In the August edition of Who Do You Think You Are? magazine respected writer, Alan Crosby, gave the SDFHS a real boost by featuring one of our current projects – The Sherborne Pageant of 1905. How did Alan know we are undertaking this project? He read about it in the Projects’ section of our website which he went on to recommend that his readers should explore as an example of ‘a superb website’. This is the direct link to the Sherborne Pageant Participants Project. Just think before the days of the website, that so many of us take for granted, someone like Alan would have no idea of what we are up to. I love technology and what it can do for me. I am tapping out this piece on my iPad sitting on my sofa with my feet up confident that it will eventually appear as a ‘blog’ on the SDFHS website. How it all works I have no idea, but thanks to so many others who have thought things through and set things up it all falls into place. I am not a pioneer at all in this but I am one of those who reap the benefits of all the work done by others in the past. The current Manager of the Society’s website is Patricia Spencer who redesigned it in 2014 and she is making a brilliant job of keeping it relevant and up to date. Her predecessor was Chris Lawrence, but it was Alan Brown who started it all way back in October 1995 when a seminar to explore the possibilities of the WorldWideWeb, as it was becoming known, took place in Wells. Within three months Alan had an email address and started to receive emails from some of our members abroad, where things were further forward, and the idea for a website first took hold. Alan wrote about the website in the 40th anniversary edition of the Greenwood Tree which you can read here:You will be very pleased to know that the society made Alan Brown a lifetime member for his hugely valuable contribution.
So what did Alan Crosby say about the Pageant Project? He picked up on our suggestion that cast lists, such as the list of local people taking part in the Pageant, school records, sports team lists, registers for social clubs and more could be compiled by societies, such as ours, and made available. These lists could play an important part in our ability, as Alan says, ‘to put leaves on our trees and help create a more rounded picture of our kin’.
How did the Pageant list come about? Rachel Hassall is the Archivist at Sherborne School where a very extensive collection of Pageant-related material is held and she began by extracting a cast list because of the many boys and masters at the school who took part. Further biographical information has been added to each individual with more information continuing to be added as it comes to light via the project which the SDFHS is now continuing. This list is now available for download on the Pageant page of our website and is a fascinating compilation of names from all walks of life mainly from in and around Sherborne. I remember telling a friend that her grandfather and great-uncle appear on the list and she then remembered some old costumes in the family dressing up box that she would parade around in as a child only to realise now, in light of this new knowledge, that they must have been original Pageant costumes.
This brings me to how the cast list solved not one but two puzzles about the unknown faces found on a couple of old photographs purchased via eBay. The first photo is of a young man with the initials C O B and it was taken in 1905 by Sherborne photographer, W M Chaffin. It was emailed to me by a friend, who collects the work of local photographers, on the off-chance that I could find out who was depicted. My first thought was that this would be impossible but my second thought was to remember the Pageant cast list and so I went straight to it and found the Rev Charles Oliver Bevan, a school master at Sherborne School, who played a monk. I sent the photo to Rachel Hassall who confirmed the identity by returning to me a copy of the same photo held in the school archive with his name in full written on it.
How thrilling to find the identification, and surely a bit of a fluke that would never happen again? But then it did happen again and this time Rachel found a photo for sale on eBay of an angelic looking young boy with the initials E H F D who was soon identified through the Pageant cast list as Eric Henry Falk Dammers, a pupil at Sherborne school at the time of the Pageant. Rachel has a later photo of young Eric to prove that she has found the right person.
I am sure when the Pageant list was first created there would not have been any idea that it might prove one day to be a way of identifying people in old photographs but then that is how these things, once begun, come to take on a life of their own. I am just very grateful to all those who have made things possible by starting a website, a project or anything at all for the greater benefit of many people like me, so much further down the line.
18 July 2016