A Merry Christmas Miscellany

Knitted TurkeyNow what do you think of this magnificent Christmas spread found amongst the festive displays at the local garden centre here in Sherborne? While all the smaller kids, having first fought their way through rows of ‘fur’ coats – the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe style – were viewing the little festive trains chugging around a snowy Christmas village, some of us bigger kids were enjoying the skill and ingenuity that went into this ‘knit your own Christmas Dinner’. I laughed as two 30+ year old chaps were handing perfectly executed custard creams and jammy dodgers to each other. It was complete right down to the knitted gravy in the knitted gravy boat.

We are spoiled for choice here when it comes to selecting the best mince pies but my money is on those made by fourth generation baker Marcus Fudge. Marcus’s great grandfather Thomas Fudge first bought the now 100 year old machine being used here in the photo. The mince pies are made from a secret recipe that has been handed down the generations from father to son. They have a crumbly topping and are finished with a lemon glaze – sheer perfection!



Now to my own little knotty problem this Christmas – there always has to be one doesn’t there? Here is an empty bottle of glycerine that I have used one teaspoonful at a time IMG_2177for the past 25 years to add to the Royal icing that goes on top of my Christmas cake. I inherited this bottle half full from my mother and she would have used the first half of the bottle one teaspoonful at a time too. I cannot believe that this means between us it has taken us around 50 years to empty the bottle! I jokingly thought of taking it back to Boots the Chemist and asking for a refill as I remember well when they used to do that sort of thing. As Mary Berry uses it in her Royal icing recipe it must still be available and I will have to go on the hunt. Success! Glycerine now comes in a handy tube and I now have enough for at least ten year’s worth of Christmas cakes.

Here are a couple of photos taken in Sherborne during today’s mild and sunny morning …



… and, as a contrast, here is a look back at the exotic plants that grew around the town in Yeovil during this past summer. ‘Yeovil in Bloom’ struck gold once again in the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) South West in Bloom competition.



All of us here at Broadway House send you season’s greetings for a Very Happy Christmas and Peaceful New Year.

Barbara Elsmore



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The Greenwood Tree – December 2019

The Eureka moments that produce sudden and unexpected breakthroughs in your family history research provide the theme for the December edition of The Greenwood Tree. Editor Paul Radford previews the edition which will be mailed to members shortly and which SDFHS members can already view or download from the Members Area of the Society’s website.

cover The front cover harks back to the Greek inventor Archimedes who is said to have exclaimed ‘Eureka’, an ancient Greek word meaning ‘I have found it’ when taking a bath. His observation of the displacement of water caused by his body’s immersion in the bath led him to an important discovery on measuring the volume of irregular objects, the original ‘light bulb’ moment.

Margery Hookings, a Somerset-born and Dorset-based journalist, had the most unexpected of Eureka moments when she discovered she was related to the celebrated American writer Ernest Hemingway. That came out of the blue when she received a Facebook

Hemingway - Ernest pic

Ernest Hemingway

message from a previously unknown distant cousin in Canada who happened to have read a blog post she had written about her grandfather.

Jennifer Swainston had a very different light bulb moment. Hers came when she was combing through BMD records and came across a sudden death in the Portland prison bakehouse.  The deceased baker Henry King turned out to be the hitherto unknown father of her great-grandfather Henry King Comben, who had been born out of wedlock with an unnamed father. Jennifer tells the story in her article entitled ‘We Could Have Been Kings’.

The editor’s own Eureka moment, told in ‘The Day My Blood Ran Cold’, recalls the discovery that one of his ancestors had been hanged in Ilchester Gaol for stealing a flock of sheep.

The Tale - Watson Duchemin pic

Watson Duchemin

John Callcut tells the fascinating story of an inherited gold watch from a Captain Hawkins. His research led him on the trail of a trunk of family belongings sent across the Atlantic and ending up in Prince Edward Island. The trail revealed a family link to Watson Duchemin, a musician, composer and inventive genius who also built an old pipe organ.

These are among several other stories of members’ breakthrough discoveries but there are plenty of other treats in store in the December edition, some of them real-life horror stories. ‘The Hanging of Sarah Freeman’ by Martin Baggoley recounts the story of a Somerset woman who went to the gallows for poisoning her brother with arsenic. Sarah freeman - sketchThough not convicted of further offences, the evidence pointed to her being a serial murderer of family members as her husband, son and mother all died in suspicious circumstances, consistent with poisoning, at around the same time.

One of the most terrible stories is based on research by volunteers at our Broadway House family history centre in Yeovil. They dug out a whole series of old newspaper reports which showed that tombs in the vaults of the parish church in the quiet village of Freshford were plundered wholesale for valuables and lead while renovation work was supposed to be taking place. Though the builder and his workmen and the church’s sexton were charged with the offences, it seems no one was ever convicted.

Rita Pettet

Elsewhere in the magazine, the Society’s newly elected chairman Rita Pettet introduces herself. Her predecessor Ann-Marie Wilkinson continues her diary of the progress of the DNA tests she and her husband recently undertook. The SDFHD Photographs Project shows picture of workers at one of the Doulting quarries in the Mendip Hills, the first from Somerset in our series which will alternate unidentified photos from either Dorset or Somerset.



Ilchester War Memorial

Somerset is also the focus for our village spotlight feature, this time focusing on Ilchester.

The next edition in March next year will also have a theme. This time it will be on Grandmothers.

Paul Radford – Editor

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Lost Dorset – The Villages & Countryside

Lost Dorset Cover

Lost Dorset – The Villages and Countryside is the title of David Burnett’s latest book and also of his recent talk given in Sherborne.

David founded the Dovecote Press in 1974 in the small hamlet of Stanbridge near Wimborne to initially publish the first of three illustrated books about Dorset. All three went on to become best sellers. I had a very personal reason for wanting to meet David as I had found, quite by chance while flipping through his first book – A Dorset Camera 1855-1914 – a photo of my great grandfather standing outside the forge in Nether Compton. The inscription reads ‘Mr Collings outside Collings and Bicknell’s yard Nether Compton’, so I know firsthand not just the joy that finding a relative in an old photo in a book can bring but also the additional family history that comes with it too.

George Collings book cover

George Collings book image

In his book David has featured some of the over 10,000 postcards collected by Barry Cuff as the basis for his look at times past in the countryside of Dorset. Barry has been collecting books since he was 15 and added collecting postcards when he was given four Edwardian albums of local scenes because he could see their value as a source of local history.

David selected around 350 of Barry’s postcards to illustrate his book and he set about checking the location of every single one of them. He explained that he thought he knew Dorset well but he kept finding himself travelling down little lanes into so many hidden places unknown to him. He also enjoyed many cups of tea and slices of cake because as soon as he started to wander around with a postcard in his hand, often as not, someone would appear to help him with his quest.

David began by telling us how in 1894 the General Post Office for the first time allowed an image on one side of a postcard with a space for a message and an address on the other and so local photographers immediately set about finding suitable subjects. Within the next 20 years nearly a billion postcards were sent and received.

Durweston PO

The Post Office became an important focal point in a village along with the village shop, the school, the church, the chapel and not forgetting the pub and all are referred to in David’s book. He also looks at farming, field sports, entertainment, transport, the gentry and more besides.

School at Childe Okeford

Milton AbbasMaiden NewtonIf you ever have the chance to hear David talk I urge you to be there because while telling us about his book he also weaves into his narration a lifetime spent learning about the history of Dorset and his interest in the lot of the average Dorset man and his family and how they went about living their everyday lives – something he has highlighted and brought to life again via Lost Dorset – The Villages and the Countryside.   A copy has been added to the library in Broadway House in Yeovil and is available to view during opening hours.

David is currently working on a second book on this subject this time about life in the towns which will be eagerly awaited I am sure.

Barbara Elsmore November 2019


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Provoking memories via Yeovil Library window display

Display, Anne and JohnCongratulations to Anne Warr and John Damon for producing such an eye-catching display to promote our society in the window of Yeovil Library. This is the second time we have been featured in this window; on the earlier occasion it was to introduce ourselves to Yeovil, shortly after we moved into our Broadway House headquarters.

Anne prepares

John and Anne prepareThe current display contains our new banners which are now pictorial so cannot get out of date in the foreseeable future, which can so easily happen if we use only words.

This time the emphasis of our display is on the messages from our past family lives that are contained within objects, whether these are on paper, in photographs, or via actual objects themselves.

Board - CopyIMG_5030 (1)

I have been a longtime believer in the messages we receive in this way from what were once everyday items that have become family treasures. The first time that I discovered this for myself was when I found out that my mother’s willow shopping basket was made by the village basketmaker in Nether Compton more than seventy years ago and this inspired me to find out more about basket making and its importance in the past and present in our area here in Somerset and Dorset.

I am especially pleased to see a sewing machine together with an example of a darning and knitting bag in the front of the window as these essentials were part of everyday life for our mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers. Look back into your own past; can you remember a sewing machine like this one in use in your family? I know I can.

Isewing machine 3

darning and knitting bagMy grandmother came south with her husband and two children as my grandfather was employed by Palmer’s shipyard on Tyneside whose closure would precipitate the Jarrow marches two years after my family arrived in Uxbridge. My grandfather was not a well man and my grandmother’s skills on a sewing machine would have helped to supplement the family finances. When my mother married one of the first things she acquired was a sewing machine and I grew up, like many, in hand-made clothes and home-knitted sweaters. I was very fortunate as I used the family sewing machine from a very early age to make dolls’ clothes and I have never looked back; at one time I too earned my living via my sewing skills.

In the box I keep of memorabilia of my mother there is a small batch of sewing patterns and the one on top is for a smocked dress that we made together for my niece in 1981, when my mother did the smocking and I made up the little dress on my sewing machine. A memory to treasure and I say thank heaven for the sewing machine both back in the day and now.


Do you have a memory of sewing, knitting and making do in your family? Please do share it here.

Barbara Elsmore

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The Greenwood Tree – September 2019

The September issue of The Greenwood Tree focuses on agricultural labourers, the ‘ag labs’ that so many of us have in our family trees, with stories on farming folk sent in by members. Editor Paul Radford previews the edition which will be mailed to members at the end of August and which SDFHS members can already view or download from the Members’ Area of the Society’s website.

The front cover shows a scene from the filming on the Mapperton Estate of the 2015 version of Far From the Madding Crowd when a realistic period set, and costumes to match, were brought in to illustrate Thomas Hardy’s great tale of rural life in Dorset.

It would have been hard to avoid reference to The Tolpuddle Martyrs, whose harsh fate revealed so much about what was happening in the countryside, in particular in Dorset, in the first part of the 19th century. Their brave protest against declining and impoverishing wages led the six men into exile but opened the eyes of so many and eventually paved the way for better conditions.

Janetta Condon delves into the notebook of Swyre schoolmaster Charles Barrett to reveal details of the working lives of the village’s ag labs and efforts to improve their conditions but does not shrink from the shady side of an existence in which smuggling and drunkenness were a standard feature.

The intriguing tale of the Somerset village of Donyatt, bought up by the county council to provide smallholdings for ex-servicemen after World War One, is told by Margery Hookings, whose two grandfathers were allocated adjoining tenancies. They were among more than 100 former soldiers with honourable service records who were settled in the village.

Haymaking at Donyatt

Most stories focus on the men who worked the fields but Bob Kelley tells the tale of ag lab widow Mary Kelley, whose husband died when she was in her 30s but who made her living with the help of one daughter for the next 45 years.

The tithe barn at West Camel where Mary Kelley might have paid her rent

Other members with ag lab ancestor stories include Elaine Spencer-White, Lara Webster, Terry Gibbs, Irene Fearnside, Jenni Phillips and Diane Brook.

There are other topics too. Jane Browning looks into letters written home by Thomas White to his Somerset siblings from the sugar plantations of British Guiana in the first part of the 19th century. David Clammer takes on an unusual facet of war as he delves into what happened to the surprising number of wives who were allowed to accompany their soldier husbands on campaign.

There are two new features. Retiring SDFHS chairman Ann-Marie Wilkinson has written the first part of what will be her regular DNA diary and John Tanner provides mystery pictures from the SDFHS Photographs Project from Dorset for readers to try to identify. In the next edition he will provide pictures from Somerset and will alternate the two counties thereafter.

A mystery photograph, possibly taken about 1912 in the Wimborne/Poole area, by Job Pottle of Minster Studio, Wimborne. Can anyone help identify the location, or any of the people?

Regular features include ‘Dorset Spotlight’, this time on Martinstown, ‘Book Reviews’, ‘What the Papers Said’ and ‘Letters to the Editor’.

Sheep-washing pool in Martinstown

December’s issue will also have a theme. This time members will be invited to send in stories and pictures of their most memorable Eureka moment in researching their family tree.

Paul Radford – Editor

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The Greenwood Tree – June 2019

The June issue of The Greenwood Tree is a Special Edition featuring wedding photos sent in by members. Editor Paul Radford previews the edition which will be mailed to members at the end of May and which SDFHS members can already view or download from the Members’ Area of the Society’s website.

coverWe asked members for wedding photos from their family history research files and they seemed to arrive in droves, many of them with intriguing stories attached. In the end we were able to publish almost 40 but only by adding four extra editorial pages and by devoting more than half of the edition to the topic.

The front cover features a modern colour photo of the oldest wedding dress we were told of. The brown silk dress was worn in 1849 by Elizabeth HUSSEY, a great-great-grandmother of Sylvia CREED-CASTLE who sent in the photo. Sylvia’s story about the bride who married Thomas HUXTER in Symondsbury, Dorset and who went on to have 18 children and more than 50 grandchildren, includes other family weddings.

One of our most senior members, 94-year-old Nelda BULLOCK, sent in photos of her own wedding in Canada in 1948, having recently celebrated a 61st anniversary, and that of her parents. She also took the opportunity of telling the story of her great-grandfather George STAPLES who came from a Somerset emigrant family to North America and who was brought up by a Sioux tribe after contracting mountain fever.

Long Live Harris - Bissex Albert & Ada Wedding

Albert Harris marries Ada Bissex


By coincidence we had three Somerset weddings involving grandparents in which one of the couple was named HARRIS. They ended up all being long-lasting, celebrating golden, diamond and platinum anniversaries respectively.



Bob KELLEY provided the unusual story of a cakestand bought by his parents who were bakers and wedding caterers. The cakestand, which he recovered from France after it had been sold out of the family, features in a number of weddings from the 1960s to the recent past.

emma oram wedding

Marriage of Emma Oram to Alfred Hinxman

The oldest actual wedding photo on view comes from Carolyn SCALES who sent in a family group picture featuring Emma ORAM and Alfred HINXMAN, the future mayor of Salisbury, taken in Somerset in 1892. There is an even older photo from Pamela LYDFORD of her Somerset-born great-grandfather Richard LYDFORD who married Emily DAY in 1879 before emigrating to New Zealand. However, the picture of the couple was not a wedding photo as such though it was taken at around the time of their nuptials.

mystery photo from charity shop - edited PDRWe have mystery photos, a set of pictures being offered to anyone who can identify the principal subjects and many more besides. All in all, we hope it represents a fascinating look at weddings through the years.

Mystery wedding photo - abbeylands

Two mystery photos

Elsewhere in the journal are other interesting tales, notably the diary of Australian Ralph COLES who trekked through rural Somerset in the 1980s in a long and ultimately successful search for the birthplace and birth record of his grandfather Alfred COLES.

Regular features include ‘Somerset Spotlight’, this time on Nether Stowey, ‘Book Reviews’, ‘What the Papers Said’ and ‘Letters to the Editor’. There is also a report on the SDFHS Photographs Project which members are invited to contribute towards.


Nether Stowey Church


September’s issue will also have a theme. This time it will be on the humble Ag Lab and members will be asked to send in stories and photos of the agricultural labourers in their family tree.

Paul Radford  Editor

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Our former home in Sherborne transformed


The base for the Somerset & Dorset Family History Society was in Sherborne for nearly twenty years until the recent successful move to Yeovil. Many a visitor will have climbed up the stairs of our last home in Sherborne, to our Research Centre and meeting room, housed in the building at the bottom of Cheap Street, right next to the Conduit. There was much evidence of its former life, with old fireplaces, interesting windows and much else besides often partly hidden by the necessary bookcases, computer stations and more that were required to keep the Centre up to the mark for the many visitors it would receive over the years. If you live in, or are planning a visit to, Sherborne I urge you to have a peek inside the old building now that it has been taken over by Paula, Chris and Luis and renamed D’Urberville, where vintage finds are on sale together with a café (in our old meeting room). The entrance is now on  the other side of the building, in Half Moon Street, and the most dramatic change inside has been the removal of the ceiling above the former research room revealing views up through the rafters. Paula has a real eye for display and the items on sale are beautifully set out and complement perfectly the metamorphosis they have worked on the building. We are pleased that our old home has taken on a new lease of life, and wish them every success with their new venture.




IMAGE 5 (2)








We have, however, left a reminder of our presence in the building with the ‘Greenwood Tree’ in the stained glass window which needed to be repaired during our tenure. The impetus gained by the transfer of the Society to a new building in Yeovil has continued apace with an increase in visitor numbers and extended opening hours, so, once you have checked out our former home in Sherborne, please do come and see us at our new home in Yeovil!


Barbara Elsmore  May 2019

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