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Thursday, 31 July 2014

Dorset Walks-Milton Abbas to Bulbarrow

This walk starts at Milton Abbas, a picture postcard village created in 1780 on the whim of the Lord of the Manor who deciding that the town of Middleton rather got on the way of his view, promptly demolished it, moving the population over the hill to the brand, spanking new village of Milton Abbas.

The route takes you past Milton Abbey and school and then passes one of the most idyllically situated school playing fields in England.

A long climb brings you to the brow of Bulbarrow Hill where you are rewarded with far-reaching views inland over the Blackmore Vale.

8.5 miles 4hrs approx.
Explorer 117 (Cerne Abbas & Bere Regis)

Monday, 28 July 2014

Dorset Details


A few medieval Dorset folk I've met with on my travels...

Thursday, 24 July 2014

The Bridport Dagger

It's hard to believe that within recent memory the bustling town of Bridport was the centre of an industry stretching back a thousand years or more - the manufacture of rope.
So synonymous did Bridport become with this product that in the 18C the hangman’s rope, was nicknamed 'The Bridport Dagger'.

Why Bridport? The answer was simple; the surrounding area provided perfect conditions for the growing of flax and hemp, raw materials of the industry.
Written records of rope manufacture date back to the 12th C when King John placed large orders for rope and cordage for his navy. The industry though, is much older. Rope making and the production of sail cloth eventually employed more than half of Bridport's population while production methods changed very little until the late 19th C.
The manufacturing consisted of a number of quaintly named processes;

RETTING - After harvesting the flax was allowed to rot in ponds or the fields to separate the stems from the fibres.

SCALING - Stripping the hemp from the stems

BOLLING - The crushing of the stems to remove the woody parts. This was where the first mechanisation appeared; water mills were equipped part time with special hammers to pound the flax.

SCUTCHING or SWINGLING - This removed the crushed woody part.

HACKLING - Lengths of raw fibre were drawn though closely placed metal spikes like wire hairbrushes to make the fibres run in one direction. An arduous job, it was usually carried out by men.

Rope spinning machine
SPINNING- Turned the raw flax into a quality of rope which became renowned throughout Britain; whether providing nets for the distant Newfoundland fisheries or the myriad lines and cables used on the Navy's wooden ships.

Spinning also gave Bridport its distinctive layout. Behind the small cottages still lining the high street are long, narrow alleys, now gardens. They provided the Rope Walks where the the rope was 'spun'; a process which until the mid-nineteenth century was carried out by hand usually by women and children.

At one end of the walk stood a simple wooden building called a turnhouse which housed the reel on which the completed twine was wound. This was usually turned by a child (often as young as six) sitting in a pit. Women, gradually fed out hanks of flax or hemp fastened around their waists, the ends attached to the spinning wheel, as they moved backwards away from the turn house. The newly made rope was supported at intervals by being hooked over upright posts known as skirders. It was a process that was carried out rain or shine, often far into the night when the women would fix a candle to each shoulder to light the work
A skirder used to support the rope as it was spun

From the rope industry net making arose; nets were braided using the twine in a process rather like knitting on a large scale using a braiding needle.

As with any industry, demand was fickle. The Navy eventually found it was cheaper to spin its own rope closer to its dockyards; luckily demand was replaced by the growth of the East India Company, while the Newfoundland fisheries (almost entirely fished by west of England men) created an ever-growing demand for nets. Towards the 19th C the rope-making processes were gradually brought together in mills. It was to be many years, though, before the use of outworkers was abandoned. In the last hundred years the industry became concentrated into of the hands of Gundrys founded by Jacob Gundry in 1665. Gundry's is now a multi million pound company part of a much bigger organisation Marmon Holdings who still market nets from Joseph Gungry's original works.

Net making

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Dorset museums-Dorset County Museum

Well silly season is here... so today, rather than the Dorset blog, I give you the Dorset bog...
Tucked away in the County Museum in Dorchester is the invention of local Dorchester lad, Rev Henry Moule from way back in 1852. 
Beating the organic sandal brigade by a good century he invented the composting toilet. Moule disagreed with the flushing water closet as he (quite rightly ) felt it caused pollution, whereas earth mixed with waste produced useable compost in just a few weeks.
Finally, in 1873 he patented his design which was exported far and wide across the Empire for the princely sum of 30 shillings.
Earth from the hopper at the back drops on the neatly on the waste a the pull of a lever...then, Hey presto! The stuff of Empire!
Never was it so patriotic to do your duty. 

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Dorset Museums 3 - The County Museum

No toads were harmed in the making of this reconstruction...!
This is a story of a toad; a toad in a bit of a hole, you could say... so those of you with a nervous disposition better switch to another blog.
 In the 19C James Buckland self-styled doctor of King's Stag near Cerne claimed to cure scrofula with the use of toad bags. An unsuspecting toad's head was pulled off and its still wriggling body put in a bag around the patients kneck. The shock assured a cure (of the patient, not the toad)...the cure's popularity was such that a toad shortage was created meaning that patients had to make do with toad portions rather than a whole toad.
Each year during a spring full moon Buckland hosted a Toad Fair where his wife and daughter clad in white would hand out his cure to the afflicted.
He was up the (tad) pole if you ask me...

Friday, 18 July 2014

Dorset churches 4 - St.John the Baptist, Bere Regis

Ghostly outline of a Turberville
The church of John the Baptist dates back to the years before the Norman invasion. It has strong connections with Thomas Hardy whose novel, 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles,' hinges on the fate of Turbervilles who huddle together in the vaults below the church.

Supposed portrait of Cardinal Morton
Its chief glory though, is 
the magnificent medieval roof; a mixture of bold carved roof bosses and near life-sized carvings of the apostles.

It was given by Cardinal Morton in 1485, probably in memory of his parents. The roof is unique.  Stylistically though it has several parallels in Norfolk and to my eye, with the famous corbels of Norwich. Cathedral.

After looking up, look down; for on several of the pillars are medieval carvings which seem to contemporary thinking completely out of place in a church. Characters with toothache and a headache are among them.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Food with views 3 - Beach Caffs

If you're tired of all the pretentious food-a-la-twaddle here are some back-to-basics honest-to-goodness caffs with fantastic views...

The Lobster Pot, Portland Bill, DT5 2JT
You'll find the Lobster Pot at the very tip of Portland in the shadow of its iconic red and white lighthouse and the boiling waters of the race.

The Oasis, Osmington Beach, DT3 6PN 
The Oasis lies at the opposite end of the Weymouth Bay ; far away from the broiling tattooed hoi poloi. Tables are actually on beach.

The Oasis

The Lookout, Bowleaze Cove, DT3 6PL

The Lookout has a million dollar view of the Art Deco Riveria Hotel and of the Purbecks disappearing into the far distance beyond. An outside seat is essential.

View from The lookout

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Frankenstein's Mother

The creator of one of English literature's most memorable monsters is laid to rest just behind the Bournemouth branch of T K Maxx. In the churchyard of St Paul's to be precise.

Mary Shelley, author of the novel Frankenstein was the 19th century's wild child; her unconventionality being fostered by her father, free-thinker William Godwin. Godwin's status as a radical meant that most of the leading intellectuals of the day passed through his household, profoundly influencing Mary.
In 1814, one of these, an impoverished poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley fell headlong in love with 17 year old Mary. Although he was already married, it did not stop them from eloping to France leaving behind Percy's pregnant wife. If this wasn't scandalous enough they were accompanied by Mary's half sister. Money problems soon forced them to return.
An unmarried Mary now found she was pregnant, though
the fortuitous suicide of Percy Shelley's wife left them free to marry. Mary's baby girl lived just a few months. Within a short time Mary was pregnant yet again and this time gave birth to a boy.

Once again the three of them plus baby set off across Europe ending up in Geneva where they spent the summer with Lord Byron whose liaison with Mary's half sister was to leave her pregnant. 
During a bout of particularly bad weather the party passed the time telling ghost stories until Byron suggested they try to write their own.
While everyone else's efforts are now forgotten, Mary's creation, 'Frankenstein', went on to become the enduring classic. With Percy's encouragement she expanded the short story to a novel which was eventually published in 1818 as 'Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus'. . It was an immediate success. She was just 21. The pressure of creditors doomed the Shelleys to leave England yet again eventually settling in Italy whose liberal climate enabled Mary to pursue her philosophy of free love among her acquaintances

Then tragedy struck. Percy Shelley's yacht was wrecked in a storm and Percy drowned, his body cremated on the beach where it was found. 

The idyll had ended. 

Within a year, penniless, Mary returned to England to scrape a living from her writing. Mary Shelly never remarried and devoted the rest of her life to writing further novels and preserving her husband's memory. She died at aged fifty three with experiences to fill several lifetimes. 

Her wish, to be buried with her father at St Pancras churchyard was never carried out. Instead her son buried her near his home in Bournemouth where she now lies almost forgotten under a drab Victorian monument just yards from the main street.

There is a final macabre twist, though, when Mary's writing box was opened it was found to contain Percy Shelley's heart, wrapped in his poem 'Adonais'. It now lies with her.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Hill and views 2- The Knoll

The coast road between Bridport and Abbotsbury is one big viewpoint.. For ages, though,  I would catch a glimpse of this lonely, derelict building perched high on a hill above Bexington as I sped by.
Received wisdom somewhere down the line told me it was a fisherman's lookout for spotting shoals of fish. Whether this is true or not I can find no mention of the fact.

It's a romantic idea anyway and it was perfectly self contained with even a little fireplace to keep warm by. The Knoll is easy to reach as long as you don't miss the turning . A few minute scramble takes you to a thoughtfully placed bench at the feet of the little building.

The views are spectacular though the shoals long gone... served battered with chips, no doubt.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Dorset Cycling- A circular on-road route from Evershot

People often say to me they'd love to take the children cycling but are put off by cars. Well here's reasonably gentle route where you'll hardly see a gas guzzler.

Apart from the climb out of Evershot the terrain wheels across gentle downland with wide skies beneath the chalk escarpments of the Dorset Downs.

Note: It is advisable to dismount and cross the busy A37 on foot!

Saxon font, Melbury Bubb
orth a detour is
 St Mary's Church at Melbury Bubb which possesses an intriguing and exotic font made from the inverted base of a Saxon cross. The sinuous carvings covering it have a definite influence of the Norse. 
The village of Leigh has the remains of an ancient miz maze or turf maze and further on you pass the Friary of St Francis- no Gothic pile but a beautifully situated farm open to the public for retreats.
Distance 17.5 miles 
Time around 4hrs

Monday, 7 July 2014

Dorset Mills 1 - Sturminster Mill

The mill at Sturminster Newton is a photo opportunity. Picturesquely perching on the banks of the river Stour, mellow brickwork reflected in the glassy waters it's definitely a calendar girl. 

The mill has milled flour for Saxons, Normans, Plantaganets etc. right up to the 20th C with no complaints and is open to the public during the summer months.
Rather like visiting a venerable church you immediately sense in its dusty atmosphere an unbroken way-back-when pedigree while the rumble and clank of the wheel 
vibrating through the whole building makes you wonder how it hasn't been shaken into the Stour years ago. 

It is the Mill's situation though that makes the trip worthwhile and while there are no facilities there are picnic tables where you can take in this most quintessential of Dorset views.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Dorset History- A tale of the great slave rebellion


High on the wall of the St Peter's Church in Dorchester is an unassuming eighteenth century marble memorial commemorating the death in 1774 of John Gordon a member the illustrious Clan Gordon. The inscription then takes a sinister turn when it mentions Gordon's contribution to the quelling of a slave rebellion in Jamaica in 1760 and the humanity he displayed afterwards.
This slave rebellion mentioned so briefly touched on was
 one of the first serious slave uprisings and from all accounts its outcome far from humane. 

The uprising is remembered as Tacky’s Rebellion, and its memory is preserved in a monument in Kingston, Jamaica. Tacky, a Coromantee chief by birth, was an overseer who, with a group of fellow tribesmen, fell on their British oppressors on Easter Sunday, a time when most whites would have been attending church.

What happened next is related by a contemporary 

"The rebellion amongst the Negroes has been of bad consequence to the whole island. Their design was to rise at Kingston and Spanish town, and to have set fire to these towns in several places at once, and to murder everybody in them. 

They afterward seized what arms and ammunition were to be found, and went to a small fort at Port Maria, where there was only one white man and a Negro; they killed the white man, and took away three barrels of powder, and marched to another Estate, where the overseer was apprised of their intentions. He defended the house for an hour and a half, and the rebels were going away; upon which he opened the door, and wanted to bring them to their duty by speaking to them. Whilst he was doing so, one of his own Negroes shot him in the back. The rest rushed in and killed all the white people except one, whom they mangled in the most awful manner, cutting off his nose, and leaving him for dead. They cut off the overseer's head,  put his blood in a calabath, mixed gunpowder with it, and eat their plantains dipped in it, as they did by every white man they killed. In short their savage barbarity can scarcely be paralleled."

Defeat was inevitable, and retribution swift and cruel...

"...There are about 25 of them made prisoner, who are severally carried to Spanish Town and the places they committed their barbarities. Ion who had not been the rebel actually was burnt alive for having sworn to cut his master's and mistress's heads off and make punch bowls of them. On Saturday I heard trials of four more, who were found guilty of being concerned in the murder of white people. Two were burnt alive the same day; two were hanged, their bodies burnt, and their heads stuck on poles. Two were tried at Kingston for the same offence and found guilty. Their sentence was to be gibbeted alive 20 feet high. One of them lived nine days without a drop of water, hanging in an excessive hot place."

Little evidence is shown of the 'humane treatment' mentioned on John Gordons memorial the account omitting to mention that several rebels were slow roasted in front of open fires.

Tracing John Gordon is all but impossible- there was always a strong Scots presence in Jamaica and a Gordon, even a well connected one is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
A John Gordon, whose dates correspond with the John Gordon of Dorchester, was transported to slavery to a nearby Martinique for taking part in the battle of Culloden in 1745 ( as many Scots, including well connected ones were) so could have well served his time and travelled to Jamaica by 1760 and taken part in this shameful episode...its a romantic notion if nothing else...

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Dorset Churches-St Mary's, Puddletown

This church is closely associated with Thomas Hardy, and in fact Puddletown features as Wetherbury of Hardy's novels. It was here that many of his relations worshipped and left their mark as graffiti in the church.

Dating from the late Middle Ages, the church's atmospheric interior houses a set of box pews complete with hooks for top hats, wall paintings which were whitewashed by the Puritans. There is also a wonderful group of marble tombs belonging to the the Martyns of Athelhampton, dating from the 14th century; recently the subject of an extensive renovation project.
The church door was obviously the subject of potshots in the Civil war: lead pellets were dug out of it during conservation and are on display.

Finally, hanging inconspicuously in the gloom, are two items which demonstrate the pleasing eccentricity of church contents: canvas fire buckets dating from 1805 and printed boldly with the name of their provider: Sun Insurance.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Dorset Museums-Dorchester Military Museum

The Keep Military Museum stands at one end of Dorchester and looks very much like William the Conqueror's second home. Its castle-like appearance, though, can be credited to the Victorians rather than the Normans.
The Keep Military Museum

Amongst the usual war-like paraphernalia can be found strange and off-beat pieces which make small museums so interesting. 
Take the object above, a useful addition to anyone's handbag. It belonged tothe Thugees,  an Indian sect believing in ritualised murder and robbery. Called a 'Wagnuk' or 'tigers claw' it was used to give the impression that their unfortunate victim had been killed by a tiger. No use in Dorchester then...