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The Ploughman Poet

Thomas Hardy once observed that:  “…here in Dorset, there are so many poets.”  Many of them, however, more deserving of recognition have drifted into the shadows created by the spotlight being on the likes of Barnes and Hardy.

Albert Charles Bailey was born at Osmington in 1859. He was the son of Thomas and Angelina Bailey, being one of eight children. The family was poor and Albert had to teach himself to read and write; growing-up he studied the works of all the literary giants of the time. His first book of poems was published in 1896 and sold very well.

The Bailey family moved from Osmington to Sutton Poyntz. Albert married Mary Cox of Puncknowle in 1886 and we learn from the 1891 census that the couple lived at Prospect Cottage, Preston, with their four children and one of Albert’s sisters, Evangelina. The census  describes Albert as a Poulterer, Egg Dealer and Market Gardener.

Ten years on the family had grown: Albert and Mary then had four sons and three daughters and the census return suggests that his literary work was being recognised: he is described in the 1901  census as an Author and Market Gardener.  However, in 1911 he is again described simply as a Market Gardener but we should not conclude he had abandoned his literary career.

In 1911 he became known as ‘The Ploughman Poet’ following a chance meeting with a special correspondent from a national daily newspaper who was on his way to Dorchester.  The journalist was so impressed with Albert’s work that when he arrived in Dorchester he sought out Thomas Hardy to ask if he knew him. Hardy replied “Yes, I have met him,” and added that had Albert Bailey been born in any county other than Dorset, he would have been acclaimed a prodigy.

Albert died in 1914 at the age of 55.

After the Georgian Summers

King George III’s enthusiasm for Weymouth was the making of the resort but it was the Duke of Gloucester who had first brought Royal patronage to the town when he built what was known as Gloucester Lodge on an open field facing the sea between what was then the northern limit of the town and the new Royal Hotel. In 1789 the king was advised to try the newly recognised ‘cure’ of sea bathing and the Duke lent his seaside home to his elder brother the King. In 1805 the King and the Royal Family stayed at Royal Lodge (as it had become known) from July until October but the holiday atmosphere was marred when news arrived of the death of the Duke of Gloucester, an event that deeply affected the King. On October 4th the King and his Court departed from Weymouth; he was never to return.

In the autumn of 1809 three of the King’s children returned to Weymouth and stayed from September until early November. The Princesses Amelia and Mary arrived ahead of their brother Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge. This was a quiet holiday: Amelia was already seriously ill and she died the following year. The local press reported that Amelia benefited from her stay and was taken into the bay in a bathing machine “for the purposes of inhaling the sea air in its greater purity.” Princess Mary spent most of her time with her sister, just occasionally taking short walks on the esplanade and sands, accompanied by Adolphus or other members of the Royal Family who paid brief visits to Royal Lodge during this time; they included the Prince of Wales and the Dukes of York, Clarence and Kent.

The Price of Wales – Prince Regent from 1811 onwards – did not share his father’s affection for Weymouth. His daughter, Princess Charlotte of Wales had, while still a small child, accompanied her grandparents to Weymouth. She returned to the resort in 1814 and 1815 for long holidays at Royal Lodge. There exists a report of the eighteen-year-old Princess on one occasion referring to the town “as this odious place;” perhaps she was out of sorts because she seems generally to have enjoyed her stays at Weymouth.

She enjoyed the welcome given to her by local people and found the scenery around Weymouth much to her liking, as her grandfather had. The princess would travel in her carriage to the local villages and often stopped to talk to the inhabitants, as well as visiting the houses of the leading Dorset families. She seems to have inherited her grandfather’s love of the sea and used a naval guard ship as a Royal Yacht. This was in contrast to most female members of the Royal Family: a diarist in Weymouth in the 1790’s commenting on the royal trips in the channel wrote: “The King never seemed afraid of the weather. The Queen and the Princesses always wore dark blue habits on these occasions and I have often seen them looking very miserable and bedraggled on their return.”

Princess Charlotte’s visit in 1815 was such a success it prompted the author of one Weymouth Guide to optimistically predict “…it is generally believed that Weymouth will be the future summer residence of Her Royal Highness.”  The following year Princess Charlotte Augusta married Prince Leopold of Saxe Coburg and in 1817 she died in childbirth.

On the 25th of October 1809 – the King’s Jubilee – Weymouth celebrated by laying the foundation stone to the statue of King George III, an event that was attended by the Duke of Cambridge and Princess Mary. Newspaper reports make no mention of any members of the Royal family being present when the completed statue was unveiled the following year. Later Princess Mary married her cousin the Duke of Gloucester, the son of the builder of Royal Lodge, and she was in residence there in November 1817, when the news of the death of the young  Princess Charlotte of Wales came. This was the last visit to Weymouth of any member of the family of King George III.

Following the death of George III, the Royal Lodge was sold on the 19th July 1820 for £4,000 and the Royal Pew in St. Mary’s Church was sold for £220.10s at the same time. Houses adjoining the Royal Lodge that had been used to accommodate members of the Royal family were also sold-off and reportedly fetched high prices. The furniture was sold separately and the enormous prices paid reflected the added value achieved with each piece being considered a relic of departing royalty.

The economic benefits gained by the town from the occasional royal visits after 1805 would have been small but the benefits of many years of patronage by the King were considerable. Thomas’s Weymouth Guide of 1815 says “…the inhabitants by such an influx of money have been encouraged to rebuild, beautify, and greatly enlarge the town, which in little more than twenty years has undergone a considerable transformation.”

Weymouth was now established as a seaside resort and the expansion begun in the days of ‘Royal Weymouth’ continued throughout the rest of the nineteenth century, considerably helped by the coming of the railway in 1857.

Dorset: a Woman’s View (Part 2)

Woodbury Hill and Charborough House

Celia Fiennes travelled home by way of Blandford and then headed southwards. She describes how “…we pass Woodbery (Woodbury) Hill eminent for a great Faire that is kept there of all things”. The fair dates from the times of Henry III and was once an important event that extended over several days. This is the Greenhill Fair of Thomas Hardy’s novels. Sir Frederick Treves in his Highways and Byways in Dorset tells us: “Since the time of Henry III, a fair has been held on this hill, commencing on September 18th, near about the festival of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This fair was at one time the most important in the South of England”. Treves was writing at the start of the 20th century, by which time the fair had declined and was reduced to a local event of little importance. In the heyday of the fair it had lasted five days and presented the lord of the manor with an income from tolls and fees totalling £100 a day.

Celia tells us “The road passed by Cherbery (Charborough), the foot of the hill; on the stop stands a pretty seate of Mr Earles my relation, the house is a new built house on the brow of a hill, whence you have large prospects of 20 mile round, you may see Shaftesbury 16 mile off”. Of Charboorough House she comments “…good gardens walled with plenty of fruit, good fish and decoy ponds”. Celia describes the fine entrance hall that “…leads you to a large parlour and drawing room and another parlour for smoakening, all well wanscoated and painted”. General Thomas Earle (or Erle) (1650-1720) fought in William III’s Irish campaigns and later in France and Spain. In times past the Earles held the manor for pouring water on the King’s hands on Easter or Christmas Day.

Another Visit to Dorset

In 1698 Celia Fiennes set off on another journey, which she describes as “My Great Journey to Newcastle and to Cornwall”. Along the way she comes again to Dorset entering the county by way of Chard and Leigh, where again she stays at a property owned by her relation, Mr Henly. It is not clear if this is the same Mr Henly of Colway, Lyme Regis, who she stayed with on her earlier visit to Dorset; the family owned both places at the time. Her next stop must have been a great disappointment for her – she called upon Mr Prideaux of Forde Abbey, which she says is “…a fine old house and well furnish’d but they permit none to see it…So I saw it not. Only drove by it to see my Cozens little girle at nurse”.

She then travelled to “…a little town called Maiden Newton and thence to Dorchester town 6 miles more, all a fine hard gravel way and much on the downs, this is good ground much for sheep: thence I went to Blandford 12 long miles through Piddletown and Milborne and Whitchurch there I staid with my relation Cos’n Collier, Husys and Fussells”. Celia pronounces it “good ground for sheep”. At the time sheep farming was a major activity in Dorset. A century later it was reported there were 800,000 sheep in the county of which 150,000 were sold annually and despatched out of the county.

What an adventurous woman Celia was! She travelled hundreds of miles, although her estimation of distance between places is not always accurate and her journey’s were made easier by the abundance of relations she had all over the country. Her comments about the pleasant prospects, trade and manufacturing, descriptions of buildings, and the sports and recreations of the communities she passed through provide a valuable social history of the time.

At the conclusion of her Journeys Celia urges both ladies and more so gentlemen to travel in their native land and suggests doing so would preserve them from the diseases of the vapours and laziness, and cure the “…evil itch of over valuing foreign parts”.  She had especially strong words for those gentlemen who represent the people in Parliament and she was of the opinion too many of them were ignorant about what was happening outside of the place they represented.  She thought they had a duty to familiarise themselves with what was happening in the rest of the country and should know of the “Genius of the Inhabitants, so as to promote and improve Manufacture and Trade and to encourage all projects tending thereto”.  Celia encourages ladies to take more notice of their neighbours to see how they may help them, especially the poor. This, Celia suggests, would alleviate the boredom and the burden of time spent tediously when not at the card or dice table and, she goes on, the fashions and manners of foreign parts will be less attractive.

Finally she says “…with a hearty wish and recommendation to all, but especially my own sex…to study those things which tends to improve the mind and makes our lives pleasant and comfortable as well as profitable in all the stages and stations of our lives and render suffering and age supportable and death less formidable and a future state more happy”.


Tolpuddle Personalities

The dates for this year’s Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival are the18th to 20th of July. There will be speeches, entertainment and marches, It is a useful and fascinating exercise to look into the personalities of some of the considerable number of people who were in an important way caught up in the drama of the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

Methodism, founded on an evangelical basis in the previous century, was in the early 19th. century becoming also a social force for the working class, and it meant everything to George Loveless, a man with a charismatic name and the foremost of the Martyrs. George had a strong character and was persecuted for his faith. He taught himself to read and write and was a lay preacher in the Weymouth circuit. There is no evidence that he mixed politics with his addresses in church, however.

One of a family of 10 surviving children, he was a few inches over five feet, with red whiskers and a strong chin. His wife was from Dewlish, a nearby village. He was 37 on his arrest.

James Loveless, his brother, was 25 and married with two children, Like George, he gave Methodist addresses. Thomas Standfield (44), was again a strong Methodist. James Brine, an Anglican, eventually married Elizabeth, the daughter of Thomas Standfield. John Standfield was, like Brine, only 21. James Hammett, born in 1811, was married three times and was not a Methodist.

It has been said the Celtic strain was visible in the physical characteristics of most of the men.

Fashionable Lord Melbourne, Home Secretary, was educated at Eton, Cambridge and Glasgow University. Earlier in life, he often ended his day at the gaming tables. He had a mentally deficient son. But what concerned him at the time of the Tolpuddle affair was the rise of trade unionism, despite the fact that the unions had been made legal. He had a family connection with Dorset, so was extraordinarily interested in the county.

The magistrate James Frampton, of Moreton House, not far from Tolpuddle, was a member of the upper class, believed in the monarchy, Great Britian, Church and Constitution. He had been to Paris and seen the Revolution at first hand. He was to be laid to rest in his home village at the age of 77.

Edward Legg, who gave evidence of a secret oath being administered, only did so under pressure. He apparently did not go to the meeting intending to become a spy.

So the six were sent out to New South Wales and Tasmania. George Loveless did not want his wife and family brought out, to the “distress and misery of this colony…” On his return to his cottage at Tolpuddle, and before leaving the district for good, he wrote the publication: “The Victims of Whiggery”. Tasmania and the separation from his family had done their worst, but his enthusiasm was undimmed. No doubt about it, here was a real union man, and it is difficult to over-emphasise his importance to the movement in general, and the significance of the annual memorial events at Tolpuddle.

But what of the judge? King William IV knighted Judge Baron Williams shortly after he had sent the Martyrs to the prison ships, and he was appointed to the King’s Bench. He died in 1846 aged 69, at his country seat in Suffolk.



Dorset: a Woman’s View

Celia Fiennes was born on June 9th 1662 in the manor-house at Newton Toney near Salisbury and died in 1741 at the age of 79. She inherited Puritan and Parliamentary sentiments from her parents: her father was Colonel Nathaniel Fiennes who served Cromwell as a member of the Council of State and as Keeper of the Great Seal. Her grandfather, who died the year she was born, was William Fiennes the 1st Viscount Saye and Sele; he had been a staunch Parliamentarian but he was also in favour of negotiating a settlement with the King. He accepted the Restoration in 1660 and was appointed a Privy Councillor to King Charles II.

Celia Fiennes is remembered today largely because of a travelogue she wrote as she toured the country on horseback. Travelling the length and breadth of the country from Hadrian’s Wall to Land’s End and from Yarmouth to Shrewsbury her words were intended for her near relatives but in 1888 Robert Southey and Mrs Emily Griffiths published Celia Fiennes work as: “Through England on a Side Saddle in the Time of William and Mary”.

Poole and Brownsea

In Part 1 of her Journeys (c. 1685-1696) she comes to Dorset from Salisbury and Wilton and on arrival has this to say: “I went to Blandford in Dorsetshire 18 miles through a hare warren and a forest of the kings – (Cranbourne Chase) – Blandford is a pretty neate country town – thence to Merley by Wimborne over a great river called the Stoure by a large arched bridge to a relation’s house, Sir William Constantines – thence to Poole  a little sea-port town 4 miles off where was a very good Minister in the publick church Mr Hardy”.

From Poole, Celia went to Brownsea Island, about which she has this to say: “We went by boate to a little Isle called Brownsea where there is much Copperice made, the stones being found about the Isle in shore in great quantetyes, there is only one house there which is the Governours, besides little fishermens houses, they all being taken up about the Copperice works…This a noted place for lobsters and crabs and shrimps, there I eate some very good”. The Copperice that Celie Fiennes refers to is a sulphate of iron or green vitriol which was used in the dyeing industry and the manufacture of inks.

The Isle of Purbeck

From Merly we went to the Isle of Purbeck. At Warrum (Wareham) we passed over a bridge where the sea flowed in and came by the ruins of Corfe Castle,which stands on a hill yet surrounded by much higher hills that might easily command it, and so in the Civil wars was batter’d down with Granadeers, thence you rise a great ascent of hills called the Linch (Lynch), or rather the ridge, being so for 3 or 4 miles, rideing to Quare (Quar) which was 16 miles from Merly to a relations house Cos’n Colliers”.

From the ridge Celia looked out over the Isle of Purbeck with its “pleasant meadows and woodlands” and she tells us of “many quarys in these hills of that which is called the free stone, from hence they dig it”. She tells us most of the houses on the island are built of stone.

Continuing, she says: “the shores are very rocky all about the island, we went three miles off to Sonidge (Swanage) a sea faire place not very big;… they take up stones by the shores that are so oyly as the poor burn it for fire, and it’s so light a fire it serves as candle too, but it has a strong offensive smell”.

From Swanage she journeyed on to “a place 4 miles off called Sea Cume (Seacombe) where she observes “it being a spring tide”; she saw the “craggy rockes” lashed by the billows of a turbulent sea and heard the caves of that coast reverberate the sound of the waves “like some hall or high arch”. Celia notes that “In this Island are several good houses” and mentions  “At Kingston Sir William Muex (Meux) has a pretty house and att Income (Encombe) Mr. Coliffords, Doonshay (Downshay), Mr Dollings, and 7 miles off Quare  at Tinnum (Tyneham) Lady Lawrences there is a pretty large house but very old timber built”. This place was especially agreeable to Celia and she tells us: “there I eate the best lobsters and crabs being boyled in the sea water and scarce cold, very large and sweet”.

From Tyneham she travelled north-west to Bindon, Piddletrenthide, “…where was a relation Mr Oxenbridge” and then on to Dorchester which “stands on the side of a hill, the river runs below it, the town looks compact and the streets are very neately  pitch’d (paved) and of a good breadth, the Market-lace is spacious, the Church very handsome and full of galleryes”.

Bridport and Lyme Regis

She continued travelling westward until she came to Burport (Bridport). “The ways are stony and very narrow, the town has a steep hill to descend through the whole place: thence to Woolfe(?) to a relations Mr Newbery”. She describes this gentleman as “a man of many whymseys, would keep no women servants, had all the washing, ironing and dairy etc., all performed by men: his house looks like a little village when you come into the yard, so many little buildings apart from each other”. One of these was a “stillatory” (still-house), another a “long building for silk wormes”. But, she says, all was “in a most rude confused manner”.

From Mr Newbery she travelled to another relation, Mr Henlys, at Colway near Lime (Lyme Regis). In her writing Celia Fiennes wrongly places Lyme Regis in Somersetshire. For her the most interesting feature of this “seaport place open to the main ocean” was the “Cobb or Halfe  Moon”.

She observes the residents of the town have to contend with “…so high a bleake sea that to secure the Harbour for shipps they have at a great charge to build a Mold from the town with stone, like a halfe moon, which they call the Cobb, its raised with a high wall and this runns into the sea a good compass, that the Shipps ride safely within it: when the tide is out we may see the foundations of some part of it; that is the tyme they looke over it to see any breach and repair it immediately, else the tide comes with so great violence would soon beate it down”. Celia mentions that the Springtide “does sometimes beate up and wash over the walls of the forte and so runns into the town”.

After taking a step into Somerset she starts her return journey commenting as she often does on the condition of the roads: “From Lime the ways are difficult by reason of the very step hills up and down, and that so successfully as little or no plaine even ground, and full of large smooth pebbles that make the strange horses slip and uneasye to go; the horses of the country are accustomed to it and travel well in the rodes…”


Footnote: George Roberts in his History of Lyme Regis (1823) traces the history of the manor of Colway and says: “It has become the property of the Henly family who lived there in great style for many years. The house was large, and a road between two rows of stately trees, which have been long since cut down, led to the church, to which some affirm there is now a subterraneous passage. The house has gone to decay – some of the ruins are visible at the back of the present farmhouse. No courts are held nor any symbols of a manor preserved”.

To be continued…

William Mabey (1848-1931)

On April 19th 1848 Emmanel and Charlotte Mabey took their second child to St. Mary’s Church at Beaminster to be baptised; the child was named William, after his grandfather, and he was destined to enjoy a long and successful life. In his later years he was a respected member of the Master Builders section of the Bournemouth Chamber of Trade; he built the Solent Cliffs Hotel and the South Western Hotel in Bournemouth and produced most of the furniture for the Grosvenor Hotel in London as well as making carts for London’s Covent Garden Market.

He passed away in 1931 but a few months before he died he recorded his memories of Sutton, the village where he lived as a teenager. He describes a small village hidden away under the Downs with many old houses and an Inn called ‘Springbottom Inn’. Mabey also reminds us that in the time of George III a main road leading to the Downs passed through Sutton and that at the top of the road there was gate right across it; nearby there were some large trees about which it was said people had been hung and quartered there.  He remembered a very old lady living in an ancient house who told him she could remember as a child opening the gate to let the soldiers through.

He also recorded his memories of the murder, in 1862, of Dr. Puckett, who was the Union doctor from Upwey treating a man named Cox for a brain disease, apparently with little success. Cox lived at the bottom of Sutton Knapp.  William Mabey recalled “ haymaking time when we were busy making hay in the field near Chalbury Hill (through which there was a public footpath to Broadwey) Dr. Puckett happened to pass and he told my father he was going to see Cox who was lying ill at Sutton. Dad strongly advised the doctor not to go alone as this man was a dangerous lunatic, but the doctor said he would be alright.”

“Well, about an hour later word came through that the doctor had been murdered and that the man had gone in the direction of Osmington, so we all took our prongs and hurried off to try to catch him. We eventually ran him to earth in the stable of the Plough Inn. My father was the first to arrive and found the door barred, so he called out to Cox to open it. Cox said “who is it?” and my father answered “Mabey.” My father then told him to hurry up and come out and that he would help him, so believing this he came out and was soon made safe.” It seems that Cox had heard that Dr Puckett was recommending he be sent to the asylum at Forsten.

This was a horrific murder. It seems the doctor quickly realised he was in danger and made for the door but Cox jumped up and broke off one of the bed posts. Meanwhile, the doctor on the other side of the door held it shut before running off. Cox, realising he could get out of the cottage chased after the doctor throwing a brickbat at him which hit the doctor on the head. The doctor fell, Cox seized a saw and sawed off the doctor’s foot before sawing off his right hand and head. Cox then went back to the cottage got his clothes and ran off to the Plough Inn at Osmington.

Cox was tried for murder at Dorchester, certified insane and sent to an asylum where he died many years later. William Mabey said: “the murder of Dr. Puckett was a great shock to all the village. I saw the body before it was removed.”

In 1863, a year after the doctor’s murder, William was 15 years of age. He witnessed the public hanging at Dorchester of two men, Preedy and Fooks. (See our article The Prisoner a Padre Befriended, published February 9th 2010 in the Real Lives category.) William says of the event: “About this time two men were hung in Dorchester, being the last to be hanged in public. I went from Sutton to see this, staying at my cousin’s house in Glyde Path Hill where from one of the bedrooms we could see everything quite clearly. I waited the hour and then they were cut down and laid in their coffins. Thousands of people came from all parts to witness the hanging and the meadows near the river were crowded. People even climbing trees so that they would have a good view, It was an awful sight, I should not like to see anything of the sort now.”

William also reported that some enterprising builders had erected a grandstand and sold seats for 2/6d; apparently the stand collapsed under the weight of spectators.

Born at Waterhouse, Bettiscombe, William moved with his parents and siblings to Kingcombe in the parish of Toller Porcorum, from there to Preston with Sutton Poyntz before marrying and settling with his young bride in Melcombe Regis and Weymouth.

Emmanuel Mabey came from the parish of Mapperton and married Charlotte at St. Mary’s Church, Beaminster on July 21st 1845. The couple lived at Waterhouse, Bettiscombe, but by  1861 the family was living at Kingcombe in the parish of Toller Porcorum; the census reveals the family had grown and William had four brothers and two sisters. The youngest child is just six months old and has been named George; further research reveals that Emmanuel and Charlotte’s first born child, also named George, had died early in 1860.

His mother’s maiden name was Elliott and her father claimed relationship with Charlotte Elliott, the poetess. His mother of necessity had a very strong personality, for she had to cope with her husband’s frequent bouts of depression.

Wool – The Church of The Holy Rood

Wool did not become a parish in its own right until 1844. Until then it had been a chapelry of Coombe Keynes, although those resident in Wool were granted the right to bury their own in their own churchyard as early as 1384. Parts of the early church remain but most of what we see today is the result of a Victorian rebuilding and enlargement; work undertaken by John Hicks of Dorchester between 1864 and 1866.

In the first edition of his work, The History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset, published in 1774, John Hutchins gives us a description of the earlier church:  “The Chapel of Wool is a chapel of ease to Coomb-Keynes, and officiated in once a fortnight by the vicar, for which he has a salary of £5 per annum, paid by Edward Weld Esq., in lieu of all glebe and tithes. It is situated in the S. Part of the vill and consists of a chancel, body, narrow N. isle and a low embattled tower, in which are four bells. At the upper end of the N. Isle is a chapel divided from the other part by an arch, and belonging to Bindon. West of this chapel was the burial place of the Turbervilles of Woolbridge. On the wall, ‘M.T. Matthew Turberville.’ There is nothing remarkable in it, but an ancient pulpit cloth, well preserved, said to have belonged to Bindon Abbey. It is brown velvet, and on it are embroidered in gold, the twelve apostles, but it is most probable it belonged to Bindon Chapel, and was preserved when that and the house were burnt in the civil wars. The inhabitants of this chapelry maintain their own chapel and poor, and burry in the chapel yard.”

(The Pulpit cloth Hutchins refers to is actually an altar frontal. Because of its fragility it was placed with Dorset County Museum in the 19th century).

Another person of note to visit the church before the changes of 1866 was Sir Stephen Glynne (1807-1874). He was a Welsh landowner, politician and, importantly for our purposes, he was an antiquary and student of church architecture; he has left us the following description: “A small church consisting of nave and chancel, each with north aisle and north and south porch, and a western tower. The whole built of stone. There are some First Pointed portions; of which character is the arcade of the nave, having three arches with circular columns of which the capitals are moulded. The western respond has good foliage. There is a curious triple chancel arch, with light octagonal piers having no capitals. The eastern pier beyond the arcade is very large and contains a square opening now glazed. The windows of the nave are Third Pointed, chiefly square-headed. The chancel has First Pointed lancets and a Priest’s door on the south. The east window Third Pointed. On the north of the chancel is a plain continuous arch opening to the aisle or chapel, with a large wall space eastward. There is a similar arch between the aisle of the nave and that of the chancel. On the north side of the tower arch is a staircase with openings facing eastward. There is a hideous north gallery. The tower arch has fair mouldings. The tower is Third Pointed, with battlement and buttresses set away from the angles; at the south-east , a polygonal turret terminated by a pyramidal finishing. The belfry window of two lights, a slit in the second stage, and no west door. Instead of the eastern belfry window is an open quatrefoil. The porches are also Third Pointed – the outer doors having shafts and the north porch quatrefoil openings on the sides. The font is Third Pointed, the bowl octagonal, panelled with quatrefoils. There are no parapets. The nave is slated, the aisle leaded, the chancel tiled. In the churchyard are seen the odd names of Cram and Phone.”

(The references above to “First-Pointed” and “Third-Pointed” mean 13th and 15th century respectively).

It seems the church used to be at the centre of the village; due to development these days it is at the south-east end of the village but it seems that changes had begun by 1852. Hutchins editors (3rd edition published in 1861) report “There is a tradition amongst the people, that some time ago it (the church) formed the centre point in the village; and within the memory of the present generation, changes have taken place which have made it less so than formerly, some houses near the church having pulled down, and others built at a greater distance from….” In 1852 the singing gallery that had extended much further into the church was moved to a position behind the tower arch; in later developments it disappeared altogether.

On the 28th of July 1864 edition of the Dorset County Chronicle an urgent appeal was made on behalf of the church and the parishioners of Wool. It stated that the architect, Mr Hicks of Dorchester, has stated that he considers the church highly dangerous in its present condition: the roof “is fast giving way”.  It was proposed to rebuild the nave and to add a new aisle at an estimated cost of £1,000.”

This was followed by a faculty dated 23rd December 1864 for “wholly to take down the same church and chancel (with the exception of the tower and portions of the north and west walls of the nave, porch and arcade) and in lieu thereof erect fit and complete upon the same site and adjacent portions of the churchyard a substantial and durable church and chancel upon a larger scale with the additions of a south aisle and vestry room and extending the chancel twelve feet ten inches into the churchyard.” The estimated cost at that time was £1,160 and John Hicks was to be the architect. The work was carried out in 1865-66, pretty much in accordance with the faculty and all of the roofs were renewed. During the rebuilding a medieval Cresset stone was found, it is a form of oil lamp with four holes for wicks.

The re-opening of the church was reported in the Dorset County Chronicle of 30th August 1866. The report mentioned the work of Mr Hicks, the architect and the builder, Mr Wellspring of Dorchester. The name of local stone mason Mr Grassby is also mentioned several times in the newspaper’s report. The report went on to cover the re-opening service and luncheon for invited guests, which took place in a tent erected in a nearby field.

In 1907 a sixth bell was added and all the bells re-hung in a new steel and iron frame; in 1970 a small chapel was added at the east end of the north aisle.


This parish is a union of three former manors: two, Spetisbury in the north-west and Crawford Magna in the south-east of the present parish, are mentioned in Domesday Book; the other manor was Middlestreet. The village extends along the south-west bank of the River Stour, about three miles south-east of Blandford Forum and comprises 2,249 acres. During the 18th century all three manors became the property of Francis Fane (1752-1813) He took over his father’s parliamentary seat and was MP for Lyme Regis until1780, subsequently winning the parliamentary election for Dorchester in 1790.

The Iron Age fort known as Spetisbury Rings (or Crawford Castle) extends to five acres and appears to be unfinished; it overlooks the village and the River Stour. During the construction of a railway cutting in 1857 eighty skeletons were uncovered and a further forty skeletons were recovered the following year. Objects from the grave included iron spear-heads; an iron sword; a twisted iron torque; two bronze chapes; currency bars; a bronze cauldron; bucket handles; spiral finger rings, and two brooches. A fragment of Roman shield binding and the fact that at least two of the bodies came to a violent end suggests that the occupants of the grave were victims of the advancing Roman army. Hence, the grave may be comparable with the ‘war-cemetery’ at Maiden Castle. The uncompleted strengthening of the defences is presumably associated with the Roman advance.

In the village there are many examples of cottages dating from the 18th century and some fine houses including Johns House, formerly the Rectory – a good example of early 18th century domestic architecture. Nearby is Crawford House, which dates from the same period but during the 19th century it was extended and most of the interior altered. Part of the village, including some old cottages, was destroyed in 1905 when a fire that started in the bakery spread out of control.

The Parish Church of St. John stands at the north-west end of the village. The church was extensively restored in 1858 and 1868 but the columns of the nave arcade are original and date to the 12th or early 13th century. The walls of the church are built of flint, interspersed with large, roughly squared blocks having ashlar dressings. The tower dates from the 15th or early 16th century; there are five bells. Notable features are a canopied mural table-tomb of 1599 to a Tudor Knight, Sir John Boyer, a richly carved 17th century oak pulpit and a medieval font.

Middlestreet Manor House was home to the Augustinian Sisters of St. Monica from 1800 and there followed other religious orders. In 1861 twelve nuns travelled from Portugal to England and settled at Spetisbury.

Crawford Bridge carries the road from Spetisbury to Tarrant Crawford over the River Stour. It has nine arches of coursed rubble and ashlar; at the north end are three narrow land arches of brick. The west side of the bridge is medieval but the east side was rebuilt when the road was widened in 1819. The first record of the bridge was in  1334.

The village name roughly translated from the Anglo-Saxon means: ‘The ancient earthwork visited by the green woodpecker.’

John Love of Weymouth

Few pictorial records of the Dorset countryside seem to have been made before the mid 18th century; until then landscape painting had not been taken seriously as an art form. It was around this time that travelling for pleasure or health reasons became fashionable with the upper and middle classes. An important factor as far as south Dorset was concerned – and in particular Weymouth – was the patronage of the Royal Family.

The man who probably did most to promote an interest in art in the area was John Love,  a bookseller and publisher as well as being an accomplished artist. He was said to have been a skinny youth but later in life he confessed to deriving much pleasure from his food, which was apparent for all to see as he weighed a portly twenty-six stone. It was claimed, almost certainly falsely, that at one time he was the heaviest man in England.

As a young man he went to London and studied at the Royal Academy Schools lodging with William Ryland, who had been engraver to the King. But Ryland took a wrong turn in his career and was found guilty of forgery, a crime for which he was executed.

John Love returned to Weymouth where, during the 1780’s and until his death in 1793, he had a shop that incorporated a library and exhibition rooms; it was here that upcoming artists could display their work. Here Love wrote a Guide to Weymouth, which was published in 1788.

In 1790 Weymouth was a very popular resort and Love collaborated with James Fittler, the Court Engraver at the time, to publish a series of twelve prints entitled Love’s Picturesque Views of Weymouth; one set of these was recently offered for sale through a London auction house, fetching £1,200.

Entertaining Blandford

From as far back as the early 17th century there were groups of players moving around the west country; some of these came to Blandford, gave their performances and then moved on. In 1603 John Cleves was the Town Steward of Blandford, who had the job of arranging entertainments for visitors coming to the town for a race meeting. There is a record of his hiring a company of strolling players and an entry in his accounts reads: “Recd. By the play, six nights £11.7s.1d.

In 1788 an Act of Parliament came into force requiring managers of play companies to obtain a licence from the town where they wished to perform. At the Easter Quarter Sessions of 1789 James Biggs, the manager of a company of players based at Taunton, obtained leave “to perform Tragedies, Comedies, Interludes, Opera, Plays or Farces within the borough of Blandford Forum” over a period of sixty days.

Thomas Bower attended one of those performances and described it in a letter to his future son-in-law:  “We dined Wednesday last at Bryanston, and in the evening all of us went to the Play at Blandford, which was, by desire of Captain Bingham, ‘Jane Shore and Thre Weeks After Marriage. ‘ The house was very full indeed and the Play Bills announced a Song between the Play and the Farce BY Mr James Mahon, but after waiting for it an hour, one of the performers came and lamented that a Very Sudden Indisposition prevented Mr Mahon from singing that evening, so I suppose he was very drunk.”

The company would arrive with their scenery and property wagons, then unload before retiring to their lodgings. Usually the performances would be held in a barn type of building that had been converted into a theatre by the addition of a stage and a curtained-off area for dressing-rooms. Sometimes a range of boxes would be added for the local gentry and hard wooden benches in the pit for others. Their stay would last for between eight and twelve weeks before they moved on to their next engagement; it might have been two or three years before they returned to the town and in that time the ‘theatre’ would return to its usual use as a barn, stables or even a carpenter’s workshop. There is no record of James Biggs and his company of players returning to Blandford after 1789 but they did visit Wimborne and Sherborne twice during the following five years.

Early in 1790 James Shatford, a 37-year-old son of a Gloucestershire doctor, took over the management of a Salisbury based company of players and the following year he went into partnership with one of the players: 25-year-old Henry Lee.

The first time they appeared in Blandford was 1793 . They fitted up a ‘New Theatre’ and opened on the 7th of June with performances of How to Grow Rich and No Song No Suppe. They put on performances four evenings a week throughout their stay in the town. On the 24th of June they performed The Rivals and Rosina; on Wednesday 26th of June Hamlet and the pantomime Don Juan were staged.

The 17th of July was a big night for the company. “By desire of Lady Amelia Trenchard, for the benefit of Mr and Mrs Shatford, ‘Wild Oats’ and ‘The Midnight Hour’, in which Mr Cornellys from the Theatre Royal, Dublin and Haymarket, will make his first appearance.”

The names of Mr Lee and Miss Keys appeared on the cast list of the early performances during  the company’s stay but this was to change, for on Tuesday 16th of July there is an entry in the register of the parish church that reads: “ Henry Lee, sojourner in this parish, bachelor, married spinster Sarah Jane Keys.” Friday, 1st of August was billed as “positively the last  night of the season” and was for the benefit of Mr and Mrs Lee. The play was As You Like It and Mrs Lee took the part of Rosalind.

In 1791 the playwright John O’Keeffe had travelled down from London with his three children to spend a holiday at Lulworth and stopped for a night at the Greyhound in Blandford. On his return to London O’Keeffe wrote a comedy, The London Hermit or Rambles in Dorsetshire all the characters in the play were based on people he had met during his holiday. First performed in London, the play was a great success.

Shatford and Lee’s company of players performed O’Keeffe’s play at Blandford on Tuesday 29th of July and though this clashed with the first day of the Blandford Race Meeting and a Grand Ball at the Crown Hotel, the Salisbury and Winchester Journal reported “that not withstanding there was a very full Ball on Tuesday evening, the ‘Dorsetshire Rambles’ proved so attractive that numbers were not able to squeeze in.” They returned several times until their last visit in 1812.