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William Mabey (1848-1931)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wool – The Church of The Holy Rood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Love of Weymouth

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

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

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

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

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

Entertaining Blandford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Cerne Abbas Giant

Some say he was carved out two milleniums ago, to represent the Roman god Hercules. Pagan rites were certainly carried out there some four centuries ago. But some affirm that he is a bogus god-figure, created out of the Dorset hillside in the 17th or 18th centuries.

He is the Cerne Abbas Giant, fashioned in the chalk above that village, a few miles from Dorchester. At 180 feet (55 metres) high, he is the largest hill figure in Britain. The Rude Man as he is sometimes referred to carries a 120-foot club and this place has been the setting for fertility ceremonials and practices.

Visitors gazing from the viewing point look on in awe. Apart from the Long Man of Wilmington in East Sussex, there is nothing quite like this in England. If such a figure were created today, it would cause an outcry.

People climbing the giant’s steep hill are not much more than spots across the valley. On May Day, which must once have drawn crowds to this spot, the phallus points directly at the sun as it rises over the hill. The whole figure stretches two-thirds of the hill from top to bottom.

Dorset, Wiltshire and Oxfordshire have many hill figures. This one is associated with maypole dancing in an earth enclosure, the “Frying Pan”, located high up above the giant’s left arm, which may once have supported a cloak in classic fashion.

At the end of the second century AD the Emperor Commodus, a supposed reincarnation of Hercules, who campaigned in Britain, revived the worship of this god. But the Dorset figure may be associated with the adoration of various Romano-Celtic gods.

However, there is no actual reference to the giant to be found before 1694 when a payment in the Cerne Abbas churchwardens’ accounts of three shillings is recorded for the re-cutting of the figure. So we may be dealing with one of history’s hoaxes, performed perhaps by libertarians – on a colossal scale.

In 1751 the Dorset historian John Hutchins suggested that the figure was chiselled out in the mid-1600’s. It was depicted in the Gentleman’s Magazine of 1764. There is no reference in mediaeval documents. One theory is that monks at a monastery in the valley below created the giant as a joke. At any rate, local people have maintained the trenches, about half a metre wide and deep, down to the clay bedrock.

The Silver Well or Augustine’s Well, flows below the giant and has both pagan and Christian connections. Some even imagine the giant goes to the bottom of the hill for a drink from it at midnight. Actually, he would have to do little more than put down his club and stoop.

In the 17th century Lord Denzil Holles (1598-1680) was lord of the manor and it has been suggested his servants cut the figure while he was away. The roof leads on the aisles of a nearby church were repaired in 1800 and 1843, and since then have had reliefs of the giant. What does Christian spirituality have to say about that?

The whole subject is a curiosity. The inquirer keeps returning to the question of why there are no early records. Travellers in the Tudor and Stuart periods made no reference to the figure. Nor did the wealth of local mediaeval documents.

Then there is the question of the monks. For at least 500 years a Christian monastery stood looking up at the barbarous and brutish, not to say impolite form. How could the abbot and monks, and visiting church personages, the pillars of society, have tolerated it? For five centuries?

This gigantic figure with his knurled club stands watch over the villagers of Cerne Abbas. He has in fact a kind personality, for he can help childless couples produce heirs, or so they say.

Note: In the gallery there is an aerial view photograph of the Giant.

The Tolpuddle Martyrs

There is a surprising number of similarities between the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, from the 1830’s and that of the Monmouth Rebellion 150 years earlier. Both are partly set in the Dorset county town of Dorchester, where the heavy hand of the law came down; in both cases the ruling classes were desperate to keep their hold on the lower orders; and there was a strong religious element in both risings.

West Country peasantry was involved in both clashes; and transportation – sending the convicted to the other side of the earth – was still seen as a good way of dealing with malefactors.

There, however, the similarities end, for the Tolpuddle Martyrs were just six in number. They were all sentenced to be transported, as it transpired to Australia and Tasmania, for seven years. In one stroke the farms in the Piddle Valley, which meanders picturesquely towards the English Channel, lost much valuable labour. Early one freezing February morning the men were asked by the local constable to accompany him to Dorchester, walking the whole six miles – and they did not return.

Their crime was simply taking part in an illegal oath administration ceremony in one of the cottages. There had been rick burnings in England’s Southwest a few years earlier and the ‘Captain Swing’ riots were notorious across the country. The farmers themselves were in a fix: if they were forced to pay higher wages they could not pay higher rents to landowners.

The Tolpuddle labourers were faced with having to take home only 6s. a week to keep their families and homes, and this was putting them in a rebellious mood. However, the leading County magistrate, James Frampton of Moreton had been in Paris during the French Revolution and colluded with the Home Secretary, Lord Melbourne, about the problem in neighbouring Tolpuddle.

The heaviest punishment possible for mutiny involving an oath (actually a Royal Navy offence) was transportation. Of the six ‘mutineers’ George Loveless, the leader, went to Tasmania and the others to New South Wales.

The tiny Methodist chapel at Tolpuddle (succeeded by another Methodist church further out of the village) was denuded of keen members, for five of the six martyrs belonged there

If you go to Tolpuddle, perhaps during the great annual trades’ union-supported rally held each July, look at the Thomas Standfield cottage on the main road, with its plaque. Think of him in his fifties in the Aussie bush, sleeping out in a ‘watch-box’ and looking after sheep – a few months after leaving his Dorset farm. It sounds almost idyllic.

But his son John, who was later to become a mayor in the London area of Ontario, Canada, to which five of the martyrs eventually emigrated, described his condition: covered in sores, his home a ‘shed’ six feet by 18 inches, and having to walk four miles by night for his rations.

The Tolpuddle men, described as ‘politicals’, got extra harsh treatment from their masters. Yet it has been said they helped shape Australia. However, whether they had any offspring there is open to doubt. All the martyrs except George Loveless, who was sick at the time, had sailed from Plymouth, in the next county west from Dorset, on April 11, 1834 after living aboard prison hulks at Portsmouth. On arrival at Sydney they were marched through the streets to the barracks where they were assigned to their masters. Some masters were kinder than others. Some were brutal.

James Loveless had to walk for 14 days to reach his station, or farm, near the Victoria State border. George Loveless worked on a chained road gang, slept on a stone floor and for a week was in irons, purely for what he was supposed to have done in England. Stories were rife about the martyrs’ supposed yet purely fictitious misdemeanours 12,000 miles away.

The men were pardoned in March 1838, after pressure by unionists, the general public and Parliamentarians in the old country. Only one, James Hammett, returned to live in Tolpuddle as a master builder, and he is buried in the Church of England graveyard, under a finely carved headstone. The references to Christianity are important, for the Loveless brothers have been described by a historian as “Methodist trade union pioneers”, although there is no evidence that they ‘spoke politics’ from the pulpit.

On return to Britain, the men were given tenant farms in Essex. The farms were provided and stocked by the Dorchester Labourers’ Farm Tribute and the London Dorchester Committee. Some of the men got involved in causes such as the Chartist movement and the lot of the agricultural workers. However, encountering a hostile attitude, they all, except James Hammett, booked tickets for New York in the mid-1840’s, travelling by sea, train, lake ferry and ox-cart to their new land which they were to help found. London, Ontario today is a growing industrial city.

George Loveless held Bible classes in the home he built for himself and his wife (their daughter died on the Atlantic crossing). He helped to build the first church in the London district of Siloam (the Pool of Siloam is mentioned in the Gospel of John). Brother James became caretaker of the church. On the gravestone of George and wife Elisabeth is this inscription: “ These are they who came out of great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb”.

James Brine, who married a Standfield, farmed on the shores of Lake Huron and at St.Mary’s. These men, supported heroically by their womenfolk, were not founders but true pioneers of the trade unions, for they were a powerful incentive and that remains true today. The working man and those who lead the Labour movement owe them much.

In Canada a memorial park was opened in London, Ontario in 1969. The sycamore tree where the martyrs met on Tolpuddle Green is growing strongly, the museum tells the story in banners and hi-tech videos, the fine row of cottages built by the trade union movement houses six tenantsIt is all a far cry from when, after a visit from two delegates of the Grand National Consolidated Trades Unions, an organisation led by Robert Owen, the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers was formed in Tolpuddle. Trade unionism had come to a quiet Dorset village in October 1833, but the society foundered because a spy who had taken the oath witnessed against the six. It meant that at the Dorchester Assizes, in March 1834, when the sensational sentence was announced, Dorset had new martyrs. These days, the Old Crown Court of the Shire Hall, where the trial took place, is open to visitors in the summer.

After his conviction, George Loveless threw to the crowd outside as he was leaving the court, a paper with two verses, beginning “God is our Guide!” and ending “We will, we will, we will overcome!”


Lying as if bracketed by two rivers, The Piddle (Trent) on the north and the Frome on the south, Wareham’s strategic importance was realised from very early times. Finds recovered from excavations under the town’s walls proved there had been some settlement on the site during the Iron Age and Romano-British periods, though it is the Saxons we have to thank for the foundation of Wareham as a planned town (burh). Even so, it was s stronghold resisting the Saxon incursions for two and a half centuries after the Romans left.

Sometime in the 8th century victorious Saxons claimed the site and fortified it with an earthen wall on the north, west and east sides. Christianised, they made their burh a centre of the British faith, having links with the church in Gaul. St. Aldhelm, later to become Bishop of  Sherborne visited Wareham to unify the Roman and Celtic traditions.

It is Aldhelm who is believed responsible for the founding, near the north gate in about 698, of St. Martin’’ Church. The original building is supposed to be the burial place of the West Saxon King Beorthric in 802, but the earliest fabric of the present building dates from about 1020. The church is worth a visit to see the remains of Norman and later paintings on its walls, and the characteristically Saxon high and narrow proportions of the building. After 1736 the church was only in use for baptisms and marriages, and was restored in 1935. A miracle legend holds that after the Danes destroyed the roof in a raid, shepherds could still shelter within the walls without getting wet. St. Martins is also famous for a recumbent effigy of Lawrence of Arabia by Eric Kennington.

By reason of its strategic importance the Dane Guthrum captured Wareham in 876, but in the following year King Alfred routed the Danes in a sea battle off Swanage and strengthened the town’s defences. Alfred’s daughter Ethelfleda is said to have restored the Priory after Guthrum had sacked it in 876. Later King Athelstan founded a mint and granted Wareham a market, ruling that all trade must take place within the burh. Towards the end of the 10th century Wareham was assailed by the Danes Sweyn and Cnut (Canute).

Following their own conquest the Normans made the Priory a Benedictine cell of Lire Abbey, and undertook extensive rebuilding in stone around 1100, including strengthening the town’s walls and building a motte and bailey castle. The castle was raided by the army of King Stephen, an event which caused Wareham to be caught in the cross-fire between the king and Matilda, whom the town supported. Stephen soon lost the stronghold to Robert of Gloucester, who installed Prince Henry there until he left for France in 1146, but the conflict pushed Wareham into economic recession from what had been a position of growing prosperity. The slump was further compounded by progressive silting up of the harbour, on which the town’s prosperity depended.

Holy Trinity Church, where historian John Hutchins was Rector from 1743, stands near the South Bridge over the Piddle. Today it is the Purbeck Information & Heritage Centre, but before the Norman Conquest there was a chapel to St. Andrew on the site.

Wareham’s parish church of Lady St.Mary features St. Edward’s Chapel of about 1100, said to have been his resting place before removal of his body to Shaftesbury. In the north aisle reposes a Nordic-style stone sarcophagus hinting at the presence of a church on this site as early as 700. The broad, windowed chancel and the Becket Chapel however, are early 14th century, and the tower was added about 1500. Lady St. Mary was once attached to the Priory.

The Priory was built on the east side of Frome Quay (later Wareham’s trading heart) and may have succeeded a convent on the site. It certainly became a Benedictine house in Norman times. In 1414 the Priory was taken over by a cell of Carthusian Monks of Sheen, who held it until the dissolution in 1536. Today the oldest part of the Priory is Elizabethan, and lies between St. Mary’s and the Frome.

The growing economic importance of Wareham during the medieval period is reflected especially in the north west quarter, where there is a Cow Lane, Roper’s Lane, Tinker’s Lane and Mill Lane, which runs up to the north wall above the Mill House. The Mill was powered by the Piddle, upon which sluices were also constructed to control the irrigation of the water meadows. Comfortable town houses and inns were built on the main streets, intermixed with many poorer dwellings. Butchers shambles and charnal houses were crowded on the wider streets near the Cross.

John Streche founded the Almshouses, now private residences, in 1418. In 1461 John Haynes leased the grounds of the castle for cultivation, by which time the keep had fallen into ruin. Today the line the bailey once followed is marked by Trinity Lane and an archway set into the Rectory wall in Pound Lane may be all that remains above ground.

During the Civil War the town’s fortunes fluctuated widely. The Parliamentarian commander, Sir Anthony Ashley-Cooper, wanted Wareham raised to the ground to prevent it falling into the hands of the Cavaliers. The town was a Royalist stronghold at the outset of the war, but then was captured by Cromwell twice and re-captured by the Royalists twice. Parliament ordered the town walls to be slighted (lowered) to half their original height. Following the Duke of Monmouth’s Rebellion in 1685, some of his followers were hung, drawn and quartered on the part of the wall known as the Bloody Bank.

In 1703 Queen Anne conferred a charter upon Wareham, heralding a new-found Regency prosperity won through the Purbeck Marble and stone trades, servicing Corfe Castle, and the wealth of the merchants. One merchant in particular, Thomas Perkins, found Bestwall outside the town wall an ideal location for the concealment of contraband from his smuggling operations. But smuggling was a popular if illicit occupation; in time it was said that for every Wareham man in business there was one of independent means.

But fire selectively destroyed some of the older buildings three times through the 18th century: in 1704, 1742 and in 1762 when 133 buildings were reduced to ashes. To tackle this last blaze turf ash was thrown onto a dunghill at the Bull’s Head (now Lloyds Bank). The Rectory of the Dorset historian John Hutchings was the third building to be lost in the fire. But for a courageous act of salvage by his devoted wife, the manuscript of Hutchins’ History & Antiquities of the County of Dorset would have been lost. But it was the timber and thatch houses of the artisans and traders which suffered most. The Kings Arms survived but the Red Lion had to be rebuilt. After the last fire the roads were widened and the houses rebuilt in brick and tile, although a few thatched buildings still mark the limit of the disaster.

The Town Hall stands on the site of a church once dedicated to St. Peter, built in 1321 but destroyed in the 1762 fire. Six years later this was rebuilt as the Town Hall and Jail, and rebuilt again in 1870. It is now the town’s museum and Tourist Information Centre.

Although the 20th century saw output from the Purbeck quarries contract, the extraction of ball clay and oil has increased over the same period. English China Clays (Ball Clays Ltd.) have established an office in the town, showing the continued vigour of Wareham’s commercial life. There is also a thriving horticultural sector, with the dark peaty soil well suited to the cultivation of vegetables and fruit. There is a market for the farm produce on Thursdays, and an annual cattle market in East Street. A new shopping precinct now stands on a site off St. John’s Hill, making money on the site of the old mint of Athelstan and Edward the Confessor.



West Parley

The parish of West Parley was once larger than its present 1,000 acres, for until the mid 20th century it included parts of Hampreston and all of West Moors and was comprised mainly of heathland. It lies on the north bank of the River Stour and is on the boundary with Hampshire; its name is Saxon for Pear Tree Field.

Within its boundaries is Dudsbury, an Iron Age hill-fort, and several Round Barrows. On Parley Common are the remains of turf-cutting allotments formed in 1633 when the heath land was divided between the freeholders and the manor.

The Parish Church of All Saints stands in a pretty and tranquil spot at the end of a road beside the River Stour, probably the site of an earlier Saxon church. Parts of the present church, the nave, and the doorway, date from the 12th century; the chancel was probably built in the 14th century then enlarged in 1896. The walls are of Heath stone rubble, partly rendered with ashlar dressings; the roof is covered with tiles and stone slates. Late in the 15th century or early in the 16th century the north porch was added and later in that century the west wall was rebuilt and the western part of the roof altered to facilitate the construction of a wooden bell turret that houses a bell dated 1792 made by T Pyke of Bridgewater. The Font is ahead of you as you enter the church – parts of it date from the 12th century but the bowl is probably late medieval. The pulpit dates from the early 17th century and features a huge hexagonal sounding board added in the 18th century. The silver cup and cover-paten with the inscription 1574 are the work of Lawrence Stratfield of Dorchester. They were returned to the church during the incumbency of the Revd. Tower, who was Rector here for many years, having been installed in 1537.

Apparently, the church is not aligned exactly east-west and points to where the sun would rise on All Saints Day before 1752, the time of the change from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar.  Entrance to the churchyard is through a wicket gate and as you progress to the church porch and door you pass an aging wooden post that bears a sundial. This post was once part of the gallows that stood on Gibbet Firs at East Parley. Just inside the gate on your left is a gravestone in memory of two sisters who drowned in the River Stour on the 24th of January 1908, their mother was the school mistress at East Parley.

When the chancel of the church was enlarged in 1896 a burial urn was found at a depth of three feet and at a distance of five feet beyond the old east wall. Eight skulls, one with coins in the eye sockets, surrounded the urn, which can now be found in a glazed and barred recess in the east wall of the church. The inscription over the urn reads: “Until 1896, when the chancel was restored, the urn, said to have held the heart of the Lady of Lydlinch, who endowed this church, lay under the stone on which it now stands.”  Tradition has it that the foundress and patroness of the church was a Norman lady, who rebuilt a former Saxon church, and gave for an endowment its glebe and certain tithes. She is said to have loved this place but her husband compelled her to go and live at Lydlinch in the Vale of Blackmoor.  She asked that on her death her heart should be buried in the churchyard at West Parley.

On the 5th of December 1803 at Christchurch Priory the body of William Harbin, a farmer of Parley Green, was buried. His wife believed her husband was going to change his Will and was determined to stop this happening. She persuaded their son and his friend, John Guppy, to murder William. Found guilty after a trial at Winchester, the pair were brought to Gibbet Firs for execution, their bodies left to hang for some time. It is said the distressed mother became insane, spending days and nights scaring away birds and even attempting to feed the corpses by throwing potatoes into their mouths. The land owner eventually cut down the gibbet and presented part of the post to the Rector of West Parley, who used it as a support for the sundial in the churchyard.

The Domesday Book records West Parley as follows: “ Ralph of Cranborne holds West Parley. Brictnoth held it before 1066. It paid tax for 2 hides. Land for 2 ploughs, which are there. 5 villagers, 4 smallholders and 2 slaves. Meadow, 25 acres; pasture 1 league long and 7 furlongs wide; woodland 4 furlongs long and 1 furlong wide.”  Nowadays West Parley is a busier place as you might expect, given its proximity to Poole and Bournemouth.

The Gallows at Dorchester

In Speed’s plan of Dorchester published in 1610, the gallows prominently illustrated as two uprights with a connecting crossbeam, was marked at the junction of what today is Icen Way and South Walks. In an earlier time, Icen Way was known as Gaol Lane and started at the Gaol then on the corner of High East Street; the final section leading to the gallows was known as Gallows Hill and for many men, women and children the journey along Gaol Lane was their last.

This final journey along the narrow lane from jail to gallows was for some, heretics and traitors, even more of an ordeal. Dragged by their heels by horses frightened by the crowd to be strung up and disembowelled while still alive, their quartered remains boiled before being despatched to outlying villages as a warning to others.

Dorchester the county town was host to the Assizes, sentences handed down were quickly executed, and in those days the theft of a few shillings would merit a death sentence. Following the Assizes there was a barbaric spectacle thought by government to improve the morals of the people. Actually, the opposite was true, the crowds often numbering thousands drank too much and degenerated into a drunken rabble shouting, cursing and jeering at those unfortunate beings who, to use the term of the times, were to be “turned-off.”

Nearly a century later the Dorchester gallows was moved to the Roman amphitheatre then as now known as Maumbury Rings. The young Mary Channing was brought here in 1703 and burned alive in front of a crowd said to number thousands. (See ‘Mary Channing – a path to the gallows’ in our Archived Articles section-Ed.) Females found guilty of crimes that are more serious were frequently burned alive presumably this was considered more humane than hanging, drawing and quartering, the fate endured by men.

Death by hanging was in practice death by slow strangulation; not until the early years of the 19th century was the longer drop allowed.

The Lent Assizes at Dorchester in 1801 tried 48 cases mostly for theft. Several people found guilty of minor offences were ordered to be transported. (See ‘Transported to such place beyond the seas’ in Archived Articles – Ed.) Ten were sentenced to death including one woman, Lydia Hiskins; she had stolen a bank note.

By the mid 19th century the long drop had been in use for nearly fifty years and the gallows had been arranged at the entrance to the prison in North Square and later moved inside the prison to a spot with views overlooking the meadows by the river.

One of the last public executions at the prison entrance was that of Martha Brown, which was witnessed by a young Thomas Hardy and is said to have haunted him all his life. (See Elizabeth Martha Clarke – “a most kind and inoffensive woman.” Published 24th December 2009 in Real Lives category.)

“Hang Fairs” held below the jail would attract people to Dorchester from all over the county. By daybreak all the best vantage points were taken and the spectators occupied their time drinking, fiddling and dancing. Two centuries on and the public was still attracted to these dreadful spectacles, viewed by many as a free entertainment.

The Royal Mail coach from London pulled in to the King’s Arms at about 9.30 a.m. after a 13-hour journey from London and its arrival determined the time of execution, usually stayed in case there was a last minute reprieve from London.

The last public execution at Dorchester was in 1863. Two men, Preedy and Fooks, were to die on the same day. The Vicar of Fordington, The Rev. Henry Moule, was concerned about Preedy and frequently visited the man in jail. Following the executions The Rev, Moule published a book entitled ‘Hope against Hope,’ an account of Preedy’s life and his repentance. (See ‘The Prisoner a Padre Befriended’ published 9th February 2010 in the Real Lives category.)

This double execution drew thousands from far and wide. It was reported that two brothers erected a grandstand on the meadows and charged for seats. Their enterprise was so well supported that the stand collapsed under the weight of the spectators who all subsided into the mud below.

For year’s the saddler’s shop now long closed but then in High East Street supplied the new rope needed for the gallows. This was always the best quality hemp and probably supplied from Bridport.

In the Dorchester Gallery at the CountyMuseum there are on display two lead weights each about the size of a brick, engraved with the word “Mercy.” Silvester Wilkins was a very light man and even with the benefit of the long drop he faced a lingering death, the weights were a humane gesture from the Governor of the jail. Wilkins was executed in 1833.

Six Roman Catholics were executed on a charge of high treason during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and then there were the 13 prisoners condemned by Judge Jeffreys, who suffered on the old Gallows Hill. The thirteen were hung in succession one after the other, their bodies treated in the manner reserved for traitors. The quarters of 12 men were distributed in Dorchester and the body of one man handed to his friends by order of the Judge.

There is reference in the Weymouth and Melcombe Regis records to a bill of costs in connection with a gallows erected at Greenhill. It reads: “Disbursements for the gallows, burning and boiling the rebels executed per order of this town – £15 14s. 3d.” It is reported that the horrible preparations for the final disposal of the bodies went on in the sight of the victims. These horrors would have been repeated at Dorchester, Lyme Regis and other towns in the county.

The last execution at Dorchester was of David Jennings who had murdered a night watchman. Jennings was 21 years old when he was executed in 1941.