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A Day Out at Blandford

It’s been called England’s finest Georgian rural market town. The streets around the Market Square are very much as they were rebuilt after a disastrous fire in 1731 that started in a tallow chandler’s. I quaffed a cider on the site: it’s now the King’s Arms, just off Salisbury Road, 100 yards from the square. Only 150 yards further on, the Ryves Almshouses escaped the fire because the roof was tile instead of thatch. The building was just less than 50 years old at the time of the conflagration: rebuilding of the town took around 40 years.

In Salisbury Road over a cycle shop is an inscription in memory of Alfred Stevens who created the impressive memorial to the Duke of Wellington in St. Paul’s Cathedral. (Visit Archived Articles Section and click on ‘Alfred Stevens – Painter and Sculptor.’ Pub. July 2003. Ed.) Nearby, at the entrance to the United Reformed Church, men were converting into flats a butcher’s and a printer’s, evidence of the fast increasing population. People must like Blandford.

After a generous pot of tea in the friendly Half Crown Café, I crossed the Market place to talk to Police Constable Liz Spicer, who patrols the town with a purposeful stride. “I like getting out and talking to people” she told me. But in this Georgian show place, down the road from Bryanstone School with its grand entrance arch and drive, on this day she was talking to magazine sellers, beggars and drifters, of whom I saw less than half a dozen all day.

Well, every town has had beggars and rough sleepers over the centuries. At the end of the afternoon I nearly became one myself, when my Editor was late turning up! In this connection, one of the inscriptions chiselled in professional manner into the kerbs and pavements says: “We’re all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Well, that’s nice to know. The Rogers family are thought to have contributed to the earlier 15th century church. They owned much of Blandford and were Stewards there for hundreds of years.

Another inscription relating to the Bastard family name and a “careless tallow chandler” I would rather not repeat. It was the founders of the famous Blandford School of Architects, John and William Bastard, who rebuilt the church and Town Hall after the fire, which incidentally followed another in 1713. Only primitive ‘fire engines’ were available.

What dominates the town centre as it is on an island of high ground is this parish church of Saints Peter and Paul. Much of its contents survived from earlier times. And in the museum opposite are archaeological finds from a garden dig, which pre-date the church: they go back to the 17th century. Here is a scrap of paper with the draft wording in John Bastard’s own hand for his fire memorial of 1760, the arched construction in one corner of the churchyard. The Bastard family home is said to be nearby.

The museum has pictures of the railway station demolished in the late 1960’s and of “Blandford Forum”, the apple-green express passenger locomotive of the “West Country” class. Happy days! Unusually, there are also stone cuttings from buildings and pavements in the town and a large case entitled “Victorian Blandford.” In charge of the museum when I had a look around was a conversational Jewish lady who told me, on inquiry, that she escaped to Britain as a girl in 1938 from Vienna.

In the Close beyond and uphill from the church is one of the few buildings which survived the fire – the Old House – and the handsome Post Office and helpful library. Around the corner in Dorset Street I took a photograph of the one-time home of an honorary freeman of the borough. He was Jack Counter, who won the Victoria Cross in France in the First World War. If the Bastards were two of Blandford’s 18th century heroes, Jack Counter was one to bring honour to the town in the twentieth. His home is now Dorset House.

The Great Fire caused the deaths of 13 people and 480 families were made homeless. That is a measure of the disaster, which came upon a town, which by the previous century had become an important stage on the Exeter to London coach route. Someone has said: “The location of the town…has made it a natural centre since mediaeval times.”

Approaching it you look down on it lying in a broad valley between the grand rolling chalk downs, which have proved excellent for military exercises, and is why the headquarters of the Royal Corps of Signals is found here and has an excellent museum of its own, tracing the history of military communications.

Once there were cottage industries, making bone lace, buttons and gloves. Today sees expanding light industries, but the town actually depends on its shops and businesses.

Despite the existence of an eastern bypass, opened nearly 20 years ago, there is a constant stream of traffic through the town all day at around 10 m.p.h. which makes crossing the road hard for pedestrians, and this is where the crossings come into their own. A local motorist told me that it’s simply quicker to drive through the town, which stands the reasoning for bypasses on its head.

I asked which way to the river, was directed down a side road and was soon there. What a wonderful sward of grass, with a millstream running through it. And there was the Stour, much covered with green duckweed. Downstream the meadows were once the park of Lord Portman’s Bryanstone House, now a public school, as we have seen. No development is allowed here.

I approached the handsome suspension bridge leading to Blandford St. Mary village and its brewery, which rises up, as all breweries seem to, like some bizarre continental castle with distinctive chimney and smell of malt and hops. About 100 tonnes of barley are trucked in every week, and hops come from Kent or Worcestershire, and even Bavaria. Some 450 people work here, and at full pressure 57,000 cans or 18,000 bottles can be filled every hour. When you think that beer sales are falling as drinkers get older, this factory needs to make the most of its quality products. In fact, soft drinks are also produced, and actually account for 55 per cent of total volume.

Before leaving Blandford, the visitor should not miss the Crown Hotel and the Greyhouse and Red Lion buildings. The Great Dorset Steam fair, held near the town for the greater part of a week in the late summer or early autumn, brings crowds to visit the greatest show of its kind not only in the land but in the world, with around 100 fair organs and probably the greatest working display of steam traction and stationary engines anywhere.

In an entirely different sphere is the restored St. Leonard Chapel, a leper hospice in the 13th century as originally built, and which has apparently not been used as a chapel since 1760.

It was in the later mediaeval period that Blandford Forum, as it is generally known, developed as one of the major market towns in eastern Dorset. All through history it has been an important crossing-point of the Stour, at first by ford. Here the main roads from Poole to Shaftesbury and Salisbury to Dorchester meet. In 40 year the population has grown from 3,000 to around 9,000 – a staggering rise. People obviously like the place.

At the end of the day, from its restaurants, bistros, pubs and cafes, I chose a takeaway opposite the parish church and went home with a huge burger, salad and French fries. A cool late September breeze was blowing as we climbed the downs and distanced ourselves from Blandford and in an hour it was quite dark over the Dorset hills.


This article was first published on our earlier site in November 2003

Alfred Stevens – Sculptor

This is the story of how a Dorset house painter became so saturated with the Italian Renaissance, putting it into practice in England, that he is called a ‘descendant’ of Michelangelo himself. Yet he was a modest man.

“Look around you if you would see his memorial” is still said of Sir Christopher Wren, who, as his crowning achievement, rebuilt St.Paul’s Cathedral after the Great Fire of 1666.

If you want to see the memorial to Blandford sculptor Alfred Stevens, you should go to the same place. Wren created the perfect majestic setting for the famous sculptor’s memorial to the Duke of Wellington – the nave of the cathedral is the only place for such a massive construction.

On a visit there in April 2003 I found it coated in white dust, which is understandable as the building is undergoing a facelift expected to last several more years. Thankfully it had not been covered with dust-sheets.

Starting life as a house painter and decorator in his father’s business, art-mad Stevens began a nine-year sojourn in Italy in 1833 at the age of 15, thanks to the patronage of a friendly Dorset clergyman, the Hon. And Rev. Samuel Best, rector of Blandford St.Mary; some people can sense greatness.

There in that sunny land, year after year, he was able to feast his eyes on 14th century paintings and visit Naples, Florence, Pompeii, Capri, Rome and Milan, studying the great painters and the architecture of the land.

It is said that the reversion towards Romanticism which occurred in the 19th century led in the West to an acceptance of conflicting standards and every style and taste, with little regard for skill or talent in the visual arts and literature.

However that may be, the man who was sculptor, painter, decorator, draughtsman, and designer of beer mugs, stoves, lamp posts – and memorials – was to use his Italian experience supremely well for he has even been compared to the greatest artists of the Renaissance suh as Michelangelo. He brought their intuition and skill back to his native land and we have it forever, thanks to a son of Dorset.

Stevens had his own pupils, and much of his work is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in west-central London and is apparent in the construction of the Royal Albert Hall nearby.

Perhaps for many the crowning glory of the great memorial of St. Paul’s is that a Dorset horse was modelled for the equestrian stature of Wellington, mounted in triumph on the battlefield. It was due to such statesmen-soldiers that the United Kingdom is free today and not under a tyrant. No wonder it was called Great Britain… Yet if for nothing else, many Dorset people must have gone to St. Pauls’s to see the horse. Alfred Stevens never forgot his roots.

However, it is only truthful to add that he died before completion of the work and the horse was added later, to his design, topping the whole gargantuan pile. In creating the monument, he also drew upon mediaeval paintings in Salisbury Cathedral, another local touch.

The monument, including 12 Portland marble columns all the way from his native county, was moved from a side chapel to a more dominant position alongside the central aisle and seating of the great nave. This is one of the great buildings of the world.

Wellington was created duke on the surrender of Napoleon and was appointed Ambassador Extraordinary to the Court of France. After Napoleon’s escape from the island of Elba, Wellington conducted his last military campaign, which culminated on the field of Waterloo in June 1815.

Stevens has been pictured as a humble man who missed his chance to be really great, but there are not many whose work is on display to millions every year. It was Waterloo that ‘made’ Alfred Stevens. Starting work on the memorial in 1858, he worked on it for the rest of his life.

The central feature is the bronze of Wellington, with two allegorical groups: Valour triumphing over Cowardice, and Truth pulling out the tongue of Falsehood.

By contrast, there are two Stevens mosaics in the huge dome. He was also responsible for the decorations in and around great buildings in the capital, including the impressive lions on the British Museum railings.

A small carved wooden Gothic tower, modelled by Stevens on the tabernacle at Milton Abbey, was bequeathed to the Dorset County Museum, while Chettle House near Blandford has another example of his work.

One writer says “…his ambition was to give London great art in this Renaissance form.” It is that 30-feet-high monument, the biggest indoor monument that most people have ever seen, showing one of the illustrious heroes of England in his prime, that sticks in the mind.

It contrasts with those Latin-style paintings in the dome, where Steven’s work compliments that of another Dorset man, Sir James Thornhill.

For 17 years, while he worked on his great masterpiece at ground level, his health was failing and he suffered a paralytic stroke in 1872, dying three years later at the comparatively early age of 57. His London studio at Haverstock Hill would see his exacting standards no more. He is buried in Highgate Cemetery, north London, along with many other well-known figures.

Said ‘The Times’ obituary: “He left neither wife, nor children, nor riches. He was insanely devoted to his art.” Most of his personal papers were destroyed by the executor.

Here was a man who might just have gone in an entirely different direction, perhaps a negative one. During the Reform Bill riots in Blandford, he unhorsed a dragoon; he was in the firing line in skirmishes in Italy; ands he visited villages, which were devastated by cholera. He even saw the inside of political cells.

On his return to Britain from Italy he returned to his home town and spent his time on long walks and over the drawing board. A director of the Tate Gallery said of him that he was the most masterly interpreter of the Classic tradition England has seen.


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.


Archbishop William Wake

Cardinal John Morton was not the only clerical figure with Dorset connections to have become Archbishop of Canterbury; the position of Protestant Primate of England was also attained by another man of the county. But William Wake, born 348 years ago this January (2005) probably had the more distinguished pedigree of the two men.

Wake was born on January 26th 1657 in the village of Shapwick near Badbury Rings, the only child of a family of five children to survive to adulthood. His father was Colonel William Wake senior, a distant descendant of the Saxon warlord Hereward the Wake, who led an insurrection against William 1 in 1070 (not, as is widely believed, that he came over with the Norman conqueror).

William senior (the Colonel) had joined a Cavalier regiment when still young and had suffered much for the Royalist cause during the Civil War. This included being imprisoned more than twenty times and even being condemned at Exeter to be hung, drawn and quartered for complicity in the western insurrection, but was later pardoned. Colonel Wake married Amy Cutler, daughter of Edward Cutler, a prosperous Stourpaine farmer. Said to have been strong and hard-working, Amy brought he husband considerable wealth, but was nevertheless to die of tuberculosis when young William was only 16.

When he was six William attended his first school in Blandford. At 16, by then a gifted scholar, his father sent him to Oxford where he matriculated as a Commoner in 1673. Two years later he became a student, going on to gain a BA in 1676 and then an MA in 1679. Colonel Wake, keen to see his son follow a clerical career, advised him to take holy orders when he reached Canonical age, and consequently in September1681 William was made a Deacon. The following year he was ordained as a Priest, then becoming Chaplain to Louis X1V court in 1682. Wake remained at the French court until 1685.

In 1688 Wake married Ethelreda, daughter of Sir William Howell of Norfolk, and by her raised a family of 13 children. Their father became Canon of Christchurch, Oxford, also being presented to the Rectory of St James, Westminster. As a reward for his support of the Accession of William and Mary, the King and Queen appointed Wake Canon of Exeter Cathedral in 1701. Following a brief period at the Bishopric of Lincoln (where he was made Clerk of the Closet) William was installed as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1715.

But by this time the Archbishop had been pursuing a parallel career as a Parliamentarian for 10 years. Wake had taken his seat in the House of Lords in 1705, but found its demanding workload too much for his somewhat frail constitution to endure. The additional demands upon him left William with almost no time to indulge his other intellectual interests of researching, translating and collecting.

In his latter years he was able to take up work again, but a decline in his mental faculties and other health problems hampered his efforts. His many friends rallied to help him produce several valuable manuscripts which he bequeathed to Christchurch College, together with his expansive collection of books, coins and medals. As a writer he gained a reputation for outspoken-ness and many of his theological works became controversial. At one time a concern over what he regarded as bad language and moral laxity caused him to attempt to force a blasphemy bill through Parliament to punish offenders.

Like so many other Dorset men Wake had the greatest affection for his native county. On one occasion members of the Society of Dorset Men even invited him to preach at Mary Le Bow Church, a proposition which brought him much delight and satisfaction. Whenever he was staying at the family home in Shapwick Wake would preach at St Andrews in Winterborne Tomson. This 12th century church was the Archbishop’s favourite and would be visited repeatedly whenever Wake was on his native patch of soil. He generously covered the cost for providing St Andrews with ten more box pews. He said he found the calm atmosphere refreshing after the great cathedrals.

The Archbishop was also a great champion of free education, considering that every child, regardless of status, should have an equal opportunity to learn. In his day this generated opposition, but in his will, Wake made provision for £1,000 to be paid to the Corporation of Blandford for the schooling of 12 pauper boys. This paid for a schoolmaster, who would supply books,writing materials and accommodation for the boys. The trustees were required to supply the boys with a blue gown, breeches, yellow stockings, shoes, cap, belt and bib at Whitsun.

Thus Blandford’s Blue Coat School was born. The boy’s education was conducted under strict rules to prepare them for work in the trades and industries of the town – and to follow Protestantism. Under the Education Act of 1944 and 1946 the charity was wound up, and in 1974 a new Primary school in Blandford was dedicated as “The Archbishop Wake Junior School” by the Bishop of Sherborne.

Finally, one might think that an Archbishop of Canterbury born in Dorset, would have been buried either in that Cathedral or Dorset, but this was not the posthumous fate of Archbishop William Wake. When he died, on his 80th birthday in 1736, he was laid to rest in the parish church in Croydon.

The Mark of the Blandford Architects

“A pretty neate Country town”, was how Celia Fiennes described Blandford around 1680 and a few years later Defoe said of the town: “…a handsome well built Town, chiefly famous for making the finest Bone lace in England”, but that was before the great fire of 1731, which reduced most of the town to ashes. Its resurrection was assured, for here lived a family of architects and masons: the Bastards.

The rebuilding of the town was largely the work of two men, John and William Bastard, the sons of Thomas Bastard, whom is remembered on a memorial in the church as “eminent for his Skill in Architecture”. Thomas Bastard must have been responsible in his day for a lot of building work in and around Blandford; It is thought the classic church at Charlton Marshall (1713) and the rectory at Spetisbury (1716) are his work. By the time of his death in 1720 Thomas Bastard had built up a considerable business for his sons to carry on.  After the fire in 1731 ‘A List of Sufferers’  was drawn up; it included the losses of the firm Bastard & Co, estimated at £3,709, the largest individual loss recorded in the town.
Thomas Bastard’s eldest son, also a Thomas, was a joiner and architect. He died a few weeks after the fire, probably a victim of the small-pox epidemic that was raging in the town at the time.  Then came John (1687-1770) and William (1689-1766); the fourth son, Samuel, was a ship-modeller in the royal dockyard at Gosport and the fifth son Benjamin (1698-1772) set up in business at Sherborne. The youngest son, Joseph, described as a ‘builder and surveyor’ moved to Hampshire.

There is a curious form of capital that acts like a trade mark and helps us identify some of the buildings the Bastard firm designed and built. Instead of the volutes carving outwards in the usual way, they curve inwards and give a distinctive effect.  Two house fronts in the market-place in Blandford have the “Bastard capital”: The Red Lion Inn and The Grape, which is said to have been John Bastard’s own house.

However, there exists an earlier use of this peculiar design of capital on a building unlikely to have seen the involvement of the Dorset architects: Marlow Court in Buckinghamshire built about 1720 for the then Prince of Wales. This stately edifice displays another unusual design of capital and other similarities, which it shares with Chettle House in north-east Dorset. It is most unlikely that the Bastards had any involvement with the Marlow house but they might have been involved with the building of Chettle House about which the RCHM says: “…the architect in all probability being Thomas Archer.”

Arthur Oswald suggests the Bastards acquired their signature capital from the designer of Chettle House “whom they may actually have assisted as builders”. They went on to reproduce it for a further thirty years.

Another house of interest is Creech Grange, owned by Dennis Bond, where there is a further example of the Bastard capital. In the accounts for the alterations made between 1738 and 1741 the name of Cartwright is frequently used to identify the responsible mason and builder, but his place of origin is not given. However, the glazier on these works was a Blandford man, so perhaps Mr Cartwright also came from the town. To add weight to this speculation, in Blandford St. Mary Church we find a memorial: “In Memory of Mr Fran. Cartwright and Ann his beloved wife.” Below this is carved an architect’s set-square, dividers and ruler and a drawing of a Palladium House, which is undoubtedly a representation of Came House near Dorchester, built in 1754 by Francis Cartwright. This would have been one of his last works, for he passed away in 1758.
Cartwright does not appear in the list of people who suffered from the Blandford fire. He is described elsewhere as a provincial master builder so it is likely he was a rival rather than a pupil, employee or sub-contractor of the Bastards; nevertheless he incorporates an example of the Bastard capital in Came House.

Ansty Brewery – the Early Days

Until the late 18th century Ansty was much as it is today, a quiet hamlet within the parish of Hilton but from then until the early years of the 20th century it was a place of industry. In 1777 Charles Hall, a young man just a quarter century in years, started brewing here on a commercial scale. The business continues to this day.

Charles Hall was baptised at Hilton on the 20th of December 1752, the son of William and Deborah Hall. He was a farmer’s son and he learnt about brewing from his father, who was known to do a little brewing to meet the needs of his family, his labourers and other villagers but Charles was a shrewd business man and saw the opportunity to put the family brewing on to a business footing while at the same time keeping an interest in farming.
Because he used the best equipment available the business flourished. Substantial government contracts were secured for the supply of beer to the military. This was a time when there were large numbers of troops stationed along the Dorset coast to allay fears of an invasion by the French during the Napoleonic wars.
On the death of Charles Hall the business was continued by his son Robert, who never married. However, he did adopt a grand-daughter of his father and this girl married George Edward Illingworth Woodhouse who had been Robert’s head brewer and who later became a partner in the business, which became known as Hall and Woodhouse. In 1875 George Woodhouse passed the business on to his two sons, George Edward Woodhouse and Alfred Charles Woodhouse. The business grew rapidly under their leadership and in 1882 they purchased the business of John Hector and Company of Blandford, who owned several licensed public houses. From this point the breweries at Ansty and Blandford were run as one business.

The beers were produced from barleys grown locally at Cheselbourne and Piddletrenthide; the hops came from Kent and water was taken from a spring on Melcombe Horsey Hill, supplemented by water pumped from the Devils Brook that ran through the brewery site.

At Ansty there was a large brew house, the first floor being used as a mashing room and copper-house. At one end, fixed on a gallery, was the malt hopper and mill, over which was the reservoir for storing the brewing water. On the side of this building back-heated by copper steam coils, was a hot-liquor tank. The mashing machine was the best available at the time. On the floor were two oak mash tuns both fitted with slotted gun-metal draining plates. A large copper holding fifty barrels stood near the mash-tuns; it was heated by fire to which the wort was delivered by a three –throw pump. Also in this room was an iron hop-back fitted with slotted iron draining plates and from here, by means of a two-throw pump, the wort was delivered to the open cooler. Under an adjoining room was a vertical refrigerator, cooling at the rate of thirty barrels an hour.

The hop store was located behind the malting house and held 600 pockets. Off the brew house was a fermenting room where there were eight fermenting tuns fitted with attemporators and chutes. Each of these held sixty barrels.
In 1856 a large vat house was built onto the fermenting house and this contained six vats made of oak, each holding 260 barrels and all used to store and mature old beers.   Adjoining this was another vat cellar holding eleven vats and in front of this was the goods outwards stage. There was another vat cellar containing a further eight vats each containing 116 barrels and there was also a cask drying cellar with a cask-washing department, cooperage etc.
Brewing ceased at Ansty in the early 20th century, when brewing was transferred to the Blandford Brewery and Ansty became a distribution centre for the company. The malt houses remained in use until about 1940.

The company provided a lot of jobs locally: there were clerks, maltsters, coopers, barrel washers, an engine driver who doubled as a rat catcher, an Excise Officer, carters, pony boys, a mason, and a wheelwright; also on the payroll were stockmen and a shepherd. At one time the company employed twenty horses and had a number of carts, drays and other vehicles including a ‘tilted’ van and the brewery had its own fire engine.

Ansty has returned to being a peaceful hamlet where some of the old brewery buildings have been converted into houses, flats and a village hall, while the business, still family owned, continues and thrives at Blandford.

Jack Counter V.C.

There was something very special about the presentation Peter Collins of St Helier Galleries made to Advocate Richard Falle of La Societe Jersiase at St Helier Museum in March 1989. It was a bar of military medals including a conspicuous Victoria Cross which Mr Collins, acting on behalf of Mr Falle, had just bid £12,000 for at a London auction house. The VC had returned to the home of the remarkable and courageous serviceman who had won it 71 years before.

But Jack Thomas Counter, the original holder of the decorations, was no native to the Channel Islands. In fact he was born in Blandford Forum on the 3rd of November, 1898 to Frank and Rosina Counter. After leaving school in his teens, Jack found a job at International Stores, a retailing business in the town. When war broke out in 1914 Counter, possibly too young then to serve, joined the action after the introduction of conscription as a private in the 1st Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment in February, 1917. Posted to France, he served with his battalion, which had become engaged with the Germans at Boisleux St Marc.

On 16th April, 1918 Counter’s company faced an enemy breakout, making it critical for a reconnaissance detachment to be sent across the line to gather intelligence. A detail of five other men went out, but all were killed in full view of Jack Counter, who then volunteered to go alone after the decision was made that a lone runner would stand a better chance of surviving to report back. Thus facing almost certain death under enemy fire Counter achieved the objective of returning with the information, enabling his commanding officer to launch a new offensive to recover the regiment’s lost ground.

This alone was an outstanding act of selfless courage, but Jack Counter went on to carry no fewer than five other messages to company HQ across the battlefield under heavy artillery fire. It was following the last of these assignments that he was awarded the Victoria Cross, an occasion reported in the London Gazette of May 23rd, 1918. On the 28th of June, following his investiture by King George V, he returned home to a hero’s welcome at Blandford station, being met by the town’s Mayor, its Corporation and, it seemed, almost the entire population as a tumultuous crowd. Blandford’s Band led Counter and the welcoming party to the market square in an open landau, where Counter was made the very first Freeman of the Borough and presented with a magnanimous War savings certificate and a gold watch, a gift from his employers at International Stores.

While still in the army Counter was promoted to Corporal, a rank, friends were told, he only accepted to avoid the indignity of spud-bashing. Certainly he never contemplated making the army his profession. On being demobbed in the Channel Islands in 1922 he decided to settle and make his home there, soon finding a job as an auxiliary postman at St Ouen, Jersey.

Three years later however, he was seconded to the Post Office at Sudbury Common, Middlesex, remaining there until 1929, when he returned to St. Helier to fill the position of the town’s postman. This work continued throughout the occupation of the Channel Islands by the Germans in World War 2, by which time Jack had met and married a local Jersey woman and by her had a daughter. While still working as a postman, Counter was further awarded the Imperial Service Medal. He would remain in Jersey for the rest of his working life.

The war over, Counter retired from the postal service on April 11, 1959, although he worked for some years more for two local businesses, G.D. Laurens and R Le Ball & Co. During the years of his retirement he returned to visit the family home in Blandford’s Dorset Street several times.

Of course as an ex-serviceman it was natural that Jack Counter should join the Jersey branch of the British Legion, in his case as member 499 in 1930. Yet it was typical of this war hero that he would not be content with a mere passive supporting role out of respect for fallen comrades. He took an active part in the British Legion’s administration as a general committee member, during which time he often joined in games of tombola and housey-housey at social evenings organised at the Hotel de L’Europe.

But to the Jersey public he was a proud soldier who bore the Kings, later Queens. Standard at Armistice Day and other Legion parades. Counter also relished being in the colour-party, carrying the Sovereign’s colour in the presentation of the Festival of Remembrance. For this involvement, Counter even became known as Jersey’s VC.

Throughout his life Jack Counter was by nature a person of ever-cheery demeanour and kindly words. Former Blandford Town Clerk and Freeman Charles Lavington recalls Jack as shy and unassuming – possibly the most unlikely character credentials for a future VC holder. The many friends he made in St. Helier could attest that he was modest and jovial, a leading light in the Jersey British Legion.

But despite his valiant early years the happiness of his twilight ones were shattered by two dreadful blows. The first came in 1964 when his much-loved daughter – his only child – died before reaching middle age. Then only six years later his wife died, leaving him sole survivor of the family he created, and isolated by sea on an offshore state miles from his native county. Now alone, Jack’s nearest kin were a sister-in-law in Blandford and a sister (Mrs Gertrude Weeks) and niece living in Bristol, with whom he maintained contact through occasional visits.

Jack Counter was making one such holiday visit to his sister and niece in Bristol in September 1970, only months after the death of his wife earlier that year. After a few days together brother and sister made a day-trip to visit Jack’s sister-in-law in Blandford. Later that afternoon, when one or both women were out of the room making tea, Jack suddenly collapsed – within an hour of being about to leave to catch the return coach to Bristol. A doctor was called to the Dorset Street home, but found the 71-year-old war veteran-hero to be dead.

For the two towns of Blandford and St Helier the emerging news was devastating. Jack Counter was taken to Bournemouth for cremation, his ashes then being taken back to St. Helier, where a memorial service was held in St. Andrews Church, First Tower. A plaque put to his memory near the church war memorial reads:

To the Glorious Memory of Jack Counter VC, from his Friends and Comrades in the British Legion, 1970″

Nor were these the only tributes. Within a year of his death Counter was even portrayed on a postage stamp: to commemorate its half-centenary in 1971 the British Legion was honoured with a special issue of four from the Jersey Post Office, including one depicting the veteran with his VC. Just five years later in 1976, when the site of the former Seaview and St. Helier Cottages at First Tower were rebuilt as 15 flats for the elderly, the town council named the new development “Jack Counter Close”. Blandford honoured him with a wreath from the British Legion, and a cushioned wreath presented by his family, which were placed at the base of the war memorial in the cemetery.

In  February 1989 Blandford Museum Curator Benjamin Cox, who already held an archive of material on Jack Counter, admitted he would welcome the medal back, but could not ensure the money or security for it. The Kings Liverpool Regimental Secretary, Major Bob Baker, also considered whether to bid for the VC after it was learnt that a Canadian, who had had Counter’s VC and other medals in his collection for some years, was putting them up for auction at Glendinings in London. The Jersey branch of the British Legion were also thought to be likely bidders, but in the end it fell to Richard Falle of La Societe, through his agent, Peter Collins, to make the bid that bought back for Jersey Jack Counter’s medals. Collins, in fact, had only to bid against one other (unknown) person, who stopped bidding at £11,500.

Besides the VC and the Imperial Service Medal, the Bar also carried a British War Medal., Victory Medal, a George VI Coronation Medal (1937) and an Elizabeth II Coronation Medal (1953). No one could or would deny that Jack Counter deserved his VC. He accepted his decoration with alacrity and pride, although there nevertheless remained at the back of his mind the conviction, perhaps even guilt that it should also have been awarded posthumously to five courageous men who didn’t make it – ghost runners now – cut down on the battlefield at Boisleux St Mare that death and glory day in 1918.

We have posted a photograph of Jack Counter V.C. in the photo section.

Jack Counter V.C.

Jack Counter V.C. of Blandford (See article in Real Lives Category 17th September 2012)

Jack Counter V.C. of Blandford (See article in Real Lives Category 17th September 2012)

Blandford Forum

Erected by The Corporation in 1899 the fountain replaced the old pump. The monument bears the notice that accompanied the original monument erected in 1760. Photo by Chris Downer, please click on the photo for more about the photographer.

Erected by The Corporation in 1899 the fountain replaced the old pump. The monument bears the notice that accompanied the original monument erected in 1760. Photo by Chris Downer, please click on the photo for more about the photographer.

Blandford Forum

The parish church at Blandford Forum dedicated to St Peter and St Paul. Photo by Trish Steel, please click on the ohoto for more about the photographer.

The parish church at Blandford Forum dedicated to St Peter and St Paul. Photo by Trish Steel, please click on the ohoto for more about the photographer.