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.

Rin Tin Tin in A Dog of the Regiment 1927

Top Of The Bill – But Not Worth An Oscar

Rin Tin Tin, the canine superstar of the 1920’s, was a big hit with young Shaftesbury film-goers. A local resident recalls that her father, born in 1918, enjoyed going to the “The Fleapit” to see Rin Tin Tin. This might have been the Picture Palace which, according to Roger Guttridge in Shaftesbury Through Time, closed in 1925 or its replacement further up the High Street called the Palace. The Savoy Cinema in Bimport opened in 1933, two years after Rin Tin Tin’s last film.

135th Aero Squadron Group with rescued puppy
135th Aero Squadron Group with rescued puppy

Rin Tin Tin was rescued in 1918 as a puppy from a wrecked kennels in north-eastern France by an American serviceman, Lee Duncan. He took the German Shepherd back to California and trained the dog, which he called Rinty, to be very responsive to commands and to leap prodigious heights. In 1922 the dog made his film debut, doubling for a very unresponsive wolf. In 1923 he had his first starring role in Where The North Begins. This film made six times its production costs and was credited with saving the Warner Brothers studio from bankruptcy.

Rin Tin Tin in Where The North Begins 1923
Rin Tin Tin in Where The North Begins 1923

By 1929 Rin Tin Tin was an international favourite. He appealed to all nationalities and the absence of a soundtrack meant that no commands were heard. (The advent of talkies required Lee Duncan to devise a code of visual signals.) The first Academy Awards ceremony, hosted by Douglas Fairbanks, took place in that year and legend has it that Rin Tin Tin should have won Best Actor. The organisers, however, decided that a dog could not be nominated and German actor Emil Jannings won the rerun vote.

The original Rin Tin Tin starred in 27 Hollywood films and died in 1932. Lee Duncan never copyrighted the name and so there was a succession of imitators, including a television series which the writer vaguely remembers from the 1950’s.

If you have reminiscences of the early days of the cinema in Shaftesbury, please get in touch with us.

Picture Palace Cinema High Street Shaftesbury

What’s On At The Picture Palace in 1920?

Shaftesbury’s cinema The Picture Palace opened in the High Street in 1913. The neo-Classical frontage was adjacent to the cycle shop on the site of what is now Bargains. After five grim years of war and a devastating flu pandemic in 1918-19, the cinema offered an escape – to a world of adventure, glamour and even comedy.

This was the heyday of the silent movie. Many films were two-reelers, knocked out in a few days at minimal cost and using real locations. The reliably sunny weather of California was appreciated by film makers in a hurry. Prior to World War One, Arthur Stanley Jefferson toured Music Halls in the US with another unknown, Charlie Chaplin, as part of Fred Karno’s (British) slapstick vaudeville troupe. Both stayed to find employment in Hollywood, with Chaplin’s creation of The Tramp in 1915 earning star status. Jefferson became Stan Laurel but had to wait until he was paired in the mid-1920’s with Babe Hardy, another bit-part player of heavies, for his particular comedy genius to be recognised.

Founders of United Artists
Founders of United Artists. Fairbanks, Pickford, Chaplin and DW Griffith

In 1919 the giants of Hollywood were Chaplin, Mary Pickford (“America’s sweetheart”), Douglas Fairbanks Snr (“King of Hollywood”) and director DW Griffith. They founded United Artists in 1919 so that they had total control over the making and marketing of their films. On 28 March 1920 Pickford and Fairbanks made a marriage in publicists’ heaven. They honeymooned in Europe and were mobbed in Paris and London. Their return to the USA was equally triumphant and as “Hollywood royalty” they entertained regally at ‘Pickfair’, their Beverly Hills mansion.

So which films might Shaftesbury cinema-goers have seen in 1920? There were British film companies: Broadwest based in Walthamstow; Ideal at Elstree and Borehamwood; and Gaumont-British at Lime Grove in Shepherd’s Bush. But presumably the Picture Palace could also show the latest Hollywood movies featuring the biggest stars. Pickford (aged 27) played Pollyanna (aged 12). Her special talent lay in portraying the innocent ingenue and the film was popular, making $1.1 million against a budget of $300,000. It ran for 58 minutes and would have been a multi-reeler, requiring the projectionist to make quick changes and show the reels in the right order. Fairbanks played a typical swashbuckling role in the first film version of The Mark of Zorro. This ran for 90 minutes and featured Noah Beery, father and son, in supporting roles.

Lillian Gish in DW Griffith's Way Down East
Lillian Gish in DW Griffith’s Way Down East

DW Griffith was a pioneer film director. Many of his innovations became standard practice in film-making: close-ups, cross-cutting, fade-in / fade-out. He experimented with colour tints in 1919’s Broken Blossoms and used the same star (“The First Lady of American Cinema”), Lillian Gish in 1920’s Way Down East. This was a blockbuster: it cost $700,000 to make, ran for 145 minutes, and made $4.5 million at the box office. Performers often did their own stunts, and the 26 year old Gish lay on a real ice floe and trailed her hand in freezing river water. As a result her hair froze and she permanently lost the feeling in some of her fingers. She certainly made an impression on the British cinema-going public and, according to Juliet Nicholson, ‘Billingsgate market resounded to cries of “Would you like a nice bit of Lillian for your supper?”‘ (The Great Silence 1918-20 Living in the Shadow of the Great War, p258)

Apart from going to the cinema, Shastonians were very good at making their own amusements , as detailed at the Shaftesbury Remembers website. They could also stay at home and read a book, as many of us are doing during the current lockdown. In 1920, after many rejections, Agatha Christie published her first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles . This featured the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, probably inspired by Christie’s meeting Belgian refugees in Torquay who had fled their homeland in1914.

Street Scene from the Tyler Collection

Albert Edward Tyler, 1873-1919, Photographer of Edwardian Shaftesbury

Prior to their now postponed talk Claire Ryley and Ann Symons, together with Chris Stupples, discovered more about the family history of Albert Edward Tyler. He was born in Market Drayton, Shropshire, in 1873, one of eight children in the family of Edward and Annie Tyler. His father was a butcher and the family lived on the shop premises in Market Street. When Mr Tyler died in 1884 his eldest son took over the business while Albert became a photographer’s apprentice.

By 1901 Albert had moved to Shaftesbury and was established as a photographer at 53 Salisbury Street. In September 1902 he married Flora Ellen Biddlescombe at St Michael’s and All Angels in Stour Provost, and a daughter Muriel was born in March 1903. In 1911 the family was at an address between 4 Blandford Road and Boyne Farm, Cann, before moving to 5 Bell Street.

There is no record of Albert’s having done military service in the First World War. Not all records have survived and by the time conscription was introduced in 1916 he was already older than the upper age limit of 41. It is possible that his health was impaired as he died in January 1919 of cancer at the Middlesex Hospital in London. By today’s standards he was a youthful 45. The devastating ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic had just peaked in November 1918, at the time of the Armistice.

Flora and Muriel moved to 4 Belle Vue Terrace, later known as 19 Victoria Street, Shaftesbury where they were joined by Flora’s widowed brother Alfred Biddlescombe, a retired gardener’s labourer. They remained there until Flora’s death in February 1952. Muriel, described as a ledger clerk in 1939, died in December 1984 and was buried at St James’s Church.

Valuable historical information continues to be added to the Shaftesbury Remembers website. Local author Karen Dickson made use of it while writing her recently published first novel ‘The Shop Girl’s Soldier’. Karen described the story, when interviewed on , as a romantic saga spanning the First and Second World Wars, set in a small town and surrounding villages not dissimilar to Shaftesbury.

Claire, Chris and Ann at the Etches Collection (2)
Claire, Chris and Ann at the Etches Collection (2)

Thomas Cromwell Visits Shaftesbury Abbey

Thomas Cromwell Visits Shaftesbury Abbey (Perhaps)

In the instalment of Hilary Mantel’s new novel ‘The Mirror and the Light’, read by Anton Lesser on Radio Four on Tuesday 24 March, Thomas Cromwell arrives incognito at Shaftesbury Abbey. (Episode 7: Rejection. Available for one month at ) It is the autumn of 1536 and Cromwell is the second most powerful man in the land, after his master King Henry VIII. The Abbess Elizabeth Zouche recognises Cromwell, having previously seen his portrait, and admits him to the presence of one of the younger nuns, Dorothea Clancey. Dorothea is the illegitimate daughter of Cardinal Wolsey whom Cromwell served until Wolsey’s fall and death in 1530. Cromwell considers that he owes a debt of loyalty to Wolsey and is dismayed to discover that Dorothea not only refuses the gifts he brings but is convinced that Cromwell betrayed her father.

Hilary Mantel’s great gift has been to create a plausible and sympathetic character for Thomas Cromwell while not straying too far from the surviving evidence. Elizabeth Zouche and Dorothea Clancey (called Dorothy Clusey by other writers) both existed and received pensions when Shaftesbury Abbey was dissolved in 1539. Cromwell would have known about Wolsey’s illegitimate children – there were also two sons – and he received at least one letter about Dorothea. Whether he ever visited Shaftesbury and what his innermost thoughts were, remain the province of the fiction writer.

Fire Pump from 1744

Gold Hill Museum Will Remain Closed Until Further Notice

Gold Hill Museum will not open to the public for the new season at the beginning of April. On Monday 16 March the Secretary of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society emailed members to say that the Trustees had decided to cancel (or perhaps postpone) the ‘Edwardian Shaftesbury’ Tea and Talks event scheduled for 07 April. As the Society’s first priority must be to safeguard the health of its members, volunteers and visitors, the Trustees had also decided to delay the reopening of Gold Hill Museum until they were satisfied that there was minimal risk of the transmission of coronavirus. This anticipated any Government announcement later in the week.

In a spirit of optimism, the Secretary continued: ‘When the Society is able to resume its public activities, you can be assured that there will be plenty to see and do. There will be two new temporary exhibitions in the Museum, including one focusing on the making of the renowned Hovis advert by Ridley Scott in 1973. A full lecture programme for the 2020-21 winter season is already in place, starting with the Teulon Porter Lecture in Shaftesbury Town Hall on Tuesday 06 October. As there is a US Presidential Election in November 2020, involving one of the most controversial occupants of The White House, we are delighted to be welcoming perhaps the leading British scholar of modern American History, Professor Tony Badger, to offer his insights. 

At the moment preparations for the summer outing on Tuesday 02 June to Great Chalfield Manor are on hold. In the meantime work behind the scenes will continue at Gold Hill Museum, with investment in new technology in both displays and the shop. We will of course suffer a loss of income (principally from visitor donations) by not reopening on 01 April and we hope that you will continue to lend your support via membership of The S&DHS.

The Trustees wish all of you well in these unprecedented times.’

St James from the Tyler Collection

Photographs of Edwardian Shaftesbury 2.30pm Tuesday 07 April 2020 / Now Postponed

For the finale of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society winter season of talks at Gold Hill Museum, members Claire Ryley and Ann Symons explore pre-World War I Shaftesbury as seen through the camera lens of Albert Edward Tyler. In their phenomenally popular Shaftesbury Remembers sessions at Shaftesbury Library, Claire and Ann have been asking for the audience’s help in identifying scenes from the Museum’s Tyler Photographic Collection. Once again they will welcome audience participation.


Claire Ryley and Ann Symons at Shaftesbury Library (courtesy of ThisisAlfred)

More information is being sought about Mr Tyler, who must have dragged heavy camera equipment round the streets of Shaftesbury and surrounding villages. In 1901 he is known to have been a practising photographer at 53 Salisbury Street. After 1911 he virtually disappears from the historical record. He died in January 1919 and so would not have appeared in the 1921 Census. **

Street Scene from the Tyler Collection
Street Scene from the Tyler Collection

This event is free, includes light refreshments and is open to non-members from 2.20pm.

** As Claire and Ann will divulge on 07 April, recent research has shed more light on the family history of the Tylers.

All Age Events

Toymakers’ Workshop Wednesday 19 February Starts 2p.m.

Gold Hill and Shaftesbury Abbey Museums offer a joint programme of All Age Events. These are intended to be both educational and fun, and scheduled during school holidays. At Gold Hill Museum on Wednesday 19 February, from 2 till 4 p.m., there will be a Toymakers’ Workshop. The plan is to make toys from recycled and natural materials, and then take them home. This event is free and open to all, but children must be accompanied please by a responsible adult.

For details of other All Age Events, such as the Pilgrims’ Trail and the Viking Day at Shaftesbury Abbey, please click on this link or email

Great Chalfield Manor by Hugh Wright

Great Chalfield Manor and its People

Great Chalfield Manor, near Bradford-on-Avon, has been the setting for film and television dramas, including Wolf Hall and Poldark. In 2008’s The Other Boleyn Girl it masqueraded as the Boleyns’ family home, in place of the real Hever Castle in Kent. Perhaps this is because it exudes authenticity, architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner describing it as ‘one of the most perfect examples of the late medieval English manor house.’

Great Chalfield was built by the wealthy Wiltshire lawyer and clothier Thomas Tropenell as a moated manor house in the period 1465-1480. Tropenell seems to have caused offence to neither side in the ongoing Wars of the Roses. An early 20th century owner, Robert Fuller, restored the house and church and engaged Alfred Parsons to design the garden, which is itself Grade II listed. In 1943 Robert Fuller gave the property to the National Trust.

On Tuesday 03 March at 2.30pm at Gold Hill Museum, National Trust Guide Arnold Snowball will illustrate the story of ‘Great Chalfield Manor and its People’. It is, he says, “also the story of the county, the country, its trade and its wars over the last 550 years.” He will bring with him copies of the latest History of Great Chalfield Manor by Hugh Wright, from which the photograph is reproduced by kind permission.

This talk is free to Shaftesbury & District Historical Society members while non-members may pay £3 at the door. It replaces the scheduled lecture on The Grotto Makers which has had to be postponed.

Shaftesbury Workhouse

On The Parish: Life in Dorset’s Workhouses

The question of how society should address the problem of poverty is still with us. In 1834 the Victorians attempted to resolve it by creating a system of workhouses in which the living conditions for inmates were made deliberately unattractive. The New Poor Law principle of Less Eligibility was intended to deter the able-bodied poor from seeking assistance at the ratepayers’ expense.

At 2.30pm on Tuesday 04 February at Gold Hill Museum, genealogist and historical researcher Luke Mouland takes a lively look at how the Poor Laws, Old and New, operated in Dorset, supported by many local references and illustrations. “Kill me sooner than take me there”, implores Betty Higden in Dickens’s 1865 novel Our Mutual Friend . But what evidence do we have that conditions in “the Union” were really so dire? Luke’s talk draws on stories from a number of Dorset’s workhouses to explore this theme.

Plans for the Shaftesbury Union Workhouse at Umbers Hill were drawn up in 1836. The two-storey, cross-shaped building followed a standard pattern and was designed to accommodate 250 “paupers”. The budget of £4000 had been exceeded by a further £2000 when the workhouse opened in 1840. It was finally demolished in 1947.

This talk replaces the scheduled lecture on Thomas Hardy and North Dorset which has had to be postponed until 2021. It is free to members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society while non-members may pay £3 at the door.