A Family History Christmas Tree

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Our late friend and fellow volunteer, at the former Family History Centre in Sherborne, Eileen Holloway had signed herself up to the task of decorating a tree on a theme of family history in this year’s Christmas Tree Festival, in the Cheap Street Church in Sherborne, but very sadly she died before she was able to put her ideas into practice so two of her fellow volunteers set out to complete the task in her memory. Our tree would be one of more than forty trees to be decorated and put on display, for just over a week, from Saturday 2 December. This is the thirteenth year of the festival and the themes for the decorations are chosen by each of the individual sponsors of their trees. Entrance is free to view and donations can be made to this year’s charities – Friends of the Yeatman and Somerset & Dorset Air Ambulance.

Eileen set out to collect lots of old family photographs and to hang them on the tree and so this is just what we did. We decided upon a vintage look with plenty of colour. We also made some little rolls of documents to indicate how we search for old documents and we made ourselves a little sign and so we arrived to decorate our tree. We had also rustled up some 1950s baubles, from a friend, still in their Winfield box that we recognised as the trade name of long ago Woolworths.

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There was a lively atmosphere in the church with happy, bustling activity everywhere. We could see lots of smiling faces and Christmas carols were playing in the background. The first thing we decided was that our allotted tree looked a little askew and so we attempted to straighten it up which resulted in sudden catastrophe when our tree toppled over taking the next two with it – one of which was completely decorated! We decided Eileen would be looking down on us with her hands on her hips saying ‘not a good start girls’ and laughing with us. On the way there we passed a small party of children and their helpers, from Sherborne Primary School, carrying a bag of carefully prepared decorations and at one time a whole column of little ones passed through the church and we were very pleased when some of them stopped to look at the ‘old photographs’ we were hanging on our tree. As we stood back to admire our finished efforts and photograph our tree we became greatly concerned that it might topple over again and the rescue came from Mark, who was working on a neighbouring tree, who suggested we tied it to the loudspeaker bracket on the wall above our tree and he provided some festive string for the purpose so our tree is well anchored now and it isn’t going anywhere. As Mark is also a SDFHS member he wondered if his helpful suggestion might lead to a reduction in his next three year subscription!

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We are sure you will be looking down on your tree Eileen, and we do hope you like it and that it is up to your usual high standard of presentation.

The trees are on display from 2 to 10 December – do come in and see them if you are passing.

Cath Adam and Barbara Elsmore December 2017

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Tales of Local Railways

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A young Roger Marsh waits, with his bike, at Sherborne level crossing – photo courtesy Sherborne Museum

We were in for a treat as we assembled for two railway themed talks in the Raleigh Hall in Sherborne last Saturday. This was the first time our talks were held in this hall and while we clearly regret leaving our Family History Centre in Sherborne, it was good that this, new to us, ground floor venue turned out to be so very convenient and pleasant. With the emphasis on local history, the talks attracted many other people as well as members and we would all discover that underpinning these local subjects was the vast amount of research into the people involved, as well as the events, that are the hallmark of family history research and story telling.

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Courtesy Roger Marsh

First up was Roger Marsh with the tale of a rail disaster that occurred on 8 August 1913 at Pen Mill Station in Yeovil when a slow moving  train ran into the back of a stationary train, at a low speed, smashing the last two wooden bodied carriages. Two people died at the scene and one more passenger died a week later. Roger told how he discovered a black edged card with details of the disaster that his mother had kept for many years and when he came to search for more information locally he could find very little. This set him to dig a little deeper and by examining local newspaper reports, the coroner’s reports and much besides he was able to build up a picture of the series of happenings on that fateful day and to present them to us in the order in which all the events had occurred. No detail was left out and the tension was mounting in the room as Roger revealed all the many factors that lead to the collision, who was working on that day and how the aftermath affected so many. Roger reminded us that there were no emergency services to swing into action and that it was left very much to those on the spot to deal with the situation as best they could. One of the only known photographs shows bystanders appearing to be watching proceedings.

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Photo courtesy Roger Marsh

On a less sombre note Graham Bendell talked us through the coming of the railway to Sherborne and how originally there was competition for the route and it might well have run along the top of the town but this northerly rail route was moved south when Earl Digby died in 1856. His successor, George Wingfield Digby, was in favour of the southerly route and that’s what we have today. With the aid of lots of photos we learnt much about what was built and when and who was involved together with the companies that came and went, leading us right up to the present day. Graham also took us back to a day in the 1960s when as a boy he travelled with his mother and brother by train from Templecombe to visit the dentist in Sherborne.

Tales of Railways Templecombe Station for SDFHS Blog

Courtesy Sherborne Museum

We saw lots of 1960s’ photos of the stations at both ends of the journey and Milborne Port Station (now closed) on the way. We then passed various buildings in the town and we could feel the young Graham dragging his feet as he headed towards his session in the dentist’s chair. Many of us listening remember only too well what an awful experience it was in those dim distant days and there is no place for wistful nostalgia when it comes to long ago visits to the dentist! We could all feel Graham’s relief when afterwards he was taken to his favourite shop – Hunts, in Long Street, and run by two brothers, who were primarily cycle dealers but  they also sold tools, Britain’s models, balsa wood, plastic kits, fireworks (at the appropriate time) and numerous other toys –‘Heaven on earth for young lads’  Graham remembers.

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Courtesy Sherborne Museum

He and his brother would choose a small model as a reward for going through with their ordeal, followed by a cream cake often eaten on a bench in Pageant Gardens on the way back to the station.

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What a relief! the dentist now a distant memory (Photo courtesy Graham Bendell)

Both Roger and Graham are volunteers at SDFHS and Graham also volunteers at Sherborne Museum with special responsibility for the museum’s photographic collection.

Although our Family History Centre is moving to Yeovil it is very much hoped that we will continue to have talks in Sherborne in the future and that we can broaden our appeal by running more local history talks for family historians and also for those not yet hooked into this all engrossing interest.

29 November 2017

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The Greenwood Tree – December 2017

The December issue of The Greenwood Tree, my last as editor, will be reaching you in early December and the PDF (in full colour) can now be downloaded from the Members’ Area of our website.

In the September issue you were introduced to our new editor, Paul Radford (for contact details, see below), and I have been working with Paul on the production of this December edition. We have visited our printers, Aurora Print and Design in Wincanton, and Paul is now pretty familiar with how I have done things as editor.


There are, I think, a particularly interesting set of member’ articles this time, including one by Paul on the recent fire at Parnham House, and describing other major fires that have affected towns in Dorset.

One of our French members, Arnaud Aurejac-Davis, describes his researches into his family’s connections to that of Oscar Wilde.

Our Vice-President, David Hawkings, reports on important progress at The National Archives in making available the information in Letters of Administration for Somerset. They help to cover the gap left by the loss of probate records during bombing in WW2.


There are a couple of articles highlighting unusual names that should amuse you. This one was from Audrey German:

The baptism of Sweet Hart’s daughter, Love.

The recent release by the GRO of improved indexes of births and deaths has been featured recently in The Greenwood Tree, but Ann-Marie Wilkinson’s Computer Corner highlights one or two pitfalls that users should be aware of.

The Society’s projects on photographs and historic pageants have again provided some excellent pictures, but also pose some questions. Can you identify any of the people in these two photographs?

Maypole dancers from the Sherborne Pageant of 1905. Photograph courtesy of Sherborne School.

A group of workers at Doulting Stone Company c.1850. Photograph courtesy of Christine Atkins.

News of recent meetings of the regional groups and the AGM, hosted by the Taunton Group, together with our usual regular features will, I hope, make for some interesting reading to divert you during the frenzy of planning for Christmas. If any of your relatives are interested in family history, and you’re struggling to think of a present, what about the CD (or memory stick) of 40 years of The Greenwood Tree? I was pleased to see that we have now sold more than 300, a useful addition to the Society’s funds.

After five years and 20 editions I am passing the baton to a new editor. I would like to thank everyone who has helped me over the past five years, from our very reliable regular contributors, to the production staff at Aurora as well as those who help with proof-reading. But The Greenwood Tree belongs to you, the members. Without your articles and other contributions there would be no Society Journal. So please keep them coming, and support your new editor.

Bob Barber

Contacting the new Editor

The email address for Paul Radford is: greenwoodtree@mail.uk

Communication by post should be sent to: Stumps Cottage, Oxbridge, Bridport, Dorset DT6 3UB.

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Farewell to Eileen Holloway (1930-2017)

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Eileen has been a regular volunteer at our Family History Centre for some considerable time. An experienced family historian she had fascinating stories to tell about her ancestor at the Crimea and another on the Oregon Trail. She did things ‘by the old school’ methods and laughed at the mention of the word ‘computer’. It would have amused her greatly, had she known, that she would be the subject of a ‘blog’. It is hard to talk of Eileen in the past tense as she was so much a part of the camaraderie that we all enjoyed on a Friday morning. We would have talks together about family related topics most weeks in which Eileen would participate with gusto as she always had some experience or another to recall to add to the relevance of our discussions. She brought in ‘mystery items’ to challenge us, old postcards and maps she had come across and was always there with an appropriate addition whatever the topic. She had many other interests and talents, of which we were dimly aware, but it was her amazing capacity to keep on being interested and interesting which is the lasting impression she has left with those of us who worked so closely with her of late.

She was indomitable in what she took on and was planning to decorate one of the trees in the forthcoming Christmas display in the Cheap Street Church in Sherborne – on a theme of ‘Family History’ and which we now aim to complete in her memory.

One of her fellow volunteers said when she heard the sad news: ‘Eileen was a lovely, kind lady and her family will miss her dreadfully.  Every other Friday won’t be the same without her… her funny anecdotes, her deep knowledge of her family and her farming area, her cakes and biscuits but most of all her presence and cheery personality.’

Farewell Eileen – we will miss you.



Eileen takes part in a West Dorset Group Project


…..and makes her point!

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Some of the mystery items that Eileen brought in to challenge us

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An old postcard and its reverse

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A treasured newspaper cutting

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Another old postcard and its reverse

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A plate of Friday morning specials

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Going to School in the War Years

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The original Foster’s School building in Hound St (now converted into private residences).

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The second Foster’s School building on Tinneys Lane (demolished in the 1990s).

We are reminded that bombs were dropped over a wide area of Sherborne on 30 September 1940 with loss of life and widespread damage. John Samuel Jackson of Milborne Port, a pupil at Foster’s School remembers what it was like to be in school during the war years:

I previously (1937-39) went to Stonegarth School, which was situated at the bottom of The Avenue in Sherborne. The Headmistress was Miss Sparkes. Having taken the Entrance Exam, I then started at Foster’s School in Hound Street in 1939 when I was not yet ten years old. The Headmaster was Mr H Lush. Later that year we all moved up to the new school at the end of Tinneys Lane.  Trenches were dug on the far side of the playing fields (well away from the school building) in a zig-zag formation with duckboards in them to stand on. When the air raid siren sounded we all had to run across to them entering from both ends and, when meeting in the middle, numbering off. On one occasion I remember a German plane flying quite low over our heads with his machine guns firing, probably just to scare us. The school caretaker (Mr Pollard) and the groundsman later found some bullets scattered around the playing fields.We travelled to and from school on Southern National buses. Milborne Port was only three miles and the fare was 3d (three old pence) return. But as petrol and diesel were rationed and in short supply the buses ran on gas by towing a trailer with a coke burner which sent gas to quite a large bag on the roof of the bus. The bus went extremely slowly especially up the hills. The coke furnace used to glow red hot after dark – it looked quite weird.

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On 30 September 1940 German bomber planes, possibly on their way to Westlands in Yeovil or to Bristol, were met by British fighter planes and turned tail. Seeing a built-up area below them (Sherborne) they just dropped their bombs in order to make up speed. Although no bombs actually hit the school some landed nearby blowing all the glass out of the windows on the front of the school and shards of glass were stuck in the notice boards on the far side of class rooms. Fortunately school time ended at 4.00 pm and the class rooms were empty. The school was then closed for two weeks while the windows were re-glazed etc.

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As the photograph above shows, the house in Newland, in which Miss Billinger (Headmistress of Lord Digby’s School) lived and which she shared with Miss Sparkes (Headmistress of Stonegarth), took a direct hit. The wall in the foreground of the house is where I and other children were waiting for the bus to pick us up at 4.05 pm on route to Milborne Port and Henstridge. To the best of my knowledge the bombs dropped on Sherborne at around 4.45 pm.

Of course because the war was on we had to carry gas masks and the first lesson on Saturday mornings was gas mask drill. As you can imagine in a class room of approx. 30 boys it was quite a comical sight, leading to a certain amount of laughter, which in turn caused the eye screen to mist up and lots of strange noises coming from the sides of your face where the rubber fitted. In the early 1940s several masters were ‘called up’ into the forces, including Mr Hulme (French) and Mr Hewitt (Geography). Their places were taken by their wives who were also qualified teachers. I believe both masters returned to their teaching posts when the war was over. During my time at school any article you may have mislaid or maybe dropped in the school area, be it an exercise book or gym shoe etc, usually ended up in the ‘Pound’ which was in the Headmaster’s office. To retrieve same article you had to go to the office and pay the sum of 1d (one old penny) to the Headmaster’s secretary, Mr Harry Otton.

Unfortunately in 1944 my father, who ran a butchers business in Milborne Port had to withdraw me from school to assist in the business as three of his staff, Charlie Hinks, Reg Pattemore and Michael Coyne all got called up for war duty. So at the age of under 15 I was doing a butchers delivery round, sometimes actually driving until the local policeman warned my father.

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I am pictured right with one of the vans belonging to the family business which has the war time white edge painted around it. No street lights were allowed during the war.

John Jackson. Pupil at Foster’s School 1939-44

For more information on those remembered as having been killed during the bombing raid and for a photograph of the memorial plaque see Sherborne School Archives.

30 September 2017

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Stories of Exeter’s War Hospitals 1914-1919

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100 years ago, in 1917, you might have been Gunner John Parr, wounded in the third battle of Ypres during a heavy exchange of fire. You’ve been given your initial medical care in the field and sent by train to the French coast. Now you are in an ambulance train. You’ve been sent home to ‘Blighty’ for further treatment.

It’s early morning and as the train draws to a halt you look out of the window and see the sign ‘EXETER’. Two orderlies lift you down from the train on a stretcher and a doctor comes over to check your condition. Ahead of you is an ambulance wagon. You are going to one of Exeter’s Red Cross hospitals. You are out of the hell of Paschendaele. You are safe.

These moving words begin to tell one of the Stories of Exeter’s War Hospitals 1914-1919, an exhibition researched and staged by members of the Exeter Local History Society and if you are able I urge you to see it if you can. The whole thing is the result of four years work under the leadership of Dr Julia Neville whose small team of five or six undertook the painstaking research,  with a further final twenty of so members helping with the actual exhibition. The whole thing is, in my humble opinion, a triumph. This exhibition not only tells us about what happened in Exeter but it also speaks for the many volunteers, the doctors the VAD nurses, the ambulance men, those who sourced the beds and equipment and many more who played their parts. It even reminds us of the local Devonshire people out sourcing the Sphagnum Moss to make the wound dressings.

The information and material collected, to tell of the twelve hospitals in Exeter, is imaginatively and creatively displayed with ‘stories’ photographs and items of memorabilia printed on huge lengths of fabric used to represent bedsheets.

I am very proud to remember that my granny was a VAD nurse in Greenhill Hospital here in Sherborne and that she travelled overseas to France to nurse there for a year. It was so rewarding for me to see this exhibition as the information holds true for all the hospitals and convalescent hospitals pressed into service within reach of the hospital trains during World War One.

The exhibition is on in Exeter between now and Saturday at St Stephen’s Church in the High Street. For Further information see http://www.gatewaysfww.org.uk/projects/stories-exeters-war-hospitals-1914-1919

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Barbara Elsmore 19 September 2017

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The Greenwood Tree, September 2017

The September issue of The Greenwood Tree will be appearing shortly, and SDFHS members can already download the PDF from the Members’ Area of our website. We have again preserved the colour content in the digital version, so it’s well worth having a look on-line, while you wait for your print copy to arrive.

I am pleased to introduce our prospective new Editor, Paul Radford (page 63), who will be editing the The Greenwood Tree from 2018. Paul is a retired journalist who spent more than 30 years working for Reuters and has extensive experience as a foreign correspondent and a sports reporter. Paul was born in Guernsey and has recently discovered Dorset ancestry. He co-edits and writes for a community magazine in the Beaminster area, and gives talks on Channel Islands history and family history topics. I hope you will continue to support our journal and help Paul by sending him your research findings.

St Mary’s Church, Beaminster.

By coincidence Mike Whitaker’s Dorset Spotlight feature (p.84) is on Beaminster, an attractive small town between Crewkerne and Bridport.

One important news item is the impending move of the Society’s Family History Centre: those of you who visit Sherborne may have noticed the estate agent’s board outside. We have been in the present building for 11 years, but the lease runs out in February 2018. John Damon, our Building Manager, outlines the current situation on page 87. Also on page 87 is the programme for the 2017 AGM and Open Day (available online here), hosted by our Taunton Group, on 23 September in Cheddon Fitzpaine. The AGM Agenda and summary Accounts for 2016 will be circulated with this issue of The Greenwood Tree, and can also be downloaded, along with the Minutes of the 2016 AGM, and the full Trustees’ Report and Accounts for 2016 from the home page of our website.

Although the Society does not recommend or endorse any particular companies, we realise that many members use commercial software to support their family history research. Ann-Marie Wilkinson’s Computer Corner (p.81) reviews the latest edition of Family Tree Maker (Family Tree Maker 2017) and Barbara Elsmore gives her personal experiences of using FTM on page 94. You may also like to read Barbara’s blog post on the same subject.

We have lots of interesting articles from members writing about their research. There is more on the Denman family (pp.70-71), including a father and son who were transported in 1829, establishing a family line in Australia, while Paul Douch writes (pp.74-75) about the very complicated family arrangements of his ancestor, William John Douch. Paul’s research uncovered no fewer than six nieces who came under the wing of William.

We don’t often cover heraldry, an significant part of the history of ‘important’ families. Christopher Deane, a guide at Wimborne Minster, gives an introduction (pp.78-79) by explaining the meaning of the Ettricke heraldic shields in the Minster, including those on Anthony Ettricke’s tomb.

Anthony Ettricke’s tomb in Wimborne Minster.

We have some good colour illustrations, including a portrait of Joseph Symes and his wife Maria Samways, whom he married in 1870. Joseph is mentioned in a notebook compiled by Charles Barrett, which lists the inhabitants of Swyre in Dorset, a village once owned by the Dukes of Bedford (p.79-80). The notebook, mainly dating from 1869, contains a cottage by cottage account of those living in the village




Although primarily a database of photographs, the SDFHS Photographic Project occasionally receives images from other media. On page 82 we show a lovely silhouette portrait of Sarah Hippsley, dated 26 February 1810.


There are lots more articles, our regular features and recent news from the world of family history. I hope you find some interesting reading in this latest issue of The Greenwood Tree.

Bob Barber, Editor

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