On Thursday, visitors to Shaftesbury Library will be offered a glimpse into life in our town around 100 years ago when volunteers from Gold Hill Museum show photographs and share stories from their ‘Shaftesbury Remembers’ Great War project.
If you go along, you’ll learn about the impressive choice of cinemas, suffragette-supporting schoolgirls and why a policeman positioned buckets in the streets.
In 2018, Gold Hill Museum completed research into how the town was affected by the First World War. On 9th May, historians Ann Symons and Claire Ryley will recap some facets of the extensive research project as a way to celebrate Local Community and History Month.
“We are very keen on sharing the local history that we have gathered with people. There’s no point doing research if it is not going anywhere. It belongs to the people of Shaftesbury and the surrounding area,” said Claire, adding, “Ann and I are very keen that we share what we have found out and that every avenue for doing that is exploited, so everybody has as much information about their town as possible.”
During the First World War, Shaftesbury had three cinemas and Claire will show her photos of the picture houses to prove it. “One was in the Old Market Hall, which is now demolished, next door to where Hine and Parsons is. And there was a second one on the High Street called ‘The Picture Palace’, which is where Bargains is now. It had two large columns in the front. It was a very popular venue. The third one is now Savoy Court. That was the Savoy Cinema until it was replaced by the flats,” said Claire, referring to the housing development on Bimport.
One picture that the research team uncovered made an impression on Claire. “I love a photo taken of pupils at the Girls’ High School in 1913. They were celebrating Empire Day with a large poster held in front of them, demanding women’s rights. This is before women got the vote and I think it’s a splendid thing for them to be doing so early,” said Claire.
She’s also been taken by the story of Shaftesbury’s much-loved wartime police sergeant. “Sergeant Hussey was seconded from Dorchester. He played a very important role in keeping the town stable and safe during the war. He had to deal with billeting soldiers. We have got a lovely photo of him,” said Claire. “He has got a handlebar moustache and he is slightly plump in his rather smart uniform. He looks a very friendly, serene sort of man. And I think that’s how he was,” said Claire.
“He was very much liked, and in fact, he returned to Dorchester after the war because he’d been very much missed. I think he retired in about 1924. A very positive retirement article was written for the Western Gazette, which praises his qualities, and he received a large silver salver, which we don’t have, in recognition of his service,” said Claire.
Sgt Hussey was responsible for placing buckets around the town. “On several occasions, soldiers were billeted in the town during the First World War. The local public toilets were not really sufficient to cope with the numbers of men, particularly after they’d been to the pub. Lieutenant Colonel Primrose wrote to the Town Council and asked them to provide buckets at strategic locations all around the town. There were about 20 or 30 of those buckets and Sergeant Hussey would have been responsible for them being put in the appropriate places and presumably removed after the soldiers had left,” said Claire.
The talk will also focus on one of Shaftesbury’s major employers and we can still spot examples of their work around our town today. “One of the most important manufacturers in Shaftesbury for a long time, was a man called John Farris and he occupied the whole of the area on Bleke Street, where Home Farris is now. His house was further along Bleke Street. He was responsible for making a lot of the drain covers in Shaftesbury,” said Claire.
“Not long ago, a friend of mine, Dr Peter Stanier, did a survey of all the drain covers. He found over thirty, all manufactured by Farris. They’ve actually got Shaftesbury on them,” said Claire. “The easiest one for you to see is by the Post Office on Angel Lane. It’s on the left hand side where the parking bay is.”
Dr Stanier has listed and pictured the remaining Farris drain covers in a document on display in Gold Hill Museum. “It is in the ‘Water and Wells’ exhibition in our temporary exhibition space. It is very interesting and it’s very nice to know that there was major manufacturing going on in the town. Farris was responsible for employing over 80 men with all their families being supported as well,” said Claire.
The company manufactured more than just drains, though. “They made lots of agricultural machinery. Shepherds huts were one of their specialties and they made steam rollers and lots of steam driven agricultural vehicles.”
Claire says that Thursday’s hour-long session will be broadly divided into two parts. “I will be talking for about half an hour. There’ll be tea break provided by the Library with whom we work very closely. Then there’ll be about 20 minutes when we’re going to show the website. And we have some other photos to show them and can answer questions,” said Claire.
The free sessions starts at 5.30pm on Thursday 9th May at Shaftesbury Library.