John Rutter Plaque (2)

Blue Plaque to Recognise one of Shaftesbury’s Greatest Citizens

A newly-minted blue plaque, the first to recognise the life and contribution of a Shaftesbury individual, has been delivered to Gold Hill Museum, the HQ of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society. John Rutter, the subject of the plaque, was a doughty campaigner for the extension of democracy, the abolition of slavery, and the improvement of local education and living conditions during the first half of the nineteenth century. His bookseller’s, stationery and printing shop was at Number 2, The Commons, where the plaque will be installed in the spring or summer of 2021. The S&DHS project has been spearheaded by Honorary President Sir John Stuttard, whose book The Turbulent Quaker of Shaftesbury (2018), did much to raise awareness of John Rutter’s reformist pedigree. A generous grant towards half the cost has been pledged by Shaftesbury Town Council.

In the Winter 2020-21 Byzant, the occasional newsletter of The S&DHS, Sir John looks at the origins of Shaftesbury’s existing blue plaques as well as Rutter’s career as a reformer. Beatrice King offers Some Recollections of Shaftesbury Life 1937-59 as told to her by her late mother Rosemary and recalling the work of her grandmother Rita Edwards as Head of Cann School. Chris Stupples explains how he came to be involved in researching and inputting over a thousand Great War biographies into the Shaftesbury Remembers website (1103 by the beginning of December). Ian Kellett provides an account of life from November 1914 onwards for British internees In Ruhleben Camp, focussing on a Bristol seaman with a local connection, and footballer Steve Bloomer who was ‘the Lionel Messi of his day’. Dave Hardiman tells the salutary story of William Sims (1808-1852), a petty thief and housebreaker from Cann, whose death sentence at the age of 21 was commuted to transportation to Australia. This 34 page full-colour edition also includes Elaine Barratt’s Chairman’s Chat, the minutes of the September online AGM, a report of the BBC South Today visit to Gold Hill Museum in October, and an update on events at Shaftesbury Abbey Museum from Claire Ryley.

Members of The S&DHS should have received their printed issue by post or hand delivery. If not, please contact us at Gold Hill Museum. We have a few spare copies available for sale to non-members at cost price (£1.50 per copy).

Horse-powered Threshing Machine

“Swing” Rioters Smash Machinery at Pythouse near Tisbury

On 25 November 2020 local historian Christina Richard wrote:

‘It’s a miserable wet morning in Tisbury and it’s worth remembering that 190 years ago to the day, local agricultural workers rioted to draw attention to their appalling low wages – 7s per week. Common land had already been enclosed locally, taking away their right to run a cow, geese or a pig on communal land. Many of them were nearly destitute, and now the introduction of threshing machines by the local farmers would deprive them of casual work during the winter.

So spare a thought for them – they broke up the threshing machines at Fonthill Gifford, Lawn, and in other places, eventually falling foul of John Benett at Pythouse, and crossing swords (sticks in their case) with the Hindon branch of the Yeoman Cavalry. Many were arrested, and taken by cart to Salisbury Gaol where they were all tried, some were found guilty, transferred to the horrible prison hulk York in Portsmouth Harbour and eventually transported to Van Diemens Land (Tasmania), where most of them had to stay until they died, even after they were granted ticket of leave and pardoned – how could they afford to come home?.

So. happy 25 November. Some of their names are familiar to us – Macey, Mould, Burt, Gray, Jerrard, Rixon, Sanger, Snook, Topp, Targett and Vining. Most were in their mid twenties with small children. Their wives took over the agricutural labouring in order to feed their families.

Puts lockdown into place, doesn’t it?’

Christina. who published The Grotto Makers: Joseph and Josiah Lane of Tisbury in 2018, is presently researching the story of the Pythouse Riot. It was one of many hundreds of agricultural disturbances across southern counties in the autumn of 1830, supposedly led by the mythical “Captain Swing”. The “Battle of Pythouse” was notable for its violence and one unfortunate labourer, John Harding, was killed. The inquest jury returned a verdict of justifiable homicide. Rural distress among the labouring poor continued, and in 1834 the Tolpuddle Martyrs were sentenced to transportation at Dorchester Assizes after attempting to form a Trade Union to resist wage cuts.

Edla Norton Mayor of Shaftesbury 1933 (3)

First Women Mayors – and the Loss of a Popular Male Mayor

In 1933 Edla Marian Norton (nee Eklund) became the first woman Mayor of Shaftesbury. Historian Dr. Jaime Reynolds is writing a book about the first women Mayors in Britain and contacted Gold Hill Museum in search of information about Edla and the Norton family into which she married. Edla’s grandparents were Swedish though she was born in London in 1879. In 1917 she married John Archibald Norton in Brighton. In 1918 some women were given the vote but it was not until 1928 that all women were enfranchised, on the same terms as men.

The Nortons were prominent figures in local politics and Methodism in Shaftesbury. Edla’s husband was Mayor in 1928 and again in 1945. George Edmund Norton was Mayor in 1937, according to the illuminated list in Shaftesbury Town Hall. (Thanks To Town Clerk Claire Commons for images of this list and of Edla Norton.) The Nortons lived at 2 Ivy Cross until John died in 1956 and Edla in 1957. (Thanks to Chris Stupples for these details.) If anyone has any further information of interest to Dr. Reynolds, please email and we will be pleased to forward it.

The second woman Mayor of Shaftesbury was Kathleen Olive Cole in 1952. The first woman Mayor in England was Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, best known for her campaigns to enable women to practise medicine and exercise the right to vote. She became Mayor of Aldeburgh in 1908.

Shaftesbury has just lost one of its noblest citizens in former Mayor Ray Humphries MBE. In common with many other voluntary organisations in the town, Gold Hill Museum benefited from strong practical support from Ray, in our case as a regular steward and occasional handyman. He cleared gutters, shaved the bottom off a swollen door, fitted a new extractor fan, helped fix the Shaftesbury locomotive name-plate to a very uneven wall, made an elegant plinth to make the donations box more noticeable, and drove his van to Sparkford so that we could recycle an unwanted display case from the Haynes Motor Museum. The display case is now in the centre of Room 8. Everything was done with immense patience and good humour. Not so much a hard act to follow as utterly impossible. Lockdown permitting, the cortege will pause outside the Town Hall at noon approximately on Tuesday 10 November when the Town Band, for which Ray was a talented percussionist, will play. Our sincere condolences to Ray’s family.


Great War Researcher Chris Clocks Up 1000 Life Stories

In late August 2020 volunteer Chris Stupples posted his thousandth biographical entry on the Shaftesbury Remembers the Great War website. The Project, inspired by Claire Ryley and Ann Symons of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society, began with a modest Heritage Lottery Fund grant in 2015. Chris toured the War Memorials of Shaftesbury and the surrounding villages, recording the names and then researching the family histories and service records of those individuals. The resulting mini-biographies were posted on the Shaftesbury Remembers website, designed and built by Rob Frost of Orion IT Ltd. and launched officially in November 2017. There you can find not only hundreds of life stories but also photographs and detailed background information of many aspects of life in the locality at the time of the 1914-18 War. Printed copies of all the material on the website can be consulted in folders freely available in Room 8 at Gold Hill Museum.

Currently Chris is well into his second thousand, telling the stories of the men and women who came back from the War. He picked up this baton from the late Ken Baxter. At the time of his interview with Keri Jones of ThisisAlfred on 23 September 2020 Chris had reached number 1046. He is keen to hear from families whose relatives are not so far represented in Shaftesbury Remembers, and can be contacted through Gold Hill Museum.

Sarah Farmer and mummified cat

BBC South on “Culture in Quarantine” at “Quirky” Gold Hill Museum

BBC South’s regional news programme at 6.30p.m. on Tuesday 13 October featured a report from Gold Hill Museum, as part of the BBC’s “Culture in Quarantine” strand. The South Today team of producer/director Simon Marks, cameraman Trevor Adamson, and reporter Sarah Farmer deliberately chose a “smaller, quirkier museum” to illustrate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the role of museums in the community. Social Distancing was observed throughout.

BBC South at GHM Sept 2020
Reporter Sarah Farmer, Chairperson Elaine Barratt and cameraman Trevor Adamson

Shaftesbury & District Historical Society Chairperson Elaine Barratt was quizzed about the financial impact of the lockdown and the organisational difficulties posed by reopening during a pandemic. As Gold Hill Museum is run entirely by volunteers, there was no need to furlough any staff, but the requirement to find 9 stewards a day rather than the usual 6 eventually became an insuperable problem. The Museum closed for the season on 29 August. For once the size of the Museum’s business rates bill was advantageous, in terms of the government grant available. This will pay this year’s utilities, insurance and maintenance bills, but in the long term the free-to-enter Museum, with its historic buildings and unpredictable repair costs, needs to open its doors for visitors to make vital donations and shop purchases.

Sarah Farmer BBC South
Sarah Farmer news reporter and weather presenter BBC South

The “quirky” aspect of Gold Hill Museum was illustrated in a whirlwind tour of the more striking exhibits led by S&DHS Secretary Ian Kellett. The 1744 Newsham Fire Pump was a perfect symbol for the metaphorical firefighting of recent months. There were stops at the Byzant, the Squint, and, inevitably, at the mummified Dorset cat, with a nod to the Hovis bike and Ridley Scott’s 1973 advert. Whether anything coherent was said about the role of museums in the community and their importance to society in general may hinge on the editing skills of the director!

1744 Newsham Fire Pump
Hand drawn Fire Pump used into the nineteenth century
John Rutter Turbulent Quaker

The S&DHS Holds Successful AGM On-Line

On Thursday 24 September at 11.00a.m. The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society invited its members to take part in its first on-line Annual General Meeting. The meeting was comfortably quorate as members logged in from neighbouring counties and, in one instance, from a distant continent. The AGM is an essential part of the governance of the Society as a registered Charitable Incorporated Organisation, and was scheduled to be held at Gold Hill Museum on 07 July, when it fell victim to the Lockdown. It was postponed to a larger venue, the Town Hall, for early October, but as the end of the pandemic is nowhere in sight the Trustees decided to take advantage of a Charity Commission dispensation to hold a safer, virtual meeting.

At each AGM a third of the Trustees are elected or re-elected and their Annual Report for the previous financial year is up for scrutiny. Newly elected were David Hardiman, Mark Smith and Sue Stamp, while Sheena Commons was re-elected. Chairperson Elaine Barratt thanked many volunteers, past and present, and friends of The S&DHS, while paying tribute to retiring Trustees Ray Simpson and Janet Swiss. Treasurer Linda Wilton also spoke to the Trustees’ Annual Report for 2019-20, which was duly endorsed by the meeting. This includes a summary of the Society’s diverse educational activities as well as its Statement of Accounts, and can be found here.

The host of the virtual AGM was the Society’s President, Sir John Stuttard. In this troubled year of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter, Sir John is eager that a champion of the abolition of slavery and many other progressive causes, John Rutter, should be remembered by a blue plaque on the site of his nineteenth century print and stationery shop in The Commons, Shaftesbury. ThisisAlfred’s Keri Jones talks to Sir John about this initiative here.

Open Free Admission

Gold Hill Museum Opens For Weekends Until 2.30p.m. Saturday 29 August

Gold Hill Museum opened to the public on Friday 07 August at 10.30a.m. Visitors will be asked to wear face coverings (unless exempt) and to provide contact details at the newly-screened Reception desk. This information is purely for any possible use by NHS Test and Trace, and will be destroyed after 21 days. On the ground floor a one-way system will be operative and exit will be through the garden and a gate separate from the entrance.

On the first floor visitors should “follow the arrows” (our footprints were lost in the delivery process) while observing social distancing in the smaller spaces, and especially on the stairs. COVID-19 and Lockdown mean that we are restricted this year to one Temporary Exhibition, on the theme of the famous Hovis ad made in 1973 by Ridley Scott. Our popular hands-on exhibits and laminated guides will not be available, for obvious reasons. Our friendly and knowledgeable volunteer stewards will however be present, and as helpful as ever behind their face coverings / visors.

There is no charge for admission to Gold Hill Museum. Contactless purchases and donations may be made in the Shop / Reception area and cash donations may still be deposited in our collecting box.

Gold Hill Museum will be open from 10.30a.m. to 4.30p.m. on Friday 28 August and from 10.30a.m. to 2.30p.m. on Saturday 29 August. Weekends are difficult to staff at the best of times and the lack of available volunteer stewards during COVID-19, when even more are needed than normal, means that regretfully the Museum will close for the 2020 season at 2.30p.m. on 29 August.

Team Harbour Media on Gold Hill

Baker’s Boy Delivers to Gold Hill Museum

Forty-seven years after it was first made, homage continues to be paid to Ridley Scott’s Hovis ad. This time on 20 July 2020 the baker’s boy delivered fresh bread, not to “old Ma Peggotty’s place (t’was like taking bread to the top of the world”), but to the gate of Gold Hill Museum.

Baker's Boy Delivers to Gold Hill Museum 2020
Baker’s Boy Delivers to Gold Hill Museum 2020

The Harbour Media team from Weymouth, led by Justin Glynn, were on an almost deserted Gold Hill to shoot some footage for the Visit Dorset website. The few passers-by, mainly local residents, impressed with their friendliness and willingness to co-operate with the demands of film-making. The bike, not alas the original from 1973 but one used by the owners of Hovis for subsequent publicity, was borrowed from Gold Hill Museum. Justin’s son, playing the star role, patiently pushed the leviathan up the same stretch of hill for several retakes, and did not require a stunt double when taking his feet off the pedals on the way down.

Director and Star
Director and Star

Memorabilia from the making of the 1973 ad can be seen in Gold Hill Museum (when it reopens) including material kindly on temporary loan from the family of advertising executive Dennis Dunkley. Hovis appointed the Collett, Dickenson and Pearce advertising agency in 1970 and it was they who devised the slogan “As good for you today as it’s always been.” This chimes perfectly with the atmosphere and tone of the Ridley Scott masterpiece, though this was not Dennis’s favourite in a long, prize-winning series. One of his tasks was to ensure that the bread always looked its best for the camera in studio shots, and Dennis worked with both of the Scott brothers, Ridley and Tony, before they departed to make Hollywood blockbusters.

Marconi Factory Chelmsford

One Hundred Years Ago To The Day ….

On 15 June 1920 the renowned Australian operatic soprano Dame Nellie Melba made the world’s first radio broadcast of a live recital by a professional musician, from the Marconi Factory in Chelmsford. The Marconi Wireless Company had been making experimental broadcasts since February 1920. Dame Nellie was persuaded to lend her undoubted star quality with a handsome fee from the Daily Mail. Born Helen Porter Mitchell in 1861, she had adopted a shortened version of “Melbourne” as her stage name, and sung in most of the world’s great opera houses. Her charitable works during the First World War had been recognised by the award of a Damehood.


Unfortunately the primitive recording equipment of the era does not do justice to the quality of her voice and she was reluctant to commit performances to wax cylinders. She could also live up to the reputation of the diva: the great tenor Caruso was said to have pressed a hot sausage into her palm while singing that her “tiny hand was frozen; let me warm it.” On a more positive note, both Peach Melba and Melba Toast were named in her honour.

At 7.10p.m. on 15 June Dame Nellie began singing into a microphone cannibalised from a telephone mouthpiece and a wooden cigar box. ‘Home Sweet Home’ still carried an emotional charge from the Great War. Two arias and a rousing rendition of the National Anthem followed. The programme was heard across Europe and as far afield as Iran and Newfoundland. It would certainly have been heard in Shaftesbury: legally if the listener possessed a GPO licence, and probably on a home-made crystal set.

Between 1920 and 1922 570 radio stations were licensed in the USA. The British Broadcasting Company (later Corporation) was founded in October 1922 and made its first broadcast, an evening news bulletin, on 14 November 1922 on Station2LO. The BBC retained a monopoly of public radio until the 1970s.


Five Hundred Years Ago to the Day ….

In June 1520 King Henry VIII of England met with King Francis I of France at The Field of the Cloth of Gold. This was a diplomatic summit, an international sporting event, a fashion parade, and a festival all rolled into one: a spectacular opportunity for the rich and powerful to show off. Both kings were in their twenties and eager to prove that they were ideal Renaissance Princes: physically fit, handsome, lavishly dressed, skilled in the martial arts, well educated, well mannered, devout and accomplished. They wished also to cement an unusual peace between two countries almost perpetually at war.

The anonymous painting from c.1545 depicts Henry VIII at the head of the English contingent, almost 6000 strong, leaving Guines on the edge of the Calais enclave. This was the last piece of English-held territory in France, finally lost in 1558. To his left, possibly on a modest clerical mule (or a long-eared horse) is Cardinal Wolsey, the organiser of the entire proceedings. Ahead is the temporary English palace, a mainly timber and canvas construction deceptively painted to look like stone and tile and lit by impressive arrays of stained glass windows. The two fountains are reported to have run with wine. Behind the palace are some of the hundreds of catering and accommodation tents, and towards the top right the tiltyard, grandstands and artificial Tree of Honour bearing the arms of the participants.

The tournament proper ran from 11 to 22 June 1520. Armoured individuals on horseback jousted across a wooden barrier, aiming if not to unseat, at least break their lance by striking their opponent. Unsurprisingly Henry and Francis topped the league with 6 broken lances each. Ace jouster Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, was tactfully off-form. In the next stage of the tourney, more of a free-for-all, the two kings were paired as a team, as they were in the foot combat. They may have met in an unofficial wrestling bout, where a French source has Henry thrown by Francis. English sources remain silent.

The Abbot of Glastonbury was invited but not, apparently, the Abbess of Shaftesbury. Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset, carried the Sword of State in the procession and can be seen ahead of his king, but Grey owned 100 manors in 16 different counties and was buried in Warwickshire. His granddaughter was the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey. At a humbler level, the gentry of Dorset were represented by Henry and Giles Strangways, John Horsey and Sir Thomas Trenchard.

Amid professions of undying amity the event broke up on 24 June 1520. Within two years Henry had declared war on Francis. As John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, commented (and is quoted on the Hampton Court Palace website) “Where be all those pleasures now? They were but shadows …”