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Friday, 28 February 2014

Dorset folklore 3-The Screaming Skull

Bettiscombe Manor, home to the Pinney family for generations, hides a dark secret.
When John Frederick Pinney returned from his West Indian plantations he was accompanied by his faithful black servant. Soon after he arrived the servant fell terminally ill and from his death bed he vowed to have no rest until his body was returned to his birthplace.
Tightfisted Pinney refused to carry out the wishes of the dead man and his corpse was laid to rest in the nearby cemetery. Almost immediately bloodcurdling screams began to emanate from the dead servant's grave, while the manor house was shaken to its very foundations and a plague of misfortune fell on the village. 
After some months the terrified villagers petitioned Pinney to take action. His solution was to exhume the body and take it back to rest in the manor.
Over the years the skeleton has disappeared leaving only the skull. Various attempts to remove it from the house have always been met with the unearthly screams. As a result the skull now lies peacefully inside the manor.
This is almost the end of the story except that local tradition tells of a ghostly carriage rattling between the Manor House and Churchyard on the anniversary of the death of the servant and is referred to by villagers as ' the funeral procession of the skull.'
Recently, though, spoilsports identifying themselves as experts have come to the conclusion that not only is the skull that of a woman, but it is several thousand years old, probably from Pilsdon Pen, a local prehistoric hill fort.

The tale of the screaming skull whether true or false, went on to inspire Victorian novelist Francis Crawford to write a short story the Screaming Skull’ which in turn led to a 50’s Hollywood ‘B’ movie of the same name.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Dorset Museums-Dorchester County Museum 1

Hot on the heels of my Viking piece here's a telling bit of evidence from the County museum that shows that Dorsetshire men didn't always get the best of a fight. 
Two thousand years ago at Maiden Castle, a fortified hill top near Dorchester, the locals faced a load of Italian Johnnies in a battle between two civilisations. 

Iron Age man was eventually overwhelmed by the might and technological superiority of the Roman Empire, armed mainly with slingstones taken from nearby Chesil Beach. 
The outcome of the conflict helped change the course of British history forever.
The skeleton pictured is shows one of the Iron Age defenders who was struck down by a bolt from a Roman ballista (a powerful floor standing crossbow). When the fort fell to the Romans, the unfortunate victim was hastily bundled into pit the ballista bolt that would have instantly killed him still embedded in his vertebra .

Dorset detail 3-In praise of the hand drawn sign

The age of the unsophisticated sign is on the wane.
'Trips round the bay' printed in Gill Sans with a drop thanks...!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Darset vor all

Devonian Sir Francis Drake's rich West Country accent never held him back.
In 1950 the Society of Dorset Men, on the occasion of their annual dinner, sent a telegram to the king...the words ran:

To His Majesty King Jarge, Oonce more, the Zociety o' Darset Men, voregather'd round their vestive bwoard at th' Darchester Hotel vor their Yearly Junket, d' zend Yer Most Graishus Majesty their dootiful greetins and expression of unswerven loyalty an' devotion. May Yer Majesty be zpared to us vor many years as our pattern an' guide. I d' bide, vor all time, Yer Vaithful Zarvint and Counsellor...

The message written, albeit self-consciously, in the rich dialect of Dorset, is under threat, while Northern accents go from strength to strength; ask yourself, when when was the last time a macho filmic hero introduce himself, 'Oi be Bond, Jethroe Bond'...?
Unfortunately, the Dorset accent suffers from a major image problem probably too late to rectify. Here is a taste of  vocabulary that has all but almost disappeared...

A-strout-stiff stretched.
-to shake with cold
Blind-buck o’ Davy-blindman’s buff
Chanker-a wide chink
Critch-a big pitcher
Croodle-to crow softly
Dadder-dather, dudder, to maze or bewilder
Dumbledore-the humble bee.
Emmet-an ant
Gally-to frighten
Glutch-to swallow
Hidlock-a hiding place
Jack-o’-lent-a man-like scarecrow
Libbets-loose-hanging rags
Nunch-a nog or knob of food

And finally... during the Gulf War an ageing neighbour once complained to me about her 'scuds'. A secret arsenal bound for Saddam? just the hard skin on her feet..

William Barnes champion of Dorset dialect who wrote dialect poems,
several of which were set to music by Vaughn Williams 

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Dorset Churches 1 -St Candida, Whitchurch Canonicorum

Old niche, modern sculpture of St Candida
This church was once the a place of pilgrimage centring on the Anglo Saxon shrine of St Candida. The shrine, a unique pre-Reformation survival is an unassuming, altar-like structure. It is pierced by three oval cavities where pilgrims would place their infected or injured limbs hoping for a cure. St Candida’s is the only such shrine to survive in England except for that of Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey.
 The origins of St Candida are hazy, though repairs carried out in 1900 revealed the bones of a small women of about forty and the inscription,‘Here lie the bones of St White’. Continuity is maintained to this very day with the three niches filled with parishioners’ petitions for assistance from the saint.

The Shine of St Candida
The church also contains the richly carved Jacobean tomb of Sir John Jeffrey, an interesting mix of Classical style with Elizabethan folk art.

Tomb of Sir John Jeffrey
Sir George Somers, Lyme Regis’ most famous son also has a memorial. Sir George was into job creation, being both the discoverer and the governor of Bermuda. He was also partial to a bit of pork, he died from consuming a surfeit of pig. 
Outside lie the remains of two famous political animals; Bulgarian dissident, Georgi Markov, famously assassinated by a poisoned-tipped umbrella on Waterloo Bridge  as well as the resting place of political broadcaster and interviewer, Sir Robin Day, whose memorial reads; "In loving memory of Sir Robin Day-the Grand Inquisitor."

Friday, 21 February 2014

Dorset Folklore 3- The Byzant

At first glance this exotic-looking object would seem more at home on the Indian sub-continent than in darkest Dorset. 
It is called the Byzant and formed the centrepiece of a ceremony of the same name. The Byzant ceremony dates back at least seven hundred years and took the form of an annual tribute to the Lord of the Manor of Gillingham for the use of his water supplies. Once a year the Mayor and townspeople made their way in a procession with the Byzant at their head to the water source. Here the Lord of the Manor would be presented with the Byzant as well as gifts of gloves, ale, wheaten bread and..vegetarians leave the room... a calf's head. Sadly, the ceremony was discontinued in the 1830s because've guessed it...the expense!
You can see the Byzant at the fascinating Gold Hill Museum, Shaftesbury

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Hills and views 4-St Catherine's Chapel

View from the road above Abbotsbury St Catherine's Chapel with The Fleet, Chesil Bank and Portland in the distance
St Catherine's Chapel dates from the 14thC and sits high on a hilltop above the village of Abbotsbury. It seemed the perfect place to sip and quaff a flask of coffee whilst offering thanks for the first cloudless day in weeks. 
Just a short scramble uphill from the village and you have gained an outlook that would bring out the poet in anyone.

The chapel is the focus to one of Dorset's most sublime views. 

Far below, the Fleet lagoon sparkles silver  and Chesil Bank sweeps away in a gentle crescent that culminates in the mysterious Isle of Portland in the blue distance, while at the foot of the hill, the village clusters around the scant remains of the Abbey that gave it its name.

Negotiating groups of inquisitive heifers, a scramble downhill brings you to the sloping shingle and the tumbling surf of Chesil Bank itself. If all this leaves you feeling spiritual, services are still held at the chapel several times a year.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Painting Dorset- J.W.T. Turner

A break in this week's biblical deluges found me wandering along the beach at Charmouth. Later, as I looked at the photos I'd taken, a bell rang... yes!...One of my photos had been taken from a very similar spot to that from which my old mate Turner had painted his distant view of Lyme Regis way back in 1811.
Turner made many painting tours throughout Britain and the continent. In fact he travelled almost every year and in 1811 toured the southwest producing a series of paintings which in turn were reproduced as a book of engravings entitled 'Picturesque Views of the Southern Coast of England.' Many of those Dorset landmarks; Corfe Castle, Lulworth Cove, Poole Harbour and Weymouth are still recognisable today.

Not a perfect match...Turner said sorry, he'd have another go.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Dorset Museums 3-The Keep Military Museum, Dorchester

Flog it! Cat o' seven tails; two tails missing but who's arguing? Only abolished in 1881.

When I was a nipper I was always told, 'join the army and it'll make a man of you'...well in the 18th and 19thC it was more a case of 'join the army and it'll make mincemeat of you'...the museum lists  a few of the punishments that may have made you wish you'd opted for flower selling.

Flogging  Up to a 1000 lashes with a count of five between each lash to prolong the agony for up to four hours.
Picketing  Victim suspended by wrists with feet on stake just sharp enough to break the skin.
Wooden Horse  Rough, sharp edged, boards knocked together forming a horsey shape. Victim was made to sit on the sharp ridge of the 'back' for many hours with  muskets or other heavy objects tied to the ankles to increase the weight.
Strappaddo The unfortunate soldier's hands were first fastened behind his back, after which he was hauled high into the air by a rope tied to them and then dropped with a jerk often causing dislocation.
Running the Gauntlet  A man's comrades armed with sticks formed a corridor through which the victim, stripped to the waist, passed while being thrashed. In front of the unfortunate were guards with bayonets drawn to stop him moving through at faster than regulation pace.
Bottling or Cold Burning  The soldier's hand was tied palm uppermost. Water was then allowed to slowly drip on it from a height of several feet, apparently the accumulated pain over a period of time was said to make the strongest of men faint away.
Caution...I hope it goes without saying that none of the above should be tried at home.

Board hung round the neck of a murderer on the way to the gallows after riots in 1898.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Dorset Museums 2-The Keep Military Museum, Dorchester

Here's a military 'guess what I've got here, sarg?'. One of a host of small but telling objects to be found at the museum of the Devon and Dorset regiments.

No idea?... It's a deserters stamp... believe it or not it was considered a humane way of tattooing 'D' for deserter. 

The inhumane method was to trace a letter 'D'  on the left-hand side of the body. The skin was then pierced with a bunch of  ordinary sewing needles after which gunpowder was rubbed well into the wound to create a permanent mark of military disservice.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Holiday in a folly

High above Kimmeridge Bay, in the Purbecks, stands Clavell Tower, a folly built 1831 by the Reverend John Richards in an era when people who possessed money also possessed an equal amount of style. It stands perilously close to the cliff edge, making the most of the stunning coastline; so close that it was in danger of dropping off altogether. Then along came a saviour, the Landmark Trust, who, after rebuilding the tower 80 feet further inland, set about renovation. The result, unveiled in 2008 is now available for all to hire.
I really rate the Landmark Trust. I've stayed in a number of their properties and have never been disappointed yet. 
The Trust, closely affiliated with the National Trust, saves and renovates architectural gems too small for larger charities to deal with. After making them habitable, they breathe life into them once again by making them available as holiday properties. 
Staying in one is not a cheap option but it really is a case of getting what you pay for; the quality of renovation is always meticulous, the architecture fascinating and the stay unforgettable. They have around three properties in Dorset, many more across Britain and several abroad. They are currently restoring the late John Fowles home in Lyme Regis a Georgian maritime villa.


'Buttony,' as Dorset button making was called, originated in Shaftesbury in the 17thC and was once an important cottage industry in East Dorset. There were several distinct styles; high tops, the dorset knob, bird's eyes and the cross wheel (above, from the Blandford Costume Museum). 
Its hard to believe that each button, a piece of miniature macrame, was hand-woven round a metal ring. 'Winders and dippers' formed the wire rings while 'stringers' wove the actual buttons. 
Button makers could each turn out a gross of a day and their products were exported across the world. They even had royal approval... Charles I went  to the block wearing a waistcoat embellished with Dorset Buttons.
The industry lasted until the 1850's when along came the button machine and out went the buttoners, many emigrating to the new world rather than face starvation. 

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Alien Xtra

After uncovering the big hairy men of Dorset in my Woodwoser piece I thought I'd search for some little green ones. It seems even Dorset is under surveillance from those pesky critters.
The fuzzy picture above, obviously taken though a pair of underpants, shows a recent UFO hovering over Bournemouth. The professional photographer described it as orange-red in colour and looking like Thunderbird 3. It was reported in that specialist magazine, The Sun.
As for landings, Maiden Castle has seen its fair share of crop circles appearing in surrounding fields; that is until disgruntled farmers adopted a more robust approach convincing the Green Ones to park elsewhere.
This otherworldly activity caused enough of a stir for specialists to convene an 'Unexplained Mysteries' conference  in Dorchester featuring a 'modern day Indiana Jones' who'd, 'been to Egypt', under the heading 'the truth is not out there, it's in Dorchester'...
Not to be trumped, I think I to may have discovered my own evidence of nocturnal extra-terrestrial activity as this clipping from a local paper shows.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Hills and views 3-Pilsdon Pen SY414009

View across redundant trig point.

Braving hail, wind and then sunshine we scrambled to the top of Pilsdon Pen for a flask of tea and a breathtaking 360 degree view. The hill, the highest point in Dorset, hosted yet another Iron Age high rise until eviction by the Romans.
Ordnance Survey trig point silhouetted against the approaching hail storm
Its hummocky summit is just a short walk from the road and bears witness to various degrees of occupation: Bronze Age burial mounds, the remains of a medieval rabbit warren, and silhouetted against the skyline, another poignant relic, an Ordnance Survey trig point now consigned to history by the arrival of gps.

Needless to say, it's another satisfying location for kite flyers, dog walkers and the odd jogger.

There is a God!! The sun puts his hat on!

Monday, 10 February 2014

Dorset detail Pt 1

Our forebears relished decoration it was a part of their soul. It is, therefore, heartbreaking that the architectural and design austerity of the past sixty years has swept all of this away. Let's face it, you may admire an iPod but you could never love it.
The following are a random collection of Dorset detail I've recorded on my travels...

Dorset Folklore 2-The Woodwose

Should you meet a big, hairy bloke shambling down a Dorset lane, more likely than not he is just a Real Ale bore.
Should you be in the vicinity of Yellowham Woods, near the county town of Dorchester and he picks up your wife and carries her off, then maybe you've met a Woodwose.
The Woodwose is Dorset's very own version of Bigfoot and like Bigfoot, blurry sightings continue to this day. 
The first part of his name is obvious while 'wose' is probably Old English for 'being'.
Woods have always been places of mystery so it's no surprise that legends of hirsute wild men stretch back thousands of years. The Woodwose also had an unfortunate tendency to impregnate the village girls he stole, making him the perfect scapegoat for that night of hanky panky.

The legend of wild men appear across Europe. Here on a German coin of 1629