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.

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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.




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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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Open Day at Herrison Hospital, Dorchester

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On Sunday, 7 April 2019 the doors of Herrison Hall were thrown open to anyone with an interest in the old Herrison Hospital in Dorchester and before the exhibition was officially opened every space in the car park was taken as people seemed to be heading for the hall from all directions. We had to park some distance away and as we walked we met up with a man who was excitedly returning as he told us he had started work in the kitchen, many years ago, on leaving school. Many came with items or photographs to share but many came just with their memories and it was the sharing of these memories that set up such a buzz around the hall. Herrison Hall was originally the ballroom and was saved from demolition and replacement at the time the site was redeveloped and the new housing was added.









Map of Home Farm

The Open Day organised by Dom White and a group of ex-staff members and was attended by the Dorset History Centre, consisted of information, much of it collected and retained by individuals involved with the day to day running of the hospital, together with photographs, newspaper cuttings and much more besides. At the back of the hall was a fascinating display of items found when the building had to be cleared. These items survived thanks to the man who used to run the market garden at the hospital where he met his future wife who was a nurse. He was one of the last people left on site after the hospital closed, when they were told to throw everything out of the windows into a skip, so he started saving bits and pieces and some of these many items were on display. Apparently he has more stuff at home! I watched as the official photographer, using a light box, photographed some of these items and we both agreed that it was very fortunate now that someone had managed to retrieve all these tangible objects carrying with them their messages to us of a former time.



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The Charlton Down Local History Society was well represented and a history of the hospital and its redevelopment can be found here on the village hall website.

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Many of us, with extensive Dorset family trees, are likely to find that one or two members of our earlier family will have ended their days at the hospital and I know that I have made this discovery in the past which is why I was so keen to attend the exhibition. The Dorset History Centre is very pleased to have received a £56,000 grant from the Wellcome Trust for cataloguing and conservation of items, documentation and photographs for the hospital which should enable all the major conservation treatments to be completed and to catalogue the whole archive. Much of it will remain subject to the Data Protection and GDPR Legislation, but all the building records and staff and patient records over 100 years old will be available for local and family historians. Sophie Smith, Archives Services Officer (Cataloguing), is the project Archivist.

Barbara Elsmore April 2019

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The Greenwood Tree – March 2019

The growing importance of DNA in family history is highlighted in the March edition of The Greenwood Tree which will be mailed to members at the end of February. Editor Paul Radford previews the edition, which SDFHS members can already view or download from the Members’ Area of the Society’s website.

The front cover colour image shows the 23 inherited chromosomes in each cell of the human body, the building blocks of life. Inside are two main stories featuring the DNA theme. The first is a two-page interview with acknowledged expert in the field Debbie Kennett, an SDFHS member, who says you cannot be a serious genealogist if you do not use DNA testing as a resource in your research. In a wide-ranging interview, Debbie covers lots of ground, including the pros and cons of testing, what you can get out of it and which are the best companies to use if you want a test done.

The second is a detailed account by member Paul Whatton of the techniques he used to track down the true identity of his grandfather who went under what turned out to be an alias of John Fenton. DNA played a crucial part in unravelling his real story and the name he had been born with.

Kate Boyle explains the thoughts she had when deciding whether or not to take a test and a collection of readers tell of their own experiences with DNA testing, or of deciding they wanted nothing to do with it.

Debbie Kennett

‘Buried in the Archives’, our regular look at past issues of The Greenwood Tree, unearths an article about DNA written by Debbie Kennett in 2010 when the topic was much less in the public eye than it is now.

It is not all DNA, of course. Patricia Spencer uncovers the mystery of what happened to Dorset-born Sarah Jane Brett whom she first wrote about in 2016. Sarah Jane was twice widowed and left with four children at the age of 25 before disappearing from view. Recent research in newspaper archives revealed a whole new life for her in South Africa.

Bob Kelley tells the story of Charles Pitman, one of the Somerset railwaymen who went to work in Chesterfield in the 19th century, and Ken Isaac recounts the history of Dorset-born Ethel Gee and her role in the Portland Spy Ring.

Charles Pitman, pictured back row right, at a cousin’s wedding in Chichester

Harry Houghton and Ethel Gee

The March edition also contains regular features such as ‘Dorset Spotlight’, this time on Child Okeford, ‘What the Papers Said’, ‘Book Reviews’, ‘People, Places and Problems’ and a whole page of ‘Letters to the Editor’.

The parish church of St. Nicholas in Child Okeford

The June 2019 edition will focus on weddings, one of the three essential parts of our BMD research. Readers’ contributions, with photographs and stories, are requested.

Paul Radford – Editor

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Christmas Carol Service Train

Many of the trappings of our ‘traditional’ Christmas celebrations had their origins in the Victorian period which also saw the establishment and growth of the railway, so it is not perhaps surprising that festively decorated trains feature on a fair number of vintage Christmas cards. Today many railway lines, especially those run by local enthusiasts, have ‘Santa Specials’ where the great man joins excited children for a train ride, often pulled by a steam engine.

In Sherborne we can tell it is almost Christmas when the Carol Service train arrives in town. This an annual special excursion run by UK Railtours, which brings passengers from London Victoria for a Carol Service in Sherborne Abbey. The train arrived about 1.15pm on Thursday 20 December and, as every year, local people went to the station, or flocked to bridges on the outskirts of the town, to welcome the train and take photographs.

The 2018 Christmas Carol Service train approaching Sherborne station. Photograph: Patricia Spencer

Many of those who gather are (like me) old enough to remember when steam trains were not a special occasion novelty, but it was pleasing to see so many younger people and, especially, small children who were perhaps seeing a ‘real train’ for the first time in their lives. There really is something magical about hearing the characteristic ‘puffing’ and loud whistle as a steam engine pulls slowly into a station, enveloped in clouds of steam.

Sherborne Station, as the train pulls in. Photograph: Patricia Spencer

The beautiful steam engine which hauled the dining cars to Sherborne this year was ‘Clan Line’ and, for those who have more than a passing interest in steam engines, Graham Bendell can tell us more about her:

“Clan Line, no. 35028, is one of a class of 30 locomotives, originally built between 1941 and 1949, by the Southern Railway, to the design of O.V.S. Bullied, their chief engineer. It was one of the last to be completed, in December 1948, under the newly formed British Railways. Difficulties with the complex nature of the steamlined class resulted in them all being rebuilt between 1955 and 1959. Clan Line was one of the last to be rebuilt in October 1959, when it emerged in the form we see it today.

It was often to be seen speeding through Sherborne at the head of “The Atlantic Coast Express” until that ceased to run after 1964. After that it was more frequently seen on trains from Waterloo to Weymouth and Bournemouth. Clan Line was withdrawn from service in July 1967 but was quickly purchased by the Merchant Navy Locomotive Preservation Society who have owned it ever since. Clan Line works prestigious dining trains out of London for most of the year, but is not often seen this far west.”

Clan Line approaching Sherborne. Photograph: Graham Bendell

Passengers entering Sherborne Abbey for the Carol Service. Photograph; Patricia Spencer

After the carol service, as it is getting dark, the passengers gather on Sherborne station for their return journey to London. In 2012 Barbara Elsmore filmed the Carol Service train’s return from Yeovil Junction, hauled that year by the steam engine ‘Britannia’, and its departure for Victoria.

A very Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2019, to all our members and friends, from everyone at the Somerset & Dorset Family History Society.

Patricia Spencer and Graham Bendell

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The Greenwood Tree – December 2018

Remembrance is highlighted in the December edition of The Greenwood Tree, the first since the remarkable centenary ceremonies in November which marked the 1918 Armistice. September’s World War One Special Edition was largely dominated by family history stories of the conflict and the December issue, which will be mailed to members at the end of November, echoes some of those themes. Editor, Paul Radford, previews the edition, which SDFHS members can already view or download from the Members’ Area of the Society’s website.



The front cover colour photo shows the spectacular River of Poppies flowing down from the brow of Colmer’s Hill near Bridport, one of Dorset’s best-loved landmarks. The poppies were made of handcraft materials and assembled by local schools and community groups and tied to netting provided by Bridport firms.




Arthur Caswill

The lead story is another heart-rending World War One tale, featuring Somerset-born Arthur James Caswill, who was killed just 39 days before the Armistice while fighting for the Canadians in northern France. He had been on the front for less than a month. Arthur’s first cousin twice removed, Chris Caswill, his wife Lynne and cousin, Andrew Caswill, visited the graveyard where he was buried to mark the centenary of his death and the story is accompanied by photos of the headstone, cemetery and Canadian memorial.




There are also several photos of the Society’s highly successful AGM and Open Day organised by our East Dorset group in Wimborne.

The main hall at the Society’s successful Open Day at Wimborne on 22 September.

Garth and Chris Denman delve into ‘forbidden’ marriages they discovered while researching their Somerset ancestors. The Church of England banned men from marrying a sister-in-law until an act of Parliament in 1907 legalised a practice which had been widely flouted.

Talking of weddings, former editor of The Greenwood Tree Bob Barber offers Marriage Guidance for Genealogists, providing a valuable and detailed step-by-step guide to the most reliable ways of finding information from official marriage records.

Contributor Janet Hall solves a mystery which has been out there for a decade and which was originally raised by another former editor of The Greenwood Tree, Colin Dean, in 2008. Colin had spotted an invoice displayed on a pub wall in Flintshire for work done by carpenter Ludwell White of South Brewham of whom nothing was known. Janet discovers the real story of Ludwell White, who turned out to have been married twice and who died at the age of 92 in 1964.

Peter Meech set himself the challenge of building a family tree of the John family of Dulverton after receiving an envelope containing a collection of old photos sold off at auction and sent to him as membership secretary of the Sherborne Historical Society.

The December edition also contains regular features: Computer Corner; Somerset Spotlight, this time on Farmborough in Somerset; What the Papers Said; Buried in the Archives, looking at the November 1993 issue of The Greenwood Tree; People, Places and Problems, and a whole page of Letters to the Editor.

Farmborough in 1911.

The March 2019 edition will focus on the role of DNA testing in family history. I have included in this December edition my report on a seminar on the subject and am asking for readers’ contributions on the subject for the next issue.

Paul Radford – Editor of The Greenwood Tree.


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Remembering Bertie and Reg

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Foster’s School Sherborne 1910. Bertie Brooks far right and Reg Palmer back row fifth from left. Photo held by Sherborne Museum

I would like to tell you about two boys who died in World War One. They had both attended Foster’s School, in Sherborne, and you can see their names on the Roll of Honour board (now at the Gryphon School.)

These two boys became firm friends and would have had no idea that their carefree schoolboy games and exercises would be followed by such an abrupt end to both their young lives.

The first boy is Francis Reginald Palmer, or Reg as he was known. In 1907 at the age of 13, an age at which many boys ended their elementary education and headed out to work, Reg was awarded a Governors’ scholarship to Foster’s School and so began his secondary education. He was a bright and talented boy, whose party piece was playing the piano with a glass of water balanced on the back of each hand. He was the only child of Arthur and Annie Palmer. Arthur Palmer was the caretaker at Sherborne Girls’ School.

Around the same time, Thomas Hutchins took up the post of headmaster of Foster’s School and within a short time he started the school magazine The Fosterian and it is from copies of this magazine that much of this information about Reg and his friend Bertie Brooks has been extracted.

Albert John Brooks joined the school from Beaminster Grammar School in September 1908. Bertie was the eighth of nine children of George and Mary Brooks. George was a Superintendent of police with Dorset Constabulary and had retired to Trent and Bertie transferred schools with a scholarship from Dorset County Council. I have a personal interest in Bertie as he was my first cousin twice removed.

Christmas 1908 and Bertie and Reg appear together in the school production of The Merchant of Venice and I think it most likely that during the rehearsals the friendship between the two boys began. The following summer they took part in the school sports team, travelling to Blandford for the inter-schools sports day. Another member of that long ago team was Percy Taylor, and if you look at the roll of honour board you will see his name there as well. Percy’s older brother Sidney is also remembered on the board.

In 1911 the headmaster reported that it had been a year of ‘Work, Races and Chases’. Reg and Bertie had been working hard at their studies and had both passed the Oxford School certificate examinations at senior level with eight subjects each. The chases referred to the cross country paper chases which were a popular feature, for some, of school life. Reg and Bertie are rumoured to have ‘chartered a passing motor and finished the last few hundred yards at a somewhat higher speed than the afternoon’s average.’ I think this was contributed, with tongue in cheek, by Bertie himself.

The two friends then went on to sit the Cambridge Senior examination which they passed qualifying them both to go on as student teachers. The headmaster reported that they returned to the school  for teaching practice where they continued to spend Tuesdays giving everyone the benefit of their ideas, both scientific and literary.

The last mention by the headmaster of the two boys at this time appears at Easter 1913:

We are glad to record that Brooks and Palmer, who have been with us for many years past, and who continued to attend School last year as Student Teachers, the teaching part of their time being spent at the Abbey School, have now been appointed provisional Masters near London. They will enter into residence at Training Colleges next October. They carry with them the best wishes of all the Masters and of all the boys.

The following year on 4 August 1914 war on Germany was declared and the headmaster reported in The Fosterian:

‘How wonderfully do circumstances change the value of things! As I write here about our games, our sports and even about our work of last term our countryman in France are meeting death, wounds, hunger and fatigue like heroes.’ He continued ‘A J Brooks went through Sherborne looking very pleased at the prospect of joining the Grenadier Guards for which he had been accepted.’

Summer 1915 and there is mention of Reg:

‘Congratulations to 2nd Lieutenant F R Palmer who has joined the Dorsetshire Regiment and has just completed a month’s training in Oxford.’

Since we last heard of Reg he had moved on to take up a place at Bristol University and he had enlisted from there. He most likely would automatically go into the officer corps as he was entering from a University. The month’s training at Oxford may have included instruction in the art of being a ‘gentlemen’ which it was assumed would bring with it the associated leadership skills.  It is perhaps worth noting here that to be a young Lieutenant was probably one of the most dangerous of all first world war occupations as it was their job to lead their men from the front. They would be targeted by German snipers in order to create the most havoc and confusion.

In the Christmas 1915 edition of The Fosterian the headmaster has the difficult task of reporting the first death from amongst the seventy or so old boys who have joined up by this time and it is my cousin Bertie:

He said: ‘A J Brooks, whom but a short time ago we saw leaving Sherborne to enlist in the Guards, has been missing since September. He was with the Grenadiers at Loos and when, after an attack, they had to retire it is feared he fell and was left upon the field. Brooks was a fine lad, who had equipped himself for fighting life’s battle and would assuredly have earned the success in life he merited had not his country and his duty called him’. Bertie had been killed at the battle of Loos on 27 September 1915 and, despite the headmaster’s fine words, the family back home in Trent would have been completely devastated as Bertie was the second son to die in this war. Two other sons of George and Mary had left for Australia and a new life several years previously. From there they had both joined up and had been sent to Gallipoli where William, the elder of the two, was killed on 23 July. His younger brother Percy was buried in a collapsed trench for three days, with only his boots sticking out before he was rescued. Suffering from what was said to be ‘only partial deafness’ from this experience he would be sent on to France to continue his war. Needless to say Percy never really recovered and when his only son was killed in the Second World War Percy committed suicide.

Bertie was not the first of the old boys of the school to be lost as Harry Derriman fighting with the Wellington Mounted Rifles of New Zealand was killed on the 9 August at Gallipolli and Stanley Adams, while fighting with the Dorset Yeomanry, was killed on 21 August at the Battle of Scimitar Hill also in Gallipoli.

Each edition of The Fosterian contains letters back to the school from Old Boys and in the December 1916 edition a letter has been received from Reg who writes:

‘I am not going to try and portray actual fighting or a battlefield as in the first place I do not remember much of either, and wouldn’t if I could. At 6.10am we were awakened by our servants who said late orders had come that breakfast was at 6.30 – valises to be ready for packing at 7.00 and battalion to move at 7.30. No-one knew where, but the fact remained we were to move. Shaving in cold water at 6.15 sharpens the appetite. We got to mess at 6.30 and found everything packed-up, ergo no breakfast and no rations in our haversack. At 7.30 we marched. Try and picture a road ankle deep in mud, and every few yards having to make a detour through a shell hole. All the time we are marching in imminent peril of being crushed by motor lorries or mules. At 11.10 we arrived at camp, a scene of great fighting last September, and now made into a camp by stretching waterproof sheets over shell holes. At 4.30 we proceed with a guide from the battalion we are going to relieve, and reach Brigade Headquarters. Here we find it necessary to hurry as the Boche is whizzbanging the place and proceed with the platoon guides. Personally I never saw any guides and was soon left in a sunken road with 30 men of our own company and 30 and 20 of others nearby. The guides had disappeared in the dark to find the track. Presently they returned and we proceeded over moors with no landmarks to guide one and the moors themselves one mass of holes so close together that there is only room for one man at a time to go between them. Presently the guide announces he has lost his way, and, although new to the place, we decide to carry on over nothing more than a continuous slush heap. A man thinks he has got a good foothold, uses it, and promptly goes in over the waist. We pull him out amidst much Barnsfather language. Three hours of this and we at last find a trench, slither over top, take over stores, relieve sentries. The platoon commanders shake hands and wish each other ‘Cheerio’ and the other regiment files out. We are left in a soaking trench, not revetted, not possessing a dug-out and everyone proceeds to dig a hole in which to sit. We expect a ration party at first light but a wire comes through saying they have lost their way, and returned whence they started. We have no water that night, but two adventurous spirits creep out to a shell hole and fill their water bottles with the water they find there and everyone goes mad with delight. Later on the rations arrive, bully, biscuits, jam, water and a tablespoon of rum per man. In due time we are relieved and walk into a barrage of lachrymose shells, but at length safely reach the Camp of —–Wood, where we stop till our time comes to go up the line again’.

Reg Palmer was just 24 years old and seven or eight years earlier he was running around the countryside near Sherborne leading the hounds in a paper-chase with his good friend Bertie Brooks.

A second letter was received: ‘Since writing you I have had a month in billets where we were to get beds with real sheets and pillows. Now we are up the line and shall probably spend Christmas with a firework demonstration. When we are in rest billets it generally means running drill for half an hour before breakfast, parades 9-1, with the afternoon devoted to sport and at night from 8.30 -12 is night work – with a route march of not less than 12 miles once a week. We really have an easier time in the trenches but of course we get no sleep there, and plenty of shelling which puts the wind up one’.

In the Easter edition 1917 of The Fosterian, the headmaster started straight away to announce that three former pupils had given up their lives and, written within a heavy black border, he states:

‘R F Palmer, S Taylor, and K Dodge. The first two nobly fell while leading their men and K Dodge fell during his period of training. These are but three of the thousands of lives which have been given up to ensure our safety’.

Reg died on 23 April 1917 fighting at the battle of Arras which raged for over a month near the French town.

We cannot comprehend what this news will have meant to his loving parents, who had lost their talented only son with his lively mind who had done so well at school that he had gone on to university; a quite unheard of achievement amongst their family and friends. He was also planning to instil in others the love and desire for education that he so clearly had found in himself. A complete and utter tragedy for them both to try to comprehend.

Later his mother went on to donate an honours Board in 1918 and a second one, containing additional names in 1932. She died in 1934 but before her death made provision for a History prize in memory of Reg, and a French prize in memory of his friend Bertie and in her will she left £426 to the school (later used to panel the library for the new school which opened in 1939).

I will leave the final words to the headmaster Mr Hutchins who steered the school through this most difficult of times:

“The shadow of war falls over few places more darkly than over a boys’ school. Old boys join up and depart to do their duty, Masters answer the call of the country and older boys leave to take the places of those who have gone to fight. At the outbreak of war the school numbers immediately diminished by one quarter” 


The Roll of Honour now hangs at the Gryphon School, Sherborne

Barbara Elsmore 11 November 2018

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