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: http://www.priest-house.co.uk/

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.

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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.

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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 workhouses.org.uk and for more information on the Vagrancy act see http://www.intriguing-history.com/edward-vi-enacts-harsh-statute-against-vagabonds/

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: http://www.sdfhs.org, 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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Family Christmas Favourites

Do you remember, in the days before the supermarkets took over and provided all our Christmas requirements, that there were recipes within the family passed down from generation to generation? When I was a child, with a younger brother and three young boy cousins, we would all enjoy a glass of ginger wine in a small sherry schooner at Christmas time. My cousins were so young they could not get their tongues round what to them was a very new word ‘wine’ and they would pronounce it ginger ‘wiyerne’ as they lined up eagerly to try it. The process would start with a rather dog-eared piece of paper, with the recipe written on it, being taken to Boots the chemist and a small bottle of dark brown, thick, syrupy and pungent liquid would be brought home. This was added to boiling water and sugar and finished off with a small glass of dark rum usually from a miniature purchased for the purpose.frair-tuck-ginger-wine

Eventually the chemists discontinued making up these concoctions but luckily they decided to stock Friar Tuck’s Ginger Flavour essence instead, which made a good substitute, and so the tradition continued in the family. When my husband appeared on the scene in the mid 1960s he really redeemed himself, with the family he would eventually marry into, by winning a bottle of Captain Morgan’s dark rum in a pub raffle, which went on to enhance many a batch of ginger wine.

I do not have a copy of the original recipe, which saddens me, but I do have a copy of the other Christmas family favourite which was the fudge that my dad used to make and I cherish a handwritten copy of his original recipe.


While the fudge was boiling on the stove I would be allowed to clean out the condensed milk tin with a teaspoon and I can still remember the lovely smell that would pass through the house and the agony of waiting for the fudge to cool and set before we were allowed to try a piece. When he wrote out the recipe in 1993 he had progressed to using a thermometer and I love the fact he wrote, hopefully, ‘store in an airtight tin for up to 2-3 weeks”!

I hope these memories will prompt you to stop for a moment, amid the hustle and bustle of your preparations, to cast your mind back to your own family Christmas favourites, and share them with us.

A very happy Christmas to all

Barbara Elsmore

24 December 2016

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The Greenwood Tree – November 2016

The November issue of The Greenwood Tree is now in the post to members. The Editor, Bob Barber, presents a few items to whet your appetite.

gt-nov-16-v41-4-coverThe cover includes a number of photographs collected recently by the the Society’s Photographs Project. They also act as a Who Do You Think This Is? feature.

Go to page 113 and see if you know any more about the people portrayed.

With thanks to Allan Collier for permission to use his photos, and also Sylvia Creed-Castle, Tony Chew and the Sunshine Coast Library, Queensland, Australia for other illustrations on the cover.

Teresa Williams is one of the longest-serving regular contributors to The Greenwood Tree. Her first piece extracting items of interest from newspapers was published in the November 1994 issue (v20.4, p137). Teresa has written an interesting article about her experiences researching newspapers the old way (before the advent of searchable, on-line resources). See page 119.


The Reading Room at the former Newspaper Library at Colindale.

When were you born? You almost certainly know your own birth-date, but what day of the week was it? On page 109 Richard Scott explains how to calculate it, or indeed how to calculate the day for any event from the Battle of Hastings onwards.

Barbara Elsmore has described a remarkable piece of detective work which arose from an enquiry at the Society’s Family History Centre in Sherborne. Tony Chew had brought in a medallion from The Tailwaggers’ Club for a dog named Sergeant. Barbara tracked down Sargeant’s owner, Margaret Winifred Symes, known as Freda. Freda trained as a nurse, and eventually served as health visitor in Sherborne for 17 years. Read the full story, and how Barbara researched it, on page 103

medal1 medal2

Ann-Marie Wilkinson’s Computer Corner has moved on to Australian records, but there is a follow-up piece to Ann-Marie’s last article in August 2015 by Anne Brady on New Zealand records.

Both Somerset and Dorset have a number of distinctive fingerposts that pre-date the standard-issue road-signs we see everywhere. But they are in danger of falling into disrepair and disappearing. It was pleasing to see that the Red Post just north of Sherborne (one of four red signposts in Dorset) has recently been restored and re-erected. Read on page 117 how you can help to save these interesting items of local heritage.


As the Society approaches the end of its 41st year we can look back at a very successful Open Day and AGM, hosted by the Blackmore Vale group at the Exchange, Sturminster Newton. Jacqui Wragg and her team are to be congratulated for a fantastic effort. I was very impressed with the number of stalls and organisations in attendance, and with the quality of the two speakers. A fuller report by Society Secretary, Ted Udall, can be seen on page 125.


Doug and Judy Hodges run the registration desk as the crowds gather.


Ted Udall (Secretary), Sir Mervyn Medlycott (President) & Rose Figgins (Treasurer) at the AGM.

As we move into 2017 there will be a slight change to the publication dates of The Greenwood Tree. Instead of February, May, August and November your copies will appear one month later, at the beginning of March, June, September and December.

Finally, a reminder that now is the time to renew your subscription to the Somerset & Dorset Family History Society. Fuller details can be found in Membership Secretary Patricia Spencer’s article on page 127.

Wishing you all the very best for 2017

Bob Barber

Editor, The Greenwood Tree

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Robert Goadby – founder of the ‘Western Flying Post’

When Patricia Goadby and her brother Michael arrived at the SDFHS Family History Centre one day to enquire about their illustrious ancestor, Robert Goadby, the founder of the Western Flying Post (now better known as the Western Gazette) we were about to shut up shop. However, the timing turned out to be advantageous as we were able to get together with our fellow volunteers in Sherborne Museum, to do some background research, before inviting Patricia and Michael back to hear about what we had been able to discover between us.

Robert Goadby, printer, publisher and bookseller, was born in 1721 and died 57 years later in 1778. In 1740 he established a book selling business in Bath but by 1744 he had moved to Yeovil where he published, on 30 July of that year, the first issue of a provincial newspaper known as the Western Flying Post or Yeovil Mercury. This newspaper was in competition with the Sherborne Mercury which had already been in production for ten years. After the founder of the Sherborne Mercury died, Robert Goadby purchased the newspaper and combined the two papers publishing the first edition of the Western Flying Post; or Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury on 30 January 1749. At this time he left Yeovil and set up the printing house at his home, Bute House in Long Street, Sherborne. Over the door would appear the legend: 

‘The Sherborne Printing House. The Liberty of the Press and the People Fall Together May Heaven Long Avert It’.


Bute House in Long St, Sherborne

Contributing greatly to the success of the newspaper was the position of Sherborne on the post roads from London to the West Country, and from Bristol and Bath to Weymouth, together with the distribution network that was set up enabling a regular readership to extend from Dorset through Devon and Somerset to Cornwall, Bristol and London. George Tatham was able to tell Patricia and Michael more about the distribution and the advertising that the paper relied upon, when they made their return visit to our Family History Centre. 

Robert Goadby opened up a lending library in Cheap Street, Sherborne, with 1,900 volumes. He was also involved with book printing and his major production was the Illustration of the Holy Scriptures, in three large volumes. It was two volumes, dated 1754 and held by Sherborne Museum, that John Peters showed to Patricia and Michael. John explained that the old books had fallen into some disrepair and he undertook the task of carefully removing the accumulated dust and gently straightening some of the folded corners of the pages. Almost all of the 95 copperplate engravings had become detached and were randomly distributed throughout the volumes. The engravings did not have page numbers and it was only after many hours of diligent research that John was able to return the illustrations to their rightful positions.


John Peters completes six-months’ work.

examining-bibleGeorge explained that it would not have been possible, under copyright laws, to reproduce a straight copy of the bible unless there were additions made to it. This is how Robert Goadby came to write his own ‘notes and explanations’ for each verse which he placed in following brackets. This must have been an immensely taxing and time-consuming piece of work and as John picked a verse at random and read it out, together with the explanation that followed, we were all rather stunned into silence by the enormity of this undertaking.


Patricia and Michael were interested in visiting the site of their ancestor’s grave and it is to be found near Old St Cuthbert’s Chancel in Oborne. Robert had a great love of botany and nature and it was said in his obituary that he walked everyday from his home in Long Street to the place he was to be buried and back again before breakfast.

old-st-cuthberts-chancelWe do not know the route that he would have taken but had there been a pathway or track along the Oborne road and present A30, in his day, then this would have been a return trip of about 2.3 miles. He left an endowment for a sermon to be given on the first Sunday in May each year on ‘the Wisdom and Goodness of God in Creation’. It is not hard to imagine the wonderful sights and sounds he would have experienced on these walks which most likely contributed greatly to his knowledge and love of the natural world. When he died he was buried in the unconsecrated ground next to the Chancel and a pine tree was planted on his grave which was replaced later by an elm tree. Sadly in 1969 the tree was clumsily removed as it suffered from Dutch elm disease and the grave, headstone and surrounding railings were completely destroyed.

At some point an oak has been planted and under this recent arrival is a pile of stones which is all that is left of the famous man’s gravesite. 


You can read more about the history of the Western Gazette on Bob Osborn’s The A-Z of Yeovil’s History. 


The plaque at 23 Princes Street, Yeovil. By kind permission of Bob Osborn

18 October 2016

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