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Gussage St. Andrew in the Parish of Sixpenny Handley

The small and interesting church of Gussage St. Andrew sits in a field behind Chapel Farm in the parish of Sixpenny Handley. Nowadays it is a chapelry of the Parish Church of St. Mary’s but in Hutchins time it belonged to the parish of Gussage St. Michael about two miles away and has also been a Chapel of Ease to the church at Iwerne Minster.

The walls are of flint with ashlar dressings and in part have been rendered; the roof is tiled. St. Andrew’s comprises just a nave, chancel and a small bell-turret. The nave dates from the 12th century and the chancel from the late 13th century.

The gabled east wall of the chancel has two restored 13th century lancet windows and at the other end of the cell in the west wall there is a 12th century window. The nave has windows from the 12th, 13th, and 17th century as well as one probably installed in 1857 when a little restoration work was carried out. The church is entered through a 14th century doorway in the north wall of the nave.The Purbeck stone font dates from the 12th century and there is a late 17th century oak pulpit. The Royal Arms of George III are displayed but have been crudely painted.

There are two floor slab memorials: one in the chancel to William Williams who passed away on the 17th November 1725 aged 100 years, the other is in the nave and commemorates John Lush and his wife Mary, dated 1722.

By far the most interesting things about this little church are the wall paintings that were only uncovered in 1951. They depict the Betrayal of Christ and the Scourging, the Crucifixion, the Deposition and also the Suicide of Judas.

We have included in the gallery photos of the exterior and interior of St. Andrews.

Sixpenny Handley – the Fire of 1892

Four miles from the border with Wiltshire in the north east of the county is the curiously named village of Sixpenny Handley. It is probably the largest village in Cranborne Chase and sometimes signposted “6d Handley”, a reference to a pre-decimalisation coin. In his book Highways and Byways in Dorset Frederick Treves bestows on the village the accolade: “.the ugliest village in Dorset.”

During the spring of 1892 there had been remarkably little rain; the thatch roofing on the cottages was very dry. As the 20th of May dawned people awoke and set about their labours. The village blacksmith and wheelwright was busy bonding wheels, a process that required the rim to be heated to a very high temperature before being lifted and secured on the wheel.
 
Just before noon it seems a spark, or piece of burning material, was caught-up by the wind and carried some 150 yards from the smithy, alighting on the thatched roof of a cottage and setting it alight. Before it was noticed, sparks and embers had been lifted by the wind and carried along and across the main street; it was not long before the greater part of the village was ablaze, including the oil and tallow store.

Residents grabbed all the possessions they could and took them out of reach of the inferno but later, as the fire spread and there was much commotion and confusion, the flames greedily swallowed up even these meagre possessions. By the time the residents realised the scale of the battle they had on their hands the fire was unstoppable.

It was noon. Most of the men and lads were at work in the fields, this being a mainly agricultural community. The village is not near a river and had no direct water supply from any source above ground. It proved an impossible struggle, as even the wood framed wells surrendered to the intense heat. Some villagers put ladders to the walls of their homes and attempted to remove the burning thatch, but were defeated when the wooden ladders caught fire.

The inability of the villagers to get control of the fire in the early stages allowed it to rage fiercely and defy all attempts to halt the destruction it was determined to wreak; it burnt for three days. There was little left of the village after over 50 buildings were gutted, leaving 186 people homeless and destitute with little more than the clothes they stood up in. This was the third fire to break out in the village in 35 years and by far the most devastating.

The cost of rebuilding the village was expensive and a daunting task. Other communities rallied around with donations of money and clothes. The government sent bell tents and the army soldiers to put them up. Local farmers sent shepherds’ huts to house victims.

Treves was writing about the village a decade after the fire, when rebuilding would have been largely completed. We know the work had to be done quickly; it was not to the highest standard and this is clearly reflected in Treves scathing review of this unfortunate village.

There are photos of the village and the fire damage in the photo section.

 (See our story Sixpenny Handley published 26th of November 2012 in the Sixpenny Handley category.)
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Sixpenny Handley

The hundreds of Sexpena and Hanlega were amalgamated probably in the 14th century and became the Hundred of Sixpenne et Henle. The parish was formed in the 19th century when two chapelries, Handley and Gussage St. Andrew, previously parts of the parish of Iwerne Minster, were united.  However, Handley had been a parish until the 13th century.

Until relatively recent times the village was known simply as Handley. It lies in the eastern part of the parish, comprises over six thousand acres and spans the upper reaches of three valleys in the north-east of the county. This is the largest village in Cranborne Chase and it is the economic heart of the parish. In the west of the parish are the early settlements of Minchington and Gussage St. Andrews, where two later settlements appear to have sprung up: Woodcutts, in existence by 1244 and Dean, in existence since 1278.

The Parish Church of St. Mary is at the north-west end of the village. There are pointers to a 12th century building: a stone carved image of Christ-in-Majesty; the font and a capitol re-used as a stoup in the porch, but nothing else from that period has survived. The chancel and the south porch date from the 14th century and a north aisle was added in 1832. In 1877 the 14th century porch was taken down and re-erected in its present position and a south aisle was built on. At the same time the nave, north aisle and west tower were rebuilt. Amongst the monuments in the church is one to John Alie, who died in 1579, and his family; there is a brass commemorating the life of James Isaac, the parish clerk whose family held that position for a 128 years including throughout the 19th century.

 Isaac Gulliver, the notorious smuggler, used Handley as one of his bases and it was at St. Mary’s Church that he married Betty Beale on the 5th of October 1768. A newspaper in 1770 reported that a posse of the Excise men came to the village and seized contraband tea and brandy hidden in a cottage in the village; they had to beat off an attack from local free traders and managed to get the contraband safely back to the Excise Superintendents house in Blandford.  Later in the evening about 150 men armed and on horseback came to Blandford and persuaded the Excise officer’s wife at gun-point to give them back the contraband. (See our story: Isaac Gulliver – Dorset’s Smuggler King, published 24th April 2010 in the Real Lives category.)

The village sits in a part of the county where there are many prehistoric remains. Local land owner General Pitt-Rivers was responsible for much archaeological work in the area, notably at Wor Barrow, a Neolithic long barrow about a mile to the east of the village and at a site on the common near to the hamlet of Woodcutts. More recently Bournemouth University has carried out a considerable amount of work hereabouts. (See our story: General Pitt-Rivers & the Cranborne Years, in the Biography category, published 19th November 2012.)
 
A fire in 1892 destroyed most of the village; inevitably most of the buildings along the long High Street are modern and include several shop premises. Within the parish boundaries however, there are several examples of attractive houses dating back to the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. This is not a picture post card village but whether or not it still deserves Frederick Treves accolade of “..the ugliest village in Dorset,” is something you will have to make your own mind up about.

(See our story Sixpenny Handley – the Fire of 1892, published 2nd December 2012 in the Sixpenny Handley category.)

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.

Chettle

In the north-east of the county at the head of a valley in the Cranborne Chase lies the parish of Chettle. The village lies at the bottom of the valley and was, until the 16th century, surrounded by open fields and some enclosed pasture, according to Hutchins. Recorded as Ceotel in Domesday Book, the name is from the Old English and means kettle, a reference to the location of the village in a deep valley surrounded by hills. The two Long Barrows in the parish provide cover for the remains of earlier guardians of this place from the Neolithic age, testifying to the manor’s ancient past.

This peaceful retreat has several thatched roofed cottages dating from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, a pretty church and Chettle House, attributed to Thomas Archer and commissioned by George Chafin MP in 1710. This Queen Anne house is in the English Baroque style and sits in five acres of gardens.

The first Chafin came to Chettle in the 17th century. The family possibly seeing its secluded location as shelter from the momentous events of those times were not shy of doing battle. Thomas Chaffin (1650-1691) left from Chettle to oppose the Duke of Monmouth at the battle of Sedgemoor, where he was Commander of a troop of Dorset Horse. He saw his share of conflict in those exciting days but he died in 1691 of natural causes at the age of 41. Thomas Chafin and his wife, the daughter of Colonel Penruddock, who was “beheaded for his loyalty” during the Civil War are commemorated in the parish church.

The Chafin family enjoyed field sports and enthusiastically enforced their rights in the Chase and this led to altercations with neighbours: in one dispute George Chaffin (1689-1766, ) MP and Ranger of Cranborne Chase, was challenged to a duel by Bubb Doddington , a fellow Member of Parliament and neighbour. William Chaffin (1733-1818) was the author of Anecdotes and History of Cranborne Chase a volume of tales about the gamekeepers enduring battle with poachers. William was said to have been an unruly man but later he became Rector of Chettle Parish. He accidentally shot a woman the first time he handled a gun.

In 1914 another William Chafin came to live at Chettle and like his ancestor he was writing a book, Anecdotes of the Cranborne Chase, when he was struck by lightning: he survived and finished his book.

Chettle House became the home of the Revd John West. He was born in Farnham, Surrey in 1778 and ordained at Winchester Cathedral in 1806. In February 1820 he arrived to take up his duties at Chettle but quickly returned to Aldershot, his previous parish. On the 27th of May 1820 he sailed from Gravesend on board the Hudson Bay Company’s ship Eddystone and landed in Red River Settlement, British North America. He joined a group of displaced Scottish crofters who had been settled there by the Earl of Selkirk.

John West set-up schools for the Indians and he was the first Englishman to preach to Eskimos, this was at a gathering at Churchill on the Hudson Bay in 1823. He made two later visits to other parts of North America, going to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in 1825 and 1826. His Red River school and settlement later became St. John’s Cathedral, Winnipeg.

In 1828 he returned to England and settled in Chettle. He was fascinated by wanderers both in North America and at home in Dorset and worked tirelessly for them. In Dorset with help from Lord Ashley he set up the ‘Orphan Gipsy Assylum and Industrial School.’ He died on the 31st of December 1845. The 150th anniversary of his arrival at Red River was celebrated In 1970, with special commemorative services at Chettle and Winnipeg.

All that remains of St, Mary’s church from John West’s day is the 16th century tower. The chancel, nave, vestry and organ chamber were built in 1849, replacing demolished medieval buildings. There is a memorial to John West in the chancel and in the church there are memorials commemorating members of the Chafin family.

In 1846 banker William Castleman and his son Charles, a solicitor, purchased Chettle House and the parish. This Wareham family had made its money in the railway business and  they sponsored the first railway line into Dorset in 1845. The line opened from Southampton to Dorchester on the 1st of June 1847 and soon became known as Castleman’s Corkscrew because of its route. The Castleman family can trace their roots back to Isaac Gulliver, the master smuggler.

Chettle house is the principal monument and main attraction in the village. Pevsner says it is: “the plum among Dorset Houses… and even nationally outstanding as a specimen of English Baroque.” This elegant oval structure built of red brick with dressings of Chilmark stone stands in five acres of delightful gardens. In the grounds is the dower house now The Castleman a hotel and restaurant.

Footnote: Tim Edwards writes: It was Edward Castleman, who bought this house; he was the only son interested in country life. Also they had no part in the Railway, other than working for the owners as solicitors and both acted for the Company, until after the line was purchased by LSWR.

 

Bradford Peverell

On the weekday afternoon we visited this pleasant village we saw no one: it had the feel of a commuter dormitory for Dorchester, being just three and a half miles from the county town and about half a mile from the main road to Yeovil it is ideally positioned for the role. Some of the dwellings here appear to be recent developments and others are tasteful restorations of older properties. Appearances can be deceptive; peel away the patina of modernity and there is much of interest to be found here.

In the closing years of the 17th century Robert Hutchins was curate at St. Mary’s, Bradford Peverell, and rector of Dorchester All Saints; his son John was born in the village on the 21st of September 1698. Like his father, John was a man of the church and held positions at Swyre, Melcombe Horsey and Holy Trinity Wareham, all the while collecting information for what was to become the most important reference work on the history of the county: The History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset.  (See our article in the Biography Category: ‘John Hutchins’ published January 13th 2010.)

William Howley became Rector of Bradford Peverell on the 23rd of May 1811 and held the position until 1813; in 1828 he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. With Lord Conyngham, the Lord Chamberlain, he went to Kensington Palace at 6am on the 20th of June 1837 and announced to Victoria her accession to the throne. A year later he crowned Queen Victoria at her Coronation. The ceremony did not go smoothly and Howley is reported to have said afterwards: “we should have had a full rehearsal.”  He later conducted the marriage of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert and earlier he had presided over the Coronation of King William IV.

Ownership of the manor of Bradford can be traced back to the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) but the suffix Peverell was added when Richard I granted the manor to Robert Peverel and his grant was confirmed by King John. The Peverel family owned the manor for over three hundred years to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Domesday Book (1086) records that Bradford was held by Tol or Thurli a Dane who owned several Dorset estates. These passed to a Norman Chieftain William de Ow (or d’eu) the Count of Picardy, who came to England with the Conqueror. In 1096 he was executed at Salisbury for treason against William II of England, the third son of William the Conqueror. The estates then passed to the Earl of Hereford and later became part of the Duchy of Lancaster.

During the reign of Henry I (1100-1135) and Stephen (1135-1154) the manors of Bradford and Muckleford came into the possession of the De Port family as tenants of the Duchy of Lancaster. Adam de Port was outlawed and his land forfeited to King Richard I who, as we tell above, granted the manors to Robert Peverel but during the reign of Elizabeth I the male Peveril line became extinct: William Peverel leaving an only daughter, Jane.

Jane married Nicholas Meggs of Cambridgeshire. The Meggs’ suffered heavy losses during the Civil War and in 1683 Thomas Meggs sold the manor of Muckleford, a small hamlet within the parish, to make good the family finances. The rest of the parish remained in the hands of the Meggs family until 1770, when Harry Meggs sold it to John Purling. (See our story ‘The Muckleford Treasure’ in the Bradford Peverell category).

John Purling was a director of the East India Company and from 1774 to 1784 the Member of Parliament for Melcombe Regis. He built a house about a mile from the church that burnt down in 1822.

In 1848 the manor passed by will to Hastings Nathaniel Middleton and he built a new house in 1866. He was a nephew of John Purling and grandson of Nathaniel Middleton, the agent to Warren Hastings at Lucknow in 1774: Warren Hastings was Governor General of India from 1774 to 1785.  In 1898 his son, Hastings Burton Middleton, became lord of the manor; he lost two sons: Hastings Charles Middleton to a chill caught at Oxford while rowing and Captain Frank Middleton during the Persian Gulf Expedition of 1914 during the First World War and so it was Hastings Burton Middleton’s grandson, Lieutenant Hastings Frank Middleton R.A., who became lord of the manor. It was Hastings Nathaniel Middleton who rebuilt the church in 1850.

John Hutchins has left us a description of the old church: “The church is a small and ancient fabric, dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. It stands on the south side of the parish, near the seat of the Meggs’, and consists of a chancel tiled, a body, and a small south aisle, the burial place of the Meggs’ between both, covered with lead. In a wooden turret, covered also with lead, are three bells. It has a porch, to build which Robert Roberts, rector, by will 1852, left 60s.”

The present church was designed in the early English style by Decimus Burton and consists of a chancel, nave, south porch and a west tower with a steeple of Portland stone; this can be seen from some distance.  There were originally three bells: one dated A.D.1616, another dated 1674 and a third cast by William Knight of Blandford is inscribed: Harry Meggs Esq C.W 1747. These bells were recast in 1896 when a new tenor and treble were added with inscriptions to the Middleton family.

Some of the stained glass from the old church has found a home in the new church and tells the story of the Virgin Mary. Another window which contains glass from the old Church illustrates the arms of William of Wykeham, who purchased the advowson of the living in 1391. The east window of the chancel also survives from the old Church.

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.)

The parish is a little less than 3,000 acres and has been home to a population of between 300 and 400 since 1851, the 2001 census records 344 inhabitants. In the 1880’s the village supported two grocers, a butcher, a blacksmith, a builder, a dairyman, a miller and three farmers. A National School for sixty children was established in the village in 1836 and for many years the village benefited from having a railway station – Bradford Peverell and Stratton Halt.

The village stands on the south bank of the River Frome. Bradford is a reference to the ‘broad ford’ over the river on the site of a Roman bridge. The village is approached by crossing over the river on an iron bridge which replaced an earlier wooden structure. A Roman aqueduct in the form of a clay-lined channel that was used to get water from the River Frome at Frampton to Durnovaria (Dorchester) can still be seen.  Evidence of ancient occupation can be found in the parish: there are four Neolithic Long Barrows and, from the Bronze Age, twenty-eight round barrows.

After the Rebellion

During the summer of 1685 the West Country was in turmoil. The Duke of Monmouth’s short lived campaign to seize the throne failed, leaving many mothers without husbands and sons. Those of Monmouth’s supporters who survived the fight faced a journey to Dorchester and the rough justice dispensed by Judge Jefferies at what was to become known as the Bloody Assizes. (See our article: the Monmouth Rebellion, published 18th October 2012 in the General Category).

The 800 or so who were sentenced to be transported were the fortunate ones; nearly three hundred were sentenced to death and for many of those the journey out of this world was to be a cruel and barbaric one. A few saved themselves by testifying against their fellows, while some wealthy individuals were able to buy themselves a pardon and a lucky few managed to escape and blend back into their communities when the hue and cry had died down. (See our article: Prideaux Family at Forde Abbey published 20th July 2012 in Real Lives Category).

Supporters of Monmouth continued to be sought out until the announcement of a General Pardon in March 1686. One was James Daniel, a lawyer, who lived in Beaminster. Following the defeat at Sedgemoor he fled to his home town and hid in a closet in his house. Hearing that soldiers were heading towards Beaminster looking for him he hurried west out of town to Knowle Farm, where he hid in a barn and covered himself with straw.

The soldiers arrived at the farm and charged into the barn, stabbing at the straw with their bayonets; amazingly they missed him. Eventually, the soldiers abandoned their search, leaving the fugitive to wonder about his miraculous escape. He was sure God had saved his life.

Four years passed before things improved for the better and James Daniel’s life could return to something resembling normal. The first thing he did was to buy the barn and the land around it, establishing a private burial ground so he and his descendants would lie where he believed God had saved him. James Daniel lived a further three score years reaching the age of 100 before it was time for this former Rebel to return to Knowle Farm one last time.  The burial ground remains to this day. Just 40 ft by 24 ft it is surrounded by a hedge of holly and a low stone ivy-covered wall, being entered through two large iron gates.

Those who fought on the side of the king returned to their homes and occupations, while some of the landed gentry who had supported the royal cause were received and thanked for their loyalty and service personally by the king in London.
 
In the thick of the battle commanding a troop of Dorset Horse was Thomas Chafin from Chettle. He was a devoted family man who frequently sent letters home to his wife; some of these have survived and provide us with first hand accounts of life on the field of battle, as well as giving us a glimpse into his relationship with his wife and his pride at being presented to James II.
In an early letter home Thomas Chafin tells of how his cousin was killed “barbarously” and goes on to say that one of his friends saved himself by hiding in a plot of kidney beans and how another escaped by running into a garret: “he was running as fast as he could thither and he and Thomas Clements and his gardener with him, well armed.” In another letter home he says: “after being fallen upon by rebels there was an hour’s fighting and away they ran”. He goes on to claim they took and killed a thousand of the rebels and captured three loads of arms.

In a further despatch to his wife who he addresses as: “My Dearest Creature” and  closes with “… and blessings to the brats and let Nancy take true love from her Deare Tossey,” Chafin tells her they “had totally routed the enemies of God and the king and could not hear of 50 men together of the rebel army. Every hour they picked up rebels in fields, hedges, and ditches including the Duke of Monmouth’s valet; the duke’s last words to him were that he was undone”.

The Duke of Monmouth was captured hiding under a tree near Cranborne Chase, at a spot still referred to as Monmouth’s Ash. He was running from the battlefield, trying to get to Poole, where he hoped to secure a passage back to Holland. Instead he was taken to London under a guard of soldiers from 1st King’s Dragoon Guards and executed.

It is not clear if Chafin and his men were a part of that guard but certainly Chafin was in London for Monmouth’s execution, a fact he reports to his wife. He describes how he and Thomas Erle were presented to the king, who gave them his hand to kiss, so that the whole company gazed on them and wondered who they were.  “Pray let ten cock chickens and two hens be sent to Thomas Erle’s speedily” Chafin orders, his wife adding: “The Duke of Monmouth’s head was severed from his body yesterday morning on Tower Hill. Blessing to Brats. So farewell, my dearest deare Nancy, quoth Tossey”.

The outcome of the conflict impacted the lives and relationships of many Dorset people. Some were cruelly sent to their deaths, some were shipped-off to far-away shores with no hope of seeing their loved ones again, and some were royally rewarded.

Portland: its 18th Century Customs

During the 18th century Portland was truly an island. Its three thousand acres composed entirely of Jurassic rock assured a bleak existence for the inhabitants: a close-knit, hard-working community with their own ways and customs and, to the chagrin of the authorities at Weymouth, their own interpretation of the laws of salvage.

Gavelkind, a form of land tenure from Anglo-Saxon times, had been supplanted elsewhere in England but here it was still used. With the equal division of land at each generation the inevitable consequence for the social structure was to squeeze out anything like a middle-class and cause a general levelling down which ensured the resulting poverty was equally shared.

An unusual custom on the island concerning matrimonial arrangements almost guaranteed there would be no marriages without issue. On Portland, women selected their mates and entered into marriage only after pregnancy was confirmed.  John Smeaton (1724-1792), a civil engineer, tells us in his book published in 1791: Narrative of the Buildings and a Description of the Construction of the Eddystone Lighthouse with Stone how very proud his London born foreman was of the fact that illegitimacy was unheard of and assured his employer: “there was but one child on record that had been born a bastard in the compass of 150 years”. Failure to achieve pregnancy “after a competent time of courtship” meant “that they are not destined by Providence for each other” and the woman was “free to seek another suitor as if she had been left a widow or that nothing had happened”. A cursory glance through the baptism register confirms this claim.

It was in the 17th century that the export of fine building stone got under way but according to John Smeaton it was “shipped in the rough…to be sawn and fair wrought to the particular purpose where wanted”. Stone quarrying brought only unskilled lowly paid work for the Portland men, a situation further aggravated as spoil heaps of rock and sub-soil littered the island reducing the already limited areas available for growing crops and produce. Skilled stone masons came to the island after 1739.

The islanders had little contact with the rest of the country other than with the villagers of Wyke Regis from whom they would buy supplies, share fishing grounds and unite to thwart the Weymouth Custom Officers in matters of wrecking and salvage, an activity we will look at in greater detail in another article.

Access to the island was by a rope-drawn ferry boat, by all accounts a hazardous journey. The island was first joined to the mainland in 1839 by a toll bridge over the Fleet to Wyke Regis and Weymouth and by the railway in 1865. The present causeway was opened in 1985.

The Monmouth Rebellion

Dorset could have played a vital part in a return to Protestant dominance in England in the late 17th century. The Duke of Monmouth arrived on Lyme Regis beach from Holland, impelled by volatile evangelicalism in that country, and soon gathered an army of thousands which marched north, only to be defeated by King James II’s forces at Sedgmoor.

It was an army of peasants or serfs, armed with farm implements, and stirred to action by the death of Charles II and the arrival of a Catholic king on the throne. The attempt, in the summer of 1685, did not have the support of the Whigs as it might have done, and it was cut down among the Somerset rhines, the drainage canals in the moors, by a smaller but more professional force led by John Churchill, later the First Duke of Marlborough.

Monmouth and Lord Grey made for the Dorset coast, hoping to get away by sea from Poole. They abandoned their horses, disguised themselves and separated but Monmouth was caught in Cranbourne Chase and within weeks he was executed for treason at Tower Hill, London.

An associated rising planned in Scotland, a stronghold, like the West Country, of the burgeoning Protestant religion, resulted in defeat. It was left to William III of Orange to sail from Holland three years later, put ashore at Torbay with an army and eventually to be made king by Parliament once James II had sailed away to France.

The political and church scene at this time was mercurial and transient. The Civil Wars, which were intended to straighten things out, were not long over. The death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658 led to the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Draconian rules were in force governing worship, and Baptists and others were meeting in the woods. A century later the situation was somewhat similar, before there began to be an acceptance of the Roman Catholic Church once again. Things were going round in circles.

One James, Duke of Monmouth, aged 36, bastard son of Charles and claiming the throne in the place of his uncle the Duke of York, had stepped ashore near the Cobb at Lyme Regis, his Declaration was read out at the ancient cross. He had a high profile supporter in Anthony Ashley Cooper, First Earl of Shaftesbury. Monmouth’s followers were euphoric, yet there were many Dorset men in the king’s forces, which were soon to harry them.

The end was very violent and very sad. At the Bloody Assizes in September 1685, based in Dorchester, Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys took revenge in a courtroom said to have been draped in red. The Oak Room, still preserved, and now a rather select tearoom, overlooks an alley thoroughfare not far from the town’s tourist information centre. The judge’s lodgings in the town’s main street are also now tearooms. Altogether 292 people were condemned to death and 800 were transported to the New World.

Four years later, following William’s “Glorious Revolution”, the ‘hanging judge’ himself died rather ignominiously in the Tower of London.

Everything was against Monmouth: a badly equipped army, quarrelling amongst his chief officers, poor preparation, and an inept skirmish at Bridport. By midnight on the landing date Mayor Gregory Alford of Lyme Regis was at Honiton ordering an express message to Whitehall, and two Lyme Customs officers were also on their way to London to raise the alarm.

Taunton and Bridgwater welcomed the rebels with flower lined streets. The rebels wished to take Bristol, then the second city in the kingdom, but were easily discouraged and made their way through Frome and Shepton Mallet to Wells, and to Bridgwater again. By this time the people were losing heart and Taunton asked the rebel army not to return.

Monday July 6th 1685 decided things. Monmouth decided to attack the king’s army near Weston Zoyland, but was defeated by the rhines and the accidental or treacherous firing of a pistol in the dark by one of his own side.

The duke had hatched his plans with the fugitive Argyle and some hotheads in the Netherlands. Argyle was to start an insurrection under the Covenanting banner in the Borders and Campbell territory. The idea was that they would then both march on London. Argyle landed in Kintyre but the Marquis of Atholl occupied the countryside there and he was eventually captured when approaching Glasgow, and executed.

This activity north of the border had caused Parliament to vote money for a professional army. More troops came from the Continent, and help even came from William, showing that while their aims were similar, he had no time for Monmouth.

The strange thing is that four years earlier; Monmouth had toured the West Country and was led to expect massive support from the gentry. But his ragged army was one mostly of farm labourers and cloth workers. Even the supplies he had brought from Holland were seized.

Later, hundreds were caught as they ran from the battleground, cut down or hanged on the spot. A garrison newly returned from Tangiers was sent in, and retribution in nearby towns such as Shepton Mallet and Taunton followed.

Maurice Ashley, in “The English Civil War” (1974) set the scene for the Monmouth fiasco and what followed very well:

“Lastly, because Parliament won the civil wars it henceforward became an unchallengeable part of the British constitution. The Church of England ceased to be the sole religious institution because, in spite of heavy penalties imposed upon them, dissenters – known as nonconformists – emerged as a permanent feature of public life and influence on society.”

There was never to be another civil war in England. And when it began to seem that Roman Catholicism would hold sway again, along came William of Orange with his armed force to reverse the situation again. King James II fled to France and the nation remained Protestant.

Dorchester – No Dignity in Death

There were some in the 18 and 19th centuries who explored the notion that criminals shared common physical characteristics: the study of phrenology was in its early stages but it was thought a person’s features or expressions were an indication of their personality. During this period it was not unusual for casts to be made of the heads of executed criminals in furtherance of these ideas.

In the middle years of the 19th century the Dorchester Gaol employed the services of Dr. John Good as its prison surgeon. Dr Good is known to have applied for licences to make casts of the heads of some executed prisoners, although it is not clear why as there are no records to suggest he had any particular interest in phrenology or physiognomy.

In the 1960’s four casts were offered to the Dorset County Museum and as far we know they remain in store there. Dr John Good practiced from 48 High West Street, Dorchester, and when he retired his son William Good took over and was joined by a partner, Gerald Taylor. Dr Taylor later moved to Icen House, Icen Way, Dorchester. The four casts moved with him and resided in the garage of Icen House until either Dr Taylor or an associate offered them to the museum.

In a paper published in 2000 G.A. Chester, having sifted through all the available documentary evidence and newspaper reports then carefully considering all that is known about the characteristics of the persons hanged at Dorchester between 1833 and 1887, makes a compelling case for the casts being from the heads of: Charles Fooks; Edwin Alfred Preedy; Jonah Detheridge and Thomas Ratcliffe. (See our story ‘The Prisoner a Padre Befriended’ published 9th February 2010 in the Real Lives Category).

A note made by Thomas Hardy dated 9th of September 1888 provides more information about the making of the casts: “T. Voss used to take casts of heads of executed convicts. He took those of Preedy and Stone. Dan Pouncy held the heads while it was being done. Voss oiled the faces, and took them in halves, afterwards making casts from the masks. There was a groove where the rope went, and Voss saw a little blood in the case of Stone, where the skin had been broken – not in Preedys.” In his account Hardy has confused Stone, who was the victim, with Fooks, who killed Stone.

Thomas Haviland Voss (1806-1889) of Durngate Street, Dorchester was listed in directories as a builder and a plasterer. After his death the Dorset County Chronicle published an obituary on the 3rd of October 1889 saying: “Dorchester has just lost its oldest tradesmen in the person of Mr Thomas Haviland Voss. The deceased who belonged to an old and much respected Dorchester family whose connection with the town extended considerably over a century was in business himself for more than half-a-century as a plasterer, &c, from which he retired some years ago.” Thomas Voss’ grandson, Harold Lionel Voss, was reputed to be Thomas Hardy’s favourite chauffeur.

There are no records of casts being made of the heads of any other criminals executed at Dorchester. We know the casts were made under the supervision of Dr Good but we can only wonder about why he wanted them.