Gold Hill Museum Volunteers 2019

An invitation to join the volunteer team

Each week during the season (starts Monday 01 April) Gold Hill Museum needs 42 volunteers to meet and greet the visiting public. That’s three pairs of stewards per day each doing a two hour stint. All our regulars, who met this week for two lunchtime social gatherings and briefings, comment on how rewarding it is to interact with visitors from all parts of the world. The visitors in turn remark on the warmth and friendliness of the Museum’s welcome. If you enjoy meeting people and sharing your enthusiasm for our district and its story, then please come and join us. There are also vacancies for those who would like to work behind the scenes in Collection, Display or Garden. Full training will be given. Email or phone 01747 852157.

Fire Brigade Cartoon

Tea and Talks – Tuesday 02 April 2.30pm

The Tea and Talks session provides an informal opportunity for members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society to share with others historical gems that they have discovered recently, as well as enjoy delicious home-made cake. This year Richard Clarke has observations on the Hinton St Mary Roman Mosaic; Kathie Clarke has been collecting Postcards of Old Shaftesbury; Ray Simpson has unearthed some Notes on the Shaftesbury Fire Service from the Gold Hill Museum Archives; and David Grierson reports on a Skeleton in the (Family History) Closet.

Shaftesbury Fire Service
Shaftesbury’s Fire Brigade turns out for a happy event

This event is free to members. Non-members might like to consider joining The S&DHS. £15 for an individual annual membership gives access to next season’s 2019-20 programme as well as supporting the work of Gold Hill Museum.

Roman Gardens

Chinese Dragon Lanterns, Snowdrop Tiles and Roman Gardens

By Friday 01 March Shaftesbury & District Historical Society Trustee Claire Ryley will have contributed to three educational events in ten days. At Gold Hill Museum on Wednesday 20 February, 10a.m. till noon, the education team from Gold Hill and Shaftesbury Abbey Museums will be helping workshop participants make Chinese Dragon Lanterns. On Thursday 21 February 10a.m. till noon it’s a clay workshop making Galanthus dragons, snowdrop tiles and tealight holders. Both workshops cost £3 per head and are suitable for all ages; children must be accompanied by a responsible adult, with free admission for accompanying adults. Tickets in advance please from Bell Street Tourist Information Centre. Click here for details of other 2019 All Age Events.

On Friday 01 March at 7.30p.m. Claire will be giving an illustrated talk on Roman Gardens to members and guests of Shaston Gardening Association at Bell Street United Church Hall. Claire is the author of the splendid Roman Gardens and their Plants and as Education Officer at Fishbourne Roman Palace helped re-create the Roman garden there. Subsequently she appeared on the TV archaeology show Time Team as a Roman gardens consultant. Non-members are welcome on payment of £3 at the door.

Shillingstone Station

The Station They Never Closed – Lecture 2.30pm Tuesday 05 March

Shillingstone Station opened in 1863 lit by oil lamps and closed just over a century later, still without gas or electricity. Built by the Dorset Central Railway, it became part of the Somerset and Dorset Junction Railway which provided a through route from Bath to Bournemouth. From 1910 The Pines Express gave holidaymakers from Manchester and the North direct access to the South Coast. Unusually for a small country station Shillingstone boasted a canopy, giving shelter to King Edward VII when alighting to visit his friends the Ismays at Iwerne Minster.

In February 1915 war poet Rupert Brooke marched with colleagues of the Hood Naval Battalion from Blandford Camp to entrain for Avonmouth and Gallipoli. It was easier to load the Battalion’s mules at Shillingstone rather than at Blandford. Brooke, well known for such lines as: Stands the Church clock at ten to three? And is there honey still for tea? died from septicaemia following an infected mosquito bite off Greece.

In 1966 Dr Beeching’s axe fell on the Somerset and Dorset line. The track was lifted in 1967; since 2005 volunteers of the North Dorset Railway Trust have been working to restore the station and some of the track. Jack Bath, Curator, and fellow Trustee David Caddy will tell the story of The Station They Never Closed (officially) at 2.30pm on Tuesday 05 March. This illustrated talk is free to members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society while non-members may pay £3 at the door.

Gold Hill Museum Chairperson Elaine Barratt in the Garden Room

Fish, Chips And Quiz Will Fund Museum Enhancement

Gold Hill Museum’s meeting and venue space is underused and Chairman, Elaine Barratt, is keen to encourage greater use of the charity’s Garden Room.

Now the Museum team is planning a quiz night and supper, to raise the funds needed to make the facility suitable for more Shaftesbury residents. ThisIsAlfred went to visit.

You have to know where you’re heading if you’re looking for the Museum’s Garden Room. You’ll pass down corridors and through three doors to reach the light, airy space at the back of the building. If you don’t know the room by name, it’s the area where the Tibetan Monks displayed their sand Mandala last summer.

“It’s a lovely space with a fabulous view,” said Elaine, as she gestured towards the green slopes outside the large windows. The views extend out past Gold Hill Museum’s tranquil gardens towards Melbury Hill. “We’re very keen for people to use it for events. We’ve got a couple of people booked in for the Fringe,” she said.

Each Garden Room booking helps to fund the town’s much-loved museum, which is staffed entirely by volunteers. But few groups currently book the space. “Julian Richards meets regularly on a Tuesday with his archaeology group. The Civic Society hired it just after Christmas for their AGM. It’s used occasionally, but not enough,” Elaine added.

You might assume that this room is used only in relation to historic or archaeological groups, but Elaine says that anybody can make a booking for public or private events. “We’ve had a christening party here in the past, so any social occasion is fine. We can have 36 sitting at tables, 48 sitting in rows and 60 standing. That’s the official capacity.”

There are facilities on site. “There was only ever room for one toilet but it has disabled access. The kitchen has everything you might need for refreshments. It has got an oven that you can heat things in,” said Elaine.

Previously the Museum has had to decline some potential Garden Room bookings because performers didn’t have insurance in place for their events but Elaine says they have now arranged cover. “We had an issue in the past with our public liability insurance not covering performers during Shaftesbury Fringe. But we’ve addressed that. And so hopefully we’ll get a lot more people using it, because it’s an ideal space for someone who wants to do a poetry reading or sell their book.”

The expanse of glass that gives the room its natural light and its views over the green slopes can make the space a little echoey. So the Museum wants to fit an induction loop, which will help some locals who are hard of hearing. “People with hearing aids do find the acoustics in here quite difficult, apparently. One of our previous stewards wouldn’t come to any social events here because of the acoustics. When there were a lot of people talking he couldn’t hear properly.”

Elaine hasn’t had quotes for the equipment but she’s got a rough idea of cost. “We’ve asked our museums advisor and she knows one that was put into a similar space. That was about £500 pounds,” said Elaine.

Gold Hill Museum is hosting a quiz to raise cash for the hearing loop. “We have a quiz planned on Friday 22nd February. We’re holding the quiz at the Heritage Suites in Bell Street – the Masonic Lodge. It’s 7pm for 7.30pm,” said Elaine. “It’s there because our Garden Room isn’t big enough to have enough people to make a quiz viable.” And of course, not everyone will be able to hear the questions in the Garden Room, as it currently stands.

“It’s going to be a fish and chip quiz,” added Elaine. “It’s £10 and the food is included. We’re asking people to make teams of up to six. But if people can’t do that, then we’ll try and get them together in teams. People do need to book in advance because obviously for catering for fish and chips, we need to know how many to order.”

Even though this is a Gold Hill Museum fundraiser, Elaine says that it won’t be a history quiz! “Definitely not. It’s going to be very much a broad spectrum of questions.” You can book your tickets or book the Garden Room by emailing

Copyright 2018 Keri Jones

Shire Hall Dorchester

Shire Hall: Justice in the Balance – Lecture Tuesday 05 February 2.30p.m.

Shire Hall in Dorchester was Dorset’s courthouse from 1797 until 1955. Through that time, it saw everything from the 1834 trial of the Tolpuddle Martyrs to the 1856 domestic abuse case that inspired Thomas Hardy to write ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’, to victims of mesmerism, child perpetrators and American GIs tried during the Second World War.

Alongside its human history lies Shire Hall’s intrinsic architectural value, as one of the best-preserved buildings of its kind. This is recognised in its Grade I listed status, awarded in 1950. It was designed by architect Thomas Hardwick. As well as being a well-known architect in his own right, Hardwick was also the architectural tutor of the artist J.M.W. Turner, before advising him to focus on his painting instead.

After ending its life as a court in 1955, Shire Hall was used as offices for West Dorset District Council (previously the Rural District Council), thus preserving the Georgian architecture for future generations.

This illustrated talk by Anne Brown, Learning Manager at the new Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum, is free to members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society, while non-members may pay £3 at the door.

Marie_Stopes (2)

The Remarkable Dr Marie Stopes – Lecture 2.30pm Tuesday 08 January 2019

David Carter, Trustee of Portland Museum, brings an illustrated talk about the eventful life and times of the founder, benefactor and first curator of Portland Museum, Dr Marie Stopes (1880-1958), to the January meeting of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society. In 1923, in the wake of a protracted and ultimately unsuccessful libel case, Marie Stopes bought the Old Higher Lighthouse on Portland. In 1930 she was instrumental in the opening of Portland Museum and remained a Trustee until shortly before her death. Her ashes were to be scattered off Portland Bill. The young Marie Stopes achieved distinction in the predominantly male world of academia: she was the youngest recipient of a DSc degree from University College London, earned a PhD in botany from the University of Munich, and from 1904 to 1910 was the University of Manchester’s first female academic as a Lecturer in Palaeobotany. In 1913 she could not find a publisher for her book Married Love which offered advice on family planning. When it was eventually published in 1918 with the financial backing of her second husband it was reprinted five times in a year. Henceforward Marie Stopes’s name was to be associated with advocacy of methods of birth control, leading to controversy and conflict with establishment figures.

Click here for Keri Jones’s interview with David Carter about ‘The Dorset Woman Who Changed Opinion on Parenting and Relationships’ at

This talk is free to S&DHS members while non-members may pay £3 at the door.

Sales of Shaftesbury

A Hundred Years Since The Sale of Shaftesbury – The Town They Sold Three Times

At the end of the First World War, most of Shaftesbury was sold – three times! And next year, Gold Hill Museum and the Shaftesbury Chamber of Commerce will mark the centenary of this major event in our town’s history with a special exhibition.
If you live or work in one of the town’s older buildings, you’ll be able to see how auctioneers presented your property. Exhibition organiser, Matthew Tagney, says that we should thank three visionary residents who decided to protect the spectacular scenery that we enjoy today. “I think that the green spaces in Shaftesbury are one of the most precious aspects that make this a great place to live,” Matthew said.

It’s hard to imagine someone purchasing an entire town, but that’s what happened to Shaftesbury, as Matthew explained. “In 1918, Lord Stalbridge sold off all of the property that his ancestors had acquired, in order to buy votes when this was a rotten borough. Then, you could get yourself elected to Parliament by bribing and cajoling the people who had to pay rent.
“Lord Stalbridge was more interested in racehorses. He owned a Grand National winner. At the end of the First World War, the Liberal government had increased taxes on the rich. Landowners wanted to divest a lot of land. Stalbridge wanted rid of it. He was going to auction everything but a week before the auction, he sold practically all of Shaftesbury to a speculator,” said Matthew.
It’s been suggested that the purchaser, Mr White, was a made-up name – a ‘cover’ for two men, Benton and Gaskain. Those speculators sold their new acquisition in just four days to a local syndicate made up of the Mayor, Dr Harris, the ex-Mayor, Mr Borley and a shopkeeper called Viney. But they didn’t hold on to the property.
“In 1919 there was a third sale, where these three gentleman, in a very public-spirited way, put it all up for auction in individual lots with the assumption that only the tenant would bid for each property. It was a gentleman’s agreement,” said Matthew. “This was a chance for tenants to become owners of their own home or business premises.”
We should thank this trio, especially Dr Harris, because the men had the foresight to take Castle Hill out of the third sale. The Council continued renting the green space for a while, before it was given to the town. “I think it is worth commenting on this gesture,” said Matthew. “They could have auctioned it off to somebody as grazing but they didn’t. They kept it out of the sale and they eventually gave it to the town. And people were generally able to buy their own properties.”

Lord Stalbridge sold the entire town of Shaftesbury for £80,000. In today’s money you may consider that a bargain. “This year is the centenary of Cecil Chubb giving Stonehenge to the nation and he bought it for £15,000. I read recently that was equivalent to nearly half a million pounds. So the £80,000 for Shaftesbury would be equivalent to a couple of million pounds in today’s money. For a town it is good going. For Shaftesbury, it’s very good going,” Matthew said.
The centrepiece of next year’s exhibition at Gold Hill Museum will be a huge map of Shaftesbury, as it was in 1919. The auction house produced this detailed chart and different lot numbers are highlighted using various colours. You’ll be able to see whether your home went under the hammer and, if so, there should be corresponding property information in the sales documentation.

“It is part of the sale catalogue by Fox and Sons. They are still going, in Southampton. We want to focus in on some of the individual lots,” said Matthew. “Prices have changed massively since 1919 and we want to show what a house was worth then, compared to the kind of prices they are now. Amenities have changed, too. In those days it was remarkable if there was an inside loo. It was something special. We would like to look at some of the individual houses, large and small, and the pubs. Some of them are still going of course.” Matthew said.
The substantial, neatly presented prospectus reveals that Enmore Green’s Fountain Inn was being sold, complete with outbuildings offering stabling for six coaches. The property was let to the brewery, Hall and Woodhouse, at £45 per annum at the time of the sale. The Crown Inn on the High Street and the Fox and Hounds Inn at St James have since closed, but the Ye Olde Two Brewers, then an Ushers brewery house, was offered in the auction. The agent highlighted the pub’s ‘large yard with carriage entrance’, garden with ‘rose arches’ and outside scullery in the sale particulars.

“We would like to look at some of the shops,” Matthew continued. “That will evoke lots of memories, especially for people who have lived here for a long time because some of those shops will still have been around in the memory of living people now.” Shaftesbury Chamber of Commerce will contact its members to encourage them to take part in the commemorations next year by displaying information about the traders operating from the premises 100 years ago.
Matthew’s also keen to look at the open spaces in the town as well as some oddities. “There was a soup kitchen in Parsons Pool,” he said. “The gasworks and gasometer at Bimport were also auctioned off. The inclusion of Lot 96 may well cause outrage today. The sale document offered the Shaftesbury Abbey excavations as an item of ‘special interest to archaeologists and antiquarians.’ The three-quarters of an acre lot was promoted as the ancient site of the Benedictine Abbey to which the bones of Edward the Martyr were removed for holy preservation.”

Matthew doesn’t know how much his own home sold for. “I don’t know, maybe I should find out,” he laughed. And he intends to search through the records to see how his St James home was described and promoted.
He’s keen for Shaftesbury residents with any of the original sales literature to get in touch. “Perhaps your grandparents bought the house that you live in,” he said. “There would have been three things. Tenants of Lord Stalbridge would have had a letter saying that he was selling out. There might be a letter from the syndicate saying that they have bought it. And then there would have been a third letter asking ‘do you want to buy it?’ If anybody has got those letters in the attic, we would certainly love to see them and if people are willing we could put them into the exhibition. That would certainly be history,” Matthew said.

When you take in the view from Castle Hill towards the Blackmore Vale, you can understand why almost 100 years ago, a civic-minded trio considered this to be such a special space. And it’s obvious why Shaftesbury should celebrate the men who rejected greed and personal gain to protect locals’ homes and livelihoods and our town’s special green spaces.

You can contact Matthew through ThisIsAlfred at hello@ThisIsAlfred or via

Copyright 2018 Keri Jones

Janet Swiss and Byzant Mural

Share Your Well And Spring Stories With Gold Hill Museum

Do you have a well within your home or a spring on your land? If you’re prepared to share pictures of your water feature or stories connected to it, you could help Gold Hill Museum prepare their 2019 special exhibition. Janet Swiss is organising a display that will explain how Shaftesbury’s former residents dug down for water. As most locals know, there’s no surface water found on the rocky promontory on which the town lies. “I find it fascinating that Shaftesbury’s water only came from the rain, until recently. In the past, many of the houses had their own wells or reservoirs and I thought that it would be interesting to see where they all were.”

Janet came up with the exhibition idea after a friend discovered a well on his property when he was building a kitchen extension into his garden. “It was a flowerbed that was covered up. He wanted to go out a bit further and there it was.” He’s made his discovery into a feature. “There’s now a glass disc on it so you can look down into the well,” Janet said.
Janet has since spoken with another Shaftesbury resident who was surprised to uncover an underground water storage space. “One man told me that he was drilling a hole through the pavement and found this enormous room, which must have been one of the big reservoirs.”
Janet reckons that there will be wells beneath many properties that were formerly used as pubs. “There were a lot of pubs because we were on a major route from London to the southwest of England. They needed them to make beer, as well as everything else. It would be fascinating to know more about it.”
Janet has identified three frequently occurring styles of well in Shaftesbury. “There are some with springs, which are very low down. Others store water like a reservoir – it is held in by the sponginess of the greensand, which allows the rainwater to soak in. And then there are straight wells that just collect the rainwater,” she said.

Shaftesbury Estate Agent Chris Farrand says that he has listed properties around the town with wells and hidden water features. “We come across them regularly, often in Enmore Green and Motcombe. They are in all sorts of places, like cellars and gardens,” said Chris. “Sometimes people make a feature of them. They can be hidden and you find a hole in the ground with water in the bottom. We have had clients buy properties and they didn’t know they were there.” Chris says a well won’t add value to a property but it will add to the ‘quirkiness’ of a home. And he reckons Janet will have lots of material to work with.

There’s one well that Janet would like to locate more than any other. “I’d like the people who have done the research at the Abbey to say where the Abbey well was. I’d love to know where that is,” she said.
Janet wants well owners to reveal details like how deep their well is, whether they still contain water and how far down the water is. “If you have any information from your household deeds and can provide a picture, that would be wonderful too,” said Janet. She hopes to receive plenty of information by February, so she can plan the display ready for when Gold Hill Museum opens in March for the 2019 season.

Earlier this year, Janet helped to reinstate the Byzant ceremony, where Shaftesbury thanked Enmore Green, down the hill, for offering access to its water. Janet hopes that the spring, at the bottom of Tout Hill, could be renovated in the future. That could provide an additional item of interest for visitors to the town. Janet is also keen to list places where water flows at the base of the hill, where the greenstone switches to clay. The springs are not always in the same place. “They move about a bit,” said Janet. You can contact Janet through

Copyright 2018 Keri Jones