Thirty / fifty years of hurt? A century for women footballers

The Lionesses’ superb victory in the 2022 Women’s Euro Final at Wembley on 31 July ended a long barren spell for England in international football tournaments. In the lyrics of ‘Three Lions on a Shirt’, written in 1996, Baddiel and Skinner were lamenting the passage of thirty years since England (men) had won the World Cup. In 1966 women were still effectively banned from playing competitive football in any form, and had been so since 1921. As Dave Hardiman shows from his researches below, there was an enthusiasm for the game among women in North Dorset in the early 1960s, sufficient to attract the attention of the national Press.

Interest in playing and watching women’s football was boosted by the upheavals of the First World War. The professional men’s leagues were suspended and women moved into occupations previously barred to them. Dozens of women’s works teams were formed and played charity matches, often in front of spectacularly large crowds. The most celebrated was Dick, Kerr Ladies of Preston, whose best players would have been stars in any era. Lily Parr (1905-78) was a strong and pacy winger, with a cannonball shot – “the best natural timer of a football” Bobby Walker of Hearts and Scotland had ever seen. The DKL team coach Alfred Frankland recruited shrewdly and paid ten shillings (50p) loss of earnings allowance to the players from any gate money before donating the balance to charity.

On Boxing Day 1920 DKL defeated St Helens Ladies 4-0 at Goodison Park, Everton, in front of a full house of 53,000, in a match for the benefit of unemployed and disabled ex-servicemen. In December 1921 the Football Association felt impelled to express the strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and should not be encouraged. The (FA) Council are further of the opinion that an excessive proportion of the receipts are absorbed in expenses and an inadequate percentage devoted to charitable objects. For these reasons the Council requests the clubs belonging to the Association refuse the use of their grounds for such matches.

So the male-run FA was saying, on the basis of no scientific evidence worth the name, that football was harmful for girls and women, and that if they insisted on playing, they would have to do so on park pitches, without registered referees. This fundamentally sexist ruling was not rescinded until 1970.

Dave Hardiman looks at the situation in North Dorset for women footballers in the 1960s. This piece was first broadcast on ThisisAlfred.

In 1962, Shaftesbury had a thriving ladies hockey team, but they decided to play a one-off game of football against a Mere Brush Factory ladies team. This was to coincide with Shaftesbury Carnival and the aim was to raise some money for the hockey club. Shaftesbury won 4-0 and £22 (£350 today) was raised for the club.

In fact, a team had been created a couple of years before in 1960 and was run by a lady named Jean Rose. They called themselves ‘The Wanderers’ and recruited players from Shaftesbury and Sturminster Newton. By 1966, they had not lost a single game.

Among team members at the time were Ann Goulding, Brenda Mullins, Margaret Mouter, Jenny Douch, Joyce Gatehouse, Lyn Trainer, Molly Rideout, Elizabeth Young, Jill Trainer, Ann Rawson, Patsy Haskett, Geraldine Davis and Jean Rose.

I should say at this point, that much of this story is taken from articles that appeared in the Daily Mirror in December, 1965, and the Daily Telegraph in November, 1966 (Just a few months after England’s men won the World Cup for the one and only time).

Jean Rose was a 33-year-old machinist at the local glove factory. She was married to a motor mechanic, John, and had 4 children. As captain of the team, she said that it might be an idea if one day they did lose a game, “Then there wouldn’t be all this silly giggling on the field’” which of course simply reinforced the sexist attitudes of the day, and that women’s football shouldn’t be taken seriously.

The Wanderers didn’t play in a league, just occasional friendlies and raised money for various charities. As hockey players, they already had shorts, but they mainly borrowed shirts and socks from men’s teams and, in one instance, from the Grammar School.

At the time, the Football Association frowned on girl players and would not let any ladies teams play on its pitches. The Wanderers lost one promising player because she gave in to her husband’s view that the game was unladylike, which was a view shared by some other local citizens. Jean Rose said that “In a small town like this, you’re bound to get that sort of thing. They kicked up another fuss when I organised an all-night jazz session”.

The Daily Mirror’s reporter wrote that the first Wanderer he met was 29-year-old right half, Geraldine Davis, whom he found ironing while watching football on the TV. Her husband was John, a lorry driver who wasn’t that keen on football and preferred darts. They had 5 children.

Geraldine said that she liked to wear her spectacles when playing but, if they interfered with her heading the ball, she would take them off and carry them for the rest of the game.

The team’s star player was their goalkeeper, 19-year-old Patsy Haskett, an egg tester in a local egg packing factory. Jean Rose said that Patsy could kick the ball from one end of the pitch to the other and, by November, had only let in 7 goals so far that season.

Sometimes the girls played against men’s teams, and sometimes even beat them. In 1965, there was a men’s team from Poole called Hillingdon Tyre & Battery who, at the time, were considered to be the worst men’s team in the country. They were so desperate to win a game, they decided to play against a ladies team, thinking it would be easy to beat them. They challenged Shaftesbury’s Wanderers.

Hillingdon were sure they would win, but the final result was Wanderers 7, Hillingdon 5 and the event was featured in the Daily Mirror on 28 December, 1965.

The Mirror reported that the Wanderers had turned up with only 9 players, so Hillingdon gave them their right back. The game was played in a good spirit with much barracking from the crowd, including some cries of “Kiss him – it’ll slow him down”, which of course would certainly not be very politically correct these days.

Hillingdon scored first, but Shaftesbury Wanderers were soon winning 3-1, with goals from the borrowed right back, 18-year-old student teacher, Ann Goulding, and an own goal. Hillingdon scored 3 more soon after half time, but then the girls scored 4 more times, with Hillingdon scoring a late consolation goal.

After the game, Shaftesbury’s captain, Jean Rose, said that “this proves that women footballers deserve to be taken seriously”; although she received a letter from one man, telling her that she ought to be ashamed of herself. As for the Hillingdon captain, he said, “We’ll try to live this down, and go on fighting for victory”.

There was another match against a local men’s team, which was really rough and messy. Jean said that she “got a nasty kick from the wages clerk, and he didn’t apologise. I think he really meant it”. She said that women footballers learn to accept the roughness of the game, though outbursts of tantrums and jealousy were not unknown. She said that the girls often incurred minor injuries and that she herself had twice knocked out members of the opposing team (accidentally of course).

The reporter for the Daily Telegraph was so impressed, he predicted that Shaftesbury Wanderers would be champion footballers of the season.

Although their footballing days ended many years ago, at least two members of Shaftesbury Wanderers are still active and in touch, and there may well be others who played, and see this, and remember those days back in the 60s.

As I mentioned previously, women’s football has come a long way since those early days and today Shaftesbury Football Club has a thriving and successful ladies team, managed by James Higgins and his assistant, Dan Horsman.

Last season they finished 5th in the Dorset Women’s League and reached the semi-final of the cup.

They train on Wednesday evenings at the football club.

You can also check them out on their Facebook page and other social media.

Now there’s a sign of the times and how the world has changed.

Blue Plaque Trail for Shaftesbury

Most Shaftesbury residents know of the existence of the town’s Blue Plaques, but like other familiar street furniture they tend not to be noticed as we scurry about our everyday business. The most recent was unveiled by the Lord Lieutenant of Dorset in August 2021, outside the HSBC Bank in The Commons. Eleven were installed as the result of a 2003-2004 community project. And two others represent individual enterprise. Now, thanks to the initiative of walking enthusiast Rachel Diment, there is a pedestrian trail which connects all of the Blue Plaques in a logical and accessible route. Rachel describes the trail on ThisisAlfred:

The trail begins outside Gold Hill Museum and the first Blue Plaque, before the steps up to the High Street, refers to one of the cottages in which the museum is located. It is also one of six Plaques to identify one or more Shaftesbury hostelries, indicating that pub names tend to live on after the original Inn has ceased to exist – and perhaps the importance of these watering-holes in a hilltop town with an irregular water supply. (The trail does provide for a version which avoids steps and gates.) Schools are next in popularity in the texts, with one listing three educational institutions on the same site, now an architects’ practice, 1723 – 1983.

Please click here to find The History of Shaftesbury’s Blue Plaques, a list of their locations, and a link to Rachel’s trail.

Swans Yard Blue Plaque also refers to the previous existence of an Inn

The Finest in Motion Picture Entertainment at the Savoy April 1958

Gold Hill Museum was delighted recently to receive from Mrs P.A. Gigg of Gillingham the donation of a Savoy Cinema promotional leaflet dated April 1958. The 382 seat Savoy showed its last film in 1984, and the only trace of its existence is the preservation of the name in the apartment block now occupying the site in Bimport. Printed ephemera like this leaflet tends not to survive once its purpose has been served, and we are very grateful for Mrs Gigg’s help in conserving this small but important piece of evidence.

Savoy Court from Holy Trinity Churchyard
Savoy Court from Holy Trinity Churchyard

Sight of the leaflet caused something of a stir among Museum volunteers. The present writer had always intended to continue with the story of cinema in Shaftesbury, left in early Lockdown with the original Rin Tin Tin . Local historian and Hilltop History broadcaster Dave Hardiman could trump that with personal recollections of youthful trips to the Savoy.

The cinema was demolished back in the 80’s, but I well remember going to see many films there. Probably my earliest was when my Mum & Dad took me to see Elvis’ first film ‘Love Me Tender’ in about 1960. I also recall my dad taking me to see the first Bond film ‘Dr No’ and also going with Mum & Dad to see ‘South Pacific’ and ‘The Swiss Family Robinson’. There were many more.

I particularly remember, in 1967 I think, queueing to see the film ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’, which was an adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel and included a couple of scenes that featured Gold Hill. The queue was long, and the cinema was jam-packed, and there were cheers when Gold Hill appeared on the big screen. It still is a great film.

There was a time in about 1970, when it became popular for many of us younger ones, to go to the ‘Flicks’ on a Sunday evening and watch a couple of films, one of which was usually a Hammer horror film. A lot of peanut or other such missile throwing went on and the Manager, Mr Wolfe, or ‘Wolfie’, as we called him, would usually be kept busy seeking out the culprits with his torch, and telling some to behave themselves or be thrown out; some were ejected. I could go on.

Savoy Cinema Bimport just prior to demolition
Savoy Cinema Bimport just prior to demolition

Thank you to Nigel House who tells us: As a pupil at Shaftesbury Primary opposite to the Savoy I remember that when they filmed ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ they used the Savoy car park as their HQ. Full of trailers, lorries, horses and of course actors. The actors would have included Alan Bates, who had to trudge up Gold Hill looking for work as shepherd Gabriel Oak at a hiring fair. The horses featured in a scene where a troop of yeomanry cavalry, led by Terence Stamp’s Sergeant Troy, delicately negotiated the cobbles on the way down.

I am grateful also to both Dave and Ray Simpson for unearthing press reports of the opening of the Savoy in July 1933.

The Savoy Theatre, Shaftesbury, opens for the first time on Wednesday next with a special invitation matinee at three pm., when the Mayor and Corporation of the borough of Shaftesbury will give this new house of entertainment a civic opening. The opening for the general public is at 8pm., when a full programme of films will be presented, including the British international success ‘Maid of the Mountains’. The haunting melodies which have been hummed all over the world are brought once more to your ears as an accompaniment to one of the most thrilling and romantic stories the screen has yet offered.

Lupino Lane in the Exhibitors Herald Jan 1922
Director Lupino Lane in the Exhibitors Herald Jan 1922

‘Maid of the Mountains’ was a hit stage musical from the dark days of World War One. The director, Lupino Lane, was an accomplished performer in his own right, and achieved world-wide fame later in the 1930’s in the stage show and film ‘Me and My Girl’. As Cockney Bill Snibson he inherits a country estate, to which he invites his Lambeth pals. The ‘Lambeth Walk’ song and dance routine became internationally popular.

Prices of admission, including tax, will be 1s-6d, 1s-3d & 9d and all seats are bookable in advance. Adjoining the theatre is a car and cycle park, where patrons may leave their cars free of charge during performances.

Not everyone was enamoured of the external appearance of the new cinema, located opposite Holy Trinity Church. While the Mayor, Mr. F.R. Matthews, and the Town Clerk, Mr. W. Farley Rutter, both congratulated the owner, Percy Carter of Blandford, on his enterprise in providing Shaftesbury with a great asset, the Town Clerk hinted at some disquiet.

Referring to the appearance of the theatre Mr. Rutter said it might seem strange (to critics), but it was all a question of adapting the building to the requirements of the cinema. If they looked at it in that way they would in a few years regard it as an old friend. (Applause)

Wincanton Plaza Cinema, later used as a church, the work of Bournemouth architect E. de Wilde Holding who also designed the Savoy

The arrival of Talkies in the early 1930’s inspired a surge of cinema construction. Bournemouth-based architect Edward G. De Wilde Holding designed 12 cinemas / theatres in the South West, many with Art Deco features. Ten have been closed, or converted (the Cerdic in Chard is a pub, and the Plaza in Wincanton was a church) or simply demolished, like the Savoy and the Regal in Gillingham. Two survive as cinemas, the Tivoli in Wimborne and The Wellesley in Wellington.

The Savoy reached its 50th year in 1983. To compete in an age of television, later owners went down-market, and one unfortunate manager, Ivan Osborne, was dismissed from his £40 per week job in October 1978 because he refused to show sex films. He declared that he was only prepared to show films suitable for his wife and young children. Two years before its demise, the Savoy hosted its most popular film, Steven Spielberg’s ‘ET’. The last to be shown in 1984 was ‘Champions’, starring John Hurt, Edward Woodward, and Grand National winner Aldaniti.

Savoy Court Name Plaque
Savoy Court Name Plaque

Pre World War One Shaftesbury Through The Camera Lens

Early, mostly open-top, motor vehicles parked in Shaftesbury’s The Commons. The drivers, in suitably long coats, are perhaps chauffeurs (or cabbies?) waiting for their employers to return from business in town. Or are they just proud owners bursting to pose with their vehicles? Could it be an early rally or organised event, given the presence of a policeman by the entrance to the Grosvenor Arms?

On Tuesday 06 December at 2.30p.m. at Gold Hill Museum, Claire Ryley and Ann Symons will at last have the opportunity to deliver their presentation of photographic gems from The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society’s Tyler Collection. Together with another S&DHS member, Chris Stupples, Claire and Ann have discovered that Albert Edward Tyler (1873-1919)) was a butcher’s son from Shropshire, who became a photographer’s apprentice in Market Drayton, and who by the time of the 1901 Census had set up as a photographer at 53 Salisbury Street in Shaftesbury. In the years prior to the outbreak of war in 1914, he must have been a familiar sight lugging around heavy photographic equipment as he captured images of the district and its people, most of whom understood the need to stand still. Audience participation will be welcome, as the Tyler photographs often provide more questions than answers.

Full details of The S&DHS 2022-23 lecture programme are now available here.

Membership of The S&DHS guarantees free admission to all the lectures as well as lending support to Gold Hill Museum.

Beckford’s Stairway to Heaven, to “the Finest Prospect in Europe”

Visitors from The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society were able to test out the validity of William Beckford’s assertion on their 07 June Summer Outing to Beckford’s Tower and Museum at Lansdown, Bath. From his youth Beckford had been fascinated by towers. Aged 21, he writes of the fictional Caliph Vathek : His pride arrived at its height, when having ascended, for the first time, the fifteen hundred stairs of his tower, he cast his eyes below, and beheld men not larger than ants; mountains, than shells; and cities, than beehives … he was almost ready to adore himself; till, lifting his eyes upward, he saw the stars as high above him as they appeared when he stood on the surface of the earth.

Fortunately there are only 154 steps at Lansdown. Nor, as legend had it, would Beckford have been the first in Bath to notice the collapse of the 90 metre-high central tower of Fonthill Abbey. This disaster occurred in December 1825, while the Tower at Lansdown was not completed until 1827.

Scale Model of Beckford’s Tower. Visitors may ascend to the Belvedere level and view the panorama from three plate-glass windows on each side

Beckford had recouped the family fortune, the profits from a century of slave labour on Jamaican sugar plantations, by selling Fonthill Abbey and its contents during the first bout of Fonthill Fever in 1822. By 1827 he had acquired a mile-long corridor of land from his new base in Lansdown Crescent, to the Tower at the top of Lansdown Hill. Henry Goodridge, a young local architect, designed a neo-Classical structure in the style of an Italian villa with adjacent campanile or bell-tower, except that the crowning glory was a cast-iron and timber version of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Ancient Athens. Perhaps this lantern was an afterthought, especially as Beckford felt that the Tower should have been forty feet higher. Goodridge’s enthusiasm for Greek temples is apparent in another of his Bath landmarks, Cleveland Bridge, currently the site of major roadworks. In 1826 the heaviest traffic would have been horse-drawn.

Cleveland Bridge, Bath, designed by Henry Goodridge (1826). One of the “Greek Temples” served as the toll booth. Photograph by Neil J Forsyth

The S&DHS is indebted to Dr Amy Frost, Senior Architectural Curator of the Bath Preservation Trust, not only for a warm, entertaining and erudite reception during a truly Privileged Visit, but also for the loan of artefacts such as Michael Bishop’s model of Fonthill Abbey to Gold Hill Museum. Members were pleased to be supporting the Beckford’s Tower Appeal which, if successful, should see the Tower removed from Historic England’s Heritage At Risk Register and restore at least part of Beckford’s Ride, which included a Grotto and Tunnel beneath a public track. Urban development over two centuries makes it difficult to visualise how Beckford enjoyed a secluded natural backdrop to his morning excursions, through a landscape created and managed by his gardeners. On Saturday 11 June Gold Hill Museum hosted the AGM of the Beckford Society, whose members had the opportunity to view Secretary Sidney Blackmore’s splendid Fonthill Fever Exhibition. On Tuesday 27 September at 7.30p.m. in Shaftesbury Town Hall, Amy Frost will give the annual Teulon Porter Memorial Lecture on William Beckford After Fonthill – Building and Collecting in Bath.

Beckford’s Tower Curator Dr Amy Frost (centre) shows artefacts from the Tower’s collection to S&DHS visitors

Hardy’s Wessex Landscapes – From Casterbridge to Shaston

The largest ever multi-venue show of objects from the life and times of Thomas Hardy opened on 28 May and runs until 30 October 2022. Apart from four distinct exhibitions at the Wessex Partnership Museums in Dorchester, Poole, Salisbury and Devizes, there are satellite displays in nine community museums and visitor centres, including Gold Hill.

Curator Harriet Still selects as her two main themes at the Dorset Museum, Social Tensions and Animal Welfare. Both of these are strongly represented in Hardy’s last, and possibly most controversial, novel Jude the Obscure (1895) which is set partly in Shaftesbury. Click here to explore Thomas Hardy’s connections with Shaftesbury (renamed Shaston) and to find a walking tour of the locations borrowed by Hardy for Jude.

National School Bell Mentioned in Hardy’s Jude the Obscure

Hardy was well acquainted with the realities of Dorset rural life. It was bad enough for the working class humans, afflicted by poverty, disease, and a repressive social order and moral code. Hardy creates a number of feisty individuals, often women, who try to kick over the traces, but tend to meet with tragedy. It was worse for the animals, who could not speak for themselves. Jude as a boy is paid sixpence (2.5p) a day to frighten the rooks off Farmer Troutham’s corn. He does this with a rattle like those formerly used by football fans. (And is beaten with it by the farmer.)

He sounded the clacker until his arm ached, and at length his heart grew sympathetic with the birds’ thwarted desires. They seemed, like himself, to be living in a world which did not want them. Why should he frighten them away? … They stayed and ate, inky spots on the nut-brown soil, and Jude enjoyed their appetite. A magic thread of fellow-feeling united his own life with theirs. Puny and sorry as those lives were, they much resembled his own.

Arabella and Jude have to slaughter a pig. The process is described with considerable sympathy for the pig: “The dying animal’s glazing eyes riveting themselves on Arabella with the eloquently keen reproach of a creature recognizing at last the treachery of those who had seemed his only friends.”

Florence Dugdale on the beach at Aldeburgh. 39 years younger than Hardy, she married him two years after Emma Hardy’s death in 1912.

Unsurprisingly Hardy became a strong supporter of the RSPCA, and wrote official verses in 1924 to mark the centenary of the foundation of the SPCA. Florence Dugdale, his second wife, introduced Wessex the wire-haired fox terrier to the Hardy household at Max Gate. Hardy at first disliked the dog, but became devoted to “Wessie”, and indulged him. Wessex was notorious for biting visitors, who were often rich and famous. Lady Cynthia Asquith described Wessex as “the most despotic dog guests have ever suffered under.” J.M. Barrie said that Hardy showed him a letter from a radio company which had sent the author a complimentary wireless. They would have been mortified to know that Hardy only turned it on for the benefit of the dog, who liked music but not speech. Wessex also appeared to like T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) and refrained from biting him when he rode over from Bovington on his motorbike.

At Weydon Priors Fair (Weyhill near Andover) Michael Henchard drunkenly “sells” his wife and child to a sailor

At the Dorset Museum show you can step inside a fairground tent at Weydon Priors (Weyhill, Hants) where Michael Henchard, future Mayor of Casterbridge, drunkenly sells his wife and child to a sailor. This tableau, created by BA (Hons) Costume and Performance Design students from Arts University Bournemouth, provides Victorian hats and a tripod camera with a fisheye lens, so that you can capture your image as a Victorian fair-goer on your mobile phone. The writer has tried it and it works.

An Edwardian Plate Camera of the type used by A. E. Tyler in creating the Tyler Collection of photographs of pre-World War I Shaftesbury

Back in Gold Hill Museum we have a splendid example of the real thing plus an impressive legacy of images of Edwardian Shaftesbury. Some of the best will feature in The S&DHS December 2022 lecture.

Beckford’s Fonthill Abbey Treasures – Where Can They Be Seen?

To settle enormous debts, slaveowner William Beckford put the money pit that was Fonthill Abbey up for sale in 1822. Where did his treasures go? In the first instance, to a single purchaser – John Farquhar, a Scottish gunpowder manufacturer. This was not the outcome of the much-hyped public auction, but a private sale negotiated behind Christie’s back via a rival auctioneer, Harry Phillips. Farquhar paid £300,000 (at least £30 million today) for the building, its contents, and 5000 acres of land.

If the art-buying public felt cheated, they were soon granted another opportunity to succumb to Fonthill Fever. (The title of our new exhibition.) Quite possibly the new owner was not much interested in the artworks he had just bought. Phillips arranged a 37-day auction sale beginning on 09 September 1823, which included items additional to those collected by Beckford.

Blue and white transfer pottery plagiarising John Rutter’s 1822 drawing of Fonthill Abbey

Shaftesbury printer John Rutter, who had already sold 6 editions of his Description of Fonthill Abbey and Demesne, at the relatively modest price of 3s 6d, was now able to publish the much grander Delineations of Fonthill and its Abbey with hand-coloured plates and folding map. His rival John Britton had to concede that his own volume “shrinks by its side in quality of paper, quality of engravings and printing.” In the absence of effective copyright laws, ceramics manufacturers cheerfully ripped off Rutter’s engravings for their own blue and white transfer pottery.

One of the most determined buyers at the auction was George Hammond Lucy, newly married and with a recently inherited house to remodel and furnish. Charlecote Park, now a National Trust property near Stratford upon Avon, still contains prize pieces of Beckfordiana. Centrepiece of the Great Hall is the 16th century Borghese Table made of pietra dura (“hard stone”), inlaid with coloured marble and semi-precious stones.

The Borghese Table, made of pietra dura, probably looted from Rome in 1796 and bought by Beckford in Paris

Napoleon is thought to have “liberated” this tabletop from Rome in 1796, which Beckford bought in Paris and installed in a Fonthill-friendly, Gothic-style oak frame. Lucy paid 1,800 guineas, outbidding King George IV and the Marquis of Westminster in the process. Two cabinets in the Drawing Room sport pietra dura panels, while upstairs is the Lancaster State Bed (price £140 5s 6d), made from a 17th century Indian settee, bought later in 1837 as Beckford had taken it to Bath. In all, Lucy invested £3431 10s 6d in 64 lots.

Beckford took the Lancaster State Bed to Bath, where it was bought in 1837 by George Lucy for £140 5s 6d

Since the auction sale realised more than the purchase price of Fonthill Abbey, Farquhar may not have been inconsolable when on 21 December 1825 the central tower collapsed, taking much of the Abbey with it. Theories as to the primary cause are discussed on pp72-76 of Sir John Stuttard’s biography of John Rutter The Turbulent Quaker of Shaftesbury, available in the Museum shop.

Fonthill Abbey after final collapse of the central tower in December 1825

In Bath, Beckford acquired four properties, connecting 20 Lansdown Crescent and 01 Lansdown Place West with an archway. By 1827 he had built a Tower further up Lansdown Hill, to which he could take a morning ride with his dogs and then walk back down for breakfast. After Beckford’s death in 1844, his younger daughter, Susan, wife of the tenth Duke of Hamilton, sold the Tower and removed much of her father’s remaining effects to the Hamilton estates in Scotland, where many may be seen at Brodick Castle (now Scottish NT) on the Isle of Arran. After two centuries artworks once owned by Beckford have found their way into international collections and British institutions such as the National Gallery, the British Museum, the V&A, and the Royal and Wallace Collections.

Beckford Archway between 20 Lansdown Crescent and 01 Lansdown Place West, Bath. Photo by Rwendland

Beckford’s Tower was bought back by the Duchess of Hamilton and the gift of land adjacent to the Tower for use as a cemetery enabled her father’s mausoleum to be moved there. In 2019 the Tower was identified as being at risk from water ingress and the Bath Preservation Trust is currently raising funds for a £3 million restoration project. The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society proposes to visit Beckford’s Tower on Tuesday 07 June for its first summer outing in three years.

Beckford’s Tower and Mausoleum, Lansdown, Bath. Photograph by Ray Beer

400 Years of Dorset Buttons

Shaftesbury can lay claim to being the cradle of the Dorset Button industry. Early buttons were hand-made using sheep’s horn and wool, readily available in North Dorset. In 1622 Abraham Case moved to Shaftesbury and set up the first commercial button making enterprise. Originally from Gloucestershire, he had been a professional soldier in Europe where he had observed French and Flemish button makers at work. On his return he married a local girl from Wardour before settling in Shaftesbury and setting up a workshop. His first buttons (Hightops) were a conical shape made from sheep’s horn, cloth and linen thread.

As demand grew, buttons were made by home-based outworkers who might combine labour on the land with piecework buttony. A skilled buttoner could make up to six dozen (72) buttons a day and earn up to three shillings (15p). This compared very favourably to wages of, perhaps, nine old pence (4p) a day for much more strenuous farm work. A flattened version of the Hightop was preferred for more flexible garments and called the Dorset Knob – possibly the biscuit of the same name resembled it in shape.

By the end of the 17th century, buttony had grown to be an important cottage industry, still controlled by the Case family, while Shaftesbury was noted for its high proportion of pedlars and hawkers. A second depot was opened in Bere Regis, with agencies at Milborne St. Andrew, Sherborne, Poole, Langton Matravers and Tarrant Keyneston. After a disastrous fire at Bere in 1731, a Yorkshireman, John Clayton, was engaged to reorganise the firm. Clayton had an interest in a Birmingham wire manufacturers, which sent wire by horse and cart to Dorset where children were employed as winders, dippers and stringers to produce metal rings by the gross (144). These replaced horn as the base for the many variations of the Singleton and Crosswheel designs. Where smaller and softer buttons were required, as for children’s clothes, the Bird’s Eye was stitched over a thread or fabric base.

Buttons were graded by quality. The finest export grade were mounted on pink cards, domestic quality on dark blue (as held by Sheena above) and the lowest quality on yellow cards. Buttons retailed for between 8d (3p) and three shillings a dozen. The business prospered until the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, with 4000 employed as outworkers. The mechanisation of button-making in the Victorian Age sounded the death knell of handcrafted Dorset Buttons as a source of reliable employment. The factories of Birmingham became the dominant centres of costume jewellery production. Many hundreds of rural Dorset families, impoverished by the collapse of buttony and agricultural depression in the late 19th century, became economic migrants to Australia, Canada and the USA.

Hat with Dorset Button Rosette by Anna McDowell

To mark the 400th anniversary of the foundation of the Dorset Button industry, Gold Hill Museum has supplemented its permanent display in Room 5 with temporary exhibits (some on the landing opposite the lift) showcasing modern Dorset Buttons and their various uses. These range from buttons on clothes to earrings, Christmas tree ornaments, brooches and the decoration of bookmarks and lavender bags. There are enormous examples of Dorset Cartwheels and Dreamcatchers. We are grateful for the assistance of Anna McDowell of Henry’s Buttons in staging this Exhibition.

Kits for making your own Dorset Buttons are available in the Museum Shop.

And Basil, Lavender, Poppy, Rocket, Rosemary, and Snowdrop are our Dorset Button Mice. They are hiding in six different display cases throughout the Museum, waiting to be discovered by visitors of all ages.

Dorset Button Mice
Dorset Button Mice

Fonthill Fever Breaking Out At Gold Hill Museum

Two hundred years ago the reclusive owner and creator of Fonthill Abbey, William Beckford, decided that he had no option but to sell the Gothic-style Abbey and its near-priceless contents. The Fonthill estate was surrounded by six miles of forbidding stone walls and few outsiders had seen even the exterior of the Abbey, let alone the artistic treasures it was reputed to contain. The sale by auction, conducted by James Christie of Pall Mall, was scheduled for 17 September 1822. The days set aside for viewings from July attracted huge crowds of the well-heeled. Over 7000 copies of Christie’s illustrated catalogue, including an admission ticket, were sold at a guinea apiece – about £110 in today’s values. Overnight accommodation in the area was at an absolute premium. The great and the good of Georgian Britain flocked to this and a second sale a year later; hence the coining of the expression “Fonthill Fever”. Yet in other circumstances few of these people would have welcomed the prospect of being the guest of William Beckford, nor indeed would he have been much disposed to invite them. Beckford may at one time have been the richest commoner in Britain as a result of slave labour on the family’s sugar plantations in Jamaica, but he was a social pariah for other reasons.

Sidney Blackmore with Michael Bishop’s scale model of Fonthill Abbey

Gold Hill Museum opened for the 2022 season on Friday 01 April. Sidney Blackmore, Secretary of the Beckford Society, has kindly curated a temporary exhibition to mark the bicentenary of “Fonthill Fever”. One of the exhibits is this magnificent 1 inch = 12 feet scale model of Fonthill Abbey, made in 1981 by the late Michael Bishop. The model has crossed the Atlantic to a 2001 Beckford exhibition in New York, and we are very grateful to the Bath Preservation Trust for allowing it to make the journey from Beckford’s Tower and Museum in Bath to Shaftesbury. On Tuesday 05 April at 2.30p.m. Sidney gave an entertaining and authoritative illustrated lecture in the Garden Room at Gold Hill Museum to introduce “Fonthill Fever.”

Fonthill Old Abbey with modern house
Fonthill Old Abbey with modern house

All that remains today of Fonthill Abbey (above) is visible on the lower left-hand side of the model. The current owners of the Fonthill estate, Mr and Mrs Morant, are opening the grounds to visitors for charitable donations on Sunday 01 and Sunday 15 May 10.30 – 17.00, weather permitting.

Our volunteers have been hard at work preparing other new exhibits, notably on Dorset Buttons, and news of these will follow.

Saving Evidence of Shaftesbury Life for Future Reference

Heather Blake had no previous experience of archives when she joined the Gold Hill Museum volunteer team in June 2021. She has now worked through thirteen boxes of documents, reading, classifying, and wrapping the contents in acid-free paper for storage in museum-standard containers. A training day with Helena Jaeschke from South West Museums equipped her with the conservation skills to deal with issues such as rusty staples! Particularly interesting stories have been copied and cross-referenced, most recently from parish magazines and records of local clubs and societies, many of which no longer exist.

The work of Heather and fellow volunteers is ensuring that Gold Hill Museum now has a much better idea of what records it possesses, and what light they shed on the history of the locality. These documents are being properly conserved in the Museum’s Library and should be available for future generations to consult. Sadly, the same cannot be said of collections in Ukrainian museums. The Museums Association has reported the destruction on 27 February 2022 of the Ivankiv Historical and Cultural Museum about 50 miles north of Kyiv. The town has a population of 10,000 and this was a small museum of archaeology, history and the visual arts, including about 25 works by the noted folk artist Maria Prymachenko (1908-97).

A piece by folk artist Maria Prymachenko, 25 of whose works are reported destroyed by fire. Image from the Museums Association

You can access the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal of the Disasters Emergency Committee here