Past Talks and Events

2024

Saturday 11th May saw our first ever Milborne Port History Day, with displays, exhibitions and presentations taking place in different venues across the village, including Church House, the Town Hall, the Guildhall, the Organ Museum and Chapel Museum. The sun came out for us and we had a really super day!

On Monday April 15th, Graham Cook – Master Thatcher of our very own Newtown – returned to have us spellbound yet again with descriptions and stories of bygone thatching practices, dating from medieval times, in his talk entitled Some Forgotten Thatching. He covered aspects of the craft that have disappeared but which were once essential: protecting the harvest, working on major building projects over decades (including Sherborne Abbey) and the large role played by women in the craft. ‘Yelm’ and ‘stook’ are new words for the Scrabble board, and who’d have thought that the cottage-sized hay and corn ricks of the past were such works of art! Graham is such an experienced, knowledgable and articulate speaker.

Monday 1st April Guided Walk: – This was a repeat of last Summer’s Guided Walk of the ancient borough of Milborne Port – basically the area south of the A30 and was another great success! We were in the expert hands of Dr Lesley Wray and other members of the team in the Ball Court, South Street, Brook Street and Bathwell Lane.

You could have heard a pin drop on the evening of Monday 18th March when Vic Flintham and Steve Underwood took us through the events leading up to the Luftwaffe’s bombing of Sherborne and its impact on the town on the afternoon of 30th September 1940. Vic, an aeronautical expert, had carried out impressive research to dispel certain misinformation and get to the bottom of what really happened that day. And Steve, with has a long-held interest in the topic, talked to us about the cost to the town – in terms of human lives, structures and infrastructure – and about the strength of community that helped Sherborne to recover. After the talk, we were privileged enough to hear from people who were actually there on the day – as very young children, of course – and from those with friends and family members who were able to tell their stories of survival and recovery. Vic and Steve are thinking about publishing their findings and would love to hear from anyone with recollections, stories or anecdotes from this time. If you would like to contribute, please contact Vic: vic@flintham.org

On Monday 19th February, the now celebrated double-act that is Roger Cowley and Harold Clarke (past and current Head Guides of Sherborne Abbey) shared with us The History of Sherborne Abbey: Part 2! This time, they focussed on the history of the Abbey from the Dissolution of the Monasteries to the present day. There was much to be learnt about the fate and reincarnations of the various buildings within the Abbey complex, about the every evolving architecture and the main movers and shakers during the Reformation and since.

At our January talk, another double-act – Nathalie Hetherington and Lesley Wray – revealed all about some notable heroes and villains of the village. Who would have thought that one of the very first English feminist thinkers and writers – Mary Scott – was from little Milborne Port? We are very proud of her, as we are of our war heroes! Not so much of Thomas Hutchings Medlycott and Samuel Fudge, who should hang their heads in shame… Many thanks to those who braved the freezing temperatures to attend!

2023

On November 20th, Roger Cowley and Harold Clarke – past and current Head Guides of Sherborne Abbey – shared with us the history of Sherborne Abbey, from its foundation to its dissolution (705 – 1539 AD). During this time, the site was home to a Cathedral, then a Priory and eventually an independent Abbey. A rather complicated history! The talk was scheduled for one hour, lasted for an hour and a quarter but felt like five minutes! The audience was completely rapt by such an informative, colourful, sometimes funny and always engaging talk from which we all learnt something new. We are all looking forward to learning about the Abbey’s history in the time of Henry VIII and afterwards in February 2024.

Our talk from Chris Tripp about Stalbridge House on 16th October took us through the archaeological work to which The Dorset Diggers (including our very own High Vincent who appeared in a number of photographs!) have been dedicated over the last few years. Chris shared with us the progress and the finds that have been made year by year, allowing the archaeologists to gradually build a picture of exactly where the house stood, what it was made of and how large it was. Many thanks to Chris for such a well-structured and engaging talk.

On the evening of 18th September, Tim Medhurst had us all mesmerised during his talk, sharing his love of a selection of his own antiques – including a 17th century bible and an early 19th century golden witch’s ball (a bit like a giant Christmas bauble!) – and then very skilfully and knowledgeably commenting on and valuing some intriguing antiquities that members of the audience had brought in. Tim is such an engaging, warm and entertaining speaker; we hope that this is not the last that we see of him in Church House!

It was a full house for our talk on 17th July – The History of a Road – Pinford Lane, given expertly by Jim Hart. The depth and robustness of his research was so impressive and we were completely absorbed as he led us through the history of this important route linking not only Sherborne and Milborne Port, but also Exeter and London. There was so much to be learnt but Jim had structured his presentation so carefully that we were able to follow with ease the metaphorical journey along Pinford Lane for many hundreds of years. Many thanks to Jim for such an excellent and information presentation.

Many thanks to Jane Daggett and Hugh Vincent who supported Nathalie Hetherington for the talk – Remembering the Poor of Milborne Port – on 19th June. It was a mammoth task to do justice to the huge amount of material available on the challenges faced by the poor since records began. There was particular interest from the audience in Hugh’s tokens – a form of currency used by the poorer sections of society – and one highlight of the evening came from the current occupier of the former workhouse in Brook Street, who quipped that it is still a workhouse…! We all knew what she meant… For those of you who attended and asked about the Shapcott orphans, we are carrying out some further research to try to find out what happened to them and will let you know what – if anything – we discover.

A guided walk of The Original Milborne Port was led by Dr Lesley Wray on 12th June and it was a thoroughly enjoyable event! The weather could not have been better and it was such a pleasure to be led through the summer streets on a gorgeous summer evening. There were plenty of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ at the historical gems that Lesley shared. To see the pictures that were used to show the village in days gone by, click here for the landscape batch and here for the portrait batch (pictures 8, 10 + 15). For Lesley’s notes (she wants you to know that they are her rough notes for the walk and not a literary masterpiece!), click here.

On Monday 15th May, Dr Lesley Wray and John Fanning gave us a thoroughly researched whistle-stop tour through the history of the significant impact of Religion in Milborne Port. Religion touched on all aspects of people’s lives for hundreds of years and we learnt so much about how national (and sometimes international) events, decisions and characters affected villagers here and shaped their world. Many thanks to Lesley and John for such an informative and thought-provoking presentation.

I think it safe to say that no-one who attended our April talk will ever be able to look at a thatched roof again in the same way! The Craft of Thatching, Now and Then was a truly fascinating talk given by retired thatcher and Newtown resident (where else….?), Graham Cook; not only has Graham made thatching his lifetime’s work but he has also researched the subject in great depth since retirement. His illustrated talk took us through the whole process of thatching and its history, much of which he could relate directly to our area – the materials, the tools (many examples of which he brought with him to show us), the methods of thatching, the considerable skills and the people. Graham has more to teach us and we have already booked him in for another talk next year! If you would like to learn more about Graham’s research, take a look at his great website: www.thatchinginfo.com

The illustrated talk on 20th March by Maurice Gee was entitled Shepton Mallet Prison – A History and offered a quirky and sometimes harrowing insight into the speaker’s career and knowledge as a prison officer, and an account of his experiences in his current role as a tour guide at ‘The Mallet’.  The former prison is now a tourist attraction with a long history, from its time as a House of Correction in 1625, through the Victorian expansion, up to its formal closure in 2013; we heard stories of its top-secret role in World War Two, of the infamous Kray Twins, and some of its paranormal ‘residents’! 

In February, Jeremy Barker gave an excellent presentation on James Thornhill (born 1675/76) and his obelisk, first setting the scene with a musical quiz. Thornhill was made Sergeant-Painter, and knighted by George I, in 1720. His considerable success as a painter enabled him to purchase his old family manor at Thornhill, just outside Stalbridge, which had previously been lost to the family. Here he designed and had erected a magnificent obelisk to honour the coronation of George II and Queen Caroline; it was also a clear symbol of his success, powerful connections and affluence. Fingers crossed that a visit to Thornhill House is to follow

January’s illustrated talk was given by Ted Udall, Secretary of the Somerset and Dorset Family History Society with the title How Did They Get There? Ted is an experienced and highly engaging speaker and the hour-long talk sped by! Speeding, however, was not a problem on the highways and byways of Somerset and Dorset of the past! We might grumble about the state of the roads, or the train schedules, but we take our ability to travel at speed very much for granted. In the past, travel was very different and our ancestors faced problems we seldom encounter today. We should also be grateful that the parishioners of Milborne Port in 2023 are not expected to devote four days a year of their own time to maintain the A30!


2022

On Monday 21st November, in celebration of the bicentenary or its beginnings, Dr Lesley Wray and Nathalie Hetherington talked about the historic area of Newtown, from ancient farmland to a garden city. It has links with the Battle of Waterloo, Ven House and the Medlycott family, tales of extensive bribery and corruption, bodies in wells, as well as the social history of families, buildings and change over the centuries. To buy a booklet on the topic, follow this link: http://milborneporthistory.org.uk/publications-and-resources/

At our October 17th talk, Allan Bunyan gave us an introduction to life in Somerset during the 17th century. His engaging talk started with the Somerset tsunami of 1607, leading to the English Civil War, followed by the trial of local witches and finished with the Monmouth Rebellion. This certainly was a period where people were affected by events that were largely out of their control, in some ways similar to our situation today! Allan has recently published his book entitled ‘Somerset: A Troubled Century 1600-1699’.

On 19th September, we were delighted to be educated in ‘house whispering’! If you don’t know your stretcher bond from your header bond to your garden wall bond, John Rickard from the Somerset Vernacular Building Research Group is your man… We’re talking brickwork here… What John doesn’t know about how to ‘read’ a Somerset house from before 1850 (more or less) is probably not worth knowing. He gave us a wonderful presentation on how to ‘look’ properly at a building in order to understand it: doors, windows, attics, fireplaces, staircases, and so much more. Imagine it being just a twinkle in its builder’s eye and trace its inevitable change over time. He also encouraged us to take nothing for granted, to look for the unusual features and to know the historical and social context of a building in order to fully know it. But even then, we must be prepared to ask questions that simply cannot be answered… If we learnt anything, it is that house whispering is just as much an art as it is a science. If you have an interest in old houses and you have an eye for detail, you too can be a ‘house whisperer’…

If you would like a flavour of the type of research carried out by John and his group, follow the link to what they discovered about one of Milborne Port’s most historically significant buildings, hiding in plain sight on the High Street – you really would never have known…

http://milborneporthistory.org.uk/…/14-17-HIGH-STREET.pdf

Our get-together on August 15th was a bit of a departure from our usual talk format, being an entirely Milborne Port-based evening, partly historical and partly social!

We displayed photos of village locations on the walls and attendees identified their whereabouts in the village. On the tables, there was also be a series of group event photographs, past and relatively present, which inspired reminiscences; some even spotted themselves or relatives in them!

It was great fun, and a raffle and the sale of leaflets, booklets and stationery raised much needed funds for the group!

On Thursday 14th July, there were sun-filled morning and afternoon guided tours of the gardens at Ven House, followed by a delicious afternoon tea in the converted stables building (we had it on good authority that the jam on the scones was made from fruit grown in the kitchen garden!) What a treat this event was for those attending! The gardeners who conducted the tour were very knowledgeable and clearly had an enormous passion for their work, the results of which could be seen in the information about the history of the house and gardens that they conveyed, and in the impressive variety of design and planting of the beautiful formal gardens, wildlife areas, water features, kitchen garden and mini farm area, where a gaggle of Jemima Puddleducks paraded up and down! So many flower varieties that we lost count! We are hoping to be able to offer this event again in the future. Many thanks to Mike Fisher and Lord Charles Allen of Ven House for their hospitality.

The weather could not have been kinder for our June event when Lesley Wray and John Fanning provided a three-part journey through the history of St John’s Church and its churchyard – from Anglo Saxon times to today – starting with a briefing in Church House, then moving to a lesson on the church’s architecture from the outside, finishing in the church itself for more intriguing facts and anecdotes about its internal structures. The evening culminated in our group’s Annual General Meeting back at Church House.

At our May meeting, Helen Baggott revealed the true stories behind postcards sent in the early years of the 20th century. Using genealogy, Helen had researched the families to reveal their stories, which included a 10-year-old servant working for a laundress in 19th-century Bath and the man who helped keep the doors to Great Ormond Street Hospital open for more than 30 years. Also, a soldier killed in the
First World War. All connected by messages sent using the first real social media phenomenon of the 20th century. A fascinating evening.

A Tale of Two Villages:  On Easter Monday, we organised two guided walks. In the afternoon, we joined
Nathalie and Valerie to hear about the history of Kingsbury Regis and of the buildings and structures that make up this part of the village. A big ‘thank you’ to those residents who kindly stepped outside and told us themselves about the history of their houses. The walk then took us to the site of the manor of Swatchford, home to Edward Hallett in the 1740s. Here we learnt about the complex of buildings that have now disappeared and about the life of this interesting man. The evening walk was led by Lesley and John when we learnt about the origins of Milborne Port.

Lesley Wray and Nathalie Hetherington very kindly stepped into the breach when our speaker for March, Ted Udall, contracted Covid. Lesley gave us an insight into the Commonalty from its origins in the 14th century and its growth and development up to the present, making it one of the oldest charities in Somerset. She ended her talk in the lower room of the Guildhall, which from 1854 was converted to the village lock-up. Here we met one of its likely regulars, Milborne Port’s Victorian arch-criminal, Samuel Fudge. Nathalie chartered what should have been ‘a life on the ocean wave’ to one which became a sorry tale of opportunist petty theft, organised crime, prison hard labour and a daring escape and recapture. As far as we know, Samuel Fudge is still on the run so if you chance upon him please let us know. He is described as being 5-5’ 3”, scar on his forehead and has a deformed thumb… You can’t miss him…

In February, in a charismatic story-telling, Nathalie Hetherington gave us a glimpse of the life and times of Thomas Medlycott and Tattle Hall (aka Ven House), informed by the letters of 1739-1746 written to his agent and friend Edward Hallett (‘My Dear Ned’). Medlycott was a barrister and Member of Parliament for Milborne Port. Not unlike most people of today, he was preoccupied with domestic arrangements, transport, finances, staff and his relationships with others.

The January talk, Alan Stone talked to us about Glastonbury Abbey and separated fact from fiction surrounding the origins of the Abbey and the burial of Arthur and Guinevere. Unfortunately, due to lockdown, Alan has not as yet returned to guiding at the Abbey, so he was unable to wear his monk’s habit – perhaps next time? Or maybe we will have to arrange a trip up to Glastonbury to visit the Abbey and try his cider!


2021

In November, the writer Rosie Lear gave a captivating talk about her series of murder-mystery novels set in and around Sherborne in medieval times; her main character, Matthias Barton, lives in Milborne Port! It was so interesting to learn about why she chose to give him a home in our own village and about the very careful historical research that has gone into each of her five stories (the sixth is currently being written). Rosie is clearly a great lover of history and is very knowledgeable about this period. She talked about her writing processes and methods, and, having come late in life to historical fiction writing, certainly would have inspired and motivated those in the audience who had been nursing a desire to write but not yet had the courage to grasp that literary bull by the horns!

Salisbury Cathedral Tower Guide and our group’s Chairman, Harold Clarke, presented the October talk ‘History of Salisbury Cathedral in Five Objects’.  He took us from the original cathedral in Sherborne, to to its relocation in Old Sarum to its present site in Salisbury (New Sarum).  He drew a vivid picture of the life and work of the medieval stone masons who erected the building in the space of a record 38 years; he described the later, misguided ‘improvements’ and the cathedral’s connection to the Magna Carta.  His explanation of the Golden Ratio and its connection to Fibonacci’s rabbits was particularly intriguing!

Our September speaker was Tim Medhurst, a regular on the BBC’s Antiques Road Trip. He told us how his love of antiques developed and shared with us some of his favourite treasures. Several people brought items along which Tim appraised and we all learned something new!

Our August talk was given by the ever-popular Richard Duckworth; he gave us a wonderful view of Milborne Port through pictures and film over the past 150 years.

After the Covid lockdown ended in July, Jim Hart gave our first talk of the year on the subject of local parish boundaries. This was a fascinating presentation and provoked lively discussion at the end of the meeting.

Some Previous Talks & Events

We were treated to a fascinating talk on the English Civil War in Dorset by Richard Warren, retired History teacher from Sherborne Boys’ School Richard not only covered Dorset’s experience during the Civil War, he also encouraged us to see the Cerne Giant and its origins in a totally different light!

Hugh Vincent, our local metal detectorist, organised another brain-teaser of a quiz to test our understanding of his local finds. One of our committee members, James Roberts, came out on top and impressed us all with his knowledge.

Jeremy Barker gave a fascinating talk on Sir James Thornhill of Thornhill Park near Stalbridge. Sir James was clearly a very talented man and hopefully Jeremy will be able to organise a visit for our members to Thornhill Park in the future.

A pleasant Summer event was had by one and all at the ‘Evening at the Museum’; it was great to just look at some of the exhibits, have a chat and a glass of Pimm’s with friends.

Loyalty, Dignity and Hope was the title of our ‘in house’ presentation by Lesley Wray, Janet Mathews, Mary Clothier, Nathalie Hetherington and Lyn Harrison; they provided an entertaining talk with many interesting facts and photographs of local Suffragettes and Suffragists, illustrating how these fitted in with the national picture. Click here to download a copy of the presentation material.

Richard Duckworth provided a fascinating and informative talk on West country steam trains and the railway along with slides, film clips and a wonderful complimentary audio accompaniment, including some wonderful footage of steam trains passing through Milborne Port and Sherborne stations.  This was a fund-raising event for us and we were able to raise over £240 to provide new and more professional signage for the Museum.

John Fanning and Lesley Wray gave us a sunny summer evening guided tour of St. John’s Church and we learnt new and interesting facts about the building, both inside and out.