Sales of Shaftesbury

A Hundred Years Since The Sale of Shaftesbury – The Town They Sold Three Times

At the end of the First World War, most of Shaftesbury was sold – three times! And next year, Gold Hill Museum and the Shaftesbury Chamber of Commerce will mark the centenary of this major event in our town’s history with a special exhibition.
If you live or work in one of the town’s older buildings, you’ll be able to see how auctioneers presented your property. Exhibition organiser, Matthew Tagney, says that we should thank three visionary residents who decided to protect the spectacular scenery that we enjoy today. “I think that the green spaces in Shaftesbury are one of the most precious aspects that make this a great place to live,” Matthew said.

It’s hard to imagine someone purchasing an entire town, but that’s what happened to Shaftesbury, as Matthew explained. “In 1918, Lord Stalbridge sold off all of the property that his ancestors had acquired, in order to buy votes when this was a rotten borough. Then, you could get yourself elected to Parliament by bribing and cajoling the people who had to pay rent.
“Lord Stalbridge was more interested in racehorses. He owned a Grand National winner. At the end of the First World War, the Liberal government had increased taxes on the rich. Landowners wanted to divest a lot of land. Stalbridge wanted rid of it. He was going to auction everything but a week before the auction, he sold practically all of Shaftesbury to a speculator,” said Matthew.
It’s been suggested that the purchaser, Mr White, was a made-up name – a ‘cover’ for two men, Benton and Gaskain. Those speculators sold their new acquisition in just four days to a local syndicate made up of the Mayor, Dr Harris, the ex-Mayor, Mr Borley and a shopkeeper called Viney. But they didn’t hold on to the property.
“In 1919 there was a third sale, where these three gentleman, in a very public-spirited way, put it all up for auction in individual lots with the assumption that only the tenant would bid for each property. It was a gentleman’s agreement,” said Matthew. “This was a chance for tenants to become owners of their own home or business premises.”
We should thank this trio, especially Dr Harris, because the men had the foresight to take Castle Hill out of the third sale. The Council continued renting the green space for a while, before it was given to the town. “I think it is worth commenting on this gesture,” said Matthew. “They could have auctioned it off to somebody as grazing but they didn’t. They kept it out of the sale and they eventually gave it to the town. And people were generally able to buy their own properties.”

Lord Stalbridge sold the entire town of Shaftesbury for £80,000. In today’s money you may consider that a bargain. “This year is the centenary of Cecil Chubb giving Stonehenge to the nation and he bought it for £15,000. I read recently that was equivalent to nearly half a million pounds. So the £80,000 for Shaftesbury would be equivalent to a couple of million pounds in today’s money. For a town it is good going. For Shaftesbury, it’s very good going,” Matthew said.
The centrepiece of next year’s exhibition at Gold Hill Museum will be a huge map of Shaftesbury, as it was in 1919. The auction house produced this detailed chart and different lot numbers are highlighted using various colours. You’ll be able to see whether your home went under the hammer and, if so, there should be corresponding property information in the sales documentation.

“It is part of the sale catalogue by Fox and Sons. They are still going, in Southampton. We want to focus in on some of the individual lots,” said Matthew. “Prices have changed massively since 1919 and we want to show what a house was worth then, compared to the kind of prices they are now. Amenities have changed, too. In those days it was remarkable if there was an inside loo. It was something special. We would like to look at some of the individual houses, large and small, and the pubs. Some of them are still going of course.” Matthew said.
The substantial, neatly presented prospectus reveals that Enmore Green’s Fountain Inn was being sold, complete with outbuildings offering stabling for six coaches. The property was let to the brewery, Hall and Woodhouse, at £45 per annum at the time of the sale. The Crown Inn on the High Street and the Fox and Hounds Inn at St James have since closed, but the Ye Olde Two Brewers, then an Ushers brewery house, was offered in the auction. The agent highlighted the pub’s ‘large yard with carriage entrance’, garden with ‘rose arches’ and outside scullery in the sale particulars.

“We would like to look at some of the shops,” Matthew continued. “That will evoke lots of memories, especially for people who have lived here for a long time because some of those shops will still have been around in the memory of living people now.” Shaftesbury Chamber of Commerce will contact its members to encourage them to take part in the commemorations next year by displaying information about the traders operating from the premises 100 years ago.
Matthew’s also keen to look at the open spaces in the town as well as some oddities. “There was a soup kitchen in Parsons Pool,” he said. “The gasworks and gasometer at Bimport were also auctioned off. The inclusion of Lot 96 may well cause outrage today. The sale document offered the Shaftesbury Abbey excavations as an item of ‘special interest to archaeologists and antiquarians.’ The three-quarters of an acre lot was promoted as the ancient site of the Benedictine Abbey to which the bones of Edward the Martyr were removed for holy preservation.”

Matthew doesn’t know how much his own home sold for. “I don’t know, maybe I should find out,” he laughed. And he intends to search through the records to see how his St James home was described and promoted.
He’s keen for Shaftesbury residents with any of the original sales literature to get in touch. “Perhaps your grandparents bought the house that you live in,” he said. “There would have been three things. Tenants of Lord Stalbridge would have had a letter saying that he was selling out. There might be a letter from the syndicate saying that they have bought it. And then there would have been a third letter asking ‘do you want to buy it?’ If anybody has got those letters in the attic, we would certainly love to see them and if people are willing we could put them into the exhibition. That would certainly be history,” Matthew said.

When you take in the view from Castle Hill towards the Blackmore Vale, you can understand why almost 100 years ago, a civic-minded trio considered this to be such a special space. And it’s obvious why Shaftesbury should celebrate the men who rejected greed and personal gain to protect locals’ homes and livelihoods and our town’s special green spaces.

You can contact Matthew through ThisIsAlfred at hello@ThisIsAlfred or via

Copyright 2018 Keri Jones

Janet Swiss and Byzant Mural

Share Your Well And Spring Stories With Gold Hill Museum

Do you have a well within your home or a spring on your land? If you’re prepared to share pictures of your water feature or stories connected to it, you could help Gold Hill Museum prepare their 2019 special exhibition. Janet Swiss is organising a display that will explain how Shaftesbury’s former residents dug down for water. As most locals know, there’s no surface water found on the rocky promontory on which the town lies. “I find it fascinating that Shaftesbury’s water only came from the rain, until recently. In the past, many of the houses had their own wells or reservoirs and I thought that it would be interesting to see where they all were.”

Janet came up with the exhibition idea after a friend discovered a well on his property when he was building a kitchen extension into his garden. “It was a flowerbed that was covered up. He wanted to go out a bit further and there it was.” He’s made his discovery into a feature. “There’s now a glass disc on it so you can look down into the well,” Janet said.
Janet has since spoken with another Shaftesbury resident who was surprised to uncover an underground water storage space. “One man told me that he was drilling a hole through the pavement and found this enormous room, which must have been one of the big reservoirs.”
Janet reckons that there will be wells beneath many properties that were formerly used as pubs. “There were a lot of pubs because we were on a major route from London to the southwest of England. They needed them to make beer, as well as everything else. It would be fascinating to know more about it.”
Janet has identified three frequently occurring styles of well in Shaftesbury. “There are some with springs, which are very low down. Others store water like a reservoir – it is held in by the sponginess of the greensand, which allows the rainwater to soak in. And then there are straight wells that just collect the rainwater,” she said.

Shaftesbury Estate Agent Chris Farrand says that he has listed properties around the town with wells and hidden water features. “We come across them regularly, often in Enmore Green and Motcombe. They are in all sorts of places, like cellars and gardens,” said Chris. “Sometimes people make a feature of them. They can be hidden and you find a hole in the ground with water in the bottom. We have had clients buy properties and they didn’t know they were there.” Chris says a well won’t add value to a property but it will add to the ‘quirkiness’ of a home. And he reckons Janet will have lots of material to work with.

There’s one well that Janet would like to locate more than any other. “I’d like the people who have done the research at the Abbey to say where the Abbey well was. I’d love to know where that is,” she said.
Janet wants well owners to reveal details like how deep their well is, whether they still contain water and how far down the water is. “If you have any information from your household deeds and can provide a picture, that would be wonderful too,” said Janet. She hopes to receive plenty of information by February, so she can plan the display ready for when Gold Hill Museum opens in March for the 2019 season.

Earlier this year, Janet helped to reinstate the Byzant ceremony, where Shaftesbury thanked Enmore Green, down the hill, for offering access to its water. Janet hopes that the spring, at the bottom of Tout Hill, could be renovated in the future. That could provide an additional item of interest for visitors to the town. Janet is also keen to list places where water flows at the base of the hill, where the greenstone switches to clay. The springs are not always in the same place. “They move about a bit,” said Janet. You can contact Janet through

Copyright 2018 Keri Jones

John Rutter Turbulent Quaker

Turbulent Quaker of Shaftesbury Book Launch Tuesday 04 December

The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society is delighted to be hosting at 5.30p.m. on Tuesday 04 December in Gold Hill Museum the formal launch of Sir John Stuttard’s new book on John Rutter (1796-1851) The Turbulent Quaker of Shaftesbury. As the author states: “Rutter was an extraordinary man, a polymath, who did so much for society and the town …. without doubt, one of Shaftesbury’s greatest citizens.”

Following an introductory talk by Sir John, there will be a reception and an opportunity to buy signed copies at a discounted price. The net proceeds from the sale of the book, published by Hobnob Press for The S&DHS, are being kindly donated by the author to the Society, a registered charity. This event is free to members while non-members may pay £6 at the door.

The lecture originally scheduled for 04 December entitled A Field of Stars – the history of pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela has been postponed to a later date.

Craft Workshop

Free Autumn Crafty Event Wednesday 24 October 2-4 p.m.

Gold Hill Museum is hosting an Autumn Crafty Afternoon on Wednesday 24 October. Activities include apple pressing, making clay night-light holders, and creating autumn wreaths from natural materials. Pumpkins will be involved somewhere. Open to all ages, but children must be accompanied by a responsible adult. Entry is free; donations towards the cost of materials will be welcome.

John Penruddock of Compton Chamberlayne (2)

Small Earthquake in Wiltshire (1655) – Lecture Tuesday 06 November 2.30pm

This earthquake was political rather than tectonic. In March 1655 Cavalier gentleman John Penruddock of Compton Chamberlayne led an armed uprising against the republican government of Oliver Cromwell. His followers, the only branch of the Sealed Knot to carry out their part of a planned nationwide rebellion, seized near-by Salisbury, proclaimed the exiled Charles II King at Blandford, and were routed in Devon. Professor Eric L Jones brings the story of this little-known footnote to the Civil Wars to the Tuesday 06 November meeting of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society at 2.30p.m. in Gold Hill Museum. This illustrated talk is free to S&DHS members while non-members may pay £3 at the door.

Professor Jones’s 2017 book Small Earthquake in Wiltshire: seventeenth-century conflict and its resolution is available in Gold Hill Museum shop and published by The Hobnob Press.

David Morris at the door of a shepherd's hut

Learn How Shaftesbury Was Once The Centre Of Shepherd Hut Building

Shepherd huts are currently all over the home and lifestyle magazines. Celebrities are snapping them up and fitting them out with today’s high-end luxuries. But originally, these shelters would have provided the most basic living conditions for agricultural workers. And the Shaftesbury area was full of them.
A forthcoming talk at Shaftesbury Town Hall will explain how our hilltop town was once at the centre of British shepherd hut production. Dave Morris has devoted much time to researching and restoring these structures. And he’s authored a book on the topic.’s Keri Jones asked Dave to describe a shepherd hut.
“The simplest description is a small shed with a wheel on each corner and a curved tin roof. That sums it up in the briefest form, if people have seen one in a garden or at a country show,” Dave explained.

The huts were used as a base for agricultural workers and Dave says that they could be considered the English, lowland version of the Scottish bothy – a refuge for mountain farm labourers. “In the very far north of England and Scotland, you are less likely to come across a traditional shepherd hut. That’s because of the terrain. People would build a more permanent bothy,” said Dave. “But down towards the south of England you see the more mobile shepherds’ living quarters and it’s interesting to see that the style changed with the region and the need.”
Dave grew up in a South Somerset farming community and he remembers seeing shepherd huts from an early age. “I was aware of them. They were fun things. There weren’t so many in Somerset because of the farming landscape and the way that animals were attended to but they were quirky, quaint little hideaway huts on wheels that could be towed from field to field. That appealed to me as a child. It was like a den on wheels,” smiled Dave.
“And then, as I got a bit older, I became fascinated by them. I realised that they were dying out. In the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s they became almost extinct. They were abandoned in corners of fields as farming changed. Pre-1970 farming almost resembled Victorian-era methods. Then by the 1980s, farming was becoming more intensive and the shepherd huts were abandoned and left to rot. Suddenly there were fewer of them around. That piqued my interest.”
Shepherd huts were not so prevalent in Dave’s home county. “Somerset has slightly different agriculture and a different landscape. It doesn’t have shepherds in such high numbers as Dorset, Wiltshire and Hampshire. Terrain, as well as farming methods, affects whether you would have a hut on your farm. I’m still aware of the few places that had them around our area but nowhere near as many as you would have had around Shaftesbury,” said Dave.
Our area of the Blackmore Vale and Cranborne Chase would have been filled with shepherd huts. “Absolutely. It’s centre of the target,” said Dave. “Anywhere from Sherborne, through the rest of Dorset into Hampshire and Wiltshire is one of the key areas where you would have been likely to see a shepherd hut being used in the 1700s,1800s and early 1900s.”
Our area’s most famous author, Thomas Hardy, featured one of the structures in his writings. “There’s an immediate association in ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’ with the character Gabriel Oak and the shepherd hut. It’s not there by accident. This is stuff that Thomas Hardy would have been very familiar with,” Dave explained.
One of Britain’s most prolific shepherd hut builders was based in our hilltop town. “The Farris Company, who made shepherd huts, was actually based in Shaftesbury. Farris probably was one of the biggest mainstream shepherd hut manufacturers through the 1800s. They were two brothers. They started in Combe Bissett near Salisbury. They set up their own respective companies and John Farris came to Shaftesbury. They made hundreds. They were probably one of the last companies to make them. Farris would be making them, or repairing the huts, until the late 1950s and early 1960s. They were certainly well-known and well-respected agricultural engineers. I don’t know how many people were employed,” said Dave.
What’s the earliest reference to a shepherd hut that Dave has uncovered during his research? “The first written record is in the late 1500s in a manuscript, a book on animal husbandry. There’s the classic line, ‘the shepherd hut is a cabin going up on a wheel’. I found several image references from before then. The earliest is from 1363. Shepherd huts go back much further than the Victorian era – the time that people would initially associate them with.”
Some people are passionate about sheds. There’s even been TV programmes about that obsession. Does Dave believe that the addition of wheels puts the shepherd hut a cut above sheds?
“It certainly helps them stand out from any other shed. They can be moved from field to field, or from farm to farm. That’s just their practical working need. But through that, they start picking up their own history, because they travel. It is interesting when you speak to people who have one. You learn the route it has been on. It’s been to farm sales, it’s moved farms, it’s moved villages. It has seen different landowners. Often on the inside of the original shepherd hut there are scribblings and jottings left by the shepherds who have used it in the past. You might see lamb tallies – the number of lambs born in a particular year, or doodles about the weather. The whole object starts to have its own history which makes them a little more fascinating than any other particular type of shed,” enthused Dave.
Shepherd huts have become very trendy recently. David Cameron famously spent £25,000 on a luxury model for his Cotswold garden. He already has one outside his Cornish holiday home. Dave says he’s happy that shepherd huts are popular again.
“It pleases me that people are enjoying and using their huts in many ways. There seems to be no end to the innovative ideas that people are coming up with. That hasn’t changed in nearly 100 years. It doesn’t matter how you are using your hut, but there should be a nod of respect to how these were used back in the day when they were really tough living spaces. The shepherds would have been on the knife-edge of success or failure in any given year. That’s really difficult living. Provided we don’t lose track of that, it shouldn’t stop us enjoying our huts, however we use them.”
So is the audience for Dave’s talks primarily male? There is that cliché that men are obsessed with sheds and shepherd huts are similar. “You’re talking to a shed man here, definitely,” Dave laughed. “It is right across the board. Men, women, children, everybody loves shepherds’ huts. There’s something about them. It’s something that fascinates, attracts or is quaint, interesting or has a historical or useful link. There are so many interests.”
Dave Morris’s talk, delivered as The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society’s Teulon Porter Memorial Lecture, is called ‘The History Of The Shepherd’s Hut’. It takes place at 7.30pm on Tuesday, 2nd October at Shaftesbury Town Hall. Historical Society members can enter without charge. If you’re not a member, you can pay £5 on the door.

Copyright 2018 Keri Jones

Was This Gabriel Oak’s Shepherd’s Hut, As Described By Thomas Hardy?

Aeronautical engineer David Morris has devoted his spare time to researching, restoring and writing about Shepherds’ Huts and Living Vans. In particular he has rescued and rebuilt a derelict hut, the last one used for shepherding at Waterston Manor near Puddletown, Dorset. Waterston was transformed by Thomas Hardy into Weatherbury Upper Farm in his novel Far From The Madding Crowd so it is not entirely fanciful that this van was the model for Gabriel Oak’s living quarters. There is a strong link with Shaftesbury in that this hut was one of many built by the Farris company of agricultural engineers.

David’s daytime job is Curator of Naval Aircraft at the Fleet Air Arm Museum. He is a Research Fellow of Bournemouth University, a published author, and has appeared in the TV series Britain at Low Tide. At 7.30p.m. on Tuesday 02 October at Shaftesbury Town Hall he will deliver the Teulon Porter Memorial Lecture on The History of the Shepherd’s Hut. While he will range over the earliest depictions of Shepherds’ Huts and their forms in different societies, he will deal with the Hardy and Farris connections. David’s work is strongly represented in our current temporary exhibition A Small Dairy Farm in the Blackmore Vale and his book is available in Gold Hill Museum shop. Admission to the Teulon Porter Lecture is free to members while non-members may pay £5 at the door. Entry to Gold Hill Museum, where there is also a permanent display about the Farris company, is free, though donations are welcome.

Dorset Button Mice

Children Encouraged To Find Special Gold Hill Museum Mice

There are mice in Gold Hill Museum. And the Museum Trustees would like your children or grandchildren to try and track them down!
“There are only six of them. And they have little Dorset buttons on them. That’s what makes them special,” said Elaine Barratt.
The museum’s team of volunteers have decorated toy mice with the type of buttons that dozens of Shaftesbury workers would have made in the 17th and 18th centuries. Elaine says the soft toys have been hidden all over the museum, to create a fun activity for younger visitors.

“We have a really good quiz to enhance the experience for 7- to 12-year-olds who come to the museum but we didn’t have anything for younger children, so one of our stewards, Lyn Pagano, came up with the idea to make these little mice and dot them around the museum in different display cases. Then young children, even toddlers, can go around and find them. All of the six are different designs and the children will be given a sheet with a photo of each, that they can tick off when they find them.”

While the youngsters search for the mice, adults can learn about button making, which was once a significant Shaftesbury industry. “A gentleman called Abraham Case started making them in the 1620s, we believe. It became a huge industry for Shaftesbury over 250 years until the Industrial Revolution and the machine completely killed the industry. It was a cottage industry employing a lot of women, children and probably men. They earned their living making Dorset buttons,” said Elaine.

The buttons are very different from the fasteners we know today. “Originally, there were a lot of sheep locally and they used a sheep’s horn and linen. Then the buttons developed into metal rings, which were sewn and blanket stitched around spokes with a little cross stitch in the middle. That secured them. They would have a shank put on them. The modern equivalent is much more decorative because those who make them have a lot more time. There’s a lovely display of them in Gold Hill Museum including the original ones. Some of them are so tiny they must have been made by children,” Elaine said.
The museum mice are wearing handmade Dorset buttons. “I made them,” said Elaine. “I couldn’t get rings small enough so I used florist wire around a pencil to form the rings.”

Gold Hill Museum is open every day between 10.30am to 4.30pm until Wednesday, 31st October. Admission is free but donations to help fund the maintenance of the historic building are gratefully received.

Copyright 2018 Keri Jones

Ned_Kelly_Wanted_Metal_Sign_ (1)

The Amazing Upjohns

The founder of what grew into a multi-national pharmaceutical corporation, the first President of the American Institute of Architects, and the executioner of Australian outlaw Ned Kelly: all share the surname Upjohn and similar humble origins in early nineteenth century Shaftesbury. Archivist and Librarian Ray Simpson has created a fascinating display on Shaftesbury-born William and Richard Upjohn, who emigrated within months of each other to the United States and who with their offspring achieved distinction in the fields of pharmacy and architecture. Elijah Upjohn, on the other hand, was transported to Australia as a petty criminal aged 16. His life of crime continued until 1880 when, as a prisoner in Melbourne Gaol, he volunteered to deputise for the regular hangman and conduct the execution of the notorious Ned Kelly. The story of the Amazing Upjohns is free to view outside Gold Hill Museum Library.

Ciorstaidh Trevarthen

Expert Declares Museum’s Oldest Object Is Even Older

An unexpected result of the Saturday 14 July session at Gold Hill Museum with Ciorstaidh Trevarthen, Finds Liaison Officer for Dorset and Somerset (above), was the significant re-dating of what was already thought to be the Museum’s oldest artefact. A hand-axe, currently labelled as a 200,000 year old Acheulean specimen, appears to be considerably older, with a date range of 500,000 to 250,000 BCE. Ciorstaidh advised that it was a particularly good example, finely made by a species of human predating Homo sapiens. It was found on Castle Hill, Shaftesbury, and may have belonged to one of the earliest Shastonians.

The morning linked in with the Museum’s Found Underground exhibition, where visitors are able to handle and identify mystery objects. With her wealth of knowledge and experience, Ciorstaidh was able to shed light on garden finds brought in by members of the public including pottery, metal and glass objects, and a ring which was definitely not from a Christmas cracker! She also identified 15th century buckles and a knife end, a medieval thimble and a small piece of multi-coloured Roman glass.