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Sunday, 29 June 2014

By George! George III's holiday snaps Pt.8

When George III donned the royal bathing trunks for his daily swim at Weymouth he was faced with all the complexities of a trip to the moon. Seawater had been promoted for its health benefits since the 1730s and was a serious business. It included early morning bathes, drinking half a pint of seawater and a massage with seaweed. Afterwards a half hour in bed was recommended followed by outdoor exercise.

'I was terribly frightened, & really thought I should never have recovered from the Plunge-I had not Breath enough to speak for a minute or two, the shock was beyond expression great-but after I got back to the machine, I presently felt myself in a Glow that was delightful-it is the finest feeling in the World,-& will induce me to Bathe as often as will be safe ' Fanny Burney 

To serve the modesty of the bathers bathing machines made their appearance; changing huts on wheels dragged out into the briny by horse. In George III's time they were equipped with retractable umbrella-like contraption, known as the 'tilt' which reached to the water meaning that the swimmer was basically immersed in a claustrophobic tent.
It didn't end there though, each swimmer was outfitted in a voluminous calico nightshirt and was accompanied be one or two burly attendants often local fishermen or their wives. The male attendants known as  'bathers' and the females, 'dippers'.
One of these dippers, Martha Gunn of  Brighton spent most of her 88 years up to her chin in the briny and became something of a
minor celebrity with a whole range of ephemera featuring her appearing,  from satirical prints to toby jugs and the wonderful portrait above.

She became close to George, Prince of Wales and enjoyed special privileges including free access to the kitchens of the Royal Pavilion.

Friday, 27 June 2014

By George! George III's holiday snaps Pt.7

When the King descended on Weymouth so did the Quality. Hard to believe but Weymouth became the  kingdom's style and entertainment capital. The Assembly rooms and theatre served up the latest entertainment.

Rules for the Weymouth Assembly Rooms
 Not to be forgotten, though, was real the reason for being here at Weymouth the first place,  getting one's feet wet...

Always someone with their hand out...

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Dorset History 1-The Easton Massacre

High above Portland can be found the church of St George, its classical proportions make it an architectural gem worth seeking in its own right but its graveyard is also special.
Its weathered memorials standing just a stone's throw from the very edge of the quarry, are unusually elaborate and evocative.

In the present day and age, when atrocities take place far from home one 
particular memorial bears witness to a violent sequence of events that took place here on Portland over 200 years ago which ended in the violent death of twenty one year old Mary Way.
 Her gravestone tells of her death as a result of wounds sustained after being shot by the Press Gang. The incident took place April 2 1803, and is remembered to this day as the Easton Massacre.

It all began on the night before her death when men from the Frigate, Eagle, had come ashore and unsuccessfully attempted to press Nicholas Way. He was the captain of a small vessel and therefore exempt from the press (as indeed all the able bodied men on the island were).

Undeterred, at 5.00 am the next morning the Eagle's captain landed at Easton with a heavily armed force of some thirty men and officers. The early hour was chosen to catch the islanders while they slept. One of the first men they apprehended was their previous night’s victim, Nicholas Way along with Henry Wiggat. 
By this time the villagers, woken by the furore, ran for cover in panic. As the Press Gang chased the villagers uphill they found their way was bravely blocked by Zachariah White. Demanding the source of their authority he discovered that the warrant, signed by a Mayor of Weymouth, had no legal authority on the island.
The sailors, though, ignored his protestations and moved on. 
As the situation began to grow ugly they formed a defensive line. When they attempted to snatch yet another islander, the crowd snapped. In the ensuing scuffles a pistol, whether accidentally or not, was fired by the captain. This was the prearranged signal to open fire. In the ensuing chaos three islanders died instantly, shot through the head. Two more, one of them Mary Way, fell fatally wounded to the ground, a bullet lodged in her back. The pressgang who had also sustained casualties then retired to their ship taking their hard-won captives.

St Georges stands on the very edge of a quarry
An official enquiry into the events was eventually held but no convictions were ever made (plus ca change...!) while the involvement of a Weymouth JP only served to sustain their historical enmity between the two communities.
A short walk to the church

St Georges can be made the destination of a short but rewarding walk. The headstone of Mary Way is here, as is the doubly unfortunate William Hansford who died in the Great Storm of November 1824 when the sea came over the Chesil Beach and broke his leg after which his house fell on him and killed him.
Parking in Chiswell follow the signs for the coast path which takes you steeply uphill giving you breathtaking views of Chesil Bank and the Jurassic Coast. As the path levels out a diversion to the left will take you into the Tout Quarry Sculpture Park where sculptures lie amid the undergrowth like the relics of a lost civilisation. Continue along the path to reach the church.
There and back is just over 3 miles.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Dorset Kayaking - Poole Harbour

Poole harbour is the the largest natural harbour in Europe extending for 14 square miles and dotted with islands the largest of which
Brownsea Island, is owned by the National Trust.With this amount of safe, enclosed water the harbour just begs to be explored by kayak. Not owning one isn't an excuse as you can can hire(see below)
View from the slipway
I launch from an unpretentious slipway at the end of a suburban road in Hamworthy; no parking charges to irk you and quiet. 

To find it, turn off the A35 and follow the signposts for Hamworthy the road is straight (watch out for speed cameras)Soon after passing under a railway bridge look out for a right turn with what used to be a garage on the corner. Follow this road under a narrow bridge and passing a tall chimney. The road finally ends at the slipway. 
Coffee at the helm
Turning right will take you towards the River Frome which you can paddle as far as Wareham: right takes you towards Sandbanks and Brownsea Island.
The rest is up to you.

The low tide makes the harbour shallow except in the shipping lanes Landing on the islands is not allowed (of course).

Kayaks for hire

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Dorset walks 4- Litton Cheney, Little Bredy and the Valley of the Stones

These peaceful villages snuggle into the softly folding chalk escarpments of the Bride valley forming a part of a hidden Dorset overlooked by the crowds as they rush east and west along the A35.

The route climbs to the ridge high above the valley giving level walking and wonderful views; while a slight detour takes you to the Valley of Stones nature reserve. which is considered to be one of the finest examples 
 of a Sarsen stone boulder train in Great Britain (beat that Devon!). Conditions at end of the last ice age caused sandstone on top of nearby chalk hilltops to fragment and slump downhill. There is evidence that the site was used as an ancient 'quarry' with stones being taken from the area for use at other local megalithic sites such as the stone circle you'll pass.
Distance: 9 miles 3.5 hrs


Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Dorset Days Out 1

That rarest of things, a sunny day, inspired us poke our noses out of our burrow and go exploring.
Following a recommendation we first partook of  morning coffee at the Symondsbury Kitchen.

Symondsbury was a sleepy village, until now...  the old tithe barn and outbuildings, grouped around a large courtyard, have recently been  sympathetically converted by the Symondsbury Estate. In the outbuildings are found craftsmen, while the tithe barn with its massive clay tiled roof will be a venue for weddings. Its all very impressive. The important bit for us, though, was coffee...The Symondsbury Kitchen in keeping with rest of the development is fresh and stylish. 

Downing our lattes we headed along the coast road with its glorious birds-eye views, to Abbotsbury and its Subtropical Gardens.

Even someone like me, who doesn't know their columbines from their philistines, was impressed...the only thing missing were a few well placed monkeys

The gardens were originally established in 1765 by the first Countess of Ilchester as a kitchen garden for her nearby castle which unfortunately burnt down in 1915. Over the following years it gradually evolved to cover 30 acres filled with rare and exotic plants from all over the world. Many varieties of  plants found here were first introduced to this country from the gardens and discovered by the plant hunting descendants of the Countess.

After the negotiating jungle, where else but lunch in the Plantation restaurant, not a gourmet experience, but more than adequate.

Finally, if your energy levels remain high you could round off the the day with a visit to the Bridport fea markets, maybe pick up a topee.. click here for info

Monday, 16 June 2014

Dorset Detail 6

...and a bonus for dog lovers spotted in a small village...were they knitted especially?

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Dorset Churches-St Martin's, Wareham

This fascinating church is worth visiting on several counts.
Firstly, it is the only example of a Saxon church in Dorset that survives close to its original state. 
Like most early churches, the focus is the altar round which the mass was celebrated. Indeed, the altar takes up a big chunk of the church. The simple tall, narrow nave as well as a tiny window in the north side of the chancel are original, dating back to 1030. In the northwest aisle is Saxon wall-arcading and traces of a Saxon door. 

Next, there are the 12th century frescoes on the north wall of the chancel depicting St Martin on horseback dividing his cloak to give one half to a beggar.
Finally, the church is home to a life-sized recumbent effigy of T. E. Lawrence in full Arab dress. His friend Eric Kennington,  the official war artist for the First and Second World Wars, carved it out of Purbeck marble and Portland stone. Lawrence is portrayed wearing an Arab headdress and holding camel whips as well as two books: the Greek Anthology of Verse & the Oxford Book of English Verse and a dagger given to him by Prince Faisal.

 The monument was originally intended for St Pauls who rejected along with both Westminster Abbey and Salisbury Cathedral. It was their loss as around 10,000 visitors a year come to the church just to see the sculpture. 

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Capturing Dorset- J.W.T. Turner


A surprising number of celebrated artists have visited Dorset over the centuries ( That isn't an invitation Damien...) 
Turner was a prolific painter and made many painting tours throughout Britain and the Continent.
Lyme Bay
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.'
Poole Harbour
 While in Dorset, he painted many of the landmarks still recognisable today; including Corfe Castle, Lulworth Cove, Poole Harbour, Lyme Regis and Weymouth.
Weymouth Bay

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Dorset Museums 14-Poole Museum


Standing in the old town close to the quay, Poole Museum was fully refurbished in 2007. A modern atrium leads through to galleries housed in one of Poole Quay's old warehouses . Wide-ranging displays document the archaeological, social and maritime history of the area. Best of all admission is free

Poole harbour is the world's largest natural harbour and has attracted people to its shores since time immemorial. The Romans were here and several of their roads converge on the harbour.
Three hundred years before their arrival and predating Brittany ferries by several thousand years a group of Iron Age Dorset chaps were busily constructing the largest primitive boat to be found in Britain. This is it. 
Its actually far more impressive than my humble photo indicates.
Found during dredging operations in 1964, the boat measured almost ten metres and was carved from a single oak. Specially adapted for the shallow harbour waters it could hold eighteen people but no duty-free's.
It took forty years to find a way of satisfactorily preserving it. 

The answer, though, was quite mundane to submerge it in a solution, of sugar.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Dorset Museums 13- Shaftesbury Abbey Museum


Looking somewhat like a water-damaged Clark's shoebox, this humble lead casket tells a mighty story. It held the remains of an English king and for centuries was the focus of veneration and pilgrimage to the Abbey.
The king was Edward the Martyr, son of the Saxon king, Edgar. Crowned at only sixteen, Edward was murdered soon after at Corfe Castle and his remains interred in Shaftesbury Abbey around 979 AD.  Edward was canonised in 1001AD and his feast day became one of national celebration. 
He was obviously not a smoker because centuries later Edward's lungs, kept in a glass jar, were reportedly still breathing...

Lost for centuries receptacle and bones were discovered during an archaeological dig in1933 and while the box remains above ground Edward's bones were eventually reinterred in a cemetery in... Woking...but that's another story...

The Abbey Museum stands next to the site of Shaftesbury Abbey; once home to Britain's the leading Benedictine community for women.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Food with views 2

Two contrasting places to munch... one thing in common, views...

Quiddles Fortuneswell Portland DT5 1LY 
Quiddles is housed in a thoughtful piece of modern architecture (how rare is that?) with a definite deco feel. It's a couple of hundred yards from the (free!) car park and right on the coast path and close to the Tout Quarry sculpture park. It opens from 9.00am seven days a week in the summer making it a fantastic place for a ye olde English breakfast, seafood lunches and cream teas in the afternoon.

Down House Farm Higher Eype Bridport DT6 6AH 
Down House Farm is reached by following a long bumpy track into the middle of nowhere... chickens and a cockerel let you know you've arrived. The cafe is an oasis of peace amid lush rolling farmland and the food unpretentious and homemade and uses the farm's own organic meat, herbs and vegetables. 
If it's just a cappuccino you want newspapers are thoughtfully provided.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Circular walk via Flowers Barrow, Worbarrow Tout and Tyneham


7 miles 4hrs approx. OS OL15
Tyneham circuit 4.5 miles 2,5hrs approx.

This walk forms part of the Lulworth Range walks. As such, public access varies click here for access dates.)

This walk is glorious and encapsulates the essence of the Purbecks.
It begins at Povington car park (maybe the best situated car park in Britain, and it’s free!) If you’re feeling lazy go no further, this is about as good a picnic spot as you can get.

The walk follows the chalk ridge to Flowers Barrow, the remains of an Iron Age hill fort which clings precariously to the cliff edge. From its ramparts you look down on the curving sweep of Worbarrow Bay ending in the tiny peninsular of Worbarrow Tout. The bay is a favourite spot for passing yachts to drop anchor as the beach is only accessible by foot or by water. Your route splits here; the detour takes you to the fascinating deserted village of Tyneham. Alternately continue along the cliff edge for stunning views in all directions. After dropping down into the valley climb up again to follow the ridge to the car park.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

The Lord, the artist and the god of love


In North Dorset stands the village of Wimborne St Giles. Thatched cottages, a 16thC
Almshouses and church of Wimborne St Giles
almshouse and a splendid church surround a pretty green.

It's hard to connect this peaceful scene with roar and bustle of London’s Piccadilly Circus. Both places, though, are forever linked to one of Victorian Britain's great philanthropists, Anthony Ashley, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury. The surrounding lands are the ancient seat of the Shaftesburys, and Wimborne St Giles their estate village, which explains the church's unusual opulence and worth a visit in its own right.

7th Earl of Shaftesbury
The death of the Earl, in 1893, ended an illustrious parliamentary career devoted to fighting the terrible abuses of child labour. While his burial took place in Wimborne St Giles, it was decided to erect a separate monument in Piccadilly, London.
So far, so good, but few predicted the controversy such a relatively simple plan would cause.

The sculptor chosen was Sir Albert Gilbert. The brief, to avoid a conventional commemorative statue. Gilbert, though, became dogged by persistent interference from the steering committee who ended up wanting, the very thing they'd briefed him against, a statue. 
Albert Gilbert
After another change of heart the committee finally demanded the memorial take the form of a fountain. To make matters worse, the London District Council would only supply water to the fountain if it had a useful  function. The resulting compromise transformed  Gilbert's work of art not only into an ornamental fountain but one boasting a two level drinking fountain; serving not just the public, but animals as well. Further interference made the bowl of the fountain too small, with the effect of that the water jets drenched passers-by.

Gilbert's finale was to top the fountain with a winged statue representing the god of selfless love, a 
naked Anteros delicately balanced on one foot and loosing an arrow. This was was immediately criticised as un-Christian and sensual which meant that the artist was forced to rebrand it as being symbolic of Christian charity.

When at last the completed edifice was unveiled in Piccadilly Circus, the artist was no longer on speaking terms with the committee refusing to attend the opening ceremony.
Contemporary opinions ranged from ecstatic, ‘the finest monument the metropolis possesses,'... to condemnation, ' indecent or downright dingy’- there were even calls for the completed monument to be melted down.
Sir Albert Gilbert’s troubles didn’t end there, the innumerable changes had doubled the costs leaving him facing financial ruin and forcing him to flee the country to escape his creditors. When he finally returned Sir George found that his reviled creation had, for some inexplicable reason, found a place in the hearts of the nation, where it remains to this day.
Nowadays, the monument's fame far overshadows the man it commemorated, while the controversy surrounding its inception is long forgotten.
In an ironic twist, Anteros, who sits atop the monument has become confused with his brother Eros, god of carnal love...far removed from the high church sentiments of Lord Salisbury....And as for the Wimborne St Giles, Lord Shaftesbury’s last resting place? ...Well,  it’s probably an old wives’ tale, but Eros is supposedly aiming his arrow straight towards the village green.