DAT event Dorset History Centre 9 February 2017

‘Do you really call that progress Mr Marples?’ – The Politics of Dorset Railway Closures under Beeching by Professor Colin Divall

Colin Divall, former Professor of Railway Studies at York University, now resident again in his native Dorset, gave a fascinating overview of the background to and impact of Dr Richard Beeching’s (now eponymous) 1963 report The Reshaping of British Railways.  Colin grew up within sight of the Wimborne line and witnessed the last trains to run along that branch of the Southampton and Dorchester railway before its closure in 1974.   The keen interest in railway history was evidenced by a full house at Dorset History Centre with an audience of 70.

Colin has researched the background the closures in Dorset, with particular emphasis on the lines in the east of the county serving Wimborne, Blandford and the conurbation of Bournemouth and Poole.  He has analysed archives from the period including financial reports, newspapers and even correspondence from members of the public to build up a picture of the times – and of the hard-headed economics which drove the cuts to the railway system.  Contrary to Beeching’s modern reputation as the wrecker of the railways, Colin demonstrated that there was little actual contemporary protest against the closures, although the quote from his talk’s title was taken from a letter from a Dorset woman written directly to the Minister of Transport, Ernest Marples.  Colin also pointed out that although many of the railways which were closed were shut on the basis of hard economics, the actual case for closure in some cases was actually far more marginal. 

He left us with a series of ‘what if?’ scenarios relating to the railways.  With the benefits of hindsight it is entirely possible that the Wimborne line in particular, but other Dorset railways too, would be in service today – given the expansion of the conurbation and east Dorset and the preference many of us have for taking the train over driving.  Sadly, the reinstatement of this line seems very unlikely with railway bed having been built on.

On display during the evening were several of Dorset History Centre’s large collection of historic railway plans.

Latest purchases by DAT for the Dorset History Centre

IMG_0687DORSET AUTOMOBILE CLUB Official Handbook, 1914

It contains, local adverts, lists of club officials and members, a ‘bird’s-eye map of Dorsetshire’ printed in blue on back wrap together with a printed letter, Sept. 30th, 1914, from the Club referring to a suggested ‘Motor Patrol’ of principal Dorset roads in order to safeguard telegraph and telephone lines for which volunteers were sought. A further letter one month later postpones the motor patrols due to a dearth of volunteers and ‘certain legal questions’.

Rena Gardiner Talk

Martin Andrews (2) Rena Gardiner Talk Oct 2016Martin Andrews gave a spirited and affectionate talk about Rena Gardiner. A modest and private lady living and working in Tarrant Monkton who he had met and interviewed. He was very generous passing round the guide books to Corfe Castle and the Tarrant Valley, now rare and difficult to get hold of. His talk was beautifully illustrated with many slides showing work she did for the National Trust. Her first love had been architecture and she sketched all over Europe, particularly in Italy. Her chosen method of printing her work,lithography, was very labour intensive and Martin described her cottage as a veritable warren with stacks of paper everywhere and antiquated machinery which only she could get to work. He showed us some of her lino cuts which she went back to towards the end of her life. She remained active and hard working right till her death aged 70 in 1999.

Dorset Archives Trust Volunteer Opportunities

We are currently seeking to recruit two new trustees to the board of the charity.  The roles are:

  1. Membership Secretary
  2. Events Coordinator

DAT is a friendly organisation and we look forward to welcoming new recruits to assist in our work.

For more information, see the job descriptions (membership co-ordinator or events co-ordinator).  If you would like to discuss either role further or have any questions relating to DAT and its operations, please email or ring Sam Johnston, Hon Secretary on: s.j.johnston@dorsetcc.gov.uk or 01305-228929.

DAT Summer Gala at Kingston Lacy

The unpredictable summer weather stayed dry for the second Dorset Archives Trust Summer Gala event at Kingston Lacy hosted in association with The National Trust, owners of the superb Bankes family archive. Around 70 guests gathered on the rolling lawns to enjoy their picnics before gathering on the terrace to enjoy a glass of fizz with strawberries and cream. There was also live music to entertain guests provided by Bonnie Schwartz. Everyone then entered the house to the fantastically decorated Saloon where they were entertained by an exclellent illustrated talk by Judith Teasdale, the Project Officer engaged on the Bankes Archive Project. Judith galloped through the history of the Bankes family both at Corfe Castle and Kingston Lacy illuminated by tales from the archives that have just started to be referenced and catalogued to be made available to all. She used a wide and varied set of examples, including one that illustrated Sir John Bankes’s work to recover part of the Crown Jewels of Elizabeth I which had been mortgaged. Another document was one detailing the bail conditions set for the flamboyant William Bankes, arrested twice for homosexual acts, something punishable at the time by capital punishment. 5,000 documents belonging to the archive have so far been catalogued. With staff and volunteers working hard to make the collection available, it is exciting to ponder on the stories yet to be discovered. Funds raised by the event will go towards the project which is being managed by Dorset History Centre. For further information or to learn about how to get involved see here: https://news.dorsetforyou.gov.uk/unlocking-the-bankes-archive/about/

DAT Annual General Meeting

The Dorset Archives Trust Annual General Meeting was held on Thursday 12 May 2016.  At the meeting the Chairman gave a full comprehensive report on the activities of the Trust in the past year which had been a successful and productive one, the full report is available here (Chairmans report 2016).  Following this various items were raised including a minor amendment to the constitution, the reappointment of trustees ( Debbie Shaw (Treasurer), Pam Donnellan, Pam Seaton and Jacqui Halewood) and the approval of the accounts which were all unanimously approved by the members attending the event.  

Following the AGM, members and other guests, were entertained by a fascinating talk by Anna Pavord, well known gardening writer and author of the recently published book ‘Landskipping’.  Anna first talked about her passion for the landscape and how the landscape and been viewed and shaped in the past both by painters and by farmers and agricultural improvers.  Following that she described how her interest in her local Dorset landscape had led to her involvement with the archives held at the History Centre.  She discussed her use of tithe maps and census information which had helped her to gain an understanding of the landscape of Powerstock had evolved from past to present and how the lives of individuals effected it.  She focused on one ‘Absalom Guppy’ who she had identified in the records and traced through a career as a ‘haggler’ (an itinerant dealer) to his demise in Beaminster workhouse. Following the presentation there was a lively debate from the floor.

Flying Boats Talk by Jeremy Waters

Poole Flying Boats – a lecture by Jeremy Waters, 4 February 2016


Dorset Archives Trust members and paying guests enjoyed a fascinating lecture from Jeremy Waters, a long-time resident of Poole, key supporter of Poole Flying Boats Celebration and author of Parkstone-on-Sea – Salterns, Sandbanks and Seaplanes. Jeremy narrated the story of Poole harbour’s key role as a transport hub both before and after World War Two, and its vital role as a communications hub during the war years.  Long before the development of Heathrow and other major airports, it was Poole harbour and its flying boats (of which only a handful survive) that provided Britain’s principal international air link.  The flying boats connected Britain to its empire with routes across Africa and via Asia to Australia.  During the war such notable visitors as General de Gaulle entered and exited the country via Poole.  Jeremy responded to a series of questions after his talk.  A highlight of the evening was the contribution of one audience member – a 94-year old veteran flying boat navigator, now resident in Bristol, who recalled his time in the flying boats.  Jeremy and colleagues are hoping to be able to record an oral history interview him to capture these memories for posterity.


DAT would like to thank Jeremy and to all the audience members who made this such a memorable evening.

Picnic in the Park at Kingston Lacy

kingston lacy

On the 10th of July the Dorset Archives Trust and the National Trust joined forces to host a Gala Event at Kingston Lacy in support of the Bankes Archive project. Through its fundraising efforts, DAT has been able to contribute £20,000 to this major piece of work led by Dorset History Centre. It was a magical summer’s evening from start to finish. Guests arrived just after 6pm to picnic on the beautifully manicured lawn in front of Kingston Lacy’s formal entrance. Tables were set up amid the statues, park trees and the Egyptian obelisk with music provided by the Broadstone ensemble. Strawberries & cream and fizz were served on the terrace to complete everyone’s picnic.

The house was open for everyone to explore at will. At 8pm we all gathered in the salon to hear an entertaining and well informed talk given by James Grasby, a senior National Trust Curator. He told of the fascinating life of William John Bankes, how he redesigned and furnished Kingston Lacy whilst living abroad. The audience was enthralled with the Bankes story and asked James many questions about the house and family. At the end of the event everyone gathered again on the terrace to finish the last of the strawberries and shortbread, before leaving to go home in the long shadows of a summer’s evening.

Carola Campbell


The Life and Times of Eldridge Pope

popeDAT was delighted to host a talk by Jeremy Pope, DL the former chief executive of Eldridge Pope, brewers of Dorchester. The company’s archives, including the deeds to many of its public houses, its accounts and even the ‘brewing books’ which detailed the daily production of beer with quantities of ingredients and specific gravities, are housed at Dorset History Centre. The company, which evolved from small beginnings in the mid-19th century became a major concern within the town, dominating the skyline with its chimney, employing scores of local people and building substantial numbers of houses to accommodate its workers. Jeremy spoke eloquently of the special nature of family businesses and of the particularly close (and paternalistic) relationship between the company and its workforce. We learned also of the special importance of the railway line and its proximity to the brewery, thus allowing the quick and efficient transportation of beer from Dorchester to the network of tied houses. Eldridge Pope had a major influence on the county town, and with the current regeneration of its former site, the brewery and its heritage is very much back in the public gaze. Following Jeremy’s talk, BBC Spotlight did a piece on the brewery which included an interview with Jeremy.

As part of the evening, we were fortunate enough to have present representatives of Dorchester’s Brewhouse and Kitchen, the microbrewery located on part of the former Eldridge Pope site. David and Walter (manager and brewer respectively) kindly talked us through the process of selecting ingredients for their beers and how their products formed part of the wider ‘craft beer’ movement which identifies itself through the use of authentic ingredients and processes. A very enjoyable tasting session followed the presentation, with members of the audience being treated to two types of ale.

DAT would like to express its thanks to Jeremy, David and Walter for their generous support of DAT and its activities.