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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.

William Barnes

Outside St. Peter’s Church in Dorchester there stands a statue to a bearded, venerable looking old man in a frock coat. The monument is to keep alive in the minds of Dorset men and women the memory of a phenomenal fellow Dorsetman born just over 200 years ago. He was William Barnes, a figure who’s achievements would be remarkable by today’s standards, but are made even more so by the fact that he was a farmers boy who came from a humble and wholly rural background. And he became a most learned individual in an age when a large proportion of the population was illiterate.

Barnes was born in a cottage in Bagber, a community in the Blackmore Vale country near Lydlinch in 1801. After an elementary schooling that ended when he was 13, Barnes acquired a position as a solicitor’s clerk. Scholarly by nature, he read widely during these years, gaining some informal tuition from friendly clergymen with the aim of training to become a teacher. This career he embarked upon in 1823 when he went to teach at a small school near the church at Mere in Wiltshire.

In 1831, after becoming Head of the Mere Chantry School, he wrote a series of articles for a publication called Hones Year Book, which included one about a certain custom called Lent-Crocking. This originated as a Roman Catholic tradition where people would go around in an evening throwing crockery shards at front doors.

Following his marriage to a woman called Julie Miles and the births of some of his six children, William moved his family back to Dorset and settled in Dorchester to run a school in the town. During these years his devoted wife slipped easily into the role of acting as his business manager so that Barnes could study for a ten-year Bachelor of Divinity degree. In 1848 he was ordained minister of the Church of England, going on to become a mature graduate of St.John’s college, Cambridge in 1850.

During the years Barnes’ Dorchester school was open it became noted for the unusually high number of pupils for its size who became great men of renown. Not least among these was the famous surgeon and writer Sir Frederick Treves, who fondly recalled the austere figure in black sitting like some grim inquisitor in the high chair, who gave him as his first lesson in dictation the sentence “logic is the right use of exact reasoning.”

Sadly, Julia died from breast cancer in 1852, after which time the school declined, eventually closing in 1862 when Barnes was appointed Rector of Winterbourne Came ( or simply Came) that year. He would remain in this ecumenical position until his death 24 years later.

Like Thomas Hardy, William Barnes was bodily feeble and sickly as a child. But as so often is found in those of a feeble constitution, they possess an intellectual prowness that more than makes up for physical inadequacy. Barnes was a polymath in the most extreme sense of the word. He mastered 65 languages including Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Welsh, and oriental languages. He wrote ‘A Philological Grammar,’ which compared over 60 languages, and early on became a poet, publishing three anthologies of verse in the Dorset dialect between 1844 and 1866. In these works Barnes always felt closer to the purer Anglo-Saxon English than to its later forms. Indeed, he spent most of his life campaigning against classical and foreign influences he felt were contaminating the language.

But the Rector of Came was just as interested in modern English, and his verses in this form are often rich in nostalgic rural idyll. Examples of these are ‘Mothers Dreams; The Storm Wind; Musings; Evening and Maidens, and The Wife A-lost.’

Barnes was also a prolific feature article journalist, musician, artist, and lecturer. For instance, he wrote articles for many years for ‘The Gentlemen’s Magazine’ about Dorset history, customs, and the origins of the English language. He wrote pamphlets and articles on the social conditions of the poor, and a philosophy of education was also published. Barnes wrote industrially on technical, scientific and artistic subjects. He toured Wessex, taking pleasure in delivering talks and readings on all manner of subjects well into his 80’s.

The coming of the railways found in Barnes another new interest. The track-laying naturally created cuttings where bedrock was often exposed in the sides. These deep cuttings fired his imagination and fostered a new interest in geology. But like many other natives of a county particularly rich in the vestiges of prehistoric habitation, the Rector was also knowledgeable about archaeology. Doubtless the enormous scope of his interests largely accounted for his popularity.

For the long 34 years of his widower-hood William was a fascinating and stimulating father to his children, who were a great credit to him. During these years the pace of life slowed at the Rectory, where the children of the writer Llewellyn Powys often went for tea. In his youth Thomas Hardy too, was a constant friend and visitor. It was Powys however, who was just one of the people to sum up Barnes’ genius when he wrote: “no-one, not even Hardy, can conjure up more surely the picture of a sweltering hayfield at the time of the Feast of St.Barnabas.”

Barnes once told Edmund Gosse that no critic would have daunted him. He regarded writing as a “refreshment of mind as is music to a man who may play an instrument alone” (Barnes learned to play four instruments.) But George Saintbury, a Hampshire acquaintance, was too wary of offending Barnes’ many admirers to be overly critical of the Rector’s poetry; he simply described it as “domestic, gentle and pastoral.” E.M. Forster said of William Barnes that “to read him is to enter a friendly cottage where a family party was in full swing.” To the Dorset publisher Newman Flower he was a quaint clerk in holy orders, going around Dorchester in black stockings, Quaker garb and a broad-brimmed hat.

What these writers saw in Barnes was a bard of exceptional standing who contrived successfully to portray the joy of simple country life. Yet Barnes’ life was a struggle in some ways. Early in his teaching career he experienced major disappointment when being passed over for the position of Headmaster at Dorchester Grammar School. He was not the kind of un-ambitious character of “woodlands flow’ry gleaded” suggested in one of his hundreds of verses. Rather, he was an over-earnest man following serious past-times and improving with every shining hour. In no small measure it was these traits which bought him his fame as England’s greatest dialect poet and his phenomenal linguistic skill.

His legacy is a portrait of the agrarian life and dialect of Dorset, an idiom of speech which almost died out by his day. The directness and simplicity of his writing hide learnedness and an ear for the music of dialect speech which has never been surpassed. His poem ‘Linden Lea’ was set to music by the Gloucestershire composer Ralph Vaughn Williams.

One achievement of his last years was to become a founder of the Dorset Field Club. This became the steering body for the future establishment of the Dorset County Museum. It is appropriate therefore that Barnes should now stand in effigy outside St.Peter’s, and barely 50 yards from the institution he was partly responsible for bringing to birth. He also served as joint secretary of the Museum for some years.

In 1886 a visitor to Barnes at the Rectory found him on his deathbed. Clad in a red robe like a Cardinal, he died no less picturesquely than he had lived, a spectacle which made his visitor liking him to a dying pope. He lies beneath a memorial cross in the churchyard of St.Peter’s at Winterbourne Came. A second edition of his ‘Glossary of the Dorset Dialect’ was re-printed that year which included the word ‘tutty’ to mean a posy.

It was October when he died, but devout schoolchildren could still find enough flowers to throw into his open grave.

General Pitt-Rivers and the Cranborne Years

For the first eighty years of the 19th century the history of Cranborne Chase was something of a closed book. That this area in the north east of Dorset was especially rich in monumental evidence of England’s earliest agricultural societies was well known, but few excavations had been carried out here.

But all that was to change when, in 1880, a landmark shift in the Chase’s ownership took place. In that year General Augustus Lane Fox inherited the Rivers Estate from his great uncle and adopted the name Pitt-Rivers. The Rivers seat in Dorset was at Rushmore House, a country residence on Cranborne Chase, now the Sandroyd School. But Pitt-Rivers was no mere landowner of the idle rich kind. Rather, his twenty or so years at Rushmore saw the greatest flourishing and fruits of his life-long interest in archaeology and a revolution in our understanding of the prehistory of Cranborne’s extensive royal hunting district. Indeed, Sir Mortimer Wheeler considered Pitt-Rivers to have been the greatest antiquarian and excavator of his day.

Before Pitt-Rivers, whatever digs did take place on the Chase most likely amounted to little more than unscientific haphazard pillages for treasure more than anything else, and certainly led to no lasting or comprehensive understanding of the prehistoric settlers of the area. By the time he had gone to his grave Pitt-Rivers had explored or excavated a multiplicity of sites on or adjoining his Cranborne estate and had set detailed and systematic excavation on a firm professional foundation.

In his years at Cranborne, Pitt-Rivers’ work teams sifted and meticulously recorded the Bronze Age cemetery on Martin Down, a Romano-British village at Woodcutts, and Wor Barrow on Handley Hill – the first ever in-depth excavation of a Neolithic long barrow. He further explored a Roman villa at Iwerne Minster and was the first archaeologist to carry out a detailed investigation of the mysterious Bokerley Dyke along Dorset’s north east border. Pitt-Rivers wondered if this earthwork might be a trap for deer, as Blagdon to the east was once Dorset’s largest deer-park. Seeking explanations for archaeological mysteries caused him to entertain all possibilities.

This fascination for unlocking the secrets of the past, as well as an almost kleptomanial fetish for anthropological artefacts expressed itself long before Pitt-Rivers came to Dorset. Born in 1827, the son of William Augustas of the wealthy Lane-Fox gentry family of Hope Hill, Yorkshire, young Augustus entered the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in 1841, being commissioned into the Grenadier Guards on passing out four years later. In 1852 Lane-Fox toured Europe to study methods of gunnery instruction, then became a gunnery instructor himself during service in the Crimean War.
In 1885 he went to Malta to train soldiers in rifle use after a medical had found him unfit for further service in the Crimea.

Following the Trent Affair early in the American Civil War, Lane-Fox was sent to Canada, but returned after only six months to serve as Assistant Quartermaster General in Cork, Ireland from 1862 to 1866. It was during these four years that he embarked upon his first excavations. From 1873 to 1877 he served a term as Commander of the West Surrey Brigade Depot in Guildford.

When Pitt-Rivers took up his residence at Rushmore House in 1880, having had two previous residences in London, he was in the twenty-seventh year of his marriage to Alice Stanley, eldest daughter of Lord Stanley of Alderley, Cheshire, and had nine children. His Cranborne estate amounted to 27,000 acres, and the Pitt-Rivers family had an annual income of a little under £20,000. For the rest of his life the management of the estate would be left to an agent, while the General kept a tight rein on his affairs.

After leaving Ireland he had conducted excavations in London, Yorkshire and Sussex before moving to Cranborne Chase. In 1861 Pitt-Rivers joined the Ethnological Society of London and the Anthropological Society slightly later. In 1864 he was elected to the Society of Antiquarians. By this time the Lieutenant General had compulsively amassed a huge collection of anthropological artefacts – mostly from dealers, but some from his own excavations.

The General would typically arrive at a site with his workman at 7 a.m. Pitt-Rivers recognised the importance of studying modern artefacts in order to understand those of the past. He recorded all finds on a site, no matter how trivial (including rubbish), with their contexts, developing the concept of typology: the classification in a chronological sequence of finds showing evolution over time. Close attention had to be paid to stratification, and the workers had to be fully trained. Pitt-Rivers thought that excavation should only be carried out under proper supervision. In later life he documented his fieldwork, had detailed plans drawn up, even having models made.

In 1883 he was appointed the first ever Inspector of Ancient Monuments, inclusion on the record of which precluded a landowner from destroying or defacing a monument he owned. Between 1887 and 1896 Pitt Rivers published in several volumes his ‘Excavations on Cranborne Chase’, which was warmly received at Salisbury. The work from excavation to publication needed the help of reliable clerical assistants and draughtsman, which the excavator himself handpicked. During a lecture to the Royal Archaeological Institute he pointed out the typically low cranium of early men’s skulls (he himself even invented and built a craniometer to measure them.)

Pitt-Rivers also became pre-occupied with the origin of local place names. He was sure funding would be adequate if the gentry could look beyond hunting and shooting, and criticised newspaper editors for ignoring “sensible things” like archaeology. But the General did not allow his own preferences to overrule the desires of others.

It must not be thought Pitt-Rivers set out to amuse the agricultural classes; he intended to educate them as well. The finds from his excavations on Cranborne Chase and exhibits from abroad were cleverly displayed to instruct and enlighten visitors. And he had ample means to explore the Chase; it was said that one could walk to the coast without leaving the Rivers estate.

But if Pitt-Rivers was a first class excavator; he was no less successful in brightening the lives of the local population. He encouraged as many as 40,000 to visit the estate annually, drawn by a bandstand, open-air theatre and zoo he established in the grounds of Rushmore Park. He opened an area known as the Larmer Grounds to the public on Sundays. The menagerie also became a laboratory for experiments in the cross-breeding of cattle and yaks – early forays into genetic engineering, which won Pitt-Rivers a fellowship of the Zoological Society.

But some of the activities also drew criticism. Ralph Wightman said of Pitt-Rivers that he “succeeded in shocking most of the countryside – I can remember elderly non-conformist relatives describing it (i.e. the opening of the Larmer Grounds) with obvious disapproval”. The Vicar of Sixpenny Handley complained about the noise from the General’s private band in the pleasure grounds. Many did not share Pitt-Rivers enthusiasm for disturbing burial places: the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, for one, believed the desecration of graves to be sacrilege.

Disapproval was also voiced after the General opened a museum and pub – called the Museum Arms – in nearby Farnham. To this museum he donated some 20,000 of the objects in his collection in 1884, though many more were left in Rushmore and in his London homes. Pitt-Rivers was awarded an honorary degree in 1886. He died in 1900 at the age of 73, his ashes being deposited in a black marble reliquary high in a wall-niche at Tollard Royal Church.

The material from Cranborne Chase has been relocated to the Salisbury and Wilts Museum, where a gallery to the memory of the excavator has been created. The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford also exhibits many of his collections together with a reconstruction of the Woodcutts Romano-British village.

Sir John and the House of Trenchard

In the parish church of Bloxworth near Bere Regis in east Dorset, visitors can see a memorial in white marble mounted high on the wall of a side chapel. The plaque is in memory of one of Stuart England’s most accomplished and controversial aristocratic statesmen or “principal secretary of state for life”; a figure as true to the soil of Dorset as Barnes or Hardy.

This colourful character was Sir John Trenchard. Trenchard was born in Lychett Matravers in March 1649, where his family had long held a manor, though from the late 15th century onwards the family seat was at Wolferton (or Wolveton) House. This house, near Charminster, had its foundations laid around 1480 by an earlier John Trenchard and his son Thomas, who in turn had inherited the estate through John’s marriage. Wolveton was originally conceived as a grand early Tudor mansion with Elizabethan additions, but was later largely demolished, and the present house is only the south west wing of the earlier one.

Thomas’s son, Sir George, had a daughter called Grace, who married into another of Dorset’s manorial families, the Strangways (Strangeways). Apart from his contribution to the building of Wolveton, Sir Thomas also embellished the 12th century church of St.Mary at Charminster by adding its imposing west tower. He also held office as Sheriff of Somerset and Dorset in 1509 and 1523, but is probably best known for hosting Archduke Phillip of Austria and his wife Juana (Joanna) at Wolveton after they were shipwrecked off the Dorset coast in the great storm of 1506. The story then follows that Thomas recruited a kinsman, John Russell, to act as his interpreter as he could not speak Spanish. James I in 1613 knighted Thomas.

Sir Thomas had a son – also called Thomas – born in 1615, who became the father of the later Sir John of Lytchett. The Trenchards were a family of longstanding puritan and parliamentary leanings. Two cousins, William Sydenham and John Sadler, were both soldiers and administrators in the service of Cromwell, and as he grew up John came to detest the unprincipled court life of Charles II. From the age of 15 to 18 John attended New College Oxford without obtaining a degree and went on to study law at the Middle Temple. Here he met up with Hugh Speke, a distant relative and son of Sir George Speke of White Lackington. (Sir George Trenchard’s wife was Ann Speke).

In association with his cousins John joined the Blue Riband Club, a society of agitators meeting at the King’s Head Tavern in Fleet Street. Although there was never any evidence of his being involved in Titus Oates’ famous popish plot, Trenchard would certainly have been an anti-papal sympathiser. When he was 30 in 1679, John entered Parliament to represent Taunton, and joined those who wished to bar the Duke of York from the throne. He attended meetings held by the dissidents, who were concerned that the Duke would attempt to restore Catholic prominence in England. In 1682 Trenchard married Hugh Speke’s sister Phillipa, then 18.

In 1683 some dissidents hatched a conspiracy to murder the King and his brother in Hertfordshire as they returned from the races at Newmarket. The Rye House Plot, as this conspiracy came to be known went wrong, casting suspicion on Trenchard and his cronies. Together with Lord Russell and Algernon Sydney he was arrested and sent to the Tower. (Interestingly, he was later able to recover his own arrest warrant, now in the archive of the Dorset County Record Office in Dorchester). Russell and Sydney were subsequently executed, but Trenchard appears to have turned his coat with sufficient alacrity to escape the same fate by possibly agreeing to pose as a double agent supplying the government with intelligence about anti-Stuart sedition in the west country!

As no concrete evidence could be levelled against him, Trenchard was released. While John was staying with his father-in-law at Illminster in 1685, the Duke of Monmouth landed in Lyme Bay to raise his notorious rebellion against the King in support of his claim to the English crown. With the suspected assistance of George Speke, John was compelled to escape back to the manor at Lytchett while it was still under surveillance by law officers. His servants then made arrangements to get him aboard a ship berthed at Weymouth. Trenchard then spent two years of exile in Holland; George Speke also fled the country. (Visit Archived Articles Section and click on ‘The Monmouth Rebellion’ Pub.August 2002. Ed.)

Meanwhile Hugh Speke, by then John’s brother-in-law, had been jailed for writing anti-Stuart pamphlets. Officers of the King also raided the Speke home and arrested Hugh’s brother Charles, who was summarily executed by hanging from a tree in Illminster market place. The King’s officers were in no doubt about where the family’s loyalties lay. During a tour by Monmouth of the West Country in 1681, George Speke had entertained the Duke and pledged his support for any future claim to the throne the Duke may assert.

During his two years of exile in the Netherlands Trenchard had made the acquaintance of William of Orange, the Protestant son-in-law of James II. It is believed that on his release from prison, Hugh also fled to Holland. However, in 1686 a general amnesty was issued for the exiles, largely brought about by the intervention of the Quaker William Penn, though Trenchard himself was not pardoned. Yet by the end of 1687 he was back in Dorset, probably as a consequence of offering service to the King in return for his liberty.

With the immediate danger over, Trenchard was able by 1688 to resume his parliamentary career. That year he was elected to represent Dorchester as the leading Whig (i.e. the gentry-party opposed to the Tories of the Court). In this capacity he made an unsuccessful bid to persuade King James II to tone-down his pro-catholic sympathies for the sake of the country’s peace. But the birth of a son to James that year threatened a papal succession once again. The Whigs and Tories united to invite William and Mary to claim the throne. Trenchard of course easily slipped into favour with the royal couple, although he took no active part in the revolution, which ousted James.

John Trenchard was knighted in 1689 and made Chief Justice of Chester. The following year he was elected member for Poole and appointed Secretary of State in 1692. In this capacity he adopted a distinctly draconian approach to the country’s security, setting up an elaborate spy network to oversee the exiled King James, then under the protection of Louis XIV. In the archives of the Bastille were letters revealing that Trenchard had very high level contacts in the French Court and that he had spies in the French channel ports who relayed information from French naval officers.

At home Trenchard was no less zealous in his anti-papal purges. He courted great unpopularity by persecuting those he thought to hold Jacobite sympathies and freely issued search warrants for their homes. Once, when on the trail of a bogus plot perpetuated by one Francis Taffe, Trenchard was much reviled for his gullibility, though he was a man impervious to criticism.

By spring 1695 Sir John Trenchard was in poor-health, and by the end of April he was dead. He was just 46 years old. Phillipa however was not widowed for long, marrying soon after a merchant named Daniel Sadler and living for almost another 50 years. By Phillipa, Trenchard had seven children. His three daughters, Elizabeth, Mary and Anne all married well, though only one of his four sons survived to adulthood.

It should be noted that there were John and Thomas Trenchards in two other possible branches of the family, which could lead to considerable confusion about who is meant. For example there was also a John Trenchard of Warmwell (1586-1662), and a literary John Trenchard (1662-1723), the author of ‘A Short History of Standing Arms in England’ (1698 & 1731) and ‘The Natural History of Superstition’ (1709).

Thomas Gerard in his book Coker’s Survey of Dorestshire (1732) wrote: “Bradford Peverll. The Seate for a longe time of the antient Familie of Peverells whose estate about Henry the Eighth’s time fell by a Female Heire to Nicholas Meggs and his Posteritie enjoy it. Neare Bradford the River dividing itself, making an Island of manie faire and fruitful Maedowes, and there joineth againe a little belowe Dorchester, the more northern branch, being the lesser, amongst these Maedoes runneth by Wolton, more trulie Wolvehampton, a fine and rich Seate which (by the daughter and Heire of John Jordan the antient owner of it) came to John Mohune. His only daughter and Heire Alice brought a faire Estate unto her husband Henry Trinchard of Hampshire whose Grandchilde Sir Thomas Trinchard, gracious with King Henry the Eighth was called chief Builder of the Habitation of Sir George Trinchard, a Man of Great Courage.” (See our article: ‘ Thomas Gerard of Trent’ Published 17th July 2011, in the Trent category.)

Dame Alice – a child of fate in a merciless age

When James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, made landfall at Lyme Regis in 1685, it was the curtain-raiser for one of the most bloody and shameful episodes in English history. An illegitimate son of Charles II, the Duke believed himself to be the rightful heir to the Crown, and raised an army in rebellion against the incumbent James II. But the insurrection collapsed, with fatal consequences for the Duke and all those who took up arms in his support. For the revolt could scarcely have been more ill-timed, coming as it did when the Lord Chief Justice in the land was the infamous Baron Sir George Jeffreys of Wem.

Probably the most tragic figure to become ensnared in the judicial reprisal for the rebellion was not one of the numerous renegade soldiers so soon to be hung in gibbets at crossroads the length and breadth of the west country. No, this particular victim of Jeffreys’ indiscriminate brutality was a quiet genteel woman of high standing and humanism, whose only crime was to naively commit the one well-meaning act, which would lead to her downfall. The woman was Dame Alicia (or Alice) Lisle, who earned the unenviable distinction of becoming the first of the accused (and the only woman) to be condemned to death for complicity in the Monmouth Rebellion.

Alice was born Alice Breconsawe (or Breckonshaw) about 1614 and brought up at her family home at Moyles Court, an Elizabethan manor in the parish of Ellingham, just north of Ringwood on the Hants side of the Dorset border. Together with her sister Elizabeth (the future Lady Tipping) she was a daughter of Sir White Breconsawe and Elizabeth Bond. Of the Breconsawe’s next to nothing is known, but on her mother’s side Alice was a descendant of the Purbeck scion of the manorial Bond family of Dorset, whose estate was at Blackmanston.

In 1636 when she was grown up, Alice married John Lisle, a leading Parliamentarian who, under Cromwell, would take up arms against the King in the Civil War. He was called to the bar in 1633 and was MP for Winchester from 1639 and for Southampton in 1654. In  1659/60 he was also Commissioner for the Navy. Lisle was a leading promoter of the trial of Charles I in Westminster Hall in January 1649 and actually drafted the death sentence for the doomed monarch. Later Cromwell appointed Lisle Commissioner of his Seal, and to a place in the House of Lords. By him Alice had four daughters and one son.

The road which would ultimately lead Alice Lisle to her cruel fate began on the battlefield of Sedgemoor, Somerset, in 1685. The Duke of Monmouth, who had declared himself king at Taunton shortly before, was routed at the head of his rebel army by the superior forces of the King, then captured, tried and executed.

Among the Duke’s supporters who would remain at liberty until their eventual capture were two fugitives, one of whom, a man called John Hickes, would later become known to Alice as a wanted man, but not for the reason she supposed. Hickes was a dissenting minister who sent Alice a message asking for shelter at Moyles Court. He arrived at 10pm on July 20th, accompanied by one Richard Nelthorp and Alice, though not believed to be a Monmouth sympathiser, secreted the fugitives in a malthouse. It was there, during a county-wide mopping up sweep of rebel runaways by the King’s men under the command of a Colonel Penruddock (who had been tipped off by a spying villager) that the two men were flushed out the next day, sentenced, then hung, drawn and quartered.

Though Alice Lisle knowingly concealed the wanted man, she mistakenly assumed that John Hickes’ offence was one of religious dissent, not treason. But under Jeffreys’ draconian interpretation of the criminal code, the difference would probably have been academic. Although many more arrests, trials, and executions were to follow in the months ahead, all of these were of male combatants fighting in a rebel army. It is thus a measure of the extraordinary harshness of 17th century justice that, at least in the Lisle case, no concessions were made to the accused’s sex, age, infirmities, or social status. She would go down to her grave along with those far more guilty and deserving of punishment than herself.

As Chief Justice it fell to Jeffreys to try and condemn Alice and the captured rebels as the King’s advocate, under duress to apply harsh retribution for Monmouth’s treason. Many hundreds would be hung; some luckier ones transported – but fewer still would ever be acquitted. Indeed it was said that Jeffreys was a magistrate who never found anyone innocent (though 80 rebels were pardoned.) He was equally deaf to any appeals for clemency. On one notorious occasion at Dorchester a girl saw her brother’s lifeless body hanging from a wall opposite her window the morning after she had pleaded with the judge to spare his life.

For the circuit of trials and summary executions that have passed into history as the Bloody Assizes, Jeffreys embarked upon a veritable tour de force, holding court at Dorchester and elsewhere in the west country. In Dorset’s county town the judge presided in a room at the Antelope Inn, ever after known as the Monmouth Room. Alice Lisle however, was not tried and sentenced at the Antelope, but at a court in Winchester.

Here she was charged with the treasonable act of harbouring two of the King’s enemies. But despite the jury finding her innocent three times, Jeffreys refused to accept the verdict – three times. Still, the bullying judge was very persuasive. After much coercion, and probably fear of their own lives, Jeffreys managed to exact from his jury precisely the verdict he wanted: not one determined so much by the facts or mitigating circumstances, as by a malicious prejudice and paranoid loathing for anyone wishing ill of the monarch!

Then Dame Alice’s fate was sealed. As a woman inevitably found guilty she was first sentenced to be burnt at the stake. But this method of dispatch proved too extreme for the Clergy of Winchester to stomach. Following their intercession to James II, the King commuted the sentence to one of beheading!

It is recorded that the condemned woman spent her last night at the Eclipse Inn in Winchester after delivering a remarkable execution speech apparently recorded for posterity by the court clerk. And the following day, 2nd of September 1685 in Winchester’s market square, Dame Alice Lisle’s head was struck from her body by a swordsman. She was then about 75 years of age and was supposedly buried in the precincts of Ellingham’s 13th century church, although there is some archaeological evidence that the tomb supposed to be hers was occupied by someone else.

By this time however, Sir John Lisle was already dead. At the Restoration in 1660 he fled to Switzerland, but was murdered there by a man called Thomas McDowell in 1664. As for Jeffreys, when the Protestant William III came to the throne, the King, possibly fearing a Papist backlash against the judge, threw him into prison for his own safety in 1688, but he died from kidney failure the following year.

Joseph Clark (1834-1926)

Artist in Oils

In 1857 Joseph Clark submitted his first picture for the Royal AcademyExhibition, entitled The Sick Child; it was accepted. He exhibited regularly atthe Royal Academy and at the Royal Institution until a few years before hisdeath. In 1876 he was awarded a bronze medal at the Centenary Exhibition at Philadelphia. Then, in 1877 his painting Early Promise was purchased for the nation and a further painting Mother’s Darling was purchased for the nation in 1885; both paintings are held by the Tate. His first painting offered at auction realised £4.17s.6d, a high price for the time and his paintings continue to command good prices when they come up at auction today.

He was the son of a draper and calico bleacher, born at Cerne Abbas on the 4th of July 1834. His early education was at a Dame school, these small privateschools usually run by an elderly woman who taught the children to read and write before they were old enough to work. He was then enrolled at the Dorchester school run by William Barnes. A book has survived in which the young Joseph detailed various workings of geometrical problems and précis of lectures given by Barnes on divinity, English and Roman history, geography and geology.  He developed an interest and aptitude for art, which was encouraged by Barnes.
Following the death of his father the family fortunes declined and he was removed from Barnes’ school to be apprenticed to a chemist at St. Neot’s in Huntingdonshire. He was not happy in his new position and returned to Cerne Abbas where he joined his mother, Susan, and his two older sisters, Mary and Emma, and their family servant, Jane Seard. Meanwhile, the family business had been taken on by his older brother William who had added a tailoring establishment.

The boy’s burning ambition was to go to London to continue his art studies and in this he received help from an unexpected quarter. His brother had employed a cutter to work in his tailoring shop; the man had come from London and he was a cultured individual who was familiar with the London art galleries and exhibitions. Having seen some of Joseph’s paintings he encouraged Mrs Clark to let Joseph go to London to further an artistic career.

On his arrival in London he wasted no time, immediately enrolling as a pupil at the school ran by James Leigh, located in Newman Street, which is just off Oxford Street. The school later became known as Heatherley’s; it still exists today. From Leigh’s school he progressed to the Royal Academy School then situated in the National Gallery building in Trafalgar Square.

By 1861 Joseph had been joined by his mother and the family servant, Jane. They all lived together at 25 Belle Vue Villas, Sussex Road, Islington, London. Thecensus confirms he had established himself as an ‘Artist in Oils.’

The next decade was a time of sorrow and happiness for Joseph. Early in 1866 his mother passed away having reached 76 years, her death being recorded inChristchurch. Towards the end of 1868 Joseph married Annie Jones, who was almost half his age. Her father was a Woolstapler from Winchester in Hampshire.

These two events suggest Joseph may have moved away from London for a while but by 1871 he was back in London, living at Arthur Road, Islington, with his young family and the faithful family servant, Jane. Jane Seard was now 60 and was assisted in her duties in the Clark household by a fourteen year-old girl, Emma Mills. A decade later we find Joseph and Annie Clark and their eleven year-old daughter, Annie, at 396 Holloway Castle, Islington. The couple enjoy the services of an elderly nurse and a young servant girl.

Then in 1891, after a space of fourteen years, the sound of young children can be heard again in the house. There are two more daughters and a son: Elsie was born in 1884; Wilfred in 1886 and Margaret in 1888. A 21 year-old governess, Harriet Eusor, was employed as well as a 23 year-old servant girl. Joseph Clark never seems to have needed an excuse to move house but his move to 23, Grosvenor Gardens, Hampstead, suggests more room was needed for his growing family and confirms he was a successful artist.

In 1901 we find Joseph and Annie with their four children at ‘Wenouree,’ Pinne Rd., Harrow-on-the-Hill. Their eldest daughter is teaching music and their son, Wilfred, is a Clerk to a Grain Broker. Joseph and Annie’s house moving continues but they stay, for now, north west of the metropolis and in 1911 they are in Uxbridge with two of their girls: Annie, who is still teaching music and the piano, and Margaret who is teaching at a private school.

Joseph Clarke died aged 92 years. He died on his birthday at Ramsgate in Kent, his death being registered in the Thanet district. Perhaps he had tired of north London and decided the Kent coast would be a nice place to live out his last years.

Like his parents, Joseph was a life-long member of the New Church, sometimes known as Swedenborgians. He served his church well as a Sunday school teacher and Church deacon as well as being a member of the Committee of Management.
In all his paintings he showed a feeling for family affection. All hispaintings express a love of family domesticity and portrayed moments of ordinary mans difficulties, sorrows and joys in his everyday existence. Many ofhis paintings had Barnes’ style captions, such as: Jeanes Wedden Day in Mornen (1879);  Farmer’s Woldest Dater (1908) and Wedden Morn (1909).
He spent most of his life away from Dorset but he had with him those views and memories which had been so familiar to him in his youth and are suggested in many of his paintings.

Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893 – 1978 )

During the early years of the 20th century the village of Chaldon Herring attracted a stream of talented people from the artistic and literary worlds: the magnet was Theodore Powys who had given up farming in Norfolk and returned to Dorset to write.

Theodore Powys was a withdrawn melancholy character who, until this point, had not enjoyed great success as a writer but this did not stop a host of young poets, writers and artists warming to him. One after another they were drawn like pilgrims to this remote Dorset parish, some of them making the village their home.

Sylvia Townsend Warner was enchanted by the village and fell under the Powys spell. Born on the 6th of December 1893 in Devon and baptised Sylvia Nora Townsend Warner she was the daughter of schoolmaster, George Townsend Warner and Nora Huddleston Warren. Sylvia was tall and slim in stature and bespectacled.

At the age of 20 she moved to London to study music and was one of the editors of the study Tudor Church Music. Her interest in writing poetry, short stories and novels trumped her interest and undoubted talent for music. In 1926 her first novel ‘Lolly Willowes’ was published, followed by ‘Mr Fortune’s Maggot’ the following year.

It was 1922 when Sylvia made her first journey to Chaldon Herring. Her friend, a former pupil of her father’s, Stephen Tomlin the sculptor, suggested she meet Theodore Powys. It was in his house during 1927 while enjoying huge celebrity as the best selling author of Lolly Willowes that Sylvia was introduced to the poet Valentine Ackland. Ackland, an assumed name, was twelve years her junior but that did not stop the two women starting a love affair that was to last a life time, ending in 1969 when Valentine died from breast cancer.

In 1930 Sylvia bought the cottage opposite ‘The Sailor’s Return’ public house and this is where the lovers lived until 1937, when they moved to a riverside cottage in another little Dorset village, Frome Vauchurch. The Chaldon Cottage was rented out and was destroyed by a direct hit from a German bomb during the war.

In 1933 Sylvia and Valentine published a joint book of poems ‘Whether a Dove or Seagull,’ a collection of love poems.  They were both members of the Communist Party of Great Britain and Valentine was a contributor to left-wing papers, including The Daily Worker. It was during the 1930’s that Sylvia’s short stories were first accepted by The New Yorker;  all told the magazine published nearly 150 of her stories.

The couple spent most of their time together in Dorset. They attended the American Writer’s Conference in New York in 1939, returning home shortly after Britain declared war on Germany. Sylvia continued to write during the war publishing an anthology of short stories The Cat’s Cradle Book in 1940 and A Garland of Straw’ in 1943. She was a member of the Women’s Volunteer Service and helped set-up centres for people evacuated from the cities.

Sylvia’s relationship with her mother was a difficult one, they were never close. Her father died in 1916 and her mother remarried. Soon after the war ended her mother’s health deteriorated into senility; as the only child she had to take responsibility for her mother until she died in 1950. During this time her lover, Valentine, had rekindled an earlier affair with an American woman Elizabeth Wade White, returning to Sylvia in 1949. Sylvia continued to write during this unhappy period, notably The Corner That Held Them, published in 1948. After all these tribulations the following years were uneventful. During this period Sylvia wrote several books including a biography of the novelist T.H. White.

In the thirties cross-dressing women and lesbian affairs were viewed as a titillating curiosity. In the years of austerity that followed the war they were viewed rather differently and their left-wing tendencies and lesbian lifestyle resulted in publishers becoming less supportive.

In 1967 Valentine was told she had breast cancer and battled with it for two years, she died in 1969. Sylvia was then in her seventies, a time when there was renewed interest in her writing, especially from the growing feminist movement. In 1973 she published a book of poems by her lover under the title: The Nature of the Moment.

Sylvia Townsend Warner lived out her days with her cats in the little cottage on the banks of the River Frome at Frome Vauchurch. She died there on May Day 1978, Sylvia and Valentine’s ashes are buried in Chaldon Herring’s churchyard.

The Ralph Wightman Story

“A sound like heather, honey and goose-grease” was how one admirer once described the voice of Ralph Wightman, who could be said to have been Dorset’s first voice of radio. Wightman’s Dorset accent seemed ideally suited for one presenting a string of programmes catering for agrarian and country matters, and for which he will best be remembered.

But Wightman was much more than a consummate broadcaster. He was the first of his family, even among his siblings, to undertake higher education, although for four generations the Wightmans had eked a lowly living from the land, and one branch of his ancestry emigrated to continue the farming tradition in Canada.

Wightman was born on the family farm in Piddletrenthide in July 1901, the youngest of three sons of a farmer who was also the village butcher. As a boy he visited distant markets with his father while his elder brothers tended the farm. Like them, it was expected young Ralph would continue the business of his forebears. But although he found farm work satisfying he early resolved that becoming a serious farmer was not for him.

Early in the 20th century county councils routinely awarded bright pupils scholarships to elementary schools as a first step towards a secondary or grammar school place. Ralph took and passed the entrance exam for a scholarship to Beaminster Grammar, which then had agriculture on the curriculum. But by this time World War I was running its bloody course, and Wightman’s first year was not a happy one. By the end of his second year however, his interest in farming had been re-kindled after seeing how farmers were responding to the need for feeding the nation in wartime by improving their efficiency. With banks prepared to make money available, investment was possible in fertilisers and new equipment such as tractors, to replace horses.

Wightman passed his Oxford Senior in 1917, and following further exam successes won a place at Armstrong College, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, to study agricultural chemistry. At this time also he would cultivate an ability as a speaker and debater in discussion groups – skills which would be of the utmost value to him in his later professional life. In 1922 Wightman graduated with a BsC, and experience gained as an assistant lecturer helped secure his first job, for £10 less than he was then earning.

For the next four years Wightman lived the life of a travelling teacher on courses at various centres in Devon followed by another three years working in Wiltshire while maintaining a close contact with local farmers. Much of the work was done in winter evenings when Ralph often had to motorcycle along unsurfaced roads by the light of an acetylene lamp. But he relished the life, glad to be in familiar territory with countymen and women who spoke his dialect.

Wightman’s Wiltshire appointment in 1927 was on a higher salary and brought him into contact with Arthur G. Street, a writer and broadcaster who became a mentor and lifelong friend. In the years to come the two men would share many broadcast hours together.

Ralph returned to Dorset in 1930, to become the county’s senior farming lecturer and advisor. He rented a Tudor house in Puddletown, which became his permanent home. After a period with the County Council Wightman was able to rent an office in the headquarters of the National Farmers’ Union Dorset branch, driving there each day from his Puddletown home. From this base he embarked upon a productive career as a correspondent for the local papers, the NFU, and writing material for a weekly farming talk broadcast from Bournemouth.

Very soon after, Wightman himself was broadcasting from the Bournemouth station – a ten-minute piece about worms in sheep. Never a qualified vet, he nevertheless had made himself an authority on the animal. He could therefore speak from experience about recommending new medication or methods of treatment. Through this and later talks the fledgling broadcaster earned the confidence and admiration of many farmers with a radio.

In June 1939, after several broadcasts in the pre-war years, Street asked Wightman to stand in to deliver a four-minute commentary on the Royal County Show from Bristol. This paved the way to greater things, and in his autobiographical Take Life Easy, he pays tribute to Street, Francis Dillon and Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald for their great help and advice.

On the outbreak of the Second World War, Wightman was once again involved in agriculture in Dorset and called upon to broadcast to the nation from time to time. Then the BBC launched County Magazine in May 1942. This programme became an immediate success and would continue throughout the war with presenter Ralph Wightman taking it to all regions except Scotland. Besides being anchorman of County Magazine, Wightman also participated in a number of other farming and country programmes as well as three appearances in Christmas Day programmes.

One Saturday night in 1943 a postscript Wightman broadcast brought a blizzard of letters from all over the country. There then followed an idea that he should broadcast to the USA on English country matters, leading him to notch up a staggering total of 290 weekly Trans-Atlantic talks – a record possibly only exceeded by Alistair Cooke.

Wightman left the Ministry of Agriculture in June 1948 to go freelance, giving all his time to interpreting Dorset and the West Country. To stay in touch with farming developments he took a part time job as a consultant with a seed firm. But the flood of broadcasting appointments for the BBC seemed relentless. There were unscripted appearances on Country Questions and Any Questions? the latter of course being live.
Wightman was by now a seasoned radio presenter, an affable character universally known for his russet voice and common sense, though TV appearances were few. Many of his friends themselves became household names, such as Stuart Hibberd, himself a Dorset-born broadcaster and fellow-member of the Society of Dorset Men.

Wightman’s last broadcast was in March 1971. His several books include Rural Rides and other works on farming and Dorset. In ‘I live in Dorset’ (Homes & Gardens, July 1960) he wrote: ” I had to leave home at the age of 18 because a strained heart was alleged to have made me incapable of physical toil.”

It was not a strained heart, however, that robbed the country of this popular presenter but something different entirely. In May 1971 Wightman fractured his skull in a fall at his home. He was admitted to Dorchester Hospital, but the broadcaster died soon after, aged 69. Though he had no children of his own, he left behind a farmer nephew, the son of one of his elder brothers.

John Calcraft: Father of a Rempstone Dynasty

The ancestry of John Calcraft of Rempstone Hall, like that of many other Dorset families, did not have its roots in the county with which they are most associated, but in another. Calcraft was born on 14th August 1726 in Grantham, Lincolnshire, son of another John Calcraft who was a lawyer, and a woman called Christian Bursbie. At least, that is the genealogy according to the penned inscriptions in three family Bibles.

But official records tell a rather different story. It is now more likely that John Calcraft was an illegitimate son of the famous Whig parliamentarian Sir Henry Fox by Christian, who also appears to have been the mother of John’s Brother Thomas. For it has been noted that the name Christian occurs more than once in both of these Lincolnshire families; added to that there is a marked resemblance between John and Henry Fox that can be seen in portraits handing at Rempstone Hall in Purbeck.

There are no surviving records about the younger John’s education, but by the age of 18 he had meteorically risen to the position of Deputy Paymaster to the army in Scotland. At 19 he had been entrusted with considerable responsibilities. This entailed commanding and escorting consignments of money from Newcastle to Edinburgh – in winter, often through deep snow. Furthermore, Calcraft was appointed Clerk of the War Office towards the end of 1746, and was to effectively act as Fox’s private secretary. By 1749 the latter was securing army agencies for him and for several years was even recommending him as “a dear relative.”

In March 1753 Fox promoted Calcraft to Deputy Commissary General at 23 shilling a day. One of Calcraft’s friends was General Edward Braddock, who the British had charged with expelling the French from the American colonies in 1754. Braddock however, was killed in action in Quebec soon after, but not before he had made a will in favour of John Calcraft, leaving his table silverware to him. Calcraft was also well acquainted with many of the military leaders of his day, including the Duke of Cumberland and General Wolfe.

Another friend was a cavalry hero, John, Marquis of Granby, who in collaboration with Fox and Calcraft is known to have shared as mistresses two leading stage actresses of the day, Georgina Bellamy and Elizabeth Bride. By 1753 Calcraft had moved in with Georgiana in London, and was amassing a fortune in his work as banker and contractor to the forces. Besides his residence in Parliament Street he acquired a property on Sackville Street and also Ingress Abbey. His relationship with Georgiana seemed to be founded on a lasting basis for several years, but was eventually fated to end when Calcraft was distracted by an attraction to Elizabeth Bride, leaving Georgiana in distress and saddled with many debts. Georgiana had kept house for John from about 1752 to 1761. Calcraft then lived with Elizabeth from 1764 until his death.

Calcraft’s children by Elizabeth were Katherine, born at Parliament Street in 1764; Granby at Ingress Abbey in 1766; Richard at Sackville Street, 1770 and William at Ingress Abbey in 1771. His heir was John, born at Ingress on 16th October 1765, though it is not certain that Elizabeth was his mother. However, since all five children were left to her guardianship after their father’s death, it is thought that John, too, must have been Elizabeth’s son. From his will Elizabeth inherited from Calcraft £3000 and an annuity of £1000 for life.

In 1757 Calcraft acquired the sprawling eleven square mile estate and manor of Rempstone in Purbeck and the manor of Wareham ten years later from Thomas Erle Drax; the same year he bought from John and George Pitt and John Bankes all the remaining Wareham land.

In 1763 Fox, who had gained a reputation for affluence and corruption, was deserted in his cause by Calcraft, in favour of an alliance with William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham. Calcraft stood as MP for Calne, Wiltshire from 1766-68, and for Rochester from 1768 to 1772. He also had his younger brother Thomas elected for Poole in 1762 and 1768. Ideologically, he stood for liberty of the people and for Parliamentary reform but only one speech of John has been recorded: during a debate on the Liberty of the Press Bill on December 2nd 1770. In the hope of persuading voters to return the men he favoured to Parliament, Calcraft used his great wealth to buy up boroughs and other property such as Ingress Abbey.

Not long before he died, Calcraft had been the subject of several satirical cartoons and malicious attacks mainly instigated by Fox and Georgiana Bellamy. He was further lampooned by his detractors under the derisory label of “Crafterio.” It is recorded that in appearance Calcraft was a rather tall man with a ruddy complexion, handsome, of easy address and facility of speech that recommended him to others.

John Calcraft died on August 23rd 1772 at the age of only 46. He had not lived long enough to warrant the title of Earl of Osmonde.

William Edward Forster of Bradpole

William Edward Forster - read our biography of him.

William Edward Forster - read our biography of him.