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Crown Hotel

It is reckoned there has been a Crown Hotel on the current site in Blandford since at least the 17 th Century. After the Great Fire of Blandford in 1731, the Crown Hotel had to be completely rebuilt. While highwayman John Poulter subsequently claimed that in 1762 he had stolen gold, silver and other valuables from the hotel which he had taken away to London. Arrival of the horse-drawn coaching era much benefitted the Crown and the nearby Red Lion and Greyhound Hotels. For Blandford was on a main coaching route between Exeter and London. A coach known as the Blandford Flyer claimed it could transport its passengers to the capital in just two days. By 1820, the town was also a stopping point for horse drawn coaches to Brighton, Portsmouth, Bath and Plymouth. This traffic required the building of extensive stables and outbuildings at the rear of the hotel. In 1859, before the opening of Blandford station, there was a ‘ well-appointed’ horse drawn omnibus which left the Crown Hotel e
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Blandford Rats Tale

In addition to the threat of German bombing during World War II, Blandford also suffered from an infestation of rats. This infestation resulted in a bizarre incident witnessed by a local businessman and Town Mayor. Late one night he was counting the multitude of rationing coupons that he had collected that week when he experienced an amazing sight. He was working in his grocer’s shop at the corner of the Market Place and Salisbury Street when he heard a loud swishing noise. He put out his light and lifted the wartime blackout curtain. It was a moonlit night and he could clearly see hundreds of brown rats marching from the river through the Greyhound Yard and up Salisbury Street. Another man witnessed this army of rats and was so shaken he fell off his bicycle. It appears that at the time large quantities of corn were stored in the Blandford Station Yard and when river levels were low the rats would go to the yard to supplement their diet. There was much discussion at Blandford Ru

Blandford Throwback Facts XVIII

  In 1906 , Blandford railway station’s signal box was burnt down after being struck by lightning during a great storm. Luckily signalman, Charlie Whiting escaped unharmed and said at the time he had experienced ‘ slight shock .’   Reverend Dr Nevill, Bishop of Dunedin & Primate of New Zealand was married in Blandford Church. His lordship was in his 70 th year and his new, young wife, Margaret Fynes-Clinton was aged 30 years.    The town celebrated its tercentenary by the pealing of church bells and a grand procession of 35 floats which ‘ perambulated ’ through the town. The procession featured the Stourpaine Brass Band, the Town Band and the Blandford Mouth Organ Band. Blandfordians were then treated to a free afternoon tea.    A pony and trap careered down Salisbury Street and crashed into a lamp post losing its wheels. Then, the horse galloped across the Market Place at speed smashing into a shop’s glass window. Fortunately, both the horse and driver escaped with just shock and

Cherries Cash Call

Forty years ago AFC Bournemouth, in 1982, had just celebrated promotion to a higher division. However it was not to the Premiership but to what was then called the Football League’s Third Division. So unlike today’s Premiership, the club could not look forward to the receipt of shed loads of money. While the club opened the season with a three goal victory over Walsall, the attendance at the Dean Court stadium was just 5,330. The Cherries were losing £2,000 per week and needed gates of 7,000 to break even. Club Director Derek Lever had launched an appeal to raise £50,000 over the coming season. The appeal would involve a series of money raising events to include a race night, a sportsman dinner, a sponsored walk and a medieval banquet. Mr Lever said that while the Cherries were not in danger of going to the wall he emphasised that the appeal target must be met just for general running expenses and to provide manager David Webb with some finance to strengthen the side during the season.

Benjamin Harris - Dorset Rifleman

Benjamin Randell Harris was a rifleman who served in the British Army between 1803 and 1814. Born in Portsmouth, his family moved to Stalbridge in North Dorset when he was still a child. His father, Robert was a shepherd and Benjamin as a youngster would help tend the sheep across the Blandford Downs.   Later, Benjamin would train as a cobbler. In 1803, Benjamin was selected by ballot to join the British Army for which he was paid a bounty of eleven pounds. Forty five years later, a book would be published recounting his army experiences. Like most ordinary soldiers of the time, he was illiterate so he related his memories to Captain Henry Curling who produced the book – A Dorset Rifleman . It is one of the few accounts of the life of a common soldier of the time. During his service, he was randomly selected to be part of a firing squad to execute a deserter – an experience understandingly, he found particularly disturbing. Benjamin Harris served in Ireland, Denmark and in the Span

Farquarson's Doggie Tale!

Henry Richard Farquarson was the outspoken and at times controversial Member of Parliament for West Dorset from 1885 until 1895. He was passionate about giant Newfoundland dogs and he lived at Eastbury House, Tarrant Gunville and was a major landowner. Farquarson had built up, over twenty five years, a pack of one hundred & twenty five giant Newfoundland dogs.  They were his pride and joy and among them was a Crufts prize winner. His dogs had been brought to Dorset from Newfoundland in Canada.  There had always been strong links between Poole and Newfoundland and the coastal town had become known as the best place to buy this breed of dog. In the early 1800s, Newfoundland dogs were often used to pull carts and were a common sight in the streets of Poole. Fear of rabies led to this practice being banned. Farquarson would regularly travel to Poole to collect his acquisitions. The Newfoundland is a huge animal and there is a story that one saved the life of Napoleon Bonaparte by preve

Blandford Throwback Facts XVII

  In 1899 , Blandford railway station sold 120 five shilling (25p) special excursion tickets to visit the Birmingham Onion Fair. In 1900 , there were 20 public houses, 10 butchers, 8 grocers and 5 greengrocers in the town. Local born athlete and railwayman, Charles Bennett, known as the ‘ Shapwick Express ’ celebrated winning his gold medal in the Paris Olympics by visiting the Folies Bergere night club. When the River Stour burst its banks, shops in West Street were flooded and guests in the Crown Hotel had to make their exits by way of a ladder from the hotel’s first floor. Two old fire-fighting machines belonging to the town’s Volunteer Fire Brigade were put up for sale but there were no takers. Hector’s Brewery on the banks of the River Stour, and acquired by Hall & Woodhouse in 1882 was destroyed by fire. In 1901 , following the news of the death of Queen Victoria, a day of mourning was declared in Blandford and all business was suspended. ‘ VR’ and ‘ RIP ’ were displaye

Murder at Gussage St Michael

Gussage St Michael is a quiet North Dorset village with a population of few more than a couple of hundred. Yet for several months in 1913, it made headlines across the world as far away as Australia and New Zealand. William Walter Burton, a rabbit catcher, was found guilty of murdering his lover, 24 year-old Winifred Mitchell and had buried her in a lonely wood. Winifred Mary Mitchell was 5ft 5 ins tall, dark haired and was employed as a cook. She was known as ‘ Winnie ’ and ‘cookie’ . Winnie wore false teeth that had been given to her by a former employer. On the 9 th August 1913, South Australia’s Adelaide Advertiser reported. ‘ In the annals of crime, there have been few murders so carefully planned and so ingeniously carried out and it will be remembered that the judge in passing sentence of death intimated that Burton was beyond human forgiveness.’ William Burton walked alone to the scaffold and was hanged at Dorchester Prison on the morning of Tuesday 24 th June 1913. 

‘Off the Straight & Narrow'

Early Dorset Police files record some colourful instances of constables getting into hot water for ‘ wandering from the straight & narrow.’ In February 1857, Constable Charles Guy of Blandford Division was fined ten shillings (50p) for being drunk. As a punishment he was ordered to move to another station at his own expense. Guy refused to do this so as a result was given a punishment of 14 days hard labour and he was dismissed from the force by the Chief Constable, Colonel Cox. In June 1867, Constable Rolls was fined ten shillings ‘ for lying down in the road when escorting a prisoner and allowing him to wander off out of sight .’ Apparently, the constable’s defence was that he was tired and that his offence was a trivial one. This did not impress the Chief Constable. In July 1857, Constable Hodges spent several hours playing skittles in a public house at Iwerne Minster. While there he had his handcuffs stolen by a fellow drinker whom Hodges then arrested and took before a m

Blandford's Maze

In France, the Palace of Versailles near Paris had a maze, Hampton Court in London had a maze and at one time so did Pimperne. It could be found where Blandford Cemetery is today, an area that was once part of Pimperne. In Mazes and Labrynths , William Henry Mathews (1922) wrote: ‘At Pimperne, not far from Blandford, there was formerly a maze of unique design (Fig.63). John Aubrey writing in 1686 says it was “much used by the young people in holydays and by ye school-boies.” The maze was destroyed by the plough in 1730.’ Pimperne’s Maze was also known as a ‘ Troy-Town’ or ‘ miz-maze’ . In popular legend, the walls of Troy were constructed in such a confusing manner that an enemy who entered would be unable to find his way out. While an old West Country expression, ‘I was in a miz-maze’ meant to be in a state of confusion. ‘ Masen ’ was an old English word and meant to puzzle. The village maze had small earth ridges about one metre high. It covered about an acre of ground with intricat

Blandford Throwback Facts XVI

  In 1887 , combative Blandford Express newspaper man, James Bartlett was in court after claiming that school mistress, Elizabeth Cumming had damaged school property before leaving for another job in London. He lost the case and had to pay forty pounds in damages together with costs.            Trains on the Somerset & Dorset railway line were held up by heavy snow falls and men had to go in front of the engines to clear the snow. In 1888 , the Cottage Hospital moved to its current location. In 1890 , Chamen & Richards wine merchants offered twenty one shilling (£1.05) Christmas hampers for sale consisting of two bottles of ‘ good wine’ and a selection of five bottles of ‘good spirits’ namely from port, sherry, brandy, rum, gin, and Irish & Scotch whisky. In 1891 , surgeon dentist Mr C Morgan, who worked in the Market Place, charged two shillings & sixpence (12.5p ) for a ‘ painless’ tooth extraction and one shilling (5p) for a child’s ‘ temporary tooth’ . Rai

Dorset Comedian Billy Burden

Unlike Glasgow or Liverpool, Dorset is not particularly well-known for producing comedians. Yet the county did produce the one and only Billy Burden. A theatre critic once wrote of Billy Burden: ‘There is a touch of the Chaplin about this artist…his ability to make an audience laugh at him one moment and in the next bring a lump to the throat. He falls about, acts “goofish”, becomes a fellow to pity, changes to slapstick…and then hushes our laughter by singing a serious song in a rich baritone voice.’ Born in Wimborne in June 1914, comedian and actor, William ‘Billy’ George Burden cornered the market in playing country bumpkins. His yokel character provided him with steady work appearing in pantomimes, summer variety shows and on the radio and television. Billy Burden regularly appeared in such shows as Workers’ Playtime, the Good Old Days, Hi-de-Hi and Are You Being Served? Billy Burden was also a fine pianist. In a career lasting over 50 years, he regularly performed wearing

'Somewhere in France.'

  Twenty-year-old Scottish seaman, Robert Banks (right) from Greenock arrived at Blandford Station in December 1914. The young recruit slowly made his way up the muddy unmade track connecting the town with the newly opened Blandford Naval Camp. Upon the outbreak of World War I, he had volunteered with thousands of others to join the Royal Navy. This meant leaving his marine engineering job in Glasgow’s River Clyde shipyards. Robert Banks was joining the Anson Battalion of the newly formed Royal Naval Division. Another recruit was his long standing pal, Henry Short (left) who was a trumpeter.  As a break from training, the Mayor of Lyme Regis, Alban Woodruffe invited the Battalion to spend time at the seaside in early February 1915. Local resident, Mrs Emmett invited Robert to stay with her. Before leaving Lyme Regis, the Mayor gave the Battalion this message: ‘We hope you will take away pleasant memories of your short visit here and we wish you God-speed and all good luck.’ Upon retu

Chimney Sweep Tragedy

Crown Hotel, Blandford is reckoned to be one of Dorset’s oldest hostelries. Yet its most tragic day, during a long history, must surely be when a young chimney sweep lost his life. The chimney sweep, who was just a child, suffocated and was burnt to death in a Crown Hotel chimney which had been alight a little while before. ‘His cries were dreadful and no-one could give assistance. Part of the chimney was taken down before he was got out.’ (Salisbury & Winchester Gazette 27th March 1780) The lad had gone up one chimney and attempting to go down another had become stuck. At the time children were used to climb up chimneys to clean out soot deposits. With hands and knees, they would shimmy up narrow dark flue spaces packed thick with soot and debris. After the 1731 Great Fire of Blandford it was realised that it was important to sweep chimneys regularly while many rebuilt houses had narrower ones. Smaller chimneys and complicated flues were a potential death trap for children. The sw

Blandford Throwback Facts XV

  In 1874 , Londoner, John Lewis Marsh acquired the Kings’ Arms public house and then founded the adjacent Blandford Brewery. The Somerset & Dorset Railway announced it would introduce a new third class of travel in addition to its existing first and second class. In 1878 , Reverend Charles Henry Fynes-Clinton bought the Black Bear public house in Salisbury Street and converted it into the British Workmen Coffee Rooms. The building also housed the Temperance Hotel. Fynes-Clinton was largely responsible also for getting Blandford Church extended in 1895. He was Blandford’s rector from 1877-1913. In 1880 , Blandford station was using a horse for wagon shunting duties. In 1881 , a fire broke out in Shapwick making 80 residents homeless. It started on a shed‘s thatch roof at lunchtime with a strong wind blowing.  Blandford Workhouse was very much a family business. John Turner was the workhouse master, his wife, Mary was the matron and his daughter, Hannah was the school mistres