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‘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
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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

Highwaymen Skulduggery

  In the 1700s, travelling along Dorset’s roads was a precarious pastime. One day in September 1756, accompanied by his servant, an Oxford clergyman was to discover these perils at a cost. As he was making his way from Blandford towards Shaftesbury, the Reverend Collins was ordered to halt and ‘ stand & deliver’ by two mounted highwaymen. One spoke with a Welsh accent while the other had an olive-skinned Latin look about him. However, the two highwaymen presented a somewhat bizarre sight as one was riding an extremely tired old nag. As they were both holding a blunderbuss gun, the cautious clergyman reflected but then wisely decided to obey. The unfortunate ecclesiastic was then robbed of his horse, cloak and eight guineas. The highwayman, whose transport had been much improved, presented the Reverend Collins with his old nag enabling the unfortunate clergyman to continue on his way. Emboldened by their success, the two robbers decided to make their way to a public house in Pi

Spitfire 'WHO'S AFEAR'D?'

WHO’S AFEAR’D is not just the motto on the Dorset Coat of Arms but also the name of a Spitfire which crashed near Meopham, Kent on 23 rd June 1942. This fighter aircraft had been funded by local contributions from Blandford & Sturminster Newton district people and paid for in a manner which today would be called crowd funding. Many years later, Graeme Sinden was excavating for a swimming pool in his back garden near Camer Park, Meopham when he came across aircraft wreckage. Experts were called in and the plane was identified as Spitfire WHO’S AFEAR’D. (P8531) It had been built at an aircraft factory in Castle Bromwich in the Midlands. In September 1940, Shroton had raised twenty six pounds for the Blandford & District Spitfire Fighting Fund. The next month, Child Okeford held a concert in the packed village hall and sent in seven pounds. A Winterborne Whitechurch Dance in November 1940 raised eight pounds, two shillings & sixpence (£8.12) while a Winterborne Stickland So

Blandford Throwback Facts XIV

        In 1863 , Blandford railway station opened on 21 st September when a line that previously ended in Blandford St Mary was brought into the town. Led by the owner of the Crown Hotel, Robert Eyers the Blandford Town Band won the National Brass Band Championship held at the Crystal Palace. There were four Hunt brothers in the Band. On returning to Blandford, they were met by the Rifle Volunteers and marched around the town amidst cheering crowds. After the railway station was opened, seven new inns were built in the town. Reverend William Barnes lectured on Dorset dialect to the Blandford Literacy & Scientific Institution. In 1864 , music hall star in the USA and Britain, Samuel Cowell died in his East Street lodgings and was buried in Blandford Cemetery. He had twice performed before Queen Victoria at Windsor and also before the US President yet died a bankrupt. A charity concert was organised to raise money to pay for his gravestone.  A horse drawn coach from the Crown Hotel

Easter Past & a Local Rail Crash

If you were looking to get away at Easter in 1929, there were plenty of cheap railway excursion tickets on offer from Blandford Station. For six shillings (30p) you could buy a cheap day return to Lyme Regis or Seaton while for just two shillings (10p) you could spend a day in Bournemouth or go to the Steeplechase Meeting at Wincanton. On Easter Monday, you could travel to Yeovil and watch the home team take on Bath City in football’s Southern League at the Huish Park. (Yeovil won 3-1) Following Saturday, the Southern Railway Company was running a football special to London to watch Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic play Crystal Palace at Selhurst in a Third Division (South) match. Claiming, ‘ it’s quicker by rail’ , and leaving Bournemouth Central at 10.00am, the return fare to Selhurst was six shillings & sixpence (32p). The football special was advertised to have both corridors and a restaurant car. For those wanting to spend more time in the capital, there was a late retu

Cumberland Clark - 'England's Worst Poet!'

  Cumberland Clark (1862-1941 ), the ‘ Bard of Bournemouth’ , is reckoned by many to be England’s worst poet. ‘The Bournemouth air is toney It bucks you up, and fills you out, if Thin as macaroni.’ ‘To learn about the Milk Supply, I nosed about with stealth. Reports I found, were published by the Officer of Health. The cowsheds and the dairies are inspected, you may read And authorities assert that they are very fine indeed.’ ‘That beautiful creature called Kate I met near Kensington Gate. She’d a costume like Eve’s Minus stockings and sleeves But otherwise quite up to date.’ ‘If you go to the Boscombe Arcade No excitement you’ll meet I’m afraid. You won’t find the place is a tax on your strength Four hundred and forty three feet is its length. You walk to and fro with a dignified air: Then you walk fro and to, or you sit on a chair; And there isn’t much else you can do when you’re there.’ ‘Let me say a few words on the Square From which you can get anywhere. A well-designed cent

Florence Nightingale & the Dorset Clergyman

While Florence Nightingale may be regarded as the pioneer of modern nursing a now almost forgotten Dorset cleric played a not insignificant role. Reverend Sydney Godolphin Osborne from Durweston travelled out to Turkey, at his own expense, to witness the appalling conditions in a British military hospital in Scutari, Constantinople. This was during the Crimean War (1853-56) when the British, French & Turks were fighting the Russians. He found soldiers wounded and dying in horrifying conditions. There were rats and lice in the hospital which was located close to a cesspit. He observed men lying in bed with dysentery or with open sores who had not had a change in linen for months. It is reckoned for every British soldier who lost his life in battle there were seven who died due to disease. He wrote: ‘I sought the truth and took my own way to arrive at it. Whether that truth would please or displease the public or the Government was to me a matter of indifference.’ Osborne spe

Blandford Station Remembered

Blandford railway station opened in 1863 when a line that previously had ended at Blandford St Mary was brought into the town. After just over 100 years of service Blandford station was closed to passengers in March 1966 and soon after for goods traffic. Blandford station is remembered by songwriters, Flanders & Swann in their eulogy to the many quaintly named stations closed by the notorious Dr Beeching’s axe. Slow Train 'No more will I go to Blandford Forum and Mortehoe, On the slow train to Midsomer  Norton and Mumby Row. No churns, no porters, no cat on a seat At Chorlton-cum-Hardy and Chester-le-Street. We won't be meeting again on the slow train.' Blandford Station was one of the largest stations on the Somerset & Dorset line and was brick built with canopies on both platforms. These platforms were connected by a subway. There was also a goods yard, a corn store, landing docks and a seven ton crane. First station to the north of the town on a single track wa

Blandford Throwback Facts XIII

In 1855 , Wimborne born Robert Eyers, a fine musician with many contacts in the musical world, took over the Crown Hotel. He would later also run the Greyhound Inn and in 1883 would become Blandford’s Mayor.         Blandford Cemetery opened. A dispute arose between the Mayor and the town’s inhabitants and the Bishop of Salisbury concerning the cemetery consecration. The Bishop insisted a communion table be placed in the cemetery to which the town objected.           Author, Charles Kingsley who was also Curate at Pimperne wrote ‘ Westward Ho’ . In 1858, Blandford Bank suspended payments with liabilities of £48,792 and assets of only £18,167. The Corn Exchange was built costing £645. In 1859, local newspaper, the Blandford Express was first published by editor, James Bartlett. It continued to appear until 1895. Tickets for the celebratory Corn Exchange opening luncheon cost three shilling & sixpence (17p) while the evening Ball & Supper cost seven shillings and sixpence (37