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Monday, 31 March 2014

Dorset Museums 7- Dorchester County Museum

Hanging was always an unpredictable business, misjudging a felon's weight would leave the victim half throttled and members of his (or her) family yanking on the unfortunate's legs to speed dispatch.
Pictured above is one of a pair of aptly named mercy weights. They were attached to the victim's legs to make sure of an efficient despatch without the recourse to mum and dad.
The last public execution took place in Dorchester 1863 and was witnessed by Thomas Hardy
A contemporary account tells 
"...of the thousands that used to gather below the gaol at the 'Hang Fairs.' By day-break the best places were taken, and the waiting time was spent in drinking, fiddling, and dancing. 
The time, it is said, of the executions in early days determined by the arrival of the coach from London, which might possibly bear a reprieve at the last moment. 
The story is told of a poor fellow who declined to halt at the Bell Inn for a parting glass with the constables; listening to his ernest request, they hastened their business, and turned him off just as the postmaster came shouting up the hill bearing a delayed reprieve. They cut the rope in a moment and fetched a surgeon. He could only shake his head and announce 'Too late.'
...'Sarved him right,' cried the indignant beer swillers standing around, 'he should have stopped for his drink.' 
'Quite the contrary,' retorted the surgeon, with ill-timed levity, ' I will stake my reputation on the fact—the poor fellow has taken a drop too much.' "

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Portland 1- Tout Quarry Sculpture Park

A killer walk deserves a killer view....
The Isle of Portland is unique...part of Dorset but not of Dorset. Rugged and treeless and until the late eighteenth century joined to the mainland by just a ferry.
You love it or hate it.
The most rewarding way to find Tout Quarry requires a short, stiff climb upwards along the coast path from the hamlet of Chiswell. The stunning views alone would make the trip worth the puffing, blowing and strain on the pacemaker; but in 1985 someone had the elegantly simple idea of turning sculptors and their imaginations loose with chisels on the tumbled stone. 
The result is the best sort of art; the kind you discover almost by accident. Unusually for conteporary art, it even has a smattering of wit. Anthony Gormley has made a contribution and maybe you could if you apply for one of  sculpture courses that take place in the quarry

I think this is Mr Gormely's contribution...

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Hills and views-Golden Cap


Golden Cap from Charmouth

Golden Cap, at 627 ft, is one of the highest points on the Dorset coastline and dominates the view eastwards from Lyme Regis and westwards from West Bay. 
When I peer groggily from my bedroom window first thing in the morning and see it's still there I know all's right with world. To me, it is Dorset's very own version of Ayers Rock, adopting a myriad of characteristics from blue black and looming through  to golden and purple, depending on the weather and time of day.

Getting to the top is not the struggle you might imagine if you take the route shown. The 
six mile walk begins at the National Trust car park in Langdon Wood and is clearly signposted. The seagull's eye views are exhilarating and could make you wish for a pair of wings. 

Top of Golden Cap looking east towards Seatown

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Dorset Museums 6- Dorchester County Museum

Hot on the heels of my Viking piece here's some telling evidence from the Dorset County Museum showing that Dorset men didn't always get the best of a fight.
Two thousand years ago at Maiden Castle, a fortified hill on the outskirts of Dorchester, the locals faced a load of Italian Johnnies in a no-holds barred battle between two civilisations. Iron age man faced the might and technological superiority of the Roman Empire, armed with little more than slingstones taken from nearby Chesil Beach. 
The outcome changed the course of British history.
The skeleton belongs to one of those Iron Age defenders who was struck down by a bolt from a ballista (a powerful floor-standing crossbow). When Maiden Castle finally fell to the victorious Romans, the unfortunate victim was hastily bundled into a mass grave; the ballista bolt, which would have killed him instantly, still embedded in his vertebra.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Dorset Detail

 Most people have heard of Prince Charles' architectural experiment, Poundbury, and most people have a view about it. Unfortunately opinion is often prejudiced, coloured by the man rather than the development. This is a bit of a shame because what is being built on the outskirts of Dorchester is at least worth a good look, if only to have an informed, rather than biased, opinion.
Below are a few examples of the variety and the high quality of detailing and materials to be found there...
More about Poundbury will follow...

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Never steal ice creams from a Weymouth man



I'm just back from the excellent Viking exhibition at the British Museum. In pride of place were some unfortunate victims of Dorsetshire wrath.
During the the building of a new road on the downs above Weymouth several years ago archaeologists made a unique discovery. Strewn at the bottom of a pit were the the skeletons of around fifty decapitated men, their skulls lying in a neat pile close by. 
The site was soon identified as the location of a mass execution dating from the 10thC. DNA tests showed that all of the victims originated from Scaninavia and were aged 18-25, which points meant that the victims were almost certainly a captured Viking raiding party. 
If your idea of your average Viking is that of a healthy strapping kind of fellow; the bones show that many definitely weren't, the victims suffered a variety of diseases from gall stones to running sores. All bore the evidence of savage and inexpert execution. There was also several more skeletons than heads making archaeologists speculate that some heads were taken to be displayed as a warning to others.
If you can't make the Viking exhibition there are plans afoot to display the find in the near future at the County Museum in Dorchester.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

By George! George III's holiday snaps Pt 6


Here are a few more snippets from George III-by-the-sea...
...God save the King's savings, sing grateful locals 

...And here's an idea of the luxury goods on which they could spend it...

Wife auction by Rowlandson
...Meanwhile not everything in England is so merrie...

...But even worse news was to follow..

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Literary Dorset 1 - Tall tale. Tall author

Painting by N. C. Wyeth, father of Andrew Wyeth

Moonfleet is a tale which has been adapted many times for television and radio. The book itself, though, deserves to be read. Whatever age you are you won't be disappointed.
The book's author, J. Mead Faulkner, was really just a part-timer, writing only three books in his lifetime. His day job, though, took him to the top of the tree, or yardarm, as the Chairman of Armstrong Whitworth Co., one of Britain's major armaments manufacturers; a post he held throughout the duration of the First World War. 
He also reached some pretty dizzying heights physically, measuring  6' 9" in his socks.
Moonfleet draws upon memories of Falkner's childhood in the Purbecks and weaves a colourful yarn of smugglers and smuggling. 

The story begins in the small hamlet of Fleet, near Abbotsbury, which stands next to the large expanse of brackish water behind the Chesil Bank also named the Fleet.

In the following excerpt  the book's young hero, John Trenchard, finds his way into the burial vault of the notorious Blackbeard.
He is forced to hide when he is disturbed by a group of villagers using the vault for their clandestine smuggling activities...

'Sitting where I was, I lit my candle once more, and then clambered across that great coffin which, for two hours or more, had been a mid-wall of partition between me and danger. But to get out of the niche was harder than to get in; for now that I had a candle to light me, I saw that the coffin, though sound enough to outer view, was wormed through and through, and little better than a rotten shell. So it was that I had some ado to get over it, not daring either to kneel upon it or to bring much weight to bear with my hand, lest it should go through. And now having got safely across, I sat for an instant on that narrow ledge of the stone shelf which projected beyond the coffin on the vault side, and made ready to jump forward on to the floor below. And how it happened I know not, but there I lost my balance, and as I slipped the candle flew out of my grasp. Then I clutched at the coffin to save myself, but my hand went clean through it, and so I came to the ground in a cloud of dust and splinters; having only got hold of a wisp of seaweed, or a handful of those draggled funeral trappings which were strewn about this place. The floor of the vault was sandy; and so, though I fell crookedly, I took but little harm beyond a shaking; and soon, pulling myself together, set to strike my flint and blow the match into a flame to search for the fallen candle. Yet all the time I kept in my fingers this handful of light stuff; and when the flame burnt up again I held the thing against the light, and saw that it was no wisp of seaweed, but something black and wiry. For a moment, I could not gather what I had hold of, but then gave a start that nearly sent the candle out, and perhaps a cry, and let it drop as if it were red-hot iron, for I knew that it was a man's beard.'

Download it free for Kindle      

Monday, 17 March 2014

Dorset Detail 4


They don't make signs like they used to...

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Off the beaten track 1 -The Fossil Forest

If you're thinking this looks like something that might have come out of the back end of a Tyrranosaurus....well your reasonably close...what you're looking at is the best example of a fossil forest on the Jurassic Coast. Its spectacular position is a short walk along the coast path on the east side of Lulworth Cove in the Purbecks. It is now a lot more accessible than in my young days when I gingerly edged along a precipitous ledge to find it.

The large stone rings still evident in the pictures were formed by algae that surrounded the trees, rather than the trees themselves.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Hills and Views 4 - Stonebarrow (SY412930)

Lofty Stonebarrow Hill was originally part of the coaching route between Bridport and Charmouth; abandoned because of the impracticably steep ascents and descents.

 Today it is still popular with horse riders, the odd jogger and dogs walking their owners. The area is part of the National Trust's Golden Cap estate and as their car park is sited at the top of the hill, you get the view without the struggle...except the struggle for change...even here you have to pay parking charges..

To the right in the blue distance is Lyme to the left rises Golden Cap, Dorset's highest coastal point; while at your feet wind acres of paths and a million picnic spots. In Autumn you'll find blackberries in abundance.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Dorset Museums 5- The Philott Museum, Lyme Regis

Hidden in Lyme's excellent museum is this entertaining historical scrap...
Cross the locals at your peril. It was as true two centuries ago as it is today. 
When a young, bushy-tailed Henry Fielding, author of Tom Jones, visited Lyme Regis in 1725 he fell head over heels for Sarah Andrews, a local heiress. There were just two problems; she was just fifteen and she was already spoken for. 
This  did not put off Henry who, aided by his valet, attempted to abduct Sarah on the way to church. Unfortunately, her local beau, John Tucker, along with a lot of other Tuckers thwarted the attempt, but not before punches had been thrown and charges brought.
Henry left Lyme soon after, bloodied but not bowed,  leaving the  note above as a final parting shot.
In case you can't decipher it reads:
'This is to give notice that Andrew Tucker and his son John Tucker are clowns and cowards
Witness my hand 
Henry Fielding'

Locals 1- Tourists 0, I'd say...

Friday, 7 March 2014

Dorset Doggie Tails

Dog drops in hand, poo bags at the ready...quick march!
A small selection of Dorset's early morning dog walkers for your delectation.