Intriguing Photographs (- first in series)


We cannot help but be intrigued by mystery photographs. They may be of people staring out at us from long ago or they could be of buildings or locations now completely unknown to us. I would like to challenge you with two photographs found in one of those lovely old Victorian albums which, if we are very lucky, are found to exist somewhere in our family. The album belonged to my great, grand aunt Ada Collings born in Nether Compton in 1869 and I have reason to believe it was a gift, possibly from her parents, on her 21st birthday as her mother had also collected a set of photos and housed them in a very similar album. Each of these albums are now held with two of my cousins and will be treasured and passed on down through the generations. I have been in the privileged position of being able to borrow both albums and attempt a very rudimentary analysis of each photograph and by comparing other photos of the same people and by checking who the photographer was and where and when he was operating it becomes possible to make some positive identifications and some possible ones for future research.

Now here are the two photos that are intriguing me and that you may be able to help with. They sit closely together in the album and were very likely taken on the same day. The first shows a group of men standing around what I think may be an Italian wellhead – the sort of thing that might have been brought back by someone from the grand tour.

men with stoneware (2)

Have the seven men been getting this enormously heavy object into position or are they just gathered here for a photo of the estate workers? The man on the right has something in his hand. Is this something to do with his trade? It looks rather like a whetstone for sharpening or maybe a dibber for marking or planting out. There are planks of timber and tools lying around.

Building with stoneware (2)

In the second photo, which could be the main house, there is another wellhead and a column and further piece of decorative stoneware.

21st Birthday card from Alfred to Ada Bicknell

Ada Collings married Alfred Bicknell when she was 24 and they spent their married life together in Limington in Somerset. The card above, which takes pride of place in the album, was a gift to Ada from Alfred on her 21st birthday. The album contains lots of photos from both sides of the family who lived and worked all over Somerset and Dorset, mostly employed as builders, carpenters and stonemasons.

Can you help? Do you have any intriguing photos to share?

Barbara Elsmore    June 2017

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The Greenwood Tree – June 2017

The June issue of The Greenwood Tree will be appearing shortly and is due to be posted to all 2017 Members this week. It can also be viewed and/or downloaded as a PDF file in the Members’ Area of our website.

As we did in the March issue, we have preserved the colour content in the digital version, so it’s well worth having a look on-line.


An example of one of the full-colour pages of the June issue.



In addition to the usual wide range of articles, this issue contains details (yellow page i, and p.61) of the Society’s annual Open Day, including the Annual General Meeting, which this year is being organised by our Taunton Group, and will be held in Cheddon Fitzpaine Village Hall on Saturday 23 September (9.30am-4.00pm).

Cheddon Fitzpaine Village Hall.


Full details of the programme for the Day, with a booking-form for lunch, are being circulated with the June issue of The Greenwood Tree. They can also be found on our website. The Agenda for the AGM and summary Accounts for 2016 will be circulated to SDFHS Members with the September issue of The Greenwood Tree.

Bob Barber – 30 May 2017

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Creating and printing your own personalised family tree

Family Tree 300dpi

I fell into using a desktop publishing package quite by chance. In the village in which I was living a skilled resident had taken the local parish council newsletter, sent three times a year to all residents, and the parish church news, distributed six times a year, to church parishioners, and turned them into very satisfactory publications from the cutting and pasting of paper and photocopying that had been done before. He liaised with a helpful local printing company and the results were much appreciated by all. Then he came to leave the village. Who could take over? Who had the skills? I certainly didn’t but I was interested and stuck my head above the parapet and so with very little ceremony both jobs were passed to me. I purchased a copy of Microsoft Publisher, the parish council sent me on a morning’s training course, and with a couple of hours one-to-one training from the instigator of the two publications I was then on my own. A very steep learning curve followed. I took the whole thing fairly slowly, one step at a time. The parish newsletter was the easier of the two publications being four sheets of A4 printed onto two sides of A3 and folded down the middle. I had to get used to typing everything into text boxes which could then be moved anywhere on the page. I would turn these pages into a PDF put them onto a disk and deliver the disk to the printer. Back would come over a thousand professional looking copies and I was thrilled to bits.

The church magazine was more complicated as this was a 36 page A5 booklet with a card cover. I also received content in all sorts of formats which I had to juggle with. This was the publication that had me tearing my hair out at times but I just had to get on with it and so I became pretty reasonable, in the end, at getting Publisher to do what I wanted it to do. It is funny when you start out often as not the software package is in charge of the operator but gradually the tables turn and eventually I got the upper hand and I became very much in control of Publisher and now I just love what it can do for me.

Being interested in family history story telling I soon realised that the four page newsletter could become an eight page story about my family and so I created my first simple publication, which actually ran to 12 pages in the end, and I had half a dozen folded and stapled copies produced by the helpful printer, using black and white photographs. What an achievement – I was very pleased. Given the advances made since then both by me and by the easy availability of printing generally this all looks rather primitive now but I had made a start.

Now we fast forward several years and I have now moved and left behind the two publications that got me started and now I use Publisher for many things and I turned my attention to creating a family tree that I could distribute to members of the family. I wanted something a bit meaningful to those who may not have any preconceived ideas of what a family tree should look like and at the same time I wanted to show younger members how their family name travels back in time, show them a few photographs on the way to aid their understanding and perhaps interest them in family history. At the top of this article you will see the result. This was produced, I have to admit, over a period of some considerable time as an A3 publication. I then sent it to a well known printing company in the Midlands and they turned it from A3 into A2 and I had five copies made to distribute. At the same time I had one special copy produced as a fine art print, using archival paper and ink, by Jayson Hutchins of Old Barn Framing Gallery in Sherborne, which I have had framed and is hanging on my wall. I am very pleased with these results.

If you would like to give it a go and create your own very personal family tree, you will find a PDF giving details of how I went about this on our website.

If anyone has found other methods of creating and printing their own family trees we would love to hear about it from you – please make contact via

Barbara Elsmore

May 2017

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Railway Staff in East Dorset

We are very pleased to announce that an important dataset has been added to the Members’ Area of our website, thanks to the generosity of Peter Russell (of the Somerset & Dorset Railway Heritage Trust). Together with Colin Divall, Emeritus Professor of Railway Studies at York University, he has been studying the railways around East Dorset, including the careers and families of those who worked on the railway from the 1840s to the 1970s, particularly in the Wimborne area, where both Peter and Colin grew up.

Staff at Wimborne Station posing in the station forecourt, circa 1890. No names are known for definite, but ranks are evident from the different uniforms. The Station Master is sitting at the front, just left of centre, bearded and with cap badge. There was a changeover of Station Master around this date, so it may be Champness William Edwards or William Forward. Photograph courtesy of the Priest’s House Museum, Wimborne:

With the help of genealogical research undertaken by Peter’s wife Kay, they have compiled a dataset from all useful sources, including census records, railway company staff records, books, magazines, deposited archives, community memory, etc. Although focused on the Wimborne area, many staff progressed up the staff hierarchy and/or moved between locations for career progression or other reasons, so if your ancestors worked elsewhere on the railway, they may still be included in the dataset. Please do check it out.

The track gang covering the Wimborne Junction to Corfe Mullen Junction section of the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway. The location is thought to be north of the S&D loco shed at Oakley Lane. The ganger (responsible for the gang) is thought to be the figure with the flag at front left, John James Everett. No other names are known but members of the Burt and Guy families may be present. The date is circa 1920s. Photograph: Alfred Whitaker, reproduced courtesy of the David McGhie Collection.

Patricia Spencer – 9 May 2017

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From Slavery to the Workhouse

WorkhouseI am sure many of us have discovered that one or more of our early family members went into the workhouse. Sitting at our computers in our centrally heated homes we have tried to imagine what it might have been like with, perhaps, images coming to mind of Oliver Twist asking for more, or the heavily pregnant Fanny Robin, in Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, painfully making her way to the workhouse to meet her fate. We are likely to have gleaned that this was to be avoided at all costs and assumed that a desperate situation of some sort must have driven our relatives there. I remember my husband’s aged 80+ grandmother refusing to have anything to do with the local geriatric hospital as in her living memory it had been the workhouse. I also remember my own awakening to the realities of the workhouse when I visited the Red House Museum which is housed in the former Christchurch workhouse. As I wandered around the beautiful garden in the spring sunshine I thought to myself that this would have been quite a pleasant place to end ones days.  Of course I was immediately brought up short by the steward who explained to me that it would not have been like that at all and that the area that is now the garden would house the kitchen, the laundry and workshops and there would most definitely not be any sitting about in the sun.

Workhouse reduced

workhouse 2 reduced

Red House Museum, Christchurch the former parish workhouse

In his informative talk entitled ‘From Slavery to the Workhouse’ Ted Udall took us right back to the beginning of social welfare in this country. At the dissolution of the monasteries assistance for the poor and sick passed from the clergy to the state. The Vagrancy Act of 1547 meant that anyone who did not work for three days could be branded with a ‘V’ and be sold into slavery. Further offences could lead to a lifetime of slavery. Many authorities refused to enact this harsh legislation. Understandably the slavery provisions were very unpopular and the act was repealed three years later. The Poor Relief Act of 1601 repealed all former laws and we now know it as the ‘Old Poor Law’. Ted explained that the responsibility for the relief of the poor was formalised and passed to each parish in England and Wales. There was always a struggle to separate the ‘indolent’ from the ‘deserving poor’. If you were able to work then you must but if you could not, then aid would be given to you via the parish. Because some parishes were more generous than others there began to be migration between parishes. It therefore became necessary to prevent this movement which required more legislation, and the 1662 Act of Settlement came into being which meant anyone likely to become a charge on the parish had to be ‘settled’ there. In order to allow movement of up to 20 miles to take place a settlement certificate could be applied for. Ted outlined this and other paperwork that could be located in order to track the movements of our early family members. Poor children who were a drain on the parish could be signed up for an apprenticeship indenture, from the age of seven, which allowed for a change of settlement if necessary.
By the end of the 17th century the workhouse system was becoming well established, and the General Workhouse Act of 1723 gave parishes the authority to build their own workhouses or join with other parishes to do so. Ted reminded us that these workhouses could not provide facilities that would be an improvement on the homes from which the incumbents came – quite a challenge given the poor conditions many agricultural labourers lived in at the time.

Ted reduced

Ted Udall

Ted completed his excellent talk by bringing us right up to date and he reminded us of the many sources where we could find information for ourselves. He also recommended the website and for more information on the Vagrancy act see

Barbara Elsmore May 2017

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The Greenwood Tree – March 2017

2017-march-gt-coverThe March 2017 issue of The Greenwood Tree is now being printed, and will be posted to all members of the Society next week. This is the first under the new schedule, where the publication dates will be at the beginning of March, June, September and December. So if you’ve been wondering where your copy of The Greenwood Tree has got to, don’t despair – it will be with you soon.

Once the print copies are in the post, the PDF version will be uploaded to the Members’ Area of our website.

We have been looking at ways to preserve any colour content in the PDF file, rather than having it converted to black and white, as in the printed version. There is another good reason for viewing The Greenwood Tree on-line, in the Members’ Area: hyperlinks (links to websites or email addresses) can be activated directly, rather than having to be typed in, when is it easy to mistype a long string of characters.

The cover of the March issue highlights an important new project for the Society. In 1905 the town of Sherborne celebrated 1200 years of history by staging a great pageant, the ‘Mother of All Pageants’, and set in motion a fashion for historical enactments which was copied throughout the country. A major research initiative, The Redress of the Past, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council,  is seeking to document these pageants and collect photographs, archive film and information about the participants. A database of pageants can be found on the research team’s website:


Pageant costume worn by Muriel Aylott, Sylvia Pitcher’s mother

Sherborne’s pageant involved nearly 900 residents from the town and surrounding villages and the Society is researching and documenting as many participants as possible, under the guidance of the Project Co-ordinator Barbara Elsmore. For full details go to the Project’s page on our website. See also page 22 of the March issue, and Barbara’s post on this blog.

There were other pageants in our two counties. For example, Dorchester hosted a pageant titled ‘The siege of Corfe Castle’ in 1929 and Sylvia Pitcher describes her researches on page 23. Sylvia’s mother, and her step-mother, took part, and Sylvia has a photograph of one of the scenes which includes them both. Sylvia’s sister still has the costume worn by their mother, Muriel Aylott, in the pageant.



‘The Siege of Corfe Castle’ Pageant, Dorchester 1929


Annie Blanche Trew

From material provided by Peggy Fifield, on page 4 there is the first part of a series of edited extracts from letters sent to England by Annie Blanche Trew, a nurse who served in the Army Nursing Service Reserve in South Africa during the second Anglo-Boer War. The letters were written in late 1900 from Bothaville, a small town in the very north of the Orange River Colony which was still under Boer control at the time. The letters are a fascinating insight into the struggle to keep going under very difficult circumstances and the mutual animosity between the British and the Boers is very evident. Annie was awarded the Royal Red Cross medal for her service during the Boer War.

Clare Reeves has sent us a diary/log compiled by her 2x great-uncle, William Haviland Handover. William was born in 1858 and raised in Ilchester in Somerset, but sailed on the Duke of Buccleuch on 31 December 1884, bound for Australia. He kept a log every day of the ship’s progress, including the number of miles sailed. He reached Brisbane, Queensland, on 5 March 1885, a journey of 64 days.

Diane Brooke continues to find interesting documents on eBay. Among them is a mortgage from 1760 which includes the signature of Rev Samuel Woodforde, the father of the famous diarist, James Woodforde.


Rev Samuel Woodforde’s signature and seal, 1760

Another interesting document was shown to me by Iain Swinnerton, our Society military expert and a volunteer at the Family History Centre in Sherborne. The document, for the parish of Bathford near Bath in Somerset, dates from 1804; with the threat of invasion during the period of the Napoleonic Wars each county was required to organise itself into divisions to coordinate and document resources and establish a system of communication. Of particular interest are the lists of names, essentially a census of the adult males in the parish at the time, as well as a list of the quantities of livestock and dead stock in the parish. The names have been transcribed in the hope they may be of interest to those with ancestry in the area.

All the regular features are here, including Society and research news, news from the groups, and a piece on the award from the Community Fund of the Rotary Club of Sherborne Castles for a scanner and software for the Society’s Photographic Project. The next Photographic Project Open Day will take place on 18 March 2017. See here for more details


Frank Skinner [centre] – Rotarian, Rotary Club of Sherborne Castles, Graham Bendell [left] – Project Leader, SDFHS; Robin Ansell [right] – Historical Advisor, SDFHS; Roger Marsh [rear] – Photographic Section SDFHS; Cath Adam [rear] – Team Member SDFHS

We hope you enjoy reading this edition. There are clearly still lots of things happening in the world of family history. Good luck with your researches in 2017.

Bob Barber

Editor, The Greenwood Tree

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The Wonders of The Library Catalogue or how I came to fight my way through an imaginary net curtain


I struggled to come up with a title that would grab your attention as I knew ‘The Library Catalogue‘ just wouldn’t do it. I thought ‘The Life Changing Library Catalogue‘ didn’t quite have the right ring to it as in the scheme of things it seems such a small achievement but there are years and years of work by a series of long term volunteers at the Family History Centre behind it. I take this opportunity to thank the most recent incumbent, Elsie Smith, who has just retired after many years of dedicated sorting, sifting, weeding and cataloguing of the many books and publications that find their way through the door of the centre. Let us not forget all those who have kindly donated these books in the first place and just last week a couple of boxes of intriguing ‘stuff’ were dropped off at the centre.


In the boxes there may be many gems that need to find their way to the library but then again there may not. One person’s treasure may well be another’s recycling material and someone has to make a judgment. Circumstances change and our wonderful library has to change with it. We are fortunate that at the moment we have lots of room to keep shelves of this and boxes of that but it may not always be the case. If you visit the centre you will see boxes and boxes of duplicate material on sale and I picked up a copy of the Society of Dorset Men in London Year Book 1911/12  for £5 which I have added to my personal collection of books and catalogues of Sherborne. I find these catalogues invaluable in the way they paint a picture for us of what life might have been like. They often contain advertisements for local shops and businesses and their very existence was there at the time to promote the town and what it stood for.



Let me give you a for instance. I have a copy of Illustrated Sherborne 1903 and it is all about promoting the local hunts and that horses can be stabled about the town. Visitors from London are urged to bring their horses with them by train. One of the local cafes even offers ‘stabling for any number of cycles’ proving that the train, the horse and the bicycle were clearly the way to go in 1903.









Go forward to Illustrated Sherborne 1927 and although the Digby Hotel is still advertising the availability of its stables it is now also an agent for the AA and RAC and so proof is here that we are moving into the era of the motorist.

By leafing through a copy of The Sherborne Motorist, written by John House, you will find lots of photos of garages, petrol stations and more that existed in the Sherborne area beginning with a photograph of the 1895 Horseless Carriage built by Petters of Yeovil with the body constructed by Hill and Boll, also of Yeovil, that will help further your understanding of the impact that the coming of the motor car had on the town.

But back to the library and my imaginary ‘net curtain’. When I first began to volunteer at the centre, on a Friday morning, I used to wander about the library trying to get to know what it contained – a fascinating though frustrating exercise. Elsie Smith was usually on hand on a Thursday sitting at the computer that contained the library catalogue and she would always be pleased to look something up for me if I knew what I wanted to look up but on a Friday Elsie was not about, the computer was not switched on and although I am happy with the computers I know and love I do not have the same feelings about the computer that contained the library list and so I stayed well clear of it. Then suddenly the net curtain was lifted for me and I had the magic key to this mysterious collection as it was announced via the website and the Greenwood Tree that a searchable library list was now available via the Society’s website:, go to ‘About’ then ‘Family History Centre’, scroll down to ‘Library’ and you will find it. I downloaded a copy and put it in my iBooks on my iPad and now I can carry it around with me and search away to my heart’s content!reduced-men-of-dorset

Let’s return to the Society of Dorset Men in London Year Book and I will do a ‘search’ on the library catalogue, now sitting safely on my iPad, and what do I find? The library has 11 copies ranging from 1904 to 1911. In my own copy I am fascinated by the lists of men living in London but even more so by those scattered abroard in 31 different countries. For example 30 are living in Canada, 38 in Australia, 32 in India – this list contains many men serving with the Dorset Regiment – 2 in Fiji, 1 in Brazil,  94 in New Zealand and 114 resident on the African continent.


Can I also tell you about an enquiry we received last week from someone who asked if we had anything on Freemasons. All the computers were in use and so we did not immediately turn to Ancestry for the answers, as is so often the case, and searched the library catalogue instead under ‘freemasons’ and came up with a very rewarding box full of little handbooks listing Somerset members from 1932-1959 (one of the books contained a helpful list of all the nationwide lodges) and although our enquiry concerned someone in Sussex this proved to be valuable information as it means these handbooks would have been issued to members wherever they may have lived. A word of warning you must search accurately and try differing versions of the word you are searching under if you can for instance had I tried ‘freemasonry’ I would have come up with a book entitled History of Dorset Freemasonry Revealed 1736-2000. It doesn’t work like Google where however inaccurately you type your search it seems to come up with the goods, here the searcher must work a little harder to reap the undoubted rewards.

So wherever you are if you are able to download a copy of the catalogue and find out what we hold at the Family History Centre in Sherborne you may find something there of interest to you. Perhaps your virtual rootle around will lead to an actual one and you will visit the Centre to search the library for yourself. I do hope so.

Barbara Elsmore

20 February 2017

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