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Showing posts from June, 2022

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