John Rutter Plaque (2)

John Rutter Blue Plaque to Be Unveiled on 07 August

Angus Campbell, Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Dorset, will unveil a Blue Plaque commemorating the life of John Rutter (1796 -1851) at noon on Saturday 07 August 2021. The Plaque will be mounted on the front wall of No. 2 The Commons, Shaftesbury, where from 1817 John Rutter ran a printing and publishing business, and subscription library. The premises are currently owned by Ship and Sherry Limited and leased to HSBC Bank.

Site of John Rutter's Shop, The Commons, Shaftesbury (IK)
Site of John Rutter’s Shop, The Commons, Shaftesbury (IK)

Rutter was a nineteenth century human rights campaigner, when slavery was yet to be abolished and only a small minority of men had the right to vote. He passionately denounced the inhumanity of slavery, and opposed corruption and intimidation in local municipal and parliamentary elections. This led to friction with the agents of Lord Grosvenor, the wealthy landowner who had bought most of the property in Shaftesbury. In the wake of the troubled 1830 elections dozens of Shastonians including Rutter were sent for trial at Dorchester Assizes, charged with riotous assembly and criminal damage. In the first two trials, 21 defendants were found guilty of assault and 14 sentenced to between one and four months’ imprisonment. Eight were acquitted. By the time of the third trial the judge had grown impatient with the multiple prosecutions and urged the defendants to plead guilty, agree to be bound over to keep the peace for twelve months and accept a nominal fine of one shilling. All complied, except John Rutter, who knew that he was guilty of nothing. His religious beliefs repudiated all forms of violence, and during the disturbances he urged demonstrators to go home. This adherence to principle irritated the judge and led to Rutter’s being nicknamed “The Turbulent Quaker of Shaftesbury.” (The title of the 2018 book by Sir John Stuttard, who has masterminded the Blue Plaque project.) Eventually the baseless charges were dropped.

S&DHS President holding John Rutter Blue Plaque
S&DHS President Sir John Stuttard holding John Rutter Blue Plaque

By the mid-1830s Rutter had achieved a working relationship with Grosvenor, who cancelled eviction orders against tenants who had voted ‘unwisely’ and stopped imposing parliamentary candidates on the town. After the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 abolished local cliques, Rutter was elected to the Town Council and championed improvements in education, water supply, sanitation, and gas street and domestic lighting. In the 1840s he lobbied Parliament to extend the London and South Western Railway from Salisbury to Exeter via Tisbury, Semley and Gillingham. The grateful inhabitants of Gillingham presented him with an engraved silver salver in August 1848, though the line was not completed until after his death. The salver will form part of a temporary exhibition at Gold Hill Museum together with other artefacts, including a magnificent top hat bought in 1849 when Rutter attended the Third International Peace Congress in Paris. We are grateful to the Rutter family for the loan of the hat, and to Shaftesbury Town Council for financial support in meeting the cost of the project.

John Rutter's Hat Box
John Rutter’s Hat Box

In 1837 John Rutter qualified after five years’ legal training and began to practise as a solicitor. His brushes with the law may well have motivated him to acquire a more thorough knowledge of a profession which was in any case barred to him as a Quaker until 1828. He was also better able to defend the rights of the poor, whether as a Poor Law Guardian or in the Small Debts Court. Several generations later, the Rutter name is preserved in two local law firms, and on a street sign. This is the first Blue Plaque in Shaftesbury honouring a named individual for their positive contribution to the development of the town and the welfare of its inhabitants.

Rutter Close sign
Rutter Close sign

Tyler View of The Commons, Shaftesbury

The Turbulent Quaker of Shaftesbury and Riots in The Commons

The Commons in question being almost a public square where Shaftesbury High Street meets Bell Street. On opposite sides of the road, two key locations in a drama from the fractious summer of 1830: on the right the Grosvenor Arms, then a coaching inn and headquarters of the ruling Grosvenor interest; and facing it, the printer’s shop of John Rutter, later the Post Office (as in the early 1900’s Tyler photograph, with postal staff outside the door), and currently the HSBC Bank. In June 1830 the death of King George IV triggered a General Election. The unreformed borough of Shaftesbury was entitled to return two MPs. Since there was no Secret Ballot, the entirely male electorate had to declare their voting preferences in public to the Returning Officer. Polling took place in the new Town Hall (below), the gift of Earl Grosvenor in 1827.

Since the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, low wages, poverty, repression and a lack of job security, had led to a growing resentment by the labouring classes towards the rich farm owners and land-owning class, who seemed not to care a jot for them or their welfare. The gulf between rich and poor seemed to have become greater than ever. Now, as the election approached, there was an underlying groundswell of anger amongst the people of Shaftesbury and surrounding area which, in July, 1830, came to the surface in the shape of violence.

John Rutter Turbulent Quaker
John Rutter, The Turbulent Quaker of Shaftesbury

John Rutter, printer of Shaftesbury, was a principled man who defended the oppressed and the disadvantaged. In 1819, he had published a document entitled ‘A brief sketch of the state of the poor in Shaftesbury’, which was a shocking and revealing account of the appalling conditions in which some of Shaftesbury’s residents lived. He also fought against the corrupt and nepotistic practices of Shaftesbury Borough Council. In 1830, much of Shaftesbury was owned by Lord Grosvenor. He was a powerful and influential figure, but he left the management of his estates to his representatives, or agents. His tenants knew that any demonstration of dissent against Lord Grosvenor’s interests, would likely lead to the local agents having them evicted from their homes. At that time, as well as ill feeling towards the Mayor of Shaftesbury and his attorney, Philip Chitty, there was a particular resentment towards Lord Grosvenor’s London agent, a man named John Jones. The Grosvenor candidates for the two Shaftesbury seats, Edward Penrhyn and William Dugdale, might have expected to be returned unopposed. However, John Rutter and his colleagues proposed their own candidate, Francis Knowles, who was a reformer, known to support causes such as the abolition of slavery, religious tolerance and legal reform.

Grosvenor Arms (IK)
Grosvenor Arms (IK)

Towards the end of July 1830, speeches were being given in Shaftesbury’s Commons, with Lord Grosvenor’s candidates and supporters speaking from the balcony of the Grosvenor Arms Hotel. On Monday the 26th, July, rival groups gathered, and it was clear that most of the crowd was against the electoral system and Lord Grosvenor’s agent, John Jones. Boos and hisses and calls for Jones to go home, led to scuffles, with sticks being used as weapons. Another cause for concern and target for the crowd, was a man named William Swyer, who was not only Mayor of Shaftesbury, but also one of Lord Grosvenor’s local agents, and the Returning Officer for the election. Many suspected that the result would be rigged.

The population of Shaftesbury was 2,742 at the time, but only 315 men were eligible to vote. Polling took place over four days from the 3rd, August and, by the third day, Francis Knowles was trailing in 3rd place. A huge crowd, said by some to be over 10,000 people, gathered in Shaftesbury’s Commons and surrounding streets, and there was much unrest amongst them. In order to try and placate them, Knowles addressed the crowd, expressing confidence in the final triumph in the cause of liberty. After this, most of the crowd dispersed.

Site of John Rutter's Shop, The Commons, Shaftesbury (IK)
Site of John Rutter’s Shop, The Commons, Shaftesbury (IK)

However, about 200-300 people, mostly consisting of women and younger men, went to John Rutter’s premises on the Commons. John Rutter addressed them outside and asked them all to retire peaceably to their homes, which most of them did. There was a significant amount of intoxication and, despite John Rutter’s plea, many of the young men carried on drinking until about 10 pm, when some of them started throwing stones at the windows of Grosvenor supporters. A carriage was destroyed and then, at about 11pm, the Grosvenor’s gates were rushed by more than 50 men, who got in and broke windows and kicked in doors. The innkeeper of the Grosvenor Arms, Mr Edwards, reported that over 100 panes of glass were broken. He said that the Grosvenor was under attack until two or three in the morning. One witness, Robert Burridge, stated that in passing by the Grosvenor Arms after midnight, ‘he was called a spy, knocked down twice, and had his collar broken’.

Grosvenor Arms Blue Plaque (IK)
Grosvenor Arms Blue Plaque (IK)

Next morning, the Commons was a scene of devastation; but all was quiet. The army had been summoned, but 44 men of the 2nd Dragoons arrived too late from Blandford the day after the disturbances. Two of them escorted John Jones from the town. Following the trouble, Mayor Swyer had five men arrested, charged with ‘Feloniously rioting’ and sent to Dorchester gaol. They were Charles Willmot aged 25, Stephen Dean aged 22, Charles Hoskins aged 23, all labourers of Shaftesbury; Charles Jenkins aged 23, a sawyer, and Nehemiah Davidge aged 20, a blacksmith of Donhead St. Mary. The result of the election was 169 votes for Penhryn, 145 for Dugdale & 121 for Knowles. It did not go unnoticed that Mayor Swyer, in his role as agent for Grosvenor and Returning Officer, rejected 25 votes for Knowles which, had they been allowed, would have given him a total of 146 and, possibly, one of the two seats. John Rutter claimed that, ‘Had justice been done us, Mr Knowles would have been returned as the successful candidate’. Knowles claimed that he had lost ‘through a mass of corrupt influence’. On the 1st September, the five were released from gaol and made a triumphal return to Shaftesbury. As they passed through Blandford, bells were rung and in Iwerne Minster they were accompanied by a band. They stopped at the Half Moon and were then hauled in their carriage to the Commons, where they were met by a huge crowd of enthusiastic, flag-waving supporters. John Rutter regarded their release as a ‘Triumph over injustice, oppression and partiality’.

However, just the next day, there was more trouble to come ….

(This article was first read by the author, Dave Hardiman, on the Alfred Daily Podcast.)

Footnote: On the 2nd September 1830 a victory parade was to escort the successful Grosvenor candidates to a celebratory dinner at the Grosvenor Arms. Despite the drafting in of nearly 100 special constables, such serious disorder broke out that the Town Clerk was obliged to read the Riot Act from the balcony of the Grosvenor Arms. Yet more windows were broken. In October 1830 dozens of Shaftesbury residents, including John Rutter, received summonses to answer charges at the next Quarter Sessions in Dorchester. The story concludes ….

Gold Hill from the Tyler Collection

Gold Hill Museum Opens New Shows From Monday 31 May

Volunteers at Shaftesbury’s Gold Hill Museum have been mastering new technology and creating new displays in preparation for the return of visitors on Monday 31 May, and every day thereafter until Sunday 31 October, government regulations permitting. Mr Toad’s Abandoned Caravan, one of the entries for the on-line Amazing Spaces Challenge run during Lockdown, will be on show, courtesy of creator Elizabeth Hazelwood, together with magnificent Doll’s Houses built by the late Tryphena Orchard. They form part of a new temporary exhibition on the theme of Childhood.

Cat and Sandwiches
Cat and Sandwiches

Two residents, Peter and Kitty de Barnes, are seen here relaxing in the lounge of No 2 of the houses, while their ginger cat shows a keen interest in balls of wool or possibly fish paste sandwiches on a low table. (Tryphena invented convincing back stories for all her creations, and her own biography is no less interesting.) Held over from last year is a display of memorabilia from the advertising agency responsible for the classic Hovis ad, which will be running on one of several brand-new digital screens acquired with the assistance of a Dorset Museums Association small grant. The DMA has also helped to fund improved storage and conservation of the Museum’s archives which will be made more accessible to the community as a result of months of cataloguing during Lockdown by an expanded team of volunteers.

There is no charge for entry to Gold Hill Museum, which is open from 10.30a.m. to 4.30p.m. A one-way system helps to maintain a socially-distanced flow of visitors, and last admissions are at 4.10p.m. for similar reasons.

Biggles and the Beano
Biggles and the Beano

Dave Hardiman about to record the voiceover

Dave Hardiman on “The Cantankerous Clergyman” of 1870s Shaftesbury

“If he were not a clergyman, I would give him a good thrashing.” The full text of the story first told on the Alfred Daily podcast.

During the 1870’s, the peace of Shaftesbury was much disturbed by a man who was variously described as the ‘Quarrelsome Vicar’, ‘The Political Parson’, ‘Persecuted Preacher’ and the ‘Cantankerous Clergyman’. There is much more that I could relate to you about this man and what became known as the ‘Shaftesbury Outrages’, but I am limited by time here.

The Cantankerous Clergyman.

In October, 1870, there came to Shaftesbury, a Rector who would spend the next 9 years or so, causing a tremendous amount of hostility and dissension among the people of the town. His name was Thomas Knox Magee Morrow, an Irishman aged about 51, who was installed as Rector of the parishes of Holy Trinity and St.Peter’s. He lived with his wife, Elizabeth, and a couple of servant maids in the Rectory.

In July, 1871, some malicious person or persons broke several panes of glass at the Rectory while he was away. But, apart from this seemingly isolated incident, all appears to have gone relatively smoothly during the early months, with the Rector fulfilling his duties as would be expected.

Although he was gaining a reputation as a rather eccentric clergyman, it is not until 1873, that his actions and rhetoric from the pulpit, began to create enemies and a groundswell of ill-feeling against him.

Some 50 years earlier, John Rutter, had published a document entitled ‘A brief sketch of the state of the poor in Shaftesbury’, which was a shocking and revealing account of the appalling conditions in which some of Shaftesbury’s residents lived. At that time, most of Shaftesbury was owned by the Grosvenor family and many Shastonians were their tenants.

However, it seems that housing conditions had been much improved by the Grosvenors during the intervening years and Lady Grosvenor in particular, was very much respected by the people of Shaftesbury. In addition, her family were in the process of building the Westminster Memorial Hospital, which was to open in 1874.

Westminster Memorial Hospital c 1910
Westminster Memorial Hospital c 1910

However, setting himself up as a champion of the Agricultural Labourer, the Reverend Morrow elected to publish a pamphlet which contained the following:- ‘Notwithstanding the beauty of the landscape, and the plenty that is around you, to many of you the lines have fallen in anything but pleasant places. It is the lot of not a few to be poor, and besides being thrown upon parish relief, they are obliged to reside in miserable dwellings, wholly unfit for human habitation’.

Lady Grosvenor’s local agent was a man named George Genge, who was a 54 year-old farmer living in the parish of St.James. Genge was infuriated that Lady Grosvenor could be criticised in such a way. It seems that Mr Genge made his feelings known to all who wanted to listen and soon incited a group, who would become known as the Shaftesbury ‘Ruffians’, to take action against Morrow.

As her Ladyship’s agent, Genge felt entitled to challenge Morrow and, on the 18th, January, 1873, that is exactly what he did. He saw Morrow in town and confronted him in the Post Office, where an abusive exchange took place ending with Morrow grabbing Genge by the collar and attempting to throw him out.

Genge challenged Morrow to name the houses referred to in his pamphlet, but Morrow refused. Genge called Morrow a ‘Disgrace to the Ministry, a slanderer and a liar’. He also told him that he never ought to have been a clergyman. He went on to tell Morrow that he had been a cause of dissension ever since he came to Shaftesbury and that he had made use of his pulpit to vent his abuse. Since he had arrived, he had quarrelled with everybody and had no real friends in the town. This exchange led to a court appearance with both men counter claiming for assault.

Next, in August, 1873, Morrow was summoned to court for assaulting his Churchwarden, Mr Buckland. Buckland said that while he was posting a notice on the Church doors, the Rector came up behind him and grabbed him by the neck with his right hand and tore the notice down with the other. He said that he had to grab the Rector’s coat to save himself.

Holy Trinity Church, Shaftesbury. Built 1842 (IK)
Holy Trinity Church, Shaftesbury. Built 1842 (IK)

Moving on to January, 1874, Morrow was summoned before the court again, charged with assault. The Judge noted that this was now the 4th or 5th time that the Reverend had appeared before him on such a charge.

During 1874, elections took place and, in February, during the lead up to the election, the sitting M.P. for Shaftesbury, Mr Bennett-Stamford (Conservative), in an address to the electorate at Shaftesbury’s Commons, said that ‘The Reverend Morrow, having taken it upon himself to slander my good name ……he hoped few others possessed the same quarrelsome temperament.’

In March, 1874, Morrow took Mr Francis Webb, bank clerk, and George Genge to court, accusing them of using threatening language towards him. Challenged by Genge, Morrow admitted that he had been previously fined 1/- for pushing a boy, but caused laughter in the court when he also said that he did not touch the boy. Morrow also admitted that he was bound over for an assault on Mr G. Hatchard. Genge went on to accuse Morrow of abusing him from his pulpit, Morrow saying that there was ‘An iniquitous man in power in Shaftesbury,(meaning Genge), who treated people with drink’. Morrow denied saying this. Morrow accused Webb of verbally abusing him in Mr Freke’s shop, Webb saying that, ‘If he were not a clergyman, I would give him a good thrashing’. Morrow said that Webb followed him and he had to seek refuge in the Police station.

In March, 1875, there was a Coroner’s inquest into the death of a one month old child named Arthur Pitt at the Sun & Moon Tavern on Gold Hill. When the child was a week old, the Mother, Louisa, had asked Morrow to come to her house to baptise him. Morrow told her that he would open the Church at any time, but refused to go to her home.

The Mother stated that the child had been small and delicate and did not grow after birth and her Doctor had expressed doubt that the child would survive and she, noticing that the child was weakening and being afraid that he would die, took him to St.Peter’s to have him baptised. She had sent her sister to request Morrow, but he now refused to come because her husband was not a Churchman. That night, the child died in bed at his Mother’s side.

Old Rectory Bimport (IK)
Old Rectory Bimport (IK)

In December, 1876, the Rectory windows were broken again. Following this, Morrow decided to get posters printed and have them put up around the town. The posters offered a reward and read as follows:-
‘Outrage and Reward. Whereas, about 10 o’clock on the night of the 6th, November past, a number of evil-disposed persons assembled in front of my Rectory House, broke several of the windows, battered the hall door with iron missiles, and tried to burn the house by means of tarred cloth set on fire and inserted among the shrubs which grow on the walls of the house; and whereas about a quarter to two on the morning of Sunday, 17th, December, some evil-disposed persons threw large stones through the window of one bedroom and broke the glass of a window in another room of the Rectory, and then demolished the woodwork as well as the glass of the dining room window; and whereas the local authorities appear afraid or unwilling to deal with the promoters of the outrages, I hereby offer a reward of £10 (£1,000) to any person or persons who will furnish me with such information as will lead to the conviction of the projectors and perpetrators of these outrages’.
This caused some more controversy as he was refused permission to put them up. He did however, have the text published in the Western Gazette, which prompted some to write to the Western Gazette about the Rector.

In January, 1877, a ‘Ruffian’ wrote:-
How is it Mr Morrow is so at odds with everyone in the town, and how is it that rich & poor, gentle & simple, clergy, lawyers, doctors, tradesmen, mechanics, servant girls, labourers, horse dealers and drovers; I say how is it that all these are of one opinion respecting this persecuted gentleman? The answer is contained in a pamphlet dated 08/02/1873, ‘If one should happen to be unfortunate enough to dissent from Mr Morrow’s views upon even the most trivial subject, straightaway the opportunity is seized to indulge in intemperate and unguarded language, and far worse, scurrility-railing accusations, having no foundation whatever, save the distempered imagination of this clerical gladiator’.

Another Ruffian stated that Morrow from his pulpit will not name names, but will ensure that the congregation knows who he refers to. Speaking about one individual, he accused him as ‘Totally unfit to have the care or instruction of youth, for he is an associate of Mountebanks (fraudsters) and frequenters of dram shops and cricket fields’. Alluding to poor attendance at his church; ‘Where are those that should be worshipping in the same place as their forefathers have in years past?’ They are skulking under the hill, listening to the mild platitudes of a neighbouring clergyman’. During sermons, bringing his fist down onto the Bible, he roars out, ‘Listen to this ye cowards of Shaftesbury!’ The writer went on to say that, about a month ago, I was skulking under the hill, going to evening service at St.James and came upon two boys of about 15 or 16 who, on meeting one another, said “Hullo Bill, bist gwine to Church?” “I dunno”. “Come on. Twill be a lark: Old Morrow’s bound to pitch into somebody”.

Another letter from someone who called himself a ‘Skulker’, professed not to be of the anti-Morrow clique, but went on to comment on Morrow’s assumed right to speak on behalf of his parishioners and how he showed either a reckless disregard of the known facts, or a total ignorance of public opinion. He went on to say that:-
‘From personal observation, I assert fearlessly that every class has been disgusted by the violent conduct and language of the Rector of Shaftesbury, more especially as his attacks emanate from the protection of the pulpit’. The writer stated how the efforts of the town to establish an amateur dramatic Society, had been described by Morrow as ‘Soul-destroying indulgence’, a Device of Satan’ and ‘Den of Belial’.

Finally, in March, 1879, Morrow resigned and was replaced by the Reverend Flyn.

Tyler's View of Holy Trinity from Bimport
Tyler’s View of Holy Trinity from Bimport

But it wasn’t quite all over and, in April, 1879, following his resignation, Morrow was sued by George Gatehouse, Clerk & Sexton at Holy Trinity, for £13-7s-6d, (£1,500), which represented his expenses for washing, cleaning, attending to the Bishop’s visitation and opening the Church on Sundays. Until Easter 1873, all such expenses had been met from what was known as a voluntary pew assessment. Morrow abolished the pew assessment and introduced an offertory. Gatehouse said that he did not know what Morrow did with the money from the offertory but, whatever he did, he did not pay him, nor had he been paid since. Morrow had appointed George Gatehouse as clerk, but when he presented Morrow with an account, the Rector threw it back at him, saying that it was nothing to do with him and that the Churchwardens should pay him. The problem was that as Morrow kept the offertory money, the Churchwardens had no money with which to pay. Needless to say, George Gatehouse was awarded compensation.

Morrow was gone, the old pew assessment system was re-instated and congregations returned to the two Churches. At last, peace reigned again in Shaftesbury.

King's College Chapel (photo by Dmitry Tonkonog)

550 Years Ago England’s Worst King Murdered In The Tower

On 21 May 1471 the last of the Lancastrian kings, Henry VI, was murdered in the Tower of London. If Henry were not the worst, he must have been the unluckiest of English kings. On his watch England lost the Hundred Years’ War with France and was convulsed in the Wars of the Roses. Henry lost two crowns, one of them twice.

He was the only son of Henry V, victor at Agincourt in 1415. The charismatic father embodied the virtues of the medieval warrior-king. The insipid son was the only king of medieval England who did not lead an army in war against a foreign enemy, and showed no interest in martial pursuits. This cut no ice with the English nobility, who ran private armies and practised for war when they were not actually waging it.

Henry was born at Windsor 600 years ago, on 06 December 1421. He was only nine months old when his father died of dysentery campaigning in France. The quarrelsome nobles of the Royal Council sank their differences and governed on the boy’s behalf, maintaining stability in England, where he was crowned king in 1429, and retaining most of the English territory in France, where he was crowned king in 1431. The problems started in 1436 when Henry began to exercise power in his own right.

Medieval kings were besieged by petitioners. With ‘benevolent vagueness’ (Helen Castor) Henry never seems to have refused a request. This led to the wholesale granting of titles, lands, offices, rents, and pardons which completely undermined the royal finances. While some of this was cronyism, Henry seems to have been naïve, impractical and excessively generous. As James Ross writes: ‘Carelessness, lack of attention to detail and sheer incompetence were the hallmarks of the king’s involvement in government’. He would perhaps have been better suited to the religious life, as medieval apologists suggested.

Eton College Chapel (photo by Jonnrobb)
Eton College Chapel (photo by Jonnrobb)

Some of his achievements in education were not recognised at the time, and are not generally associated with his name now. In 1440 he set up Eton College as a charity school for 70 poor boys who would then go on to King’s College, Cambridge, founded in 1441. Henry intended the nave of Eton College Chapel to be the longest in Europe, with 17 or 18 bays; even at today’s eight, it is impressive. He laid the foundation stone of King’s College Chapel in 1446, though the building was not completed for another century. In 1442 Henry lobbied the Pope unsuccessfully to have King Alfred, whom he admired as an educational reformer, canonised as a saint, and in 1445 he provided 30 oak trees from the royal forests for a new library at Salisbury Cathedral. The building stone came courtesy of the Abbess of Shaftesbury from quarries at Chilmark.

While these worthy foundations were viewed by many contemporaries as expensive vanity projects, Henry’s failure to defend English territory in France attracted far more venom. In 1445 Maine was ceded to Rene of Anjou, Henry’s new father-in-law, without consultation or compensation of English stake-holders. This contributed massively to the loss of Normandy in 1450 and Jack Cade’s Rebellion in Kent; in 1453 Gascony, which had been English for four centuries, was re-taken by the French.

Clarendon Hunting Lodge, Wiltshire (photo by Jim Linwood)
Clarendon Hunting Lodge, Wiltshire (photo by Jim Linwood)

News of the disastrous English defeat at Castillon in the summer of 1453 probably helped to trigger Henry’s sudden and total mental collapse while at Clarendon, a royal hunting lodge near Salisbury. Henry was in a catatonic state, unable to respond or even move, until Christmas 1454. Even after his apparent recovery – for which Henry ordered thanks be given to St Edward (probably “the Confessor”, though Henry would have been familiar with Shaftesbury Abbey’s St Edward “the Martyr”) – the king was now little more than a puppet. His French queen Margaret of Anjou did her best to defend the interests of her husband and their son, born during Henry’s mental paralysis, (and also called Edward). Misogyny and francophobia meant that she would never be acceptable as a regent, and the struggle for power between Margaret’s Lancastrian supporters and their Yorkist rivals was finally resolved in favour of the Yorkist Edward IV after one of the bloodiest battles on English soil at Towton, fought in a snowstorm in March 1461. Henry evaded capture until 1465 while his wife and son made their way to France.

In 1470 a split in the Yorkist ranks saw Henry released from the Tower and restored as king. “A stuffed woolsack lifted by his ears, a shadow on the wall, bandied about as in a game of blind-man’s buff, submissive and mute … like a crowned calf” according to a Burgundian chronicler. Margaret returned from France via Weymouth with Prince Edward, only to be captured on 04 May 1471 at the Battle of Tewkesbury where her son was killed. There was now no incentive for Edward IV to keep Henry alive. Previously his murder would have created a martyr, with a much more capable heir to replace him.

In death Henry became the subject of a cult. Pilgrimages were made to his Windsor burial place and 368 miracles were claimed on his behalf. Putting on his red velvet hat, kept by his tomb, was a sure-fire cure for migraines. The Tudor kings Henry VII and Henry VIII had a vested interest in playing up the saintliness of their otherwise feckless kinsman. The consolation of canonisation was, however, denied Henry VI by the break with Rome in the 1530s, when Thomas Cromwell would have confiscated the hat.

Mr Toad's Abandoned Caravan

Mr Toad’s Abandoned Caravan, and Other Amazing Spaces

Kindly given by Toad to Ratty and Mole who refurbished it for their holidays. We are grateful to Elizabeth Hazelwood who is allowing it to be displayed at Gold Hill Museum (when we re-open) with other splendid entries for the Amazing Spaces Challenge. It involved lots of cardboard, glue and acrylic paint, and is accompanied by a little story of how Toad was approached to give the caravan to his friends.

Bulgarian Cottage
Bulgarian Cottage

This house was made by little stones, seeds from pumpkin and carbon by Alek Petrov of Lime Class. Alek wanted the house to look like an old house which will be improved in the future. Also, it reminds him of his grandparents’ house back in Bulgaria.

Pine Cone Cottage
Pine Cone Cottage

This little room is the home of some Pine Cones, descended from a colony based in Taunton, Somerset. Their ancestors watched from the Pine trees, fearing for their very existence, as first the old Orchard was demolished, and later, new housing developed only yards away. The Cones greatest existential threat came from a neighbour who objected to Pine Cones and leaves dropping in his garden! Two trees were cut down, leaving just one mighty pine standing.

Fortunately, Sally Jackson was on hand to rescue and relocate a select band of Cones to a new home in Shaftesbury, Dorset, where they could live in safety. This room is in their little home, where their lives so closely mirror events in our own human world, with all its ups and downs and happy and sad moments. …but…they have managed to come out at the top of the tree, or at least dangling pretty near it!

Sir Robert Walpole - First Prime Minister

Three Hundred Years Ago The First Prime Minister Enters Office

Or so the postmark said on today’s letters. “(Sir) Robert Walpole enters office as first UK Prime Minister 300 years ago 4 April 1721.” Walpole himself would have denied it. He did so explicitly in 1741, when he had held office continuously for 20 years. “I unequivocally deny that I am sole and prime minister.” The term was then an insult, aimed at politicians whose ambition exceeded their ability.

In 1721 Walpole, a Whig, was First Lord of the Treasury, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Leader of the House of Commons. He had occupied some of these roles before, and had also been Secretary at War and Treasurer of the Navy. He was educated at Eton and from 1735 he lived at 10 Downing Street, so he did have some recognisably modern Prime Ministerial attributes. In other respects he broke the mould. He was one of 19 children of a Norfolk country squire, weighed twenty stones as an adult and possessed a blunt, rustic and politically incorrect turn of phrase. In cultivating Queen Caroline, the influential wife of King George II, he claimed to have “seized the right sow by the ear.”

But he was industrious, thinking nothing of starting on his correspondence at 6.00a.m., and financially adept – “the best master of figures of any man of his time”, according to a contemporary. This competence enabled him to ride out the crisis created by the South Sea Bubble of 1720. It’s not clear whether he personally made big profits or losses when the price of shares in the South Sea Company, dealing mainly in slaves and sugar, soared to stratospheric heights and then crashed. Many of his political rivals were implicated in corrupt share transactions, and ruined both financially and reputationally. Walpole earned the gratitude of King George I by damping down the scandal which could have engulfed the Hanoverian Royal Family. Cynics called him “the Screen Master General.”

The Whigs were the party of the Protestant Hanoverian Succession, dating from 1714. Many of the Tories were suspected of having secret sympathies for the exiled Catholic Stuarts, who failed to seize back the British throne in the Jacobite Rising of 1715. One of the founders of the Whig Party was Anthony Ashley-Cooper, first Earl of Shaftesbury, (1621-83) who built St Giles House at Wimborne St Giles. Ashley-Cooper died in exile after campaigning to exclude the Catholic James Duke of York from the line of inheritance. James duly succeeded his brother in 1685 but was deposed in the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688. The last of the Protestant Stuarts, Queen Anne, died in 1714.

St Giles House, built by the first Earl of Shaftesbury
St Giles House, built by the first Earl of Shaftesbury

Walpole’s longevity as a governing politician owed much to his policies of peace and low taxes. His motto was Quieta Non Movere, or “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie.” He was a persuasive orator, but preferred to know in advance that he could rely on the votes of the “Robinocracy”. “All those men have their price”, he is reported to have said. About a third of the Members of the House of Commons, or 185 MPs, were “Placemen” in receipt of largesse from the government, in the form of publicly-known appointments, honours or pensions. Many more sweeteners may have been paid from secret service funds, the records of which have not survived. Walpole would have regarded all this as sensible man-management, but literary opponents such as Jonathan Swift, Samuel Johnson and Henry Fielding satirised what they saw as industrial-scale corruption.

Walpole’s two decades in government were well-compensated. Houghton Hall cost in excess of £200,000 (values of Walpole’s day) and its walls were lined with Old Masters, sold by a later generation to Catherine the Great of Russia, where they are now on display in the Hermitage Museum.

Houghton Hall, Norfolk by Dennis Smith
Houghton Hall, Norfolk (photo by Dennis Smith)

In 1739 Walpole was dragged into the War of Jenkins’s Ear. Captain Jenkins had been trading (probably slaves) in the Spanish American colonies, as Britain was permitted to do by Treaty, when in 1731 he claimed a Spanish coastguard had cut off his ear. There was uproar when he appeared before the House of Commons in March 1738 with his ear pickled in a bottle. “It is your war,” Walpole said to the Duke of Newcastle, a fellow Whig, “and I wish you well of it.” By 1742 the war had spread into Europe and Walpole had clearly lost control of the Commons. He resigned in February 1742, was made Earl of Orford by a grateful George II, and died in 1745, the same year as another abortive Jacobite coup.

Drone Pilot - Photographer Chris McComish

Shaftesbury’s Gold Hill Museum Reaches For The Skies

Bristol-based professional video maker Chris McComish was flying his camera-carrying drone to capture footage of the stunning views from Shaftesbury on a sunny Friday morning. He has been commissioned to make a short promotional video on behalf of Gold Hill Museum. (Now available to view here) The Trustees felt that there couldn’t be a better time, with scarcely any visitors through the Museum door in the past 12 months of pandemic, plus the possibility of a staycation boom in 2021, to beef up their marketing effort. At least a third of the film, as conceived by screenwriter (!) Ian Kellett, emphasises the magnificent views into three counties from Dorset’s highest town, the importance of Shaftesbury Abbey, and the impact of Ridley Scott’s Hovis ad shot on Gold Hill. The camera lingers on the Georgian Town Hall and medieval St Peter’s before floating inside the Museum door. At this point the viewer should already be convinced that Shaftesbury is a worthwhile destination.

“I was very impressed by the drone footage in a video made for the benefit of Weymouth and Portland Heritage,” says Ian. “I thought that Shaftesbury and Gold Hill Museum needed something similar. Perhaps North Dorset can siphon off some of the thousands flocking to the Jurassic Coast. Our video will also have an authentic Dorset-accented narration, voiced by Dave Hardiman.”

Dave Hardiman about to record the voiceover
Dave Hardiman about to record the voiceover for Gold Hill Museum’s promotional video

Click here to listen to Amber Harrison’s location interview with Chris McComish on The Alfred Daily (22 minutes 14 seconds to 27.14)

Coombe House by Albert Edward Tyler

Shaftesbury Vinegar Tycoon and FA Cup Winner’s Country Retreat

Dorset Council has recently bought the former St Mary’s School for £10.05 million. Though described as Jacobean in style, Coombe House is not regarded as an historic building. It was built in 1886 (architect E.T. White) about a mile to the east of Shaftesbury, just inside Wiltshire, for Mark Hanbury Beaufoy (1854-1922), a wealthy vinegar manufacturer whose factory and main residence were in South Lambeth, London. The Beaufoy company had been founded in the 18th century by his great-grandfather, another Mark, on a site later occupied by Waterloo Bridge. Until the advent of refrigeration, vinegar was much in demand for food preservation, and in 1881 the Beaufoy works employed 125, producing 790,096 gallons of vinegar in 1898.

M. H. Beaufoy was regarded as an enlightened employer, who supported the campaign for an 8 hour working day and introduced a 45 hour week. In 1881 he chaired a meeting which founded The Church of England Central Society for Providing Homes for Waifs and Strays, later to evolve into The Children’s Society. He sat as Liberal MP for Kennington in Lambeth from 1889 to 1895, and Hansard records that in July 1889 he asked the Home Secretary whether he was aware that “a man was charged at Leman Street Police Station with having assaulted a woman by dragging her to the ground by her hair and stabbing or attempting to stab her with a knife, but was subsequently discharged without any effort having been made to find the woman.” Clearly he was concerned that an opportunity had been missed in the hunt for Jack the Ripper.

The youthful Mark was a talented footballer. This was the heyday of amateur sportsmen of independent means. He played mainly as an outside right for Eton College, Cambridge University, and Surrey, and was the member of an FA Cup Final winning team in 1879, when Old Etonians beat Clapham Rovers 1-0.

Old Etonians v Blackburn Rovers 1871
Old Etonians v Blackburn Rovers 1871

Another of Mark’s favourite pastimes was game shooting. This was the attraction of Coombe House, surrounded by 1500 acres of land ideal for pheasant shooting, with a further 500 acres being rented in the vicinity of Ashmore. Some serious safety advice was addressed to his fifteen-year-old eldest son, Henry Mark Beaufoy:

If a sportsman true you’d be

Listen carefully to me

Never, never let your gun

Pointed be at anyone.

That it may unloaded be

Matters not the least to me.

Sixteen indoor servants were employed at Coombe House, and presumably at least as many on the estate. The Beaufoy Family’s private library, which included a Shakespeare First Folio bought in 1851 and Dr Samuel Johnson’s armchair acquired in 1859, was moved to Coombe House in 1909, though the First Folio was sold in 1912. The south wing was enlarged to create a ballroom to celebrate the marriage of daughter Margaret Hilda at much the same time.

Coombe House Built 1886
Coombe House Built 1886

Mark Hanbury Beaufoy was chairman of The Kennel Club from 1920 until his death in 1922. The estate was sold in 1930, with Coombe House turned into a luxury hotel, owned in 1935 by a Mr and Mrs Whitaker, and in 1939 by S. Wormald. In 1943 it became a USAAF Rest Home for American bomber crews based in the UK. The last of the Beaufoys involved in the vinegar business, George Maurice, was killed when a Luftwaffe bomb fell on the Lambeth works in 1941. The Beaufoy brand was phased out after 1961, while the factory was converted into upmarket housing. Its white cupola can still be seen from trains approaching Vauxhall Station from the south-west.

Most recently Coombe House has been part of the complex of St Mary’s independent school, which closed in 2020. The sisters of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary bought the house in 1945 and opened a school for boarding and day girls, gradually adding to the facilities. Dorset Council has acquired the site with a view to making better provision for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, who might otherwise have to be accommodated much further afield. The views of Dorset residents and other interest groups were being sought until 18 March 2021 at

The photographs of Coombe House are from Gold Hill Museum’s Tyler Collection.

Coombe House from the Tyler Collection
Coombe House from the Tyler Collection

Roman Box Room by Tryphena Orchard

Amazing Spaces Challenge Now Open to All

In 2019 Gold Hill Museum was given a collection of superb hand-made dolls’ houses made by Tryphena Orchard, and this year we are exhibiting them with the stories of the people who ‘lived’ in them. There are two large semi-detached houses, a Tudor tearoom, and four individual rooms, each with a theme, including a Roman room, and a Victorian parlour.

We would like to set you the challenge of making your own ‘Amazing Space’, about the size of a shoe-box, and using everyday materials you can find easily at home. Your Amazing Space could be a room in a house, a shop, a garden or something completely original. It can be a replica of a real room, or an imaginary place. Each room needs to have its own story about the people who lived in it or used it.

When you have finished your room, please take a photo of it and email it to

Miniature Garden Terrace by Tryphena Orchard
Miniature Garden Terrace by Tryphena Orchard

We will print the pictures with the story and put up some of the entries on-line and alongside our own dolls’ house exhibition. When we are able to open, we may ask you to bring in your Amazing Space so we can show our visitors the real thing!

Please send your entries to us by Wednesday March 31st.

Good luck everyone and we look forward very much to seeing your Amazing Spaces.

Please click on this link to hear Claire’s latest interview with Nick Crump on The Alfred Daily (from 13.35 to 22.48 approximately).