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Showing posts from September, 2023

'Letty' Norwood : Spying Great-Granny

She baked pies, wore slippers, loved gardening and was particularly fond of her roses in the front garden. Melita ‘ Letty’ Norwood was the most unlikely of spies  and it has been jokily said she  ’took her cocoa shaken, not stirred!’ She was born Melita Sirnis in March 1912 at 402 Christchurch Road in Pokesdown, East Bournemouth. Her father, Sacha was a Latvian political activist who produced a newspaper, the Southern Worker from their Bournemouth home. In Russia he had worked for literary giant Leon Tolstoy - author of War and Peace. Sadly, Sirnis died the day after Armistice Day suffering from TB. Her mother, Gertrude was a suffragette. ‘ Letty ’ spent her childhood in Bournemouth among a group of dedicated revolutionaries exiled from Russia who must have surely greatly influenced her. Yet this apparently kindly, but slightly dotty lady was recognised in Moscow as the KGB’s most important female agent and became the longest serving Soviet spy in Britain. In 1979, she was awarded

Cudgel Playing in Dorset

Long before cricket & football became nationally popular, English counties had their own favourite pastimes. In Dorset ‘ cudgel playing’ was a favoured ‘sport’ and there is a theory that there is a connection between this sport and the cudgel carrying Cerne Abbas Giant. Cudgel playing used to be a most popular feature at  race meetings, fairs and revels in Dorset during the 17 th & 18 th century. Betting, money prizes and rural rivalries to attain a sort of rural celebrity status, stimulated this most brutal of pastimes. Play would take place on a stage of rough planks about four feet high which would attract a large crowd of men and women. A challenger would ascend the stage and throw down his cap to be picked up by an opponent. With a leather thong to go around the wrist, each player would be holding a cudgel made of ash of about three feet long. A master of ceremonies would announce when the playing was about to begin. Object of cudgel playing was to ‘ break the head

'Brown Bombers'

Bere Regis coaches no longer ply their journeys along the highways and byways of Dorset but they are not forgotten. Thousands of now grown up ex-Dorset school kids remember them as this company took them regularly to and from school. Down some of the county’s lanes on such journeys, low hanging branches could be a particular hazard. Nicknamed the ‘ brown bombers’, because of their distinctive brown livery, others remember Bere Regis & District coaches for their remarkably low fares. Founded in 1929 and trading for over 60 years, the company was, at one time, one of the largest independent coach businesses in the country. In the 1960s, it had over 90 vehicles. Bere Regis & District’s business model enabled it to offer some fares at up to 50% below other companies. Many of the vehicles were second hand and therefore were beginning to come towards the end of their working lives. Engineering staff would take parts from one vehicle to ensure another remained roadworthy. It was s

Mischievous MP & a Boozy Barber

Francis Fane was the silent but rather mischievous Dorset MP who loved a joke and can  also  be regarded as the founder of the village of Spetisbury. Francis Fane was born in the village in 1750 and served as the Member of Parliament for Dorchester from 1790-1807. In line with his taciturn reputation, there is only one record of him speaking in Parliament where he raised just a single question. One day Frances Fane was travelling up to London sitting comfortably inside a horse drawn mail coach when sitting above, in the open, was a barber from Dorchester. The latter’s heavily laden coat pocket hung temptingly over the MP’s open coach window. Francis could not resist slitting the inviting pocket and salvaging its contents which turned out to be a large bundle of bank notes. These had been entrusted to the barber to deliver safely to London. When the Dorchester hairdresser realised his loss he was in a state of apoplexy and extreme desperation. The mischievous MP then produced the bank

National Band Champions

In January 1927, the Western Gazette reported the death of Charles Hunt the last surviving member of Blandford’s award winning town band. He was one of four Hunt family members in the band. In 1863, they had secured the prestigious National Brass Band Championship at the Crystal Palace against some of the country’s best bands. It was evident the Blandford Band was well placed because they had won a major contest in Exeter two years earlier. While in 1862, they had been placed fourth in the National Championship.  First prize in 1863 was £30 together with a fine cup worked in aluminium gold. There was also a contra-bass and ‘ various other apparatus’ which were presented to Blandford’s bandmaster. Bandmaster was owner of the Crown Hotel, Wimborne born Robert Eyers. He was a talented musician. In days gone-by he had driven a horse drawn coach between Wimborne and Blandford. Many a time the passengers took the reins so he could cheer them on their way with his bugle. He had many contact