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Showing posts from May, 2023

Salty Doggie Tale

  Lassie and Bruce were two canine heroes from the First World War. Their touching but sad story concerns one of the greatest of ever local maritime tragedies. Lassie was a rough-haired collie who saved the life of Scottish seaman, John Cowan. The Able Seaman had come ashore with a boatload of survivors at Lyme Regis from the Royal Navy’s HMS Formidable. This 16,000 ton but obsolete battleship had been torpedoed in the English Channel by German submarine U24 during the early hours of New Year’s Day 1915. It had sunk some 30 miles off Portland Bill. As the weather was bad, it was wrongly assumed a submarine attack was unlikely. HMS Formidable had been engaged in gun practice. Given up for dead, John was laid out with six others on the beer cellar floor of the Pilot Boat Inn which publican, Tom Atkins had agreed could become a makeshift mortuary. As all the Scot was wearing were a pair of thin pants and a vest, it was reasonably assumed he had not survived his 22 hour experience. Others

Blandford in World War Two - II

  Blandford Camp reopens In the spring of 1939 with the outbreak of the Second World War just months away, a decision was made to re-establish a military base on Blandford Down. Known as Blandford Camp, the site had been occupied by the Royal Naval Division and then the Royal Air Force during the First World War. However, the base was closed in the early 1920s and all the wooden huts were removed. Even the track of the little used railway branch line between Blandford and the Camp was lifted. Fields next to Blandford Cemetery together with the Milldown were also considered for the site of military bases but in May 1939 Blandford Town Council was told these would not proceed. Work would begin immediately to re-establish Blandford Camp as a military base capable of accommodating several thousand soldiers. First task was to make up and widen Black Lane – the road between the town and Blandford Camp. An urgent call went out to local labour exchanges for the recruitment of carpenters and la

Bikes, Bikes, Bikes...

In the early days of the Dorset Police Force, the arrival of the bicycle made quite a difference to the working life of the average copper. To perform his constabulary duties, he would have to walk many, many miles every day. This was the case particularly when he had to accompany a prisoner part or all the way to Dorchester Jail. The County Force issued its first bicycle to the Dorchester Division in 1894. It had solid tyres and cost eight pounds & ten shillings (£8.50). The next year another six were bought for other Divisions. Then in 1896, officers were paid an annual allowance of three pounds to use their own machine. By then it was reckoned that half of Dorset’s constables could ride a bike. Wary of the safety hazards of the new machine, Chief Constable Captain Amyatt Brown insisted strict compliance with the following regulation. ‘Upon overtaking any cart or carriage, horse, mule or other beast of burden or any foot passenger every such person shall within reasonable d

Blandford in World War Two - I

  Day War broke out On the 3 rd September 1939, Britain declared war on Germany. But what was life like at the time, in Blandford and in the surrounding villages? At first, despite the outbreak of war, things continued as normal. The Somerset & Dorset Railway was offering cheap excursion fares to Bournemouth and Bristol, the latter including entry to the zoological gardens. A cheap half-day return ticket to Bournemouth cost two shillings and one penny (10p). While the all-inclusive Bristol fare was only two shillings and eleven pence (15p). Perhaps travelling by rail rather than by road was safer in September 1939 as there were two serious local road accidents. While riding his bicycle in Blandford, a 17 year-old milk roundsman was killed at the bottom of White Cliff Mill Street when he was hit by a car driven by a Stourpaine man. The coroner reckoned it was an accident caused by the recently introduced wartime requirement for car lights to be dimmed. While just outside Long H

The 'BFs'

Many of the first cars seen in Dorset carried the unfortunate number plate ‘BF ’ which caused considerable embarrassment to the drivers. This is because they became nicknamed the ‘ BFs ’ or ‘ Bloody Fools’ . Dorset car owners strongly objected to these ‘ obnoxious initials ’. Many had their vehicles registered in Somerset, Hampshire or London instead which resulted in a loss of revenue to the county. To prevent any further driver embarrassment, the county stopped using the ‘ BF’ registration in 1904. An order of the Local Government Board dated 27th December 1904 allocated Dorset  ’ FX’ instead.  Motorists who already had a ‘BF’ mark could swop it for a ‘FX’ one. ‘BF’ marks still in use in 1921 were re-registered with ‘FX’ . Featured in the Market Place is one of Blandford’s earliest vehicles which was a 1903 two-seater Humberette with Arthur Conyers at the wheel. This was reckoned to be a well-made and sturdy vehicle with a two-speed gear box and a single spoke steering wheel. It had

Sandbanks Transporter Bridge

  Branksome & Swanage Light Railway was a proposal to build a 13 miles line from the County Gates through Branksome Park to Canford Cliffs. From there it would travel to Sandbanks and then to the entrance to Poole Harbour. This would be crossed by a transporter bridge so that the line could make its way onto Swanage. Promoters of the Scheme argued that it would open up the health giving opportunities of the Isle of Purbeck to Bournemouth & Poole residents as well as making Swanage less isolated. A representative of the promoters was reported as saying that they wanted a pretty route because they ‘ did not want to flood Branksome Park with rif-raf!’ A suspended gondola would carry the tram cars across the water at a height of 90 metres so as not to interfere with shipping. There are similar transporter bridges built in both Newport and Middlesbrough. The intended drive system would have used electric motors under the gondola to draw the platform across the harbour mouth by g

'Bunty' Gee: An Unlikely Spy

Ethel Elizabeth Gee, known as ‘ Bunty’ , was an unassuming spinster who lived in a Portland red brick terraced house in Hambro Road with her elderly relatives. A blacksmith’s daughter, she worked as a filing clerk in the Admiralty’s top underwater establishment at Portland. Despite this lowly status, she still handled top secret papers on Britain’s submarines and underwater detection capabilities. Indeed, much of the development work for Britain’s first nuclear submarine, HMS Dreadnought had been undertaken at Portland. Born in Portland in May 1914, ‘ Bunty ’ has been described as ‘ plain ’ and an ‘ awful cook’ . Yet for a period in the 1950s, as a member of the Portland Spy Ring, she was one of Russia’s most valuable spies. Around 1955, she met fellow civil servant, Harry Houghton, who lived in Weymouth, a former sailor who was spying for both Poland and Russia. He was a heavy drinking divorcee who enjoyed a lifestyle far beyond his civil service income. He had bought a four bedroom

Shoemaker Legg's Lost Hand

A human hand was discovered in the stomach of a shark near where George Legg had drowned during a Sydney Harbour fishing trip. His sailing boat had capsized in a storm and he was unable to stay afloat because of the heavy coat he was wearing. His widow, Ann had employed searchers to recover what remained of his body so that it could be interred at a place of burial. George Legg was a Dorset shoemaker and had been convicted on the 16 th March 1786, in a Dorchester courtroom, to be transported to Australia for seven years. His crime was stealing a gold watch and some other items valued at seven pounds. From Dorchester Jail he was despatched to Plymouth, where he spent time in the convict hulk, Dunkirk awaiting transportation. From this convict hulk, he was transferred onto a transport vessel, the Charlotte which then set sail in June 1787 with 108 convicts on board for Australia. The British authorities had decided to establish a new convict settlement in Australia. Vessels assemble