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.

Moulin Rouge

Cancan and the Invention of Gay Paree 1867-1914

Dr Jonathan Conlin of Southampton University ushers in the New Year at Gold Hill Museum at 2.30pm on Tuesday 07 January with an illustrated talk subtitled “Fancy liquors and sky-high kickers.” Dr Conlin will consider “how an unlikely cross-Channel coalition of skirt-dancers, purity campaigners, magistrates, music hall starlets, and visual artists conspired together in the years between 1867 and the Great War to create that ‘invisible city’ we know as ‘Gay Paree’: a city located largely in the imagination.” He will challenge “the familiar account of Cancan’s emergence, founded on a tendency to see Paris and London as polar opposites. ‘Gay Paree’ played up to these stereotypes, turning them into a lucrative brand for impresarios on both sides of the Channel.”

As Dr Conlin points out in his Tales of Two Cities: Paris, London and the Birth of the Modern City (Atlantic Books, 2013) the earliest exponents of Cancan were equally men and women. Perhaps the first Cancan star, Finette, who in 1867 brought to London her innovations of the splits and the hat trick (a well-aimed kick to knock a spectator’s top hat off his head), wore a fisherman’s outfit of shorts and white tights. “That the Cancan survived was thanks to a British dancer, Kate Vaughan, inventor of a new type of dance known as skirt dancing …. “

The whole of this fascinating story as told by Jonathan Conlin is free to members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society while non-members may pay £3 at the door.

Keri Jones’s interview with Jonathan Conlin can be accessed at by clicking this link

Jill Sumner with DMA Chair Jon Murden

Dorset Museums Volunteer of the Year Award

Long-serving Gold Hill Museum steward and gardener Jill Sumner received a well-deserved accolade at the AGM of the Dorset Museums Association, held at Poole Museum on Thursday 21 November. Along with several other volunteers who form the indispensable staffing backbone of most of Dorset’s museums, Jill received her Volunteer of the Year Award from Dr Jon Murden, Director of the Dorset County Museum and Chair of the DMA.

Jill Sumner receives her Volunteer of the Year Award from DMA Chair Jon Murden
Jill Sumner receives her Volunteer Award from DMA Chair Jon Murden (2)

The citation in support of Jill’s Award from the Chair of the Trustees of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society was read to, and applauded by, the meeting.

Jill has been a steward for twenty years and apparently served for 30 years previously at Blandford Museum.  She does two shifts a week and regularly volunteers for extra shifts.  She is also a member of the gardening team and puts in hours every week, only missing one session during last winter, as well as doing every week during the previous hot summer, and she has to walk up Gold Hill to do all this. Recently, having undergone serious surgery, she took just one week off and organised her own cover for her shifts. Jill has also taken a leading and enthusiastic role in reviving the re-enactment of the historic Byzant ceremony in the town. She is unfailingly cheerful and a delight to share a shift with; she is truly worthy of recognition.

Stonehenge, Shaftesbury Abbey, and SAVED

BBC4’s Digging for Britain, broadcast at 9pm on Wednesday 20 November, features local archaeologist Julian Richards in a report from the SAVED Project at Shaftesbury Abbey. This innovative scheme, part-funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, has involved an extensive radar survey of the Abbey grounds, the training of volunteers in archaeological techniques, and the participation of 11 local schools. Test pits have revealed a number of interesting finds, as ThisisAlfred reported in the summer

On Tuesday 03 December at 2.30pm Julian visits the other Museum in Shaftesbury, Gold Hill, to give one of his incomparable illustrated talks on Stonehenge: Old Rocks and New Theories, together with an update on the SAVED Project. There really is no-one better qualified than Julian to interpret the changing story of Stonehenge and its landscape. As he says in the Postscript to his Stonehenge – The story so far, published in 2017 by Historic England: “The pace of new discoveries has been so great that to have finished (the book) four or even two years ago would have rendered it instantly and substantially inaccurate. This is not to say that some new discovery of huge importance will be made as soon as this book goes to print ….” We’ll find out on 03 December.

Julian’s lecture is free to members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society while non-members may pay £3 at the door.


Park Walk’s Café – and Waiting to Watch Cars Crash

October’s Shaftesbury Remembers session has been the best attended to date. Alfred of squeezed into the packed library, viewed the pictures and heard residents share their personal memories of old Shaftesbury – stories that you won’t find in the history books. Please click here for thisisAlfred’s podcast

There wasn’t a spare seat in the reference section of the library for October’s memory-sharing get together. “There’s not enough room to accommodate us and I feel rather guilty. People don’t book, they just come,” explained Claire Ryley from Gold Hill Museum’s ‘Shaftesbury Remembers’ project.

The packed library

Each person’s arrival was announced by the steady, slow rumble of the electronic door. And they kept coming. 45 residents, some proud Shastonians, others inquisitive newcomers, were here to pinpoint places and recognise faces within a selection of Shaftesbury pictures being passed around.

The session’s value is the story-sharing as images unlock memories of long forgotten events. “People love pictures and when they are well acquainted with a place, it is enjoyable to see if you can work out where places are,” said Claire. “It’s interesting seeing the changes that happened to those places over time. That’s what we’re trying to gather here. Reminiscence works for everybody. People chat, but from the museum’s point of view, information is pouring out. It’s wonderful.”

Gloria Alford is a regular attendee. “I really enjoy it. I like the history,” said Gloria, who moved to the town in Easter 1951 to work as a nursing cadet at the hospital. She didn’t arrive empty-handed then and she wasn’t empty handed at the event. She was clutching a nostalgic conversation starter – a gift from her mother. “It’s a Shaftesbury guide, published in 1950. She gave it to me so I would know where the Post Office was, so I could post a letter back home.”

The A5-sized booklet made claims that might be hard to substantiate with today’s advertising standards. ‘On account of the unique situation of Shaftesbury, the air is pure and bracing and is recommended by medical men as a health resort,’ the guide stated, along with, ‘In the reign of Henry VIII, the town was constantly visited by pilgrims on account of the health-giving qualities of its bracing atmosphere.’ The report claimed that an eminent physician believed the health-giving properties of Shaftesbury air was on a par with that of Switzerland.

Gloria Alford

I flicked through Gloria’s guide and interrupted her conversation when I found another gem. “I know what you’re going to say!” she shrieked with delight. The write-up reported that the Daily Mail had described Shaftesbury as the town with, ‘The most courteous and obliging shop assistants in England. Residents and visitors will find all of their requirements catered for.’ “I tell everybody now, when we haven’t got hardly anything in the town,” laughed Gloria.

In a previous session, Gloria has seen a photo of the sister of her late husband, Reginald. “She was a hand bell ringer. There was a picture of her. It was a nice surprise to see it,” she said.

I broke away to chat to another attendee. When I returned to Gloria, she was immersed in a three-way conversation over a photograph of St James Street. Members of Reginald’s family lived in Quaker Cottage near Pump Yard. The street scene unlocked vivid memories.

“When his granny lived there, there were all wooden benches around the rooms. In the main bedroom was a big safe with a metal door. When his mum and dad were moving, my husband got it open and went inside. We found boxes of stuff to do with the Quakers.” Gloria says that the find was handed over to the Rutter family.

She pointed to a picture of part of St James Street, opposite the entrance to White Hart Lane. “There was a community hall, there,” she said.

Isabel Good was also captivated by a black-and-white image – one of market traders and livestock. This wasn’t the recently closed Cattle Market of Christy’s Lane, but the older one, on today’s Bell Street car park site. Isabel lives off Bleke Street and although she has lived here for decades, she had no idea what would have been on her doorstep a century ago.

Claire Ryley (left) and Ann Symons

School day memories dominated discussions amongst those educated in town, and a former teacher was there to fill in memory blanks. Tony Selwood was the head of Christy’s School for eleven years and he then took charge of the first, middle and upper schools.

“Christy’s School was on Christy’s Lane. In 1983, the schools were changed to a first school middle school and upper school. I was involved in the design of the middle school.”

Tony has fond memories of Christy’s School. “The facilities were for a developed curriculum that trained youngsters for life and not just for passing a couple of exams,” said Tony. “It was in the grounds of Lindlar Park, on 12-acre site with a lovely entrance with cherry trees and blossoms. It was superb, but maintenance would have taken time because it was an entirely wooden structure,” he said, adding. “It was very good wood. When they took the school down, many people came to help themselves.”

Tony explained why the school had been constructed from timber. “It needed to be a design which could be altered and maintained well and added to as the school grew. It was 1939, the war had started, and a lot of evacuees from London came to Shaftesbury and became pupils.”

Avid Shaftesbury photo historian Robert Mullins recounted how school lunches were once prepared on Park Walk. “It was in what used to be the old British restaurant. It’s where the gardens are on the left,” Robert explained. “It was corrugated, almost a Nissen hut.” I’d not heard of a British restaurant. “It was something designed during the war to give people a hot meal. You had to pay for it, but you didn’t use your ration book allocation. After the British restaurant closed, it was used to cook school meals.”

Tony recalled how school pupils and staff responded to the 1985 African famine. “We raised well over £6,000. We had to have a naval helicopter come to pick up all of the dried food that we had collected around the town. It was so heavy they had to come and do it twice. It landed on the school field and we invited all the other schools in the area to see the spectacle,” Tony smiled.

Robert fired up his laptop, keen to show me a picture of a curious sight. Formally dressed, cap-wearing, moustached men were admiring the wreck of an overturned vehicle, perhaps a charabanc, which had flipped over a wall on a bend. I was unable to identify the location. Robert revealed it was the sharp curve on the hill just outside Shaftesbury, on the Gillingham Road at Nettlebed. This was such an accident spot it became a place for spectators.

“My father told me that people used to go down there on a Sunday when it was the main A30 and wait for accidents. Look at how many times that wall has been repaired,” Robert observed.

The Nettlebed crash

85-year-old Robert was born in Shaftesbury. Jason Coop has lived here for three years and he is also fascinated by the town’s story. And he’s keen to find out more about his 1856-built home on Grosvenor Road. “We’re trying to piece together its history because we are renovating it and we feel part of the fabric of the house. It is number 2, on Ivy Cross, a three-storey Victorian property near the roundabout. We know that the Mayor of Shaftesbury lived there at the turn-of-the-century. He owned a master butcher down the High Street. He was a governor of a lot of the schools. It would be amazing to find out more.”

Jason didn’t pick up any more clues at this session, but he says he’ll be back. “The knowledge here is just amazing. I’m going to stay as long as I can and chat to the people,” he said.

Co-organiser Claire was more successful in getting answers to her picture questions. “The gas towers, which no longer exist, on Castle Hill and at Enmore Green have been identified. It is very interesting because they’ve also shown up in the geophysics done as part of the Shaftesbury Abbey (archaeology) project and we didn’t know what they were. We now have photos, which show us what they were. It’s wonderful,” Claire said.

Co-organiser Ann Symons was also offered useful information. “There are one or two photographs which we had no idea about before. It’s been useful,” she said.

With such a massive turn-out and a clear appetite for viewing pictures of old Shaftesbury, Claire says the next event will be geared to cater for the crowds. “We will probably arrange a session in January or February at Gold Hill Museum, so we can show photos on a PowerPoint presentation and get a lot more information going. It’s been a wonderful turnout. It just goes to show how much interest there is in the town’s history.”

Copyright 2019 Keri Jones

Frances (Fanny) Burney 1752-1840 (2)

Dr Deborah Jones Makes A Case For The Brilliant Burneys

Deborah Jones is Secretary of the Burney Society UK and definitely a fan. The best known of the family, Frances (Fanny) Burney, was a writer of novels, plays and a revelatory diary in an age when women weren’t encouraged to write or publish. During the Revolutionary Wars with France she married a French exile and went to live for over a decade in Napoleon’s Empire. She survived the most drastic surgery despite the total absence of anaesthetics and antiseptics.

For ThisisAlfred’s interview and podcast with Deborah, entitled Shaftesbury Encouraged to Discover the Groundbreaking Female Writer Few People Know , please click here

The rest of the family were no slouches either. We have perhaps forgotten that they were, as Deborah says, “Stars of the 18th Century.” In her illustrated talk at Gold Hill Museum at 2.30p.m. on Tuesday 05 November Dr Jones will argue that “One family dominated the cultural life of eighteenth-century England: music, writing, exploring, Court life – all were affected by the Burneys. Dr Johnson, Joshua Reynolds, and David Garrick were among close friends of the father, Dr Charles. Fans of one daughter, Fanny, included Jane Austen, George III and Napoleon.” Deborah will address the questions of who the Burneys were and how they achieved such celebrity.

“The Brilliant Burneys: Stars of the 18th Century” is free to members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society while non-members may pay £3 at the door.

Also at Gold Hill Museum on Wednesday 30 October from 2 till 4p.m. Half Term Autumn Fun is promised for all ages. Activities include making your own fresh apple juice and spicy soap, plus crafts related to Hallowe’en. Entry is free though donations for materials are welcome. Children should be accompanied by a responsible adult.

Shaftesbury Remembers Dorset Regiment Territorials

“Shaftesbury Remembers” Website Expands Coverage

The Shaftesbury Remembers website, created by Gold Hill Museum with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to reflect the locality during World War 1, has become established as a source of reference on an international scale. Volunteer Chris Stupples, who has researched many of the soldiers’ stories featured on the website, is now seeking information about survivors of the Great War. As he writes:  

Work continues in order to reflect the service of those who eventually came back to their families and loved ones in Shaftesbury and District after the conflict was over.  There is still much to be done on this front and names are being sought from various sources and researched so that their stories can be told to future generations.  Over 100 stories have been added thus far and there are very many known names still to research, but given that many of the Service Records were destroyed by enemy action in the Second World War, some are bound to be missed.

The Museum would be pleased if anyone who knows of a local relative who served in World War 1 and returned home could let us know, so that we can be assured they will not be forgotten by generations to come.

The Shaftesbury Remembers website can be accessed by clicking on this link or via the Home Page at and any information can be advised through the Museum on 01747 852157 or by e-mail to

Steven Gunn at The Sale of Shaftesbury Exhibition

Shaftesbury Miller Meets Unfortunate End

Oxford Professor Steven Gunn gave a polished and pacy Teulon Porter Memorial Lecture to an appreciative audience in Shaftesbury Town Hall on 24 September. Based on his findings from the Everyday Life and Fatal Hazard in sixteenth century England Research Project, Steven was able to cite several local examples. Robert Mitchell was killed by a falling stone while admiring the ceiling of Sherborne Abbey. Jane Whyte of Chedington died after spending the night in a drunken stupor in a hedge on Rampisham Down. Closer to home, miller Leonard Pytman was dragged into the machinery of the mill at Anketil’s Place.

Alcester Mill accident 1598
Alcester Mill accident 1598 (courtesy of Steven Gunn)

In response to questions from his “cheery and attentive audience” Steven explained that coroners’ juries, consisting of between 10 and 24 men, had the body of the deceased in front of them at the inquest. As a result the coroners’ reports often give graphic detail (in Latin) of the shape and size of fatal injuries. Yes, he was in process of writing a book about his analysis of the records from several thousand inquests; he had reached chapter five of sixteen, but would have to postpone further work once his students returned to Oxford. After a quick tour of Gold Hill Museum in the morning (where it was possible to locate Anketil’s Place on the map of the 1919 Sale of Shaftesbury) Professor Gunn caught the train to resume his duties as Acting Warden of Merton College.

September 2019 Mailing to Members

Bumper September Mailing Includes Bonus Pamphlet

Members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society should have received a bumper September mailing including the Byzant Newsletter, the 2019-20 Lectures & Events Programme, and a separate illustrated pamphlet on the 1919 Sale of Shaftesbury written by member Matthew Tagney. There is still time to see the exhibition on the Sale, curated by Matthew, at Gold Hill Museum (until 03 November.)

The 2019-20 Lecture season begins with the Teulon Porter Memorial Lecture at 7.30p.m. on Tuesday 24 September at Shaftesbury Town Hall. Oxford Professor Steven Gunn will talk on Everyday Life and Accidental Death in Tudor Dorset and Wiltshire. Professor Gunn and a colleague have examined the documentary records from thousands of Tudor inquests, and been able to shed light on the myriad ways our Tudor predecessors put their personal safety in jeopardy in the course of their daily lives. Please click here for ThisisAlfred’s interview with Steven Gunn.

This illustrated talk is free to S&DHS members and open to members of the public on payment of £5 at the door. This charge will be refunded to anyone deciding to join The S&DHS. Single adult annual membership costs £15 and gives access to five more lectures and a summer outing to a place of historical interest, as well as supporting the work of the volunteers at Gold Hill Museum.