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Judge Jeffries and his Formidable Wife.

George Jeffries, known as the ‘Hanging Judge’ gained a fearsome reputation as one of the English judicial system’s most cruel, unjust and heavy drinking judges. Yet despite this, he was terrified of his wife Anne who had a formidable temper. It was said that while St George may have killed a dragon saving a damsel in distress, George Jeffries missed the maiden and married the dragon by mistake. It was on 3rd September 1685 that Judge Jeffries opened in Dorchester what became known as his ‘Bloody Assize’. It was held to try all those who were suspected of being involved in an uprising against the King. Dorset born author, Frederick Treves wrote of Jeffries: ‘ (Jeffries) remains notorious in history as a corrupt judge, a foul-mouthed, malevolent bully and a fiend who delighted in cruelty. He was a drunkard, a man of the coarsest mind with a ready command of blasphemous expressions.’ During his life he suffered from a painful kidney complaint which may have contributed towards his behavio
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Bridport’s ‘Wildcat Strikers.’

More than 100 years ago, women workers in Gundry’s rope factory in Bridport ‘downed tools’ and went on strike. In February 1912, this dispute broke out when the employer wanted to change pay rates which would have resulted in some women being paid less. After marching around the town singing songs, they assembled outside the factory gates to dissuade others from entering the works. Factory manager Mr Macdonald suggested that West Dorset’s Conservative MP Colonel Robert Williams should be appointed as an arbitrator to resolve the dispute. The women turned this proposal down believing this appointment would favour the employer too much. The strike continued and nine pounds thirteen shillings and eight pence (£9.68) was donated by the public and distributed among the strikers. (This sum would be worth around £1,300 today.) Ada Newton, an officer in the National Federation of Women Workers, arrived in Bridport from London and convened a meeting of strikers in the Hope & Anchor pub in B

‘Mad King George’ & a Wooden Leg.

King George III’s favourite holiday destination was Weymouth. Recovering from an ‘attack of madness’, he was advised that ‘taking the water’ was good for the health. During one of his worst moments, it is said, he shook hands with an oak tree believing it was the King of Prussia. Sea bathing was reckoned to be a cure for melancholy, gout and for ‘bad attacks of the worms.’ His first visit to the town in 1789 caused quite a stir but also a problem of etiquette for the Mayor of Weymouth. Advancing to kiss the Queen’s hand, Colonel Gwynn, a member of the King’s court, whispered: ‘You must kneel sir!’  Unfortunately, the Mayor took no notice of this advice and standing upright kissed the Queen’s hand.  The Colonel commented, ‘You should have knelt, sir!’                                                   ‘Sir’, answered the poor Mayor. ‘I cannot…for I have a wooden leg!’ The King bathed  in the sea emerging every day naked from his octagonal bathing machine. Specially created for the Monarc

Lyme Regis Branch Line

It used to be possible to travel from Lyme Regis to London (Waterloo) directly by train. True, it would probably have meant sitting in a single Lyme Regis carriage which had to be attached to a London bound train at Axminster. The six and a half-mile branch line between Lyme Regis and Axminster opened in 1903 and there had even been plans for an onwards rail line to be built to Bridport. Lyme Regis station was in the north of the town as the descent down towards the sea was too step for a conventional railway. It was a difficult, steeply graded and sharply curved route with a concrete viaduct being built at Cannington. Problems in construction delayed the opening of the line requiring the railway company to put in place a horse bus connection between Lyme Regis and Axminster. On the opening day, a special train left Lyme Regis carrying not only dignitaries but also 200 local children. Mr C D Ley, a railway booking clerk from Poole, was appointed  as Lyme Regis’ first station master. Th

John Newman - Champion Cudgel Player

John Newman from Hammoon was a champion cudgel player. He was so feared and respected by opponents that it was said Somerset men would not cross the border into Dorset to compete unless he was prohibited from playing. It is reckoned he would play any man in England for any sum. Cudgel playing consisted of two players, each armed with a cudgel, trying to draw blood from an opponent’s head, neck or face. A cudgel was a short thick stick that was used as a weapon to attack or defend against the attacker. Umpires would decide whether sufficient blood was drawn. It was a popular spectator sport at the Blandford Horse Races held annually in the 1700 & 1800s at what is now known as Blandford Camp. When the crowds saw blood, they would shout out ‘ a head’ ! Both combatants, if they were wise, would ‘ gaffle up’ that was to pad the less hardy parts of the body before cudgel playing. John Newman was a powerful athletic man who was six feet tall which was unusual for his times and he was

Highwayman Tom's Unfortunate Escapade

Born in Shaftesbury, Tom Dorbel was apprenticed to a glove maker in Blandford. Deciding on a change of career at the age of 17 years, he ran away to London to become a highwayman. At the time, Hounslow Heath, near London was one of the most dangerous places in the country. Across the Heath ran the Exeter and Bristol roads used by wealthy travellers. They provided rich pickings for highwaymen like Tom Dorbel. Crossing Hounslow Heath, Tom came across a Welshman named, Twm Sion Cati. He stopped Twm at gunpoint and demanded his money or alternatively he would take the Welshman’s life. Twm replied that he had no money of his own but was carrying sixty pounds which belonged to his mistress. Reluctantly, Twm surrendered this money. Bizarrely, he then begged the highwayman to put several bullets through his coat. He explained he wanted evidence to show his mistress that he had put up quite a fight before giving up her treasure. Twm took off his coat so that the slightly bemused highwayma

Lydlynch’s Historic ‘Temporary’ Bridge

  At Lydlynch, near Sturminster Newton on the A357 road there is an unusual but unassumingly modest yet strong steel bridge of some local historical significance. It crosses the River Lydden and can be found alongside an older and more traditional crossing which it is believed dates back to the early 18 th century. The more modern bridge takes traffic one way while the older stone bridge takes it the other way. This steel construction is known as a Callender-Hamilton bridge. It was assembled in 1942 by Canadian army engineers as it was evident that the old stone bridge would not be able to bear heavy loads. At the time, it was only envisaged as a temporary feature. It was a Canadian armoured regiment that was the first major military user of the bridge prior to the raid on Dieppe in August 1942. The same route was later used by tanks and other military equipment which moved south to Poole for the D Day Normandy Invasion. This Callender-Hamilton bridge was assembled on site and bol

‘Coloured drawers from waist to knees!’

When gentlemen bathing naked was discussed at a Weymouth Town Council meeting in May 1860, Alderman Ayling reckoned the culprits should be horsewhipped. The bathing machines, it was suggested, had been placed too close to the promenade creating this indecency. The machines were essentially mobile changing rooms. Locals paid six pence (2.5p) for their use but visitors were charged nine pence (4p). Railway excursionists from Bath and Bristol were blamed for rendering this nuisance to be increasingly offensive. Apparently, both in France and in Brighton, male bathers were required to wear ‘coloured drawers from the waist to the knees’ so it was reckoned that this regulation should be introduced at Weymouth.  It was proposed that the bathing machine proprietors should provide several coloured drawers and a fine of two shillings and sixpence (12.5p) imposed for each offence. As dresses were provided for women, it was reckoned that something broadly similar should  be provided for men. (Sour

Swindon-on-Sea.

Weymouth was once referred to as ‘Swindon-on-Sea’. For it was a favourite holiday destination for workers at the giant Great Western Railway’s Swindon Works. The Works was completed in 1843 and at its peak employed some 14,000 people. Arrival of the railway at Weymouth in 1857 would breathe fresh life into the town as a holiday resort. It also saw the town’s population double by 1914. Known as ‘Swindon Week’, the railway maintenance complex would close in July and thousands would cram the platforms of Swindon station in their Sunday best. Many local businesses would also  temporarily close as Swindon became a ghost town. Every year, some five or six thousand workers would travel to the Dorset seaside resort. There were other possible destinations in  the Great Western Railway’s network including to London. The event would become affectionately known as the ‘trip’. For the better off and more adventurous there was the prospect of crossing the English Channel from Weymouth to Cherbourg i

RAF Tarrant Rushton & Jim Wallwork

  Pilot Jim Wallwork and his co-pilot Johnnie Ainsworth were the first Allied troops to land in Normandy as a part of the June 1944 D-Day Landings. They had flown their Horsa glider, named Lady Irene across the English Channel from Tarrant Rushton Airfield. Between 1943 and 1947, Tarrant Rushton was a Royal Air Force airfield and it played an important role in the war effort. It was used for glider operations and also for secretive Special Operations Executive (SOE) exercises such as weapon drops to the French Resistance. Wallwork and Ainsworth’s glider had taken off around 11.00pm on 5 th June 1944 towed by a Halifax aircraft known as a ‘tug’ . Behind them were 30 fighting men with blackened faces and just a little over an hour later, they landed in France. Their glider landed heavily hitting the ground at 95mph and ploughed through barbed wire before the cockpit collapsed. They were both catapulted through the windscreen of their glider. Although stunned, this made them the fir

Dorset’s First Woman Voter.

Thanks to an administrative blunder, Eleanor Dixon of Holton, near Wareham became the first woman in Dorset to vote in a Parliamentary election. When she voted in the 1910 East Dorset election, she was nearly 20 years ahead of the time. For it was not until 1928 that all women over the age of 21 were granted the right to vote - irrespective of property rights. Eleanor must have voted for the Conservative candidate, Colonel John Sanctuary Nicholson as the Liberal/Radical Agent raised an objection against her vote. After stating he had checked relevant legislation, the Presiding Officer allowed her vote. Eleanor Dixon was not the first woman to vote in a British Parliamentary election because of an administrative error. Lily Maxwell did so in 1867 in a Manchester by-election when her name was erroneously placed on the registered list of voters. Lily was a shopkeeper born in Scotland around 1800.

Badger Beers - More than 200 years

  Hall & Woodhouse have been brewing beers in the heart of Dorset for more than 200 years. Charles Hall began brewing in Ansty in 1777 and came to Blandford in 1883 when the business acquired Hector’s Brewery located on the banks of the River Stour. Established in the 1780s, it was named after John Hector who ran the business from 1827 to 1879. Sadly in August 1900, Hector’s Brewery was burned down. Such was the conflagration that villagers travelled into Blandford to view the spectacle. A local newspaper reported that the watching crowd was most orderly and all that went missing were just a few apples from Mr Woodhouse’s orchard. In October 1900, a new brewery completed its first brew. Hector’s Brewery was remembered many years later when a special ‘ Hector’s Ale’ was produced. While the ‘ Badger ’ has been the company’s hallmark for many years there was a dispute over its use with a Yorkshire mineral manufacturer. The dispute was resolved finally when Hall & Woodhouse made a

Ethelbert the Unready Sailor

  Diminutive Ethelbert Holborrow (53) from Bridport had a clear mission in life. He wanted to sail single-handedly across the Atlantic to Bermuda. Yet, he had never been to sea before. A gunsmith by trade, he was only able to get about with the help of crutches. Despite having no boat building experience, Ethelbert planned to do this in a small sailing vessel that he intended to build himself. For two years he worked on his boat on the beach at Burton Bradstock. His only construction tools were a butcher’s knife, a hammer and a chisel. Local opinion was strongly against the voyage describing it as ‘ fool hardy’ . Ethelbert Holborrow set sail from West Bay in July 1914 on his lonely voyage in his homebuilt vessel that he named the Burto n. On board the 14 feet long craft were 40 gallons of water and a hundredweight of biscuits. Five days later he had only travelled some sixty miles. The Burton was sighted by a fishing vessel drifting dangerously close to some rocks off Salcombe.

'Dorset's Most Haunted Hotel!'

Crown Hotel, Blandford is probably the oldest hotel in Dorset as a local historian found a reference to the ‘ Crowne’ dated as far back as 1465. Yet there are some who reckon it is also the county’s most haunted hostelry. A horse’s head severely shocked a seated gentleman. This occurred when this equine apparition burst through a wall in the unlikely location of the gentleman’s toilet in the Crown Hotel’s Sealy Suite. It had been built on the site of the hotel’s former coaching stables. In some terror, the unfortunate man fled the hotel. Mrs Gordon was an eccentric old lady who was a Crown Hotel resident for a number of years and   a member of the Gordon’s Gin family. Her familiar appearance was apparently witnessed by staff on several occasions after her death. Appropriately, bearing in mind her family pedigree, one of these appearances was at the hotel bar. A lady in black wearing a long crinoline dress, said to inhabit the first floor, seems to be the apparition that has made

George Pitt-Rivers: Controversial Dorset Landowner

  George Pitt-Rivers was a major Dorset landowner and at one time was one of the richest men in England. Yet he was a controversial character and despite being related to Winston Churchill’s family was interned during the Second World War because of his Nazi sympathies. He was born in London in 1890 and during the First World War served as a Captain in the British Army. Pitt-Rivers was wounded in the First Battle of Ypres and had to return to Britain for surgery. After the war, he travelled to the South Pacific and he wrote about the clash of cultures he witnessed there. It was during the 1930s that he became increasingly involved in politics and attracted to the ideas of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. In 1935, he stood as a candidate for the North Dorset parliamentary seat but finished second last and lost his deposit. He met Hitler in 1937 and attended the Nuremberg Rally at the invitation of the Nazi Government. One of his guests to Dorset in the 1930s was an enigmatic Irishman,