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Rioter Richard Bleathman

  Politics can stir powerfully strong emotions yet nothing since in Blandford has matched the town’s riots of 1831. Back then only those with property could vote so most ordinary men and women were disenfranchised. In North Dorset discontent was heightened by low wages and widespread unemployment among the agricultural labouring poor. Most of the Dorset landowners were against reform although locally Mr Portman at Bryanston was more sympathetic. Matters rose to a head in October 1831 when following the suicide of the sitting MP, John Calcroft a Dorset by-election was called. Candidate Willian Ponsonby was in favour of reform to which the second candidate, Lord Ashley was opposed. With strong feelings and vested interests on both sides, the battle lines were drawn up. Richard Bleathman, George Long, William Kent and Thomas Jackson were among a crowd of around 100 waiting in the Market Place for the arrival of the mail coach from Dorchester. This would bring news of the by-election r
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Blandford Throwback Facts VII

In 1777 , a horse drawn coach from Exeter was robbed by a highwayman just a few miles short of Blandford.            In 1778 , smugglers firing their pistols attacked the house of the Supervisor of Excise in Blandford and took away 16 cwts of tea and nine casks of liquor. In 1779 , the Greyhound Inn advertised that it had a ‘ very good billiard table .’ In 1780 , a young boy chimney sweep was burnt to death when cleaning the chimney in a Blandford inn.           In a battle royal between poachers and gamekeepers, Pimperne born poacher trumpet-sergeant Blandford had a hand cut off by a gamekeeper’s cutlass. Nine hundred & eighty four gallons of spirits seized from smugglers were put up for auction in Blandford. In 1781 , the British Army fought in the Battle of Blandford. However, this skirmish did not take place in Dorset but in Blandford, USA. In 1782 , prizes for Blandford Races were one of £100 and three of £50. In 1783 , it cost eight shillings (40p) to send a

George Long, 'Blandford Riot Leader!’ - Part I

  Politics can stir powerful feelings and nothing since, not even Brexit, has quite matched the raw emotion and riots in Blandford after the declaration of the 1831 Dorset by-election result. Blandford born George Long, aged 23 and unmarried, was judged to be the rioter leader. There were two candidates in the by-election, the Lord Ashley and William Ponsonby. George Long was a supporter of the latter. At the time the parliamentary system was quite corrupt. Lord Ashley’s expenses show he paid for accommodation and drinks in twelve Dorchester public houses in addition to the King’s Arms where he was staying. No doubt William Ponsonby offered similar hospitality to his supporters. Entitlement to vote was mainly limited to the landed gentry and the clergy. While, for example, Shaftesbury had two MPs the large city of Birmingham had none. Ponsonby wanted parliamentary reform while Ashley’s desire was to preserve the status quo. George Long was among a crowd of about one hundred who wer

George Long, 'Blandford Riot Leader!' - Part II

  On Thursday 22 March 1832 in a Dorchester courtroom, the jury found George Long guilty. He had been indicted of having both riotously assembled and of beginning to demolish the property of lawyer George Moore. Stephen Gaselee was the judge and he passed sentence of death on Long leaving him with no hope of mercy. Author Charles Dickens allegedly caricatured Judge Gaselee as having ‘ a broad pink face surrounded by a big and very comical wig .’ Dickens also wrote ‘ his temper borders on the irritable and brooks no contradiction. George Long was sentenced to be hung in Dorchester Jail on 31 st March 1832. In Blandford and surrounding villages there was strong opposition to the severity of the penalty and a petition for clemency was organised which many signed. No doubt fearful of further rioting, and despite initial reluctance, Gaselee commuted the sentence to transportation for life. George Long was transferred from Dorchester Jail to the Captivity, a rusting prison hulk berthed

Wend-al Toys of Blandford

These days most toys seem to be made in China. Yet 70 years ago, some very fine toys were made in Blandford. Wend-al was a Blandford company which was a highly regarded maker of aluminium toy figures. Edgar Kehoe was its founder. Immediately after World War II he was looking for a business opportunity. Travelling in France, he discovered his opportunity in the town of Luxeuil-les-Bains where a company named Quirala was making die cast aluminium figures. At the time, lead was more commonly used in the manufacture of toy figures. This company, located in the French region of Bourgogne-Franche-Compte, did not use lead but solid aluminium. Quirala was a combination of the company founder’s surname Quirin and the word aluminium. Edgar Kehoe realised that solid aluminium was stronger and lighter than lead and would not break. As a consequence, he struck up a deal to use French moulds and so production began in Blandford in 1946. He opened his factory in the former Blandford Isolation Hospita

Blandford Throwback Facts VI

          In 1759 , John Ayliffe, who had a house built in East Street, was executed for forgery at Tyburn in London. In 1760 , Dr Dansey was paid six pounds and six shillings (£6.30p) for cutting off Samuel Tucker’s leg. In 1 761 , the Court of Records in London threatened to fine Blandford forty shillings (£2) if the pillory, sixty shillings (£3) if the stocks and five pounds if the pound were not all immediately put into good repair. In 1762 , highwayman John Poulter, with five companions, stole items of gold and silver from the Crown Hotel which they took onto London. In 1766 , a ticket on the horse drawn ‘ Blandford Flying Machine’ cost twenty-five shillings (£1.25p) and it took two days to travel from Blandford to London. In 1769 , fines were imposed on a number of Blandford householders for throwing filth into the streets. In 1770 , a cockfighting contest was held between the gentlemen of Dorset and Wiltshire in the Red Lion Inn. In 1771 , the Sergeant at Arms and the Clerk w

Durweston's Early Aussie Teacher

Born in 1811, Frances Jeans was one of Australia’s earliest teachers. In the villages Durweston and Stourpaine there were several Jeans families. At this time, Stourpaine had a particularly unsavoury reputation for unsanitary living conditions and extreme poverty. The Hampshire Telegraph was to write in 1840 of the village: ‘The first feature which attracts the attention of a stranger entering the village is the total want of cleanliness which pervades it. A stream, composed of the matter which constantly escapes from the pigsties and other receptacles of filth, meanders down each street, being here and there collected into standing pools, which lie festering and rotting in the sun so as to create wonder the place is not the continual abode of pestilence – indeed the most malignant fevers have ravaged here at times. It may be sufficient to add for the present that the inside of the cottages in every respect corresponds with the external appearances of the place.’ In October 1836, Franc

Saint-Louis-de-Blandford

  Blandford’s town council has been giving away free land! Sadly, this is not Blandford, Dorset but in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford which can be found just about an hour’s drive to the south-west of Quebec City, Canada. Despite being mainly French speaking, the small Saint-Louis-de-Blandford town of around 900 people was still named after Blandford in Dorset. To discourage Saint-Louis-de-Blandford’s young and not so young residents from moving away to the city the municipality acquired land which it has been giving away. Applicants have to put down a $1,000  payment and then to commit to build a house worth at least $125,000 within a year. The town then refunds the down payment. Saint-Louis-de-Blandford is well-known for growing excellent cranberries and is regarded as Canada’s capital for this fruit. The town enjoys a proper continental climate of warm summers but the winters are exceedingly cold. If there was a competition for the countries with the most Blandfords then Canada would win

Panda Pops

Panda  Blue Rasperry Ade, Strawberry Jelly & Ice Cream and Casper Ghostly Limeade were all unique soft drink flavours produced by the Panda Pops brand owned by Badger Beers. Panda Pops were often sold in small bottles of fizzy drink that were as sweet and sticky as it was as possible for them to be. Other popular Panda Pop flavours were Cherry Ade and Bright Green Cola. Even more singular blends could be concocted by mixing two or more flavours in a Panda Pops mixing bowl. Panda Cola achieved a sort of cult status and there is even a song, ‘ Warm Panda Cola’ . While among Panda aficionados there was even the spoof blend of Princess Diana Memorial flavour! The Blandford drink competed remarkably well against American giants Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola. Panda Pops date back to the 1960s when the Blandford brewer dropped the name of Sunparlor for its soft drink brands. Sunparlor had also been the name of a winning race horse owned by a member of the Woodhouse family. Cream soda was und

Blandford Throwback Facts V

  In 1741 , two men, Will King and Ben Fluel, were publicly hanged in the Market Place for robbing Lady Grace Haynes. In 1742 , scavengers Robert Pitman and Richard Dutton were paid fifteen shillings (75p) per quarter to sweep the streets and remove the dung and filth. In 1744 , Blandford Races were revived after a lapse of several years. In 1752 , a cudgel contest was held in the Sword & Dagger public house. A two guinea prize was offered ‘to the man that breaks most heads and saves his own.’ In 1753 , during this year, eight Blandford girls married soldiers. In 1755 , the famous Damory Oak was felled. It stood 75 feet high and its cavity could hold 20 men. During the Civil War, an old man sold beer in it. Its wood was sold for fourteen pounds. During Blandford Races, cockerel fighting took place regularly in the White Bear and the Cock Inn. Eccentric Jonas Hanway, the first man to use an umbrella in London, stayed at the Lion Inn with friends. In 1756 , thirty Blandford men joine

Milldown German Prisoner of War Camp

  During World War I, there was a German Prisoner of War Camp on the Blandford Milldown which opened in June 1917. It held nearly 200 internees who were accommodated initially in three huts and 30 large bell tents. Each tent was lit by lamps but there was no heating. The kitchen was in a shed and tobacco could be purchased from a canteen. As there was no infirmary, all sickness cases were sent to Blandford Camp. There was considerable ill-feeling towards German people at the time and that was often reflected, and frequently encouraged, by newspaper reports. The Weekly Despatch of 6 January 1918 reported that ‘the good people of Blandford are much incensed at what they consider to be undue pampering of a number of German prisoners interned there.’ Apparently, the townspeople were surprised to see at Christmas ‘ batches of their grey clad guests’ entering any shop they pleased and buying what they wished – even tea ‘ by the pound’ as one indignant housewife complained. However, it w

Shapwick's Double Gold Olympian

Shapwick’s Charles Bennett was Britain’s first track  and field athlete ever to become an Olympic champion. He won two golds and one silver medal at the 1900 Paris Olympics. Nicknamed the Shapwick Express, Charles Bennett was born in the village on 28 December 1870. He became one of the finest middle distance runners of his time. Charles Bennett won the AAA four mile championship in 1897 and the cross country running title in 1899 and 1900. At the 1900 Paris Olympics, he beat the favourite, Frenchman Henry Deloge to win the gold medal in the 1,500 metres race. His time was a new world record. He then won a second gold medal in the 5,000 metres team race. Charles Bennett just missed an Olympic gold hat-trick by coming second in the 4,000 metres steeplechase. Apparently, he celebrated his victory by visiting the Folies Bergere night club. Despite limited press coverage, when he returned home to England, he was carried shoulder high through the streets of Wimborne. Charles Bennett was

Blandford Camp's IRA Raid

During the early hours of Sunday 16 February 1958, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) raided Blandford Camp. Brandishing revolvers, masked raiders shot a soldier and overpowered seven others. During the attack, the men were heard to shout, ‘this is with the compliments of the IRA.’ Despite this, the raiders appeared concerned about the young soldier shot in the stomach. They intended to raid the armoury for arms but were unsuccessful. The IRA assault on Blandford Camp was probably an inside job. Frank Skuse was a young Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers (REME) corporal. His home was in County Cork. A man answering Skuse’s description had hired accommodation in a country house at Charlton Marshall. When the police forced entry they found ammunition, weapons and three suits of battledress with REME shoulder flashes. Two weeks after the attack, a tommy-gun, small arms and ammunition were discovered in a converted bus parked in a Bournemouth caravan park. Frank Skuse had hired the bu

‘Jack the Ripper’ Link

Which Blandfordian has appeared the most in film and on television? A strong candidate would be Frederick George Abberline, but who was he? Frederick has been portrayed on the big screen by Michael Cane, Johnny Depp and several other leading actors. Clive Russell played him in the BBC’s Ripper Street. Unfortunately, Caine’s portrayal of Abberline as a drunkard and that of Depp as a drug addict were totally inaccurate. However, as Frederick had passed away in Bournemouth in 1929 he was unable to speak up for himself. In fact, and despite looking more like a bank manager, he is justifiably regarded as both a hard working and decent London policeman. Frederick George Abberline was a Chief Inspector for London’s Metropolitan Police and a key figure in the East London, Jack the Ripper serial killer murders. In a BBC survey, Jack the Ripper was voted as the most evil Briton of the last 1,000 years. After the murder of Mary Ann Nichols, Abberline was chosen in September 1888 to lead the inves

Alan Cobham's Flying Circus

When Alan Cobham brought his Circus to town, it was not the usual spectacle of clowns, circus creatures and contortionists. His Circus was a group of dare-devil pilots & parachutists who arrived with around ten propeller driven aircraft. The Circus set up camp at the grandly titled Blandford Aerodrome, located just north of the town’s cemetery. As the Western Gazette reported in July 1934: ‘Blandford was entertained to some thrilling flying when Sir Alan Cobham’s Air Display visited the town for the first time.’ Among the attractions were 25 year-old ‘ glamorous glider girl’ , Joan Meakin and ‘Britain’s finest aerobatic pilot’ , Geoffrey Tyson. She was the first female  pilot to cross the English Channel in a glider which she reckoned was ‘ safer than playing hockey .’ Joan was towed by an aircraft to 1,500 ft. and released and would then ‘ loop the loop’ in her glider. She was to marry the Circus Assistant General Manager, Ronald Price who also had the precarious part-time role