rejection. Available for one month at ) It is the autumn of 1536 and Cromwell is the second most powerful man in the land, after his master King Henry VIII. The Abbess Elizabeth Zouche recognises Cromwell, having previously seen his portrait, and admits him to the presence of one of the younger nuns, Dorothea Clancey. Dorothea is the illegitimate daughter of Cardinal Wolsey whom Cromwell served until Wolsey’s fall and death in 1530. Cromwell considers that he owes a debt of loyalty to Wolsey and is dismayed to discover that Dorothea not only refuses the gifts he brings but is convinced that Cromwell betrayed her father.

Hilary Mantel’s great gift has been to create a plausible and sympathetic character for Thomas Cromwell while not straying too far from the surviving evidence. Elizabeth Zouche and Dorothea Clancey (called Dorothy Clusey by other writers) both existed and received pensions when Shaftesbury Abbey was dissolved in 1539. Cromwell would have known about Wolsey’s illegitimate children – there were also two sons – and he received at least one letter about Dorothea. Whether he ever visited Shaftesbury and what his innermost thoughts were, remain the province of the fiction writer.

Fire Pump from 1744

Gold Hill Museum Will Remain Closed Until Further Notice

Gold Hill Museum will not open to the public for the new season at the beginning of April. On Monday 16 March the Secretary of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society emailed members to say that the Trustees had decided to cancel (or perhaps postpone) the ‘Edwardian Shaftesbury’ Tea and Talks event scheduled for 07 April. As the Society’s first priority must be to safeguard the health of its members, volunteers and visitors, the Trustees had also decided to delay the reopening of Gold Hill Museum until they were satisfied that there was minimal risk of the transmission of coronavirus. This anticipated any Government announcement later in the week.

In a spirit of optimism, the Secretary continued: ‘When the Society is able to resume its public activities, you can be assured that there will be plenty to see and do. There will be two new temporary exhibitions in the Museum, including one focusing on the making of the renowned Hovis advert by Ridley Scott in 1973. A full lecture programme for the 2020-21 winter season is already in place, starting with the Teulon Porter Lecture in Shaftesbury Town Hall on Tuesday 06 October. As there is a US Presidential Election in November 2020, involving one of the most controversial occupants of The White House, we are delighted to be welcoming perhaps the leading British scholar of modern American History, Professor Tony Badger, to offer his insights. 

At the moment preparations for the summer outing on Tuesday 02 June to Great Chalfield Manor are on hold. In the meantime work behind the scenes will continue at Gold Hill Museum, with investment in new technology in both displays and the shop. We will of course suffer a loss of income (principally from visitor donations) by not reopening on 01 April and we hope that you will continue to lend your support via membership of The S&DHS.

The Trustees wish all of you well in these unprecedented times.’

St James from the Tyler Collection

Photographs of Edwardian Shaftesbury 2.30pm Tuesday 07 April 2020 / Now Postponed

For the finale of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society winter season of talks at Gold Hill Museum, members Claire Ryley and Ann Symons explore pre-World War I Shaftesbury as seen through the camera lens of Albert Edward Tyler. In their phenomenally popular Shaftesbury Remembers sessions at Shaftesbury Library, Claire and Ann have been asking for the audience’s help in identifying scenes from the Museum’s Tyler Photographic Collection. Once again they will welcome audience participation.


Claire Ryley and Ann Symons at Shaftesbury Library (courtesy of ThisisAlfred)

More information is being sought about Mr Tyler, who must have dragged heavy camera equipment round the streets of Shaftesbury and surrounding villages. In 1901 he is known to have been a practising photographer at 53 Salisbury Street. After 1911 he virtually disappears from the historical record. He died in January 1919 and so would not have appeared in the 1921 Census. **

Street Scene from the Tyler Collection
Street Scene from the Tyler Collection

This event is free, includes light refreshments and is open to non-members from 2.20pm.

** As Claire and Ann will divulge on 07 April, recent research has shed more light on the family history of the Tylers.

All Age Events

Toymakers’ Workshop Wednesday 19 February Starts 2p.m.

Gold Hill and Shaftesbury Abbey Museums offer a joint programme of All Age Events. These are intended to be both educational and fun, and scheduled during school holidays. At Gold Hill Museum on Wednesday 19 February, from 2 till 4 p.m., there will be a Toymakers’ Workshop. The plan is to make toys from recycled and natural materials, and then take them home. This event is free and open to all, but children must be accompanied please by a responsible adult.

For details of other All Age Events, such as the Pilgrims’ Trail and the Viking Day at Shaftesbury Abbey, please click on this link or email

Great Chalfield Manor by Hugh Wright

Great Chalfield Manor and its People

Great Chalfield Manor, near Bradford-on-Avon, has been the setting for film and television dramas, including Wolf Hall and Poldark. In 2008’s The Other Boleyn Girl it masqueraded as the Boleyns’ family home, in place of the real Hever Castle in Kent. Perhaps this is because it exudes authenticity, architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner describing it as ‘one of the most perfect examples of the late medieval English manor house.’

Great Chalfield was built by the wealthy Wiltshire lawyer and clothier Thomas Tropenell as a moated manor house in the period 1465-1480. Tropenell seems to have caused offence to neither side in the ongoing Wars of the Roses. An early 20th century owner, Robert Fuller, restored the house and church and engaged Alfred Parsons to design the garden, which is itself Grade II listed. In 1943 Robert Fuller gave the property to the National Trust.

On Tuesday 03 March at 2.30pm at Gold Hill Museum, National Trust Guide Arnold Snowball will illustrate the story of ‘Great Chalfield Manor and its People’. It is, he says, “also the story of the county, the country, its trade and its wars over the last 550 years.” He will bring with him copies of the latest History of Great Chalfield Manor by Hugh Wright, from which the photograph is reproduced by kind permission.

This talk is free to Shaftesbury & District Historical Society members while non-members may pay £3 at the door. It replaces the scheduled lecture on The Grotto Makers which has had to be postponed.

Shaftesbury Workhouse

On The Parish: Life in Dorset’s Workhouses

The question of how society should address the problem of poverty is still with us. In 1834 the Victorians attempted to resolve it by creating a system of workhouses in which the living conditions for inmates were made deliberately unattractive. The New Poor Law principle of Less Eligibility was intended to deter the able-bodied poor from seeking assistance at the ratepayers’ expense.

At 2.30pm on Tuesday 04 February at Gold Hill Museum, genealogist and historical researcher Luke Mouland takes a lively look at how the Poor Laws, Old and New, operated in Dorset, supported by many local references and illustrations. “Kill me sooner than take me there”, implores Betty Higden in Dickens’s 1865 novel Our Mutual Friend . But what evidence do we have that conditions in “the Union” were really so dire? Luke’s talk draws on stories from a number of Dorset’s workhouses to explore this theme.

Plans for the Shaftesbury Union Workhouse at Umbers Hill were drawn up in 1836. The two-storey, cross-shaped building followed a standard pattern and was designed to accommodate 250 “paupers”. The budget of £4000 had been exceeded by a further £2000 when the workhouse opened in 1840. It was finally demolished in 1947.

This talk replaces the scheduled lecture on Thomas Hardy and North Dorset which has had to be postponed until 2021. It is free to members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society while non-members may pay £3 at the door.

Moulin Rouge

Cancan and the Invention of Gay Paree 1867-1914

Dr Jonathan Conlin of Southampton University ushers in the New Year at Gold Hill Museum at 2.30pm on Tuesday 07 January with an illustrated talk subtitled “Fancy liquors and sky-high kickers.” Dr Conlin will consider “how an unlikely cross-Channel coalition of skirt-dancers, purity campaigners, magistrates, music hall starlets, and visual artists conspired together in the years between 1867 and the Great War to create that ‘invisible city’ we know as ‘Gay Paree’: a city located largely in the imagination.” He will challenge “the familiar account of Cancan’s emergence, founded on a tendency to see Paris and London as polar opposites. ‘Gay Paree’ played up to these stereotypes, turning them into a lucrative brand for impresarios on both sides of the Channel.”

As Dr Conlin points out in his Tales of Two Cities: Paris, London and the Birth of the Modern City (Atlantic Books, 2013) the earliest exponents of Cancan were equally men and women. Perhaps the first Cancan star, Finette, who in 1867 brought to London her innovations of the splits and the hat trick (a well-aimed kick to knock a spectator’s top hat off his head), wore a fisherman’s outfit of shorts and white tights. “That the Cancan survived was thanks to a British dancer, Kate Vaughan, inventor of a new type of dance known as skirt dancing …. “

The whole of this fascinating story as told by Jonathan Conlin is free to members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society while non-members may pay £3 at the door.

Keri Jones’s interview with Jonathan Conlin can be accessed at by clicking this link

Jill Sumner with DMA Chair Jon Murden

Dorset Museums Volunteer of the Year Award

Long-serving Gold Hill Museum steward and gardener Jill Sumner received a well-deserved accolade at the AGM of the Dorset Museums Association, held at Poole Museum on Thursday 21 November. Along with several other volunteers who form the indispensable staffing backbone of most of Dorset’s museums, Jill received her Volunteer of the Year Award from Dr Jon Murden, Director of the Dorset County Museum and Chair of the DMA.

Jill Sumner receives her Volunteer of the Year Award from DMA Chair Jon Murden
Jill Sumner receives her Volunteer Award from DMA Chair Jon Murden (2)

The citation in support of Jill’s Award from the Chair of the Trustees of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society was read to, and applauded by, the meeting.

Jill has been a steward for twenty years and apparently served for 30 years previously at Blandford Museum.  She does two shifts a week and regularly volunteers for extra shifts.  She is also a member of the gardening team and puts in hours every week, only missing one session during last winter, as well as doing every week during the previous hot summer, and she has to walk up Gold Hill to do all this. Recently, having undergone serious surgery, she took just one week off and organised her own cover for her shifts. Jill has also taken a leading and enthusiastic role in reviving the re-enactment of the historic Byzant ceremony in the town. She is unfailingly cheerful and a delight to share a shift with; she is truly worthy of recognition.

Stonehenge, Shaftesbury Abbey, and SAVED

BBC4’s Digging for Britain, broadcast at 9pm on Wednesday 20 November, features local archaeologist Julian Richards in a report from the SAVED Project at Shaftesbury Abbey. This innovative scheme, part-funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, has involved an extensive radar survey of the Abbey grounds, the training of volunteers in archaeological techniques, and the participation of 11 local schools. Test pits have revealed a number of interesting finds, as ThisisAlfred reported in the summer

On Tuesday 03 December at 2.30pm Julian visits the other Museum in Shaftesbury, Gold Hill, to give one of his incomparable illustrated talks on Stonehenge: Old Rocks and New Theories, together with an update on the SAVED Project. There really is no-one better qualified than Julian to interpret the changing story of Stonehenge and its landscape. As he says in the Postscript to his Stonehenge – The story so far, published in 2017 by Historic England: “The pace of new discoveries has been so great that to have finished (the book) four or even two years ago would have rendered it instantly and substantially inaccurate. This is not to say that some new discovery of huge importance will be made as soon as this book goes to print ….” We’ll find out on 03 December.

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


Park Walk’s Café – and Waiting to Watch Cars Crash

October’s Shaftesbury Remembers session has been the best attended to date. Alfred of squeezed into the packed library, viewed the pictures and heard residents share their personal memories of old Shaftesbury – stories that you won’t find in the history books. Please click here for thisisAlfred’s podcast

There wasn’t a spare seat in the reference section of the library for October’s memory-sharing get together. “There’s not enough room to accommodate us and I feel rather guilty. People don’t book, they just come,” explained Claire Ryley from Gold Hill Museum’s ‘Shaftesbury Remembers’ project.

The packed library

Each person’s arrival was announced by the steady, slow rumble of the electronic door. And they kept coming. 45 residents, some proud Shastonians, others inquisitive newcomers, were here to pinpoint places and recognise faces within a selection of Shaftesbury pictures being passed around.

The session’s value is the story-sharing as images unlock memories of long forgotten events. “People love pictures and when they are well acquainted with a place, it is enjoyable to see if you can work out where places are,” said Claire. “It’s interesting seeing the changes that happened to those places over time. That’s what we’re trying to gather here. Reminiscence works for everybody. People chat, but from the museum’s point of view, information is pouring out. It’s wonderful.”

Gloria Alford is a regular attendee. “I really enjoy it. I like the history,” said Gloria, who moved to the town in Easter 1951 to work as a nursing cadet at the hospital. She didn’t arrive empty-handed then and she wasn’t empty handed at the event. She was clutching a nostalgic conversation starter – a gift from her mother. “It’s a Shaftesbury guide, published in 1950. She gave it to me so I would know where the Post Office was, so I could post a letter back home.”

The A5-sized booklet made claims that might be hard to substantiate with today’s advertising standards. ‘On account of the unique situation of Shaftesbury, the air is pure and bracing and is recommended by medical men as a health resort,’ the guide stated, along with, ‘In the reign of Henry VIII, the town was constantly visited by pilgrims on account of the health-giving qualities of its bracing atmosphere.’ The report claimed that an eminent physician believed the health-giving properties of Shaftesbury air was on a par with that of Switzerland.

Gloria Alford

I flicked through Gloria’s guide and interrupted her conversation when I found another gem. “I know what you’re going to say!” she shrieked with delight. The write-up reported that the Daily Mail had described Shaftesbury as the town with, ‘The most courteous and obliging shop assistants in England. Residents and visitors will find all of their requirements catered for.’ “I tell everybody now, when we haven’t got hardly anything in the town,” laughed Gloria.

In a previous session, Gloria has seen a photo of the sister of her late husband, Reginald. “She was a hand bell ringer. There was a picture of her. It was a nice surprise to see it,” she said.

I broke away to chat to another attendee. When I returned to Gloria, she was immersed in a three-way conversation over a photograph of St James Street. Members of Reginald’s family lived in Quaker Cottage near Pump Yard. The street scene unlocked vivid memories.

“When his granny lived there, there were all wooden benches around the rooms. In the main bedroom was a big safe with a metal door. When his mum and dad were moving, my husband got it open and went inside. We found boxes of stuff to do with the Quakers.” Gloria says that the find was handed over to the Rutter family.

She pointed to a picture of part of St James Street, opposite the entrance to White Hart Lane. “There was a community hall, there,” she said.

Isabel Good was also captivated by a black-and-white image – one of market traders and livestock. This wasn’t the recently closed Cattle Market of Christy’s Lane, but the older one, on today’s Bell Street car park site. Isabel lives off Bleke Street and although she has lived here for decades, she had no idea what would have been on her doorstep a century ago.

Claire Ryley (left) and Ann Symons

School day memories dominated discussions amongst those educated in town, and a former teacher was there to fill in memory blanks. Tony Selwood was the head of Christy’s School for eleven years and he then took charge of the first, middle and upper schools.

“Christy’s School was on Christy’s Lane. In 1983, the schools were changed to a first school middle school and upper school. I was involved in the design of the middle school.”

Tony has fond memories of Christy’s School. “The facilities were for a developed curriculum that trained youngsters for life and not just for passing a couple of exams,” said Tony. “It was in the grounds of Lindlar Park, on 12-acre site with a lovely entrance with cherry trees and blossoms. It was superb, but maintenance would have taken time because it was an entirely wooden structure,” he said, adding. “It was very good wood. When they took the school down, many people came to help themselves.”

Tony explained why the school had been constructed from timber. “It needed to be a design which could be altered and maintained well and added to as the school grew. It was 1939, the war had started, and a lot of evacuees from London came to Shaftesbury and became pupils.”

Avid Shaftesbury photo historian Robert Mullins recounted how school lunches were once prepared on Park Walk. “It was in what used to be the old British restaurant. It’s where the gardens are on the left,” Robert explained. “It was corrugated, almost a Nissen hut.” I’d not heard of a British restaurant. “It was something designed during the war to give people a hot meal. You had to pay for it, but you didn’t use your ration book allocation. After the British restaurant closed, it was used to cook school meals.”

Tony recalled how school pupils and staff responded to the 1985 African famine. “We raised well over £6,000. We had to have a naval helicopter come to pick up all of the dried food that we had collected around the town. It was so heavy they had to come and do it twice. It landed on the school field and we invited all the other schools in the area to see the spectacle,” Tony smiled.

Robert fired up his laptop, keen to show me a picture of a curious sight. Formally dressed, cap-wearing, moustached men were admiring the wreck of an overturned vehicle, perhaps a charabanc, which had flipped over a wall on a bend. I was unable to identify the location. Robert revealed it was the sharp curve on the hill just outside Shaftesbury, on the Gillingham Road at Nettlebed. This was such an accident spot it became a place for spectators.

“My father told me that people used to go down there on a Sunday when it was the main A30 and wait for accidents. Look at how many times that wall has been repaired,” Robert observed.

The Nettlebed crash

85-year-old Robert was born in Shaftesbury. Jason Coop has lived here for three years and he is also fascinated by the town’s story. And he’s keen to find out more about his 1856-built home on Grosvenor Road. “We’re trying to piece together its history because we are renovating it and we feel part of the fabric of the house. It is number 2, on Ivy Cross, a three-storey Victorian property near the roundabout. We know that the Mayor of Shaftesbury lived there at the turn-of-the-century. He owned a master butcher down the High Street. He was a governor of a lot of the schools. It would be amazing to find out more.”

Jason didn’t pick up any more clues at this session, but he says he’ll be back. “The knowledge here is just amazing. I’m going to stay as long as I can and chat to the people,” he said.

Co-organiser Claire was more successful in getting answers to her picture questions. “The gas towers, which no longer exist, on Castle Hill and at Enmore Green have been identified. It is very interesting because they’ve also shown up in the geophysics done as part of the Shaftesbury Abbey (archaeology) project and we didn’t know what they were. We now have photos, which show us what they were. It’s wonderful,” Claire said.

Co-organiser Ann Symons was also offered useful information. “There are one or two photographs which we had no idea about before. It’s been useful,” she said.

With such a massive turn-out and a clear appetite for viewing pictures of old Shaftesbury, Claire says the next event will be geared to cater for the crowds. “We will probably arrange a session in January or February at Gold Hill Museum, so we can show photos on a PowerPoint presentation and get a lot more information going. It’s been a wonderful turnout. It just goes to show how much interest there is in the town’s history.”

Copyright 2019 Keri Jones