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 …”

Appleby Family CommemorateVE Day 2020

The New Normal in Lockdown Shaftesbury 2020

New levels of inventiveness were necessary to commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day in Lockdown Shaftesbury. At least the Appleby family’s Big Ben was not cocooned in scaffolding. Contemporary Swing music, Churchill’s 3pm speech and an Aunt Sally sideshow contributed to the 1945 atmosphere, while Social Distancing was strictly observed.

New Normal VE Day 2020
New Normal VE Day 2020
VE Day 2020 Aunt Sally
VE Day 2020 Aunt Sally

Social Distancing also figured on the agenda of the first-ever virtual Trustees’ meeting of The S&DHS. A Risk Assessment indicated that while Social Distancing was set at 2 metres the capacity of the Garden Room would be limited to 10 persons. Small groups should be able to enter and exit this annexe of the Museum in comparative safety – when it is permitted. However the much-reduced capacity would have repercussions for events such as lectures and the Annual General Meeting. It was decided to move the AGM from Tuesday 07 July to the date and venue originally planned for the annual Teulon Porter Memorial Lecture, i.e. Shaftesbury Town Hall at 7p.m. on Tuesday 06 October. It might be possible to hold a lecture after the AGM. Time will tell.

Virtual Trustee Meeting May 2020
Virtual Trustee Meeting May 2020

For the foreseeable future Gold Hill Museum will remain closed. Even when cultural venues are allowed to re-open, the Trustees will have to consider how to operate the Museum safely, in terms of the circulation of visitors and the welfare of stewards (and Trustees), all of whom are volunteers.

Such “Goings On” at Shaftesbury – VE Day Tuesday 08 May 1945

Mayor and Mayoress Lead the Revels.

Shaftesbury was beflagged as never before, and the oldest inhabitants declared that they had never seen such “goings on” in the streets, when the Mayor and Mayoress (Mr and Mrs Ralph Pearson) led off the dancing in the High Street with the “Palais Glide”, to music from loudspeakers. The crowd was probably the largest ever seen, and dancing continued with great zest for more than an hour. The Prime Minister’s speech was broadcast from the Town Hall after which the Mayor told the large crowd that the main theme was one of thankfulness and that their first duty was to attend one of the services at the churches in the evening to give thanks …. The Town Band played in the Square for an hour and in the evening there was a very successful dance in the ex-Service Men’s Hut, the proceeds of which were for the local hospital. Later there were bonfires on all the surrounding hills.

Thanks to Archivist Ray Simpson for providing this news cutting and the images below; the text is as originally printed.

The “Palais Glide” was an English sequence dance performed in lines of couples, popular from the mid-1930s. Winston Churchill’s speech was broadcast at 3p.m. He said that “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing” but pointed out that the War in the Pacific against Japan was still to be won. When interviewed by Shaftesbury School students for an oral history project, Mrs Benita Streeter of Fontmell Magna recalled that “The Grand Finale was a journey to the top of Melbury Beacon where an immense bonfire was lit by the youngest guide and scout; torches were lit from the fire and a flaming V was formed on the side of the hill.”

Savoy Programme May 1945

An alternative evening entertainment would have been a showing at the Savoy Cinema in Bimport of “Four Jills in a Jeep”. The film was based on the real-life experiences of American forces entertainers Kay Francis, Carole Landis, Martha Raye and Mitzi Mayfair who toured the UK and North Africa in late 1942 and early 1943. The New York Times declared that “It gives the painful impression of having been tossed together in a couple of hours.”

Four Jills in a Jeep
Four Jills in a Jeep
Carnival Float 1912

Prime Minister Laid Low By Pandemic Virus – September 1918

In September 1918 Britain’s dynamic wartime Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, visited Manchester Town Hall to receive the Freedom of the City. It was the city of his birth, to Welsh parents in 1863. By 1918 he had a formidable list of achievements in an illustrious political career. Old Age Pensions, introduced in 1908; National Insurance in 1911 to pay for unemployment benefit; overcoming a shortage of artillery shells on the Western Front as Minister of Munitions in 1915; and as Prime Minister implementing the convoy system to minimise losses of shipping to German U boats.

Prime Minister David Lloyd George c1918
Prime Minister David Lloyd George c1918

In the evening Lloyd George collapsed, a victim of the ‘Spanish Flu’. This was a virulent, possibly avian flu. It certainly didn’t originate in Spain, but as Spain was a neutral country and King Alfonso XIII an early patient, its existence was widely reported. Accurate news of Lloyd George’s condition was however suppressed, for fear of giving encouragement to Germany and her allies. The Prime Minister was too ill to move and received treatment in a Committee Room in the Town Hall for ten days, at one stage being put on a ventilator. As his valet later remarked, it was “touch and go.”

Worker bee motif Manchester Town Hall
Worker bee motif Manchester Town Hall

Lloyd George recovered and played a key role at the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919. Though his social reforms did much to remove the fear of the workhouse from the old and the sick, there was no entitlement to free medical treatment before the advent of the NHS in 1948. Until then philanthropy, voluntary contributions and community fund-raising played a vital role in providing health care. The Westminster Memorial Hospital was a Grosvenor foundation in 1874 and the annual Shaftesbury Carnival made a significant contribution to its running costs, as you can read at Shaftesbury Remembers by clicking here.