Slow and Dirty? Swift and Delightful? or Sabotaged and Defeated?

On Tuesday 05 December at 2.30p.m. at Gold Hill Museum, Professor Colin Divall takes as his subject “The Puffing Billy of the Hedgerows” – the politics of the Somerset & Dorset Railway closure, c.1951-67.

Colin writes: “The Somerset & Dorset’s closure in March 1966 was one of the most bitterly fought of the Beeching cuts in the South West. Accusations of fiddled figures, poor marketing and deliberately missed connections painted a picture of a valuable north-south link sabotaged by short-sighted railway managers and uncaring Whitehall mandarins. More than 60 years on we can now see that the line was financially in deep trouble by the early 1950s. Given the widespread belief in the 1960s that cars and buses were the future of personal mobility, modernization was never going to be enough to save a heavily loss-making route that ran through solidly Conservative constituencies rather than the marginal ones which saved some other lines.”

Physical and political geography always detracted from the efficient working of the S & D. Its northern line to Bath across the Mendips was expensive to build, maintain and operate. (Marked in red on Afterbrunel’s map). The summit at Masbury was 811 feet above sea level. This was one hundred feet higher than the altitude of Shaftesbury, which never managed to attract a railway line or station. S & D historian Robin Atthill writes that the line shows signs of high engineering competence in extraordinarily difficult terrain: it winds almost continuously, with long stretches at the ruling gradient of 1 in 50, four tunnels totalling nearly 2.600 yd, and seven major viaducts. Most steam locomotives needed assistance to haul trains over the Mendips; freight trains with ‘bankers’ to push, and express passenger trains with double-heading between Bath and Evercreech. This included relatively modern designs such as the West Country class Light Pacifics to which the locomotive Shaftesbury belonged. (In the photo above an S & D Fowler 2-8-0 pilots the West Country Crediton.) Requiring two engines for many trains doubled the costs in crew, coal, and locomotive maintenance, and high average speeds were impossible to attain.

After grouping of the private railway companies in 1923, S & D routes fell into the domains of the Great Western and the Southern, while popular long-distance passenger services, such as the Pines Express from Northern cities to the holiday destination of Bournemouth, originated in London Midland and Scottish territory. Long-serving S & D railwaymen suspected that the GWR (Western Region after nationalisation in 1948) had little affection for the S & D. In 1965, Robin Atthill writes, a mass meeting at Templecombe accused the Western Region in the presence of two MPs and four prospective candidates, in front of television cameras and microphones, of “cold-blooded, deliberate murder of the line, planned and carefully executed over a period of ten years, way before Dr Beeching’s plan.”

Efficient running of the S & D was further compromised by the fact that more than a third of the Bath to Bournemouth line, and in particular the section between Templecombe and Blandford, was always single track, creating potential bottlenecks at passing loops at stations such as Stalbridge, Sturminster Newton, and Shillingstone. With the exception of Shillingstone, there are few traces left of many of the Dorset S & D stations or halts. Blandford was easily the most impressive station belonging to the Somerset & Dorset, with a splendid station building on the up [northbound] platform, a subway, and a lofty signalbox dominating the scene on the down side. (Atthill)

Blandford Station photographed by Ben Brooksbank in April 1963. Closed in 1966 and now almost entirely built over. All images Creative Commons Share-alike Licence 2.0

Colin Divall is professor emeritus of railway studies at the University of York and was until 2014 head of the Institute of Railway Studies & Transport History, a joint venture with the National Railway Museum. Brought up near Wimborne, he remembers the last passenger trains over the Somerset & Dorset in March 1966, when he was surprised to discover that some steam engines were painted green not the grey gunk with which he was familiar. Colin is now exiled to former Great Western Railway territory – Bridport – where he researches the post-war politics of rural transport in the West Country as well as contributing to the East Dorset railways website,

This illustrated talk is free to members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society, while seats should be available from 2.20pm to non-members on payment of £3 at the door.

The Impact of the 1914-18 War on Children

Historian and broadcaster Dr Vivien Newman will shed new light on the experience of children across the combatant nations in her illustrated talk at Gold Hill Museum at 2.30p.m. on Tuesday 07 November. The story of (evacuee) British children in World War Two is familiar, but their part in the First World War is much less well known. Evacuees then were mainly Belgian and French. Few British readers [Viv writes] are aware that 499,137 French people (including approximately 150,000 children) from the ten wholly or partially Occupied French Departments (counties) were either forced or permitted to leave their homes. They were circuitously transported via Germany and Switzerland before being deposited once again in France, primarily in Evian on Lake Geneva.

British schoolchildren were encouraged to contribute to the war effort. Schoolgirls converted thousands of pairs of disused woollen stockings into mittens; boys’ woodwork classes in both England and Australia became mini factories for manufacturing splints and crutches for the Red Cross .. on one occasion, the crutch made by a boy was, to their mutual surprise, given to a relative.

Before the outbreak of war School Boards had permitted children over 11 who had achieved the Fourth of Six Standards to work fulltime on the land for part of the year. By 1917, H.A.L. Fisher, President of the Board of Education, estimated that “600,000 children had been put prematurely to work”.

1918 photo probably taken in a Midlands toy factory. The girl is attaching wigs to dolls. (Imperial War Museum)

Two recently founded youth organisations prized public service and duty: the Boy Scouts (1909) and Girl Guides (1910). On 29 October 1914, Boy Scouts were engaged to work for MI5. By 4 September 1915, the experiment was considered a failure. Boy Scouts were perhaps better suited to outdoor tasks, such as watching the coast and strategic bridges. So MI5 recruited 90 Girl Guides instead, mainly as messengers at their Waterloo House HQ. Guiding’s greatest accolade came in 1919: seen as utterly reliable, a contingent accompanied the British delegation to France. They ran errands for the Paris Peace Conference delegates at the Palace of Versailles and a group of Senior Guides (aged over 16) were invited to witness the signing of the Peace Treaty.

Boy Scouts with bugles awaiting instructions for sounding the all-clear. (Imperial War Museum Collection)

Toy manufacturers, British and German, swiftly developed products inspired by the War. Not all were in the best taste. 1915’s most gruesome offering was ‘The Exploding Trench’. A 30cm-long wood and cardboard, muddy green-coloured ‘trench’ contained half a dozen miniature soldiers. When the Union flag was struck, the [German] soldiers were catapulted into the air ‘in all directions’, as if by an explosion. Unsurprisingly, this toy seems to have been discontinued.


Toy manufacturers, here German, were soon producing war-related models for children. (Image from Europeana 1914-18 Collection)

All of the quotes in italics are from Viv’s fascinating 2019 Pen and Sword book ‘Children at War 1914-18’. She may well be able to bring some copies with her to the lecture. There are details of her other books here. This talk is free to members of The S&DHS and seats should be available to non-members from 2.20p.m. on payment of £3 at the door.

An Expert View of the Dissolution of the Monasteries

On Tuesday 03 October at 7.30p.m. Professor James G. Clark of Exeter University will deliver the 2023 Teulon Porter Memorial Lecture at Shaftesbury Town Hall. In 2021 Professor Clark published a New History of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, to great acclaim. Reviewers typically described it as The best history yet written on English monasticism in the 16th century …. The fullest account of the Dissolution ever written …. This is a landmark book.

In Shaftesbury the final step in this religious, social and economic revolution took place on 23 March 1539, when Dr John Tregonwell received from the Abbess of the Benedictine nunnery at Shaftesbury the voluntary deed of surrender of the Abbey to the Crown. Thus ended the 650-year-old existence of Shaftesbury Abbey, founded by King Alfred.

The 1539 Deed of Surrender of Shaftesbury Abbey. Courtesy of Professor J.G. Clark; copyright the National Archives

Tregonwell was on the last lap of a ten-week sweep through the West Country during which he effectively closed down 21 monasteries. In the previous five days he had wound up the affairs of monasteries at Sherborne and Montacute, and next on his itinerary was the nunnery at Wilton. Each of the 57 nuns at Shaftesbury was allocated a pension, most between £6 and £3 6s 8d per year; the abbess, Elizabeth Zouche, received a monumental £133 6s 8d. The nuns, however, would have preferred to remain as a community, and in December 1538 had petitioned King Henry VIII and his chief minister Thomas Cromwell, to whom they offered 500 marks and £100 respectively, that they may remain here, by some other name and apparel, his Highnesse poor and true Bedeswomen. This plea, conveyed in a letter by Sir Thomas Arundell, receiver of rents for the nuns, and later purchaser of large tracts of Abbey lands, fell on deaf ears.

When Henry VIII’s commissioners had first visited Shaftesbury Abbey in 1535, scarcely a hint of scandal, lax behaviour or superfluity to requirements was detected. A minor revelation was the disclosure of the true identity of young nun Dorothy Clausey, who was the illegitimate daughter of Cardinal Wolsey. Under regulations drafted by Cromwell, the 24-year-old Dorothy could have left the nunnery on the grounds of her youth, but she chose to remain and appears in the 1539 list of pensioners at £4 13s. 4d. The 1536 Act of Suppression applied to smaller monasteries, with incomes of less than £200 per year, and often unviable in terms of numbers of clergy. This recycling of religious resources and personnel was neither unprecedented nor particularly unusual. The prioress and two nuns from Cannington in Somerset duly transferred to Shaftesbury. The Abbey, with annual revenues of £1166, belonged rather to the category of great and solemn monasteries of this realm wherein, thanks be to God, religion is right well kept and observed.

So why was there such a dramatic change in royal policy towards the monasteries? And why was there, in the West Country, no significant resistance to the process of closure? (Unlike the violent Pilgrimage of Grace in the North).

Professor Clark’s 2021 book on the Dissolution has been showered with praise by historians.

The scholar best qualified to answer these and other questions about the Dissolution is undoubtedly Professor Clark. The title of his talk is The Dissolution of the Monasteries: Shaftesbury and the South-West. It is free to members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society and open to interested members of the public on payment of £5 at the door. Seats may be reserved by emailing

Two Hundred Years Since A Second Outbreak of Fonthill Fever

On 09 September 1823 the sale by public auction began at Fonthill Abbey of most of the contents of reclusive slaveowner William Beckford’s fantastical Gothic creation. The initial sale of Beckford’s estate, including the house and its artistic treasures, had been advertised for 17 September 1822. Captivated by Beckford’s acknowledged reputation as a wealthy connoisseur and by the impenetrable secrecy of his pleasure dome, the public found itself afflicted by the ‘Fonthill Fever’, as Thomas Dibdin characterised it. (Robert J. Gemmett writing in the Beckford Society’s Exhibition Guide, available in our shop). But this first sale was twice postponed, and then abruptly cancelled, as Beckford struck a secret deal with a private purchaser. Naturally, there was considerable disappointment, not to say anger, at this turn of events. Humbug Fonthill Abbey said one headline.

The new owner, John Farquhar, had made a fortune supplying gunpowder to the British government in India, and was a major shareholder in Whitbread’s brewery. The ink was not long dry on the final sale agreement in March 1823 when Farquhar decided to sell the contents of the house he had just bought. Constant assurances were made in the press that the sale would take place as advertised – and so it did, but not without provoking its own controversial headlines

This engraving from John Rutter’s 1823 Delineations of Fonthill shows (left of centre) what was described as a topaz cup with a dragon handle of enamelled gold, set with diamonds, and attributed to the great Renaissance artist Benvenuto Cellini. It was sensationally denounced as a fake when put up for sale.

Thomas Dibdin, coiner of the ‘Fonthill Fever’ phrase, wrote to the Morning Chronicle before the start of the auction to complain that many of the rare books he had seen in 1822 were now missing. Possibly Beckford had taken them with him to Bath; he always regretted leaving most of his library, and sent an agent who bought over 640 lots in the book sale. Other allegations were laid that many of the books were ringers that had never been in Beckford’s library, and that hundreds of paintings in the 1823 catalogue had never been owned by Beckford. Thomas Adams Jr., a bookseller from Shaftesbury, said that he never was at a Sale where so much suspicion and jealousy reigns.

Lot 1567, offered for bidding on the 32nd day, stirred up a furore that made more headlines in the press and was even spoofed in a Christmas pantomime at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The ‘Cellini topaz vase’ (above left) was, according to silversmith and antiquities dealer Kensington Lewis, neither made of topaz nor by Cellini. Subsequent expert analysis confirmed Lewis’s opinion that it was rock crystal, and had no credible provenance to link it with Cellini. Beckford had bought it in 1819 simply because he liked it, and chose to overlook its dubious pedigree.

The sale concluded on 29 October 1823. Magnificent works of art and items of furniture had been snapped up by private collectors, which now grace some of the world’s great museums. Farquhar had been a generous host, and on the evening of 22 October he organised a late-Georgian version of a ‘son et lumiere’ spectacular. Robert J. Gemmett writes:

All of the heavy curtains were pulled aside in the Abbey to expose candlelight flickering its incandescent glow in every room. Light poured out through the windows radiating the colours of the stained-glass portraits and the array of rich heraldic symbols. The lantern in the tower streamed its radiance against the dark sky to the silent amazement of those stationed on the lawn. The doors of the Abbey were then thrown open to the onlookers … to enhance the visual effects, the grand organ filled the air with its ‘high and holy harmony’ … It was a fitting farewell for this palace of enchantment

Scale model of Fonthill Abbey by the late Michael Bishop. Kindly loaned to us for the duration of the Fonthill Fever exhibition by Beckford’s Tower and Museum

William Beckford had begun to hate his ‘palace of enchantment’, writing in a letter of December 1818 … in cold weather the Octagon is a horror, an inferno of draughts, and has an atmosphere of ice …this place makes your flesh creep as soon as night falls … the horrible din of the winds last night. I didn’t sleep a half-hour in succession … Really this habitation is deathly in the stormy season … At 3.30p.m. on 21 December 1825 the central tower collapsed, reducing much of the structure including King Edward’s Gallery (at the head of this blog) to rubble. Farquhar and his servants escaped unharmed, though one man was catapulted along a corridor by a blast of air.

The Fonthill Fever temporary exhibition is free and runs until the end of our season on Tuesday 31 October. Dr Amy Frost, the Curator of Beckford’s Tower and Museum in Bath, returns on Tuesday 09 January 2024 to update the S&DHS on all things Beckfordian. Lectures & Speakers – Gold Hill Museum

Last Two to Three Weeks for “Women of the World”

This 1913 photograph from Miss Dunn’s Grosvenor House School for Girls features in a selection of images currently on show from the stories of three secondary schools which disappeared in the Shaftesbury reorganisation of 1983. Historic School Photographs On Show During July and August – Gold Hill Museum The print in our archives was labelled “Women of the World”, with the names of the students handwritten on the reverse. We don’t know who took the photograph.

Back Row: Joyce Llewhellin, Alice Pilkington, Effie Phillips, Mildred Buchanan, Maud Ogbourne

Middle: Doris Wilson, Queenie Mayhew, Edith Chissell, Valentine Mercier, Phyllis Herman, Mary Imber

Front: Gwen Llewhellin, Alice Tunnicliffe

Thanks to the fortuitous survival in the archives of two contemporary copies of Laboremus , a newsletter from the Grosvenor House School, we were able to learn more about the participants in this Fancy Dress Dance. School Jottings by D.P.W. (probably Doris Wilson) tell us:

A telegram of congratulation was sent from Grosvenor House to Valentine Mercier, who was married at Chateau des Granges, Bourdeilles, on September 29th, to Monsieur Pierre Tillier. The honeymoon was spent at the Italian Lakes, and Monsieur and Madame Tillier are now settled in their new home at Tours.

Mlle Mercier was perhaps an exchange student or a French assistante ; she was not to know it in September 1913, but the outbreak of war in July 1914 would disrupt their married lives. D.P.W. continues:

Easter this year [1913] fell early, so only the Boarders who lived near went home. On the afternoon of Easter Monday the idea came to some of us that it would be fun to have a fancy dress dance, and to dress up in anything we had, or anything that we could borrow from someone else. Miss Dunn kindly gave us permission, and said that anything she had in the way of dresses, rugs or scarves, she would lend us, and that if there was anything we wanted that had been used for “Cranford”, we could have it.

Special mention must be made of Mrs Pankhurst, [Edith Chissell] who was very good indeed, with a very dangerous-looking hammer, which she was continually flourishing. She wore the usual card with VOTES for WOMEN in large letters. The Cowboy [Alice Pilkington] was also well got up; in fact I think each costume was a success.

Suffragette leader Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst being arrested outside Buckingham Palace in 1914 (Imperial War Museum Collection)

In 1913 the Suffragettes’ militant campaign for votes for women would have dominated the (printed) news media. Emily Davison was killed under the hooves of the King’s horse in the Derby, while the Cat and Mouse Act allowed the authorities to release, and later re-arrest, imprisoned Suffragettes who went on hunger-strike. This expedient spared the Government the appalling publicity generated by the force-feeding of women prisoners.

None of the British students in our photograph would have been able to vote in a Parliamentary election until after the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act of 1928.

Members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society should have received by post notification of the AGM and Garden Party at Gold Hill Museum at 2.30p.m. on Tuesday 22 August 2023. The relevant Trustees’ Annual Report is here.

A Unique View of Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset

Elaine Barratt captured this view of one of the most photographed streets in the world on her way to open up Gold Hill Museum on Friday 21 July. It’s not a view that is likely to grace any future calendars showing Dorset beauty spots. It does, however, serve to remind us that Gold Hill is a public highway, passing houses where real people live, rather than a film set. The obstruction was temporary and did not prevent over 900 people from entering the museum during the three days of the Shaftesbury Fringe. As ever, entrance was free, as were many of the 14 Fringe performances in the Anna McDowell Garden Room. Though she is Chair of the Trustees of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society, Elaine is an unpaid volunteer, like everyone else at the museum. We are profoundly grateful to her for holding the fort over three long, 12-hour days.

Potential visitors to Gold Hill may be reassured that normal service has been resumed, with full restoration of one of the most iconic views in Dorset. Full access also applies inside the museum, where two new bespoke display cabinets have been installed in Room 8. We were having great difficulty opening the old cases, and therefore in checking the condition of the artefacts inside and updating exhibits.

Two new bespoke display cases have been installed in Room 8 during July 2023

Also now available to view in Room 8 is this atmospheric oil painting of slaveowner William Beckford’s moonlit Fonthill Abbey, generously donated by Bridport artist Jules Cross. The story which inspired Jules’s creation is told in the News Blog Who Let The Bloodhounds Out? William Beckford Apparently – Gold Hill Museum

Jules Cross’s striking oil painting entitled “An Intruder at Fonthill – Evading Mr Beckford’s Bloodhounds”

This welcome acquisition means that another of our innovations this season, a 32 page, full colour, souvenir Museum Guide, is already slightly out-of-date. A number of our talented volunteers made significant contributions to this impressive publication, but the creative mastermind was local artist, ceramicist, graphic designer and photographer Alan Booth – also a volunteer.

Alan Booth photographing our Flat Iron Heater. This features on p16, in close-up

The Guide was printed locally by a nationally-known commercial printer and is selling steadily. We are grateful to the Dorset Museums Association for a small grant towards the cost of publication.

This 32 page, all-colour, souvenir Guide to Gold Hill Museum is keenly priced at £3.50

A Dynasty of Shaftesbury Clockmakers, All Named Jasper Guy

In April Gold Hill Museum was delighted to receive the generous donation of an antique Shaftesbury-made longcase clock from Historical Society member Phil Proctor. Painted on the clock face above Shafsbury was, it was reasonable to assume, the name of the maker, Jasper Guy, though he might only have been the supplier. The installation of the clock on the first-floor landing, where it continues to keep good time, display the date, and chime the hours, prompted a surge of interest in the Guy family and clockmakers in Shaftesbury. The Pigot and Co. trade directory for 1830 lists five watchmakers: Frederick Belzoni of Bell Street; John Cole of Salisbury Street; Jasper Guy and Robert James, both of High Street; and Thomas Mansfield of Salisbury Street. If five seems a high number for a small rural town, Tribe and Whatmoor comment in Dorset Clocks and Clockmakers (1981) that clockmaking was strong and continuous in Shaftesbury … Surprisingly from the evidence so far of the known seventeenth-century lantern clocks, Shaftesbury and Sherborne were the homes of the earliest established makers.

In 1842 according to Pigot there were four watch and clockmakers: Frederick Belloni (sic) of High Street; Jasper Guy of Salisbury Street; William Guy of High Street; and Joseph Mansfield of Salisbury Street. This was not the same Jasper Guy as 1830, however, but probably his son. On 14 November 1831 the Salisbury and Winchester Journal reported: Died Wednesday last, after a short illness, deeply and deservedly lamented by all who knew him, Mr Jasper Guy, auctioneer etc of Shaftesbury aged 61 years. The sale of the deceased’s property in January 1832 included wheel and straight barometers, and eight-day and thirty-hour clocks and alarums.

Neither of these Jasper Guys can have been the maker of our clock. As Tribe and Whatmoor state: It was thought that the dials and movements of the painted-face or white-dial clocks were purchased ready-made from manufacturers, particularly in Birmingham. It is now known that the dials alone, already painted to order, would more often have been supplied from the specialist firms and the clockmaker (using some expertise) would have assembled a movement to go with the dialan 8-day movement, with certain mechanical complications [such as displaying the date] needed an additional plate (called a false-plate) between the dial and the movement. Very often the name of the factory which made the dial is cast into this iron false-plate.

Jonathan Betts is Vice Chairman of the Antiquarian Horological Society and a former Master of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers

Thanks to our President, we were fortunate enough to be able to call on the expertise of Jonathan Betts, who also advises the National Trust about their clocks. Jonathan inspected the false-plate and assigned a date of 1780 to our clock. This means that the maker, Jasper Guy, belongs to a previous generation, and was almost certainly father and grandfather to the Jasper Guys already mentioned. Our in-house genealogist, Linda Wilton, was able to clear up a lot of the confusion. (Linda hosts a Family History session at Gold Hill Museum on alternate Thursday mornings.) The first Jasper Guy was born in 1740 in Compton Valence, Dorset, and married Ann Elliot in Shaftesbury in 1768. He made our clock, using a bought-in painted face, and was buried in Shaftesbury in July 1801. Their son Jasper was born in 1771 and married Dorothy Hannen in 1804, dying in 1831. He still dealt in clocks but was widely respected as an auctioneer. The third Jasper Guy was born c.1808, married Jane Brockway in Cann in 1833, and seems to have moved to Beaminster by the time of the 1851 Census. An 1851 trade directory lists a Jasper Guy as a watch and clockmaker in Little Street, Beaminster. A fourth Jasper Guy was born in 1839 in Shaftesbury, but nobody of that name appears on a Dorset Census after 1851. The Central Somerset Gazette of August 1881 reported the theft at Somerton of one wood box, 7 pairs of spectacles, and 13 watch chains belonging to Jasper Guy an itinerant watch and clockmaker. A later report from March 1882 refers to an assault on Jasper Guy, a pedlar of Shaftesbury. It is tempting to assume that the fourth Jasper Guy took inherited family skills on the road and away from Dorset.

Hear donor Phil Proctor and Family History researcher Linda Wilton talk about the clock and Jasper Guy to Keri Jones on the Alfred Daily by clicking here

Historic School Photographs On Show During July and August

Forty years ago in 1983 three local secondary schools were merged into Shaftesbury Upper and King Alfred’s Middle Schools. A current temporary exhibition of photographs from the Gold Hill Museum archives provides snapshots of life at each: the Boys’ Grammar School, Christy’s School, and the Girls’ High School.

Prior to the 1944 Butler Education Act most students left school at the age of 14. The Butler Act established a clear division at the age of 11 between primary and secondary stages, with an entitlement to free secondary education for all, and raised the leaving age to 15, with the goal of raising it again to 16 as soon as was practicable (1972, as it turned out).

Shaftesbury Grammar School c.1915, before the addition of the Memorial Hall

The Grammar School was built in 1878 to accommodate 60 boys, including 14 boarders. Several headmasters seem to have been keen cricketers and School magazines regularly carried reports of matches and full scorecards. Unfortunately the earliest magazine in our archives dates from 1909 so we know nothing about the interesting-looking 1903 team above. The Grammar School was fee-paying and the accounts book includes an example of philanthropy in 1915 on the part of vinegar tycoon Mark Hanbury Beaufoy, who paid the tuition costs and educational expenses of a wartime Belgian refugee.

A great many Old Boys were killed during the 1914-18 War and the School was extended to include the Memorial Hall in 1923. Under the terms of the 1944 Act, the Grammar School became part of the state system as a voluntary-aided Church of England School. It still took boarders but now offered free places to local lads who passed the eleven-plus examination.

Christy’s School was intended to provide a more practical, co-educational secondary curriculum, vocational rather than academic. A photograph dated 1939 shows woodworking skills being taught in a workshop of The Council Senior School, later known as the Modern School and then Christy’s. A splendid aerial photograph of the Christy’s site, off Mampitts Road, behind Christy’s Lane and the present Royal Chase Hotel, shows a mixture of building styles. Raising the leaving age in 1944, plus a post-war baby boom, meant that extra school places had to be provided quickly. The immediate answer was HORSA – a Hutting Operation for the Raising of the School Leaving Age. HORSA classrooms were prefabricated, with walls made from concrete panels and corrugated iron roofs. They had a notional lifespan of 10 years, but one suspects that the huts on the Christy’s site were required to last a lot longer, like these examples from Machanhill near Larkhall.

The raising in 1944 of the School Leaving Age to 15 prompted the introduction of prefabricated classrooms with a planned lifespan of 10 years. Photo by Paul Nardone (2007)

By the time the present writer arrived in Shaftesbury in January 1988, the Christy’s site had been cleared of all traces of the School and McLeans were busy building the 98 houses of the Linden Park estate. Someone at Christy’s did, however, keep a detailed scrapbook of school life, which is preserved in our archives and will repay further study.

The Girls’ High School was based in the eighteenth century Grosvenor House off Bleke Street. In 1884 Miss Dunn began her forty-one year headship of the fee-paying Grosvenor House School, maintaining high standards of appearance and academic performance for boarders and day girls.

This handsome blue plaque outside the courtyard of Grosvenor House encapsulates the history of schools there from 1723 to 1983

Classrooms and netball court extended the footprint of the High School over much of the present long-stay car park, adjacent to Morrisons and Elite Garages. In 1944 the High School became a County maintained selective school, offering free places to girls successful in the eleven-plus. In March 1950 a science field trip to Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel made the pages of the national press when bad weather and a lack of boats meant that the party of 6 Sixth Formers and two teachers was marooned for three days. By 1983, according to a former student on p57 of Roger Guttridge’s book Shaftesbury Through Time, some floors in the High School were in such poor condition that pupils were told to “sit down and not move” for fear of something giving way.

This free temporary exhibition can be seen in the display cabinets outside the Museum Library until the end of August. If you have any information which will add to our knowledge of the contexts of the exhibition photographs, or school life in general, please get in touch with us. Contact – Gold Hill Museum

Architectural Oddities of Swanage Revealed to The S&DHS

25 members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society enjoyed glorious weather and expert leadership from Sir John Stuttard and Martin Cross during their visit to Swanage on Thursday 08 June. Many of the architectural curiosities they were shown came back from central London as ballast in the ships of John Mowlem and his nephew George Burt. In a previous lecture Sir John illustrated the massive growth in traffic of Purbeck and Portland stone from the Dorset coast to the Thames. The Lock-up behind the Town Hall was, however, a domestic response to a local problem of anti-social behaviour during the Napoleonic Wars.

The “House of Confinement” was five and a half by seven feet, and had no windows. It was moved to its present location behind the Town Hall when Swanage Church was rebuilt in 1860

The front façade of the Town Hall is altogether grander. Added to Crickmay’ s 1881 Victorian structure is the 1670 entrance porch of the Mercers’ Hall, designed in the wake of the 1666 Great Fire by a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren. This was recycled 200 years later by George Burt, at a time of street widening in Cheapside. Not everybody was impressed, particularly by the quality of the figures carved in Portland stone.

Statuary in the architrave of the front door from Mercers’ Hall. One critic described this as “positively dreadful. If ever a book comes to be written on How to murder Architecture, Swanage Town Hall should find a place therein”

A short distance up the High Street, George Burt built a spectacular mansion, Purbeck House, in the Scottish Baronial style made fashionable by Balmoral Castle. Though Burt was not keen on trespassers, as indicated in the inscription below, the present proprietors of the Purbeck House Hotel kindly allowed the party to stray into the grounds. Only a few of the gems to be found there can possibly be described in this blog.

Mowlem’s contract in 1874 to rebuild Billingsgate Fish Market was worth £100,000, enabling George Burt to finance the building of Purbeck House in 1875-76. It was designed by Weymouth architect G.R. Crickmay
This rustic stone arch was worked by George Burt and his brother in 1844 when first installed at Grosvenor Place, Hyde Park Corner. It was re-erected in the gardens of Purbeck House in 1883. The beard of Neptune / a river god has been trimmed by a lightning strike
Cast-iron columns from Billingsgate support the perimeter fence of a now-disused tennis court. One pillar is surmounted by the frames of antique tennis rackets, looking surprisingly modern

The informational part of a splendid tour finished appropriately at a high point in Prince Albert Gardens, where the Wellington Clock Tower, minus its clock, which never came to Swanage, could be seen from a distance. The clock tower had a short life of little more than 10 years in London, and was re-erected in the garden of another prosperous builder, Thomas Docwra. At a considerably greater distance: Old Harry Rocks and the modern high-rises of Bournemouth (below far left)

The memorial obelisk to Prince Albert (1862) originally stood at the entrance to the town. After years of decay and partial dismantlement, it was re-erected in Prince Albert Gardens in 2022

All successful summer outings conclude, as this one did, with a Dorset Cream Tea. Members could reflect on the privilege of having been shown a host of architectural features, missed by most visitors, but pinpointed by the meticulous preparation of our volunteer guides, Martin and Sir John, to whom we are indebted.


This City of London bollard stands at the rear of Swanage Town Hall

Museums Education Team Help Abbey Primary School Celebrate a Big Birthday

Claire Ryley and Penny-Jane Swift looked every inch Victorian schoolmistresses as they helped students and staff of Abbey Primary School re-create activities appropriate for 1873, the year of the School’s foundation. Claire writes:

In the morning Penny-Jane (with her Steps in Time hat on) taught country dancing to well over a hundred children, and then we taught embroidery and Dorset button-making, before the procession to Gold Hill and an all-school photo. This was followed by a dedication assembly and lastly tea, cake and maypole dancing back at school. It was a wonderful day and a tribute to the school, staff, children and parents who entered into the spirit of things with such enthusiasm.

Penny-Jane Swift and Claire Ryley of the joint Shaftesbury Museums Education Team, dressed for 1873

The crocodile along St James Street halted outside Chapel Cottage, where they heard recollections of the building’s previous social and educational uses from resident Colin Francis, a member of the S&DHS. Colin and other participants in the event can be heard here on The Alfred Daily.

The Forster Education Act of 1870 stimulated a surge in the building of schools. The Act laid down principles for the provision of elementary education for all Victorian schoolchildren between the ages of 5 and 12. It did not, however, make elementary school mandatory or free. So the parents of the first pupils of the St James National School, as it was then called, may well have had to pay weekly school pence for their children’s education. Attendance was made compulsory for pupils up to the age of 10 in 1880, and free in 1891.

Abbey Primary School, Shaftesbury, built as a National (Church of England) School in 1873 for 220 pupils. (Photo by Mike Faherty)

Kelly’s Directory of 1895 lists two National Schools in Shaftesbury, the other being on Bimport in premises now converted into the apartments of King Edward’s Court, and inspiration for a key episode in Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure. There were also the fee-paying Boys’ Grammar School (opened 1878) and Grosvenor House Girls’ High School (1884) – now an architects’ practice, adjacent to Bell Street Car Park. There would be Poor Law schooling for children living in the Alcester Workhouse. Kelly records the teachers at St James National School as Samuel Robert Fisher, master; Mrs Elizabeth Fisher, infants’ mistress; and John Thurlow, student master. John would in effect be an apprentice pupil-teacher.

There is much more about local Childhood and Schools on the Shaftesbury Remembers website. The services to schools offered by the volunteers of the joint Gold Hill and Shaftesbury Abbey Museums Education Team are described here.