Under Blackdown

It's now nearly 50 years since this little booklet was created to celebrate the Centenary of Portesham Church School and 100 years of Portesham history.

Copyright ©  2020  portesham.org.uk - All Rights Reserved

Under Black Down,

Though fleet to some,

Slowly passing years

Bring little change

In beauty, peace and form.

And, behind the lovely Dorset stone,

Bartlett and Joliffe, Hodder and Mayo

Still live, envied by those who,

To escape the fumes and crashing gears

Turn from the coast roads summer stream,

To discover our calm.

But change must come to all

And even Portesham must move on,

Reluctantly.

So let us here preserve

Something of the last hundred years,

So that all will not be lost . . . .
 

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

Portesham is a village and parish of 4,511 acres, eight miles South West from Dorchester and 7 miles North West from Weymouth, in the hundred of Uggescombe. Its population, in 1851 census was 767, the highest it had ever been since records were kept, probably because there were more cottages in the village, the families were larger and there was less tendency for them to move away. It is interesting to note from the following population table the reversal of the male to female ratio:

1861 704

1911 550-289 males & 261 females.

1951 419-195 males & 224 females.

1961 412, the lowest ever recorded

 

The parish includes the hamlets of Friar Waddon, Corton, Coryates, Little Waddon and Shilvinghampton. These were all, anciently manors and hamlets, but now are farms.

 

HISTORY

KING CANUTE'S CHARTER TO ORC

A.D. 1023

(Translation)

“JESUS CHRIST”

This fleeting life is so full of worldly miseries and by (various) imperfections consumed and wasted by trouble that in cases of premature death very many, alas! are dragged unprepared into eternity. But it is evident that all of those who are truly wise must labour by all known means that, avoiding the filth of the devil, we may be worthy to attain the most pleasing fellowship of a life of contemplation.

Wherefore I, Canute, by the grace and favoring clemency of Almighty God, King of all the English and Ruler and Governor of other nations dwelling around, have with willing peace bestowed with perpetual liberty a certain part of the country, to wit, seven hides (manses) of land in a place to which the country men of that land have given the name PORTESHAM, to my servant whom his acquaintances and (friends have been used to call ORC) for his amiable fidelity and willing mind, so that he may have perpetually possess the same as long as his life shall continue . . . and it shall be lawful to him to leave (the same) to his heir . . . (And) the before named village shall be free with all things thereto rightly appertaining in fields and feedings, meadows and watercourses ; three things only excepted (that is to say), the restoration of a . . . (document decayed) . . . a bridge, and a fortification”

+ I Canute King of the English have signed this munificence with the sign of the Holy Cross.

(Endorsed by 36 signatures . . . of Archbishop, Bishop, Dux, Abbots, Priests and Ministers.)

 

As Orc and his wife, Thola, had no children, Portesham was bequeathed to the Monastery at Abbotsbury until the Dissolution of Monasteries in 1539. The Rectory and Manor were then given to William Paulet, Lord St. John, and remained in the family of Paulets until between the years of 1731 and 1742, when they were sold to William Biscoe, of London, who sold them to Joseph Hardy.

of Portesham.

 

The neighbourhood of Portesham was much affected during the Civil War. In 1644 Sir Edward Walgrave was quartered with his regiment of horse at Bridport when he was surprised by Parliament troops. However, he engaged them near Portesham, slew some and took forty horses and a cornet. This fighting may have accounted for the two lead musket balls recently extracted from the south door of the church.

 

An interesting epitaph on the south wall of the church suggests that the Roundheads may have pillaged the farm of William Weare, a parishioner.

"William Weare lies heere in dust as thou and I and all men must."

"Over plundered by Sabaean force, "Some cald it war, but others worse.

"With confidence he pleads his cause "And, Kings, to be above those laws.

"Septembeber's eyghth day died hee "When neare the date of 63'' Anno Domini 1670.

 

At this same timed we had two other notable parishioners. Sir Andrew Riccard, Kt., who went to sea as a lad and became an eminent merchant and President of the East India and Turkey Companies. He died in 1672 and although he was buried under the altar in the Church of Saint Olave, in the City of London, his hatchment still hangs in the north aisle of the church. He chose as his motto the single Latin word "POSSUM" (I am able) in memory of his birthplace and his achievements.

On the highest point in the parish, the summit of Black Down, it was decided, in 1844, to erect a monument to Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy, Bart, G.C.B., who was captain of H.M.S. Victory at the battle of Trafalgar, and whose home was at Portesham. His epitaph at Greenwich reads as follows: "Eminent for judgement and self possession ; Ever anxious for the improvement of the service to which he devoted himself; Equal to all its difficulties and duties, and conversant with its minutest details. The name of this gallant and distinguished officer will descend to posterity as one of the noblest ornaments of the profession to which England is so much indebted for security and renown.

 

THE LANDSCAPE

The Portesham scenery is dominated on its northern boundaries by the Upper Chalk ridge of Bronkham Hill and the Ridgeway, running west to east. The soil on this formation is fertile, except where it is very thin. It is, by nature, grassland supporting a rich and varied flora. Formerly sheepgrazing, this land has been extensively ploughed up and the grass downward replaced by arable fields.

 

On the top of the chalk ridge there is a covering of sand and gravel, thought to be derived from the Bagshot Beds. In contrast to the chalk and limestone, this yields an infertile and acid soil, covered with heather and bracken. It forms most of Black Down with the Hardy memorial at its summit. A few sheep are still raised here but in 1936 most of this land was leased to the Forestry Commission.

Much is now planted with pine trees and in a few years these will have grown up and completely changed the landscape. Sand and gravel have in the past been dug out of this formation and the old pits are still to be seen in various places, notably below the Hardy memorial.

 

On the southern slopes this hillside changes its aspect because of a ''fault'' in the ground; that is to say, in geological times, the earth cracked and one part fell lower than the other, folded up and even turned upside down. The top of the fault on Black Down is Puerbeck Limestone, a very hard rock which is evident in its cliffs and rocks at Portesham quarry, Corton and Friar Waddon.

 

Like the chalk, this gives a neutral soil, covered with grassland, formerly sheep pasture, but in suitable places one finds some arable land. Mostly it is too stony and rocky to plough. It is this formation that has been quarried for its building stone and limeburning.

 

In the old Portesham quarry there are many fossils, the most interesting being an old Calamite or Giant Horsetail, known locally as the "Elephant's Tusk". The remains of the old limekiln can also still be seen here.

 

Below the cliffs and slopes of the Purbeck Limestones the ground flattens and it is composed of the so-called Kimmeridge Beds, which give rise to a well-watered clay soil producing a rich Grass land. Much of this has also been ploughed and the fields at tames enlarged. In contrast to the sheep grazing of the hillside this was probably always cattle country. This is indicated by the frequency of buildings and farms bearing the name of "Dairy". This formation extends northwards over the boundary of the parish. As well as variations of clay and sand, here may also be found "Cemented Stones'' which are layers of sandstone pressed together to form large slabs which split very easily and can often be seen in the stone walls with the Purbeck Limestone.

 

Another feature of special interest in this formation is a bed of oil-bearing shale, which extends from Goosehill Dairy to Friar Waddon, on a line parallel to, and north of, the old railway. This was discovered in 1856 near Portesham Dairy at 14 feet but only a few tons were dug out. A pit was also sunk east of The Buildings but was quickly drowned out. Some shale also was dug when making the railways and it was used as ballast. The Manfield Shaft was sunk in 1883 but after running dry for some depths through the shale, water burst in from the sides and it was also drowned out. Further attempts were made to exploit this shale for its oil in 1908 and 1916, but difficulties were again experienced with the abundance of water, and workings have now been abandoned. Remains of some of these borings may be seen between Waddon and Corton.

 

Of interest also are the Sarsen Stones. These are formed of angular flints and a sandy conglomerate, cemented together in a very hard siliceous matrix. They are thought to have been formed in the Bagshot Beds and have been swept down the hillside with mud and water from the melting ice after the Ice Age. They are to be seen in plenty down Rocky Lane, at the side of Portesham stream, in the school playground, in the churchyard and are incorporated into the foundations of many of the houses in Front Street. They are extremely hard and presented a great problem to the contractors laying the water main and later the main sewer, when some 25 huge Sarsens were dug up and carried away.

These stones have also been transported and incorporated into the cromlechs and stone-circles of ancient times. Well known ones are the "Grey Mare and Her Colts'' the "Nine Stones'' and the Kingston Russell Stone Circle, all in neighbouring parishes, and the Hell Stones on Portesham Hill. This last cromlech or burial place was re-erected from the scattered stones by the Dorset Field Club about 1894, and gives a good picture of what such places were like.

 

WILD LIFE

During the recent survey the school children reported the following wild birds and animals in the parish : swan, heron, buzzard, pheasant, partridge, French partridge, sparrow hawk, kestrel, green plover, golden plover? woodcock, snipe, mallard, carrion crow, rook, jackdaw, magpie, jay, wood pigeon, dove, cuckoo, teal, mistle thrush, garden thrush, blackbird, bullfinch, ring ouzel, Greenwich, goldfinch, chaffinch, whitethroat, willow warbler, grey wagtail, pied wagtail, great tit, wallow tit, blue tit, tree creeper, yellowhammer, green woodpecker, spotted woodpecker, wren, robin, house sparrow, hedge sparrow, kingfisher, black cap, chiff chaff swallow, house martin, swift, woodhen, barn owl, little owl, brown owl, fieldfare, redwing, linnet, wheatear, and goldcrest.

The older villagers remember that, on the rare occasions when wild geese were seen flying over the village, severe weather in- variably followed.

The wild animals included red deer, badger, fox, hare, rabbit, hedgehog, stoat, weasel, rat, water rat, mouse, shrew, mole, field mouse, and grey squirrel.

The hills were covered with rabbit warrens, but in common with other areas, about sixteen years ago myxomatosis wiped out the rabbit population.

 

Butterflies are now scarce compared with the days before modern insecticides were used, and the little blue and chalk blue butterflies which used to be so prolific on the hills, are now rarely seen. The hillsides were also covered with tiny snails, which used to give liver fluke to the sheep. These are now scarce.

 

THE FLOWERS

Unlike its neighbours, Portesham cannot boast of any exceedingly rare flowers. Nevertheless, in the land that remains unploughed there are several uncommon and interesting plants. The type of soil largely determines the kind of flower that grows on it, and as already pointed out there are four zones of soil in the parish.

 

1, The Chalk Down.

2, The heartland of Black Down.

3, The rocky Purbeck Limestone.

4, The well watered Kimmeridge Clay in the valley.

 

On the chalk grassland may be found cowslips, prim- roses, orchids such as the green-winged and the early purple, the meadow dropwort, and in shady places anemone, sanicle. Unfortunately there is hardly any of this grassland remaining unploughed and there are no woodlands nor ponds, so many of the chalk down flowers common elsewhere cannot now be found in the very restricted area left.

Flowers of a very different kind are found on Black Down.

They are plants of acid soils and, therefore, lime haters, most conspicuous of which are the heather, heath, wood sage, red rattle, tormentil, certain sedges and grasses, gorse, foxgloves, harebell. The introduced rosebay willow herb is often abundant. Bluebells abound in certain places which usually seem to be in the vicinity of the junction of the sandy and chalky soils.

Most of the natural wild flora remains on the limestone rocks, and cliffs. Here again is a neutral limestone. Chalk-loving flowers are abundant, some of which, like the felwort, the carline thistle, the great knapweed, ploughman's spikenard, and the stemless thistle, are not seen elsewhere in the parish. Other plants such as thyme, marjoram, hoary plantain, nodding thistle, are commoner on this formation than on any others. The soil is, on the whole dry but where the springs issue at the base of the limestone, watercress and water celery are often abundant.

The most varied flora is, however, seen on the Kimmeridge Clay though here again much has been exterminated by the plough and the cutting of the roadside verges. One rather rare plant that may be found abundantly in hedgerow and coppice, is a pale blue iris, whose flower may pass unnoticed but, in the winter, its bright red seeds make it conspicuous. It is often called the "Roast Beef Plant'' because its leaves when rubbed yield that characteristic odour. Where not overgrown, the old railway is a sanctuary for many flowers. Here may be found the bee orchid, cowslips, yellow rattle, and the rare grass vetchling, while the butterfly orchid grows in a copse nearby. The mellilot, with a scent of new-mown hay, now covers the old permanent way and must have spread from elsewhere since the railway was closed. Also introduced by Goosehill is a purple wood-ruff-like plant known as Pholcrus. Here and in other waste places is the somewhat rare spotted medick with hooked hedgehog-like fruits.

In this district, the small streams have their own characteristic flora of watercress, water parsnip, water dropwort, comfrey, while on the bands are yellow iris, great willow-herb, brooklime, water speedwell, figwort, water mint, and many others. There is very little in the way of woodland. but in the small plantations are primroses, anemones, yellow deadnettle, violets, early purple orchid, woodruff, and sometimes the roast-beef plant.

Of course, there are many other common plants spread all over the area that are not particular about the soil or moisture. A list of these is hardly justified in a pamphlet like this.

THE VILLAGE SCENE

What Portesham looked like at the end of the last century may be gathered from the plates.

Plate 1 shows clearly the approach to the village from the Weymouth Road. On our left lies the pleasaunce of Mr. Manfield's garden, on our right the estate workshop with the museum above.

Plate 2 shows Portesham House from the pleasaunce. Facing the cross-roads is the village green with its stacks of furze, one for each cottage. 'The road on the left leads past Maltkiln and Goosehill cottages to Elworth and Abbotsbury.

To the left of the green is the lane known as New Road (as seen in Plate 3) , over the ford towards Smoky Hole and the Chapel erected in 1867 and thence to Back Street; whilst the right-hand road leads us past the Kings Arms up Front Street.

Plate 4 shows us the Church Tower , the School House and Front Street. Right opposite the school is the old Reading Room, now a private house, "The Green'' whither the men and boys resorted on winter evenings.

Close to Blagdon House is the footpath leading to the Butts, no doubt where archery practice was held in bygone days.

To the left of Front Street, on a little eminence we see the Parish Church which has been standing there since before the Norman Conquest. 

From this spot, plate 6 shows the view up Front Street with Chestnut Cottage, where once was the Dame School, Half Moon Inn and Trafalgar House on our right, leading up to the Fountain Inn and the New Buildings at the top. Adjoining New Buildings there stood an ancient pigeon house, the foundations of which still remain.

Bram Lane is now no longer a quiet village lane, but the busy main road to Weymouth. As the willow trees rotted they were cut down, and the Estate workshop has been replaced by a garage built an 1920 and the village hall built in 1930.

There were various shops in the village: a butcher's where the Temperance Hall was later built; three bakers: a carpenter, wheelwright and an undertaker; a grocery store and the agency for the "Braiding'' or net making at Tudor Cottage, since destroyed by fire; a blacksmith, next to the Half Moon; a tailor, a bootmaker and a coal merchant.

Beer was brewed at the Fountain Inn (now Portesham Stores) and at the Brew House, the building which adjoins the Manor House. Barley was locally grown and hops were brought in farm wagons from the Devenish Brewery in Weymouth.

THE FARMING SCENE

It was natural that the main work carried on in the village was connected with the farm. Without the machinery available now the work was inevitably arduous and long.

A hundred years ago working hours for farm labourers were from 6 am to 6 pm. There were no holidays, but Sunday was free except for looking after the needs of livestock. Wages were 12 shillings for a carter, 11 shillings for a labourer, whilst a shepherd was paid 13 shillings.

If a labourer wanted to change employment, he would to the Candlemas Fair at Dorchester in February, in the hope of being hired. The following account is taken from the Dorset Chronicle of February, 1868: "As usual a motley mob of labourers of all description congregated in High West Street for hire; and although the baneful system has been spoken against ... the supply of labour did not seem to be in the least degree abated when compared with former years. Good hands were in request; but the labour market seemed to be greatly overstocked."

For those successful in getting new employment, "Old Lady day''- the 1st April - was "moving day'' . . "Monday last was marked by the customary migration of farm servants and their families from one employ to another. Large number of wagons, laden with household furniture and effects passed through the town (Dorchester) during the day . . . ''

 

Sheep farming was the principle enterprise.

Although Mr. Manfield and Mr. Symes sheared their own sheep, there was, in Portesham, a sheep shearing gang who sheared from Abbotsbury to Bincombe, and some flocks at Ashton and Martinstown. The gang consisted of Mr. James Chipp the foreman, together with Mr. Henry Chipp, Mr. Harry Hodder, Mr. George Dunford and Mr.George Watts. Each man had his own special job and the gang was paid 17 shillings per hundred, the money, being shared out at the end. On the average, the working day lasted from 7 am. to 9 p.m., with each man shearing about 34 sheep daily. When sheep were nipped, one of the gang, "the chap to mind the bottle stick" would come along with a stick topped with wool, dipped in oil, which was dabbed on the spot to stop the bleeding. Machine shearing came into use in this area during the 1950s.

 

There was quite a ritual at the beginning of the day. The beer barrel was brought in; everyone had a drink; and only then would the shearing begin. At that time, beer was 1 1/2p a pint. In later years the gang became teetotal, and apparently the number of sheep sheared per man per day rose to 45 or 50. The custom then was for the farmer to bring in a jar of cider at the end. (Plate 13.)

Hay was cut with scythes. Mr. Hallett, employed by Mr. Symes, had a team of mowers who "swung the scythe'' from the end of May to September, beginning with clover cutting, then copsing thistles, and finally the corn harvest. Pig manure was used as booster for hay.

Ploughing was done in teams, with a carter holding the plough and the "boy" leading the horses; everything had to travel in a line along the furrow in order not to poach the clay. Mr. Canfield kept a four oxen team yoked together two by two. Edmund Mantels of Portesham, won £2 prize at the Dorchester Agricultural Society Exhibition for ploughing 1/2 acre with two horses October 1868.

Wheat, which had been sewn by a seedlip, an oval shaped container strapped on a man's back, was cut with a sickle, tied in bundles, usually by the women, and taken into barns. There these bundles were placed along the length of a special stool and held in place by a wooden arm. The foreman came along with a sharp hook to cut off the ears which fell on to a sheet. The smooth straw, of uniform length, left on the stool was tied into bundles for thatching. The ears of corn were threshed with a flail, which was known to be still in use in the village a century ago; or a threshing machine was used. Two men were usually responsible for it and the farmer would hire some "strappers" to complete the "gang".

The Dorset Chronicle reports that the summer of 1868 was an extremely hot one. Several people in the county, including Mr. Joseph Tompkins, Mr. Symes' groom died of sunstroke; thermometer meter readings were at least ten degrees higher than at the same time in 1867; on a nearby farm, wheat was cut by the 6th July and threshed by 16th July. The root crops, however, suffered from the drought. The Dorset Chronicle comments, "The promise of an abundant harvest is present to every farmer: but then comes the important question, what is to become of the boiled mutton of the future, if no garniture of carrots and turnips exist, for caper sauce alone will not supply the deficiency.''

Foot and Mouth epidemic spread to Portesham in 1870, and a local farmer was reported as having 59 cows and 7 swine infected with it, but the animals were not slaughtered and Poundbury Fair was still held.

 

RECORD RAINFALL

Little did Portesham people realise, during the evening of July 18th 1955, that they were experiencing the heaviest rainfall ever recorded in Great Britain. The thunder- storm started soon after four and by nine o'clock it was over. Many houses in the village were flooded, especially at Goose Hill; and the road at Coryates was washed out to a depth of nearly ten feet.

Seven years later, the village was cut off by snow drifts for more than a week, and bread was flown out by R.N. helicopters from Portland.

 

 

FARMING

With soils and landscape so varied as it is in Portesham it is inevitable that there was a great variety of farming enterprises.

 

PORTESHAM FARM , which included the present day Marsh Farm and Clover Farm, comprised five to six hundred acres in all, and was farmed by Mr. William Manfield who lived at Portesham House. Thirty-two men were employed including a bailiff, a black- smith, three carters with four horses each, a carpenter, gardener and groom. Cows and sheep were the main livestock kept, but at least 100 pigs were kept at Blackdown Barn. At his dairy at Marsh Farm, butter and cheese were made and sold in the towns; for at that time there was no milk collection from the village. The butter- milk and whey were fed to the pigs. About 1911, Haywards Nursery started milk collecting with two horses and a drey. The cattle, mainly Devon Reds, were kept in yards at night and let out to pasture on the hill by day; the dry cows were kept in the straw yards and fed on turnips and swedes.

 

MANOR FARM, including Elworth Farm, was 900 acres farmed by Mr. Isaac Symes who specialised in sheep. Annually about 1,500 sheep were sheared in the barn by Manor Farm House. Most of these were Dorset Down Sheep, their market price then being 20s. to 30s. for ewes, and 18s. to 22s. for lambs. Linseed cake was fed to fat lambs, and cotton. cake and crushed corn to the ewes. Four to five acres of beans and peas were grown also as fodder for the lambs. Barley, oats and a little wheat grown on about 200 acres of his land were used for malting and cattle fodder.

Twenty-two men were employed including a head shepherd and his assistant.

TRAFALGAR FARM was a small holding fanned by Mr. Bartlett, who kept 10 cows and some pigs. Butter and cheese, commonly called ''goods'' were made in the dairy opposite and sold locally. (See plate 9. ) The cows were milked by hand at the top of the village on the green by the Springhead.

THE LOWER DAIRY, GOOSEHILL, was owned by Mr. Symes, but it was rented out to a dairyman under a system unique to Dorset. The dairyman rented a certain number of cows at a fixed price per year, the rent being paid quarterly. The farmer provided sufficient cake for the year, and as the hay was grown on the dairy land, the dairyman had free use of it. The "goods" made were sold to a provisioner in Weymouth for the dairyman's own benefit. The butter was rolled in half pounds to sell at 8d. to 10d. per pound; cheese was sold at 25s. to 30s. per hundred- weight. Prior to the first World War the rent for a cow was £17, but it increased during this war to £29. If the dairyman wanted to terminate his lease, three months notice had to be given. If the notice was not handed in before noon, the farmer could compel him to stay another twelve months. This Lower Dairy was at one time a mill, but by 1868, it had ceased to grind corn and the mill wheel was employed only for turning the butter churn. It is interesting to note that this mill was mentioned in Domesday Book as "worth 10 solidos clear and not more because in summer they cannot grind corn for want of water''

 

THE WORKING DAY

Though the chief industry was naturally farming there were some other occupations.

The QUARRIES to the north of Winter's Lane, owned by the Manfields were put to good use for their limestone, which is known as ashler, when dressed and prepared for use in the building of the cottages in the village, the school, the engine sheds, the bridges, and the station. After the opening of the railway, a tramway, run by a pulley system, was built to transport the stone from the quarry to the main railway line. The trucks of stone were let down on ropes from the top of the hill, and the weight of this operation pulled the empty trucks up on the other side.

Some of the Portesham men worked in the Portland Quarries; their pay was £1 a week, and their work consisted of "capping'' (removing the top layer of earth from the stone underneath), as only the Portlanders were allowed to handle the building stone.

The Jolliffe family came to the village in the late 18th century as LIME BURNERS. The limestone was chipped out with iron bar and picks, and put into kilns in alternate layers with coke, and fired until it turned to powder. Coke was brought from Weymouth by cart, but later by rail. Eventually the kilns were taken over by the Manfield family, who employed men to work them.

The lime was bagged up in bushel baskets and sold at one shilling a bushel; slack lime was loaded on to wagons which held about four to five tons and sold by the load.

 

BOOTMAKING was very important in the village. The main bootmakers were the Dawe family. The leather was bought from a Mr. Medway, who tanned it at Salisbury. Mr. Jolliffe, the carrier, was hired by Mr. Dawe to bring back a large load of leather from Dorchester, when needed. A pair of boots cost 12 shillings, a labourer's wage for a week. Mr. Dawe often continued to make boots for them after they had left the village, and moved away to as far as Buckland Newton. These he would deliver at Portland.

Regular customers had their own individual lasts.

THE BLACKSMITH & THE WHEELWRIGHT worked at the top of Front Street (Plate 8), where all types of carts were made, the wheels for which were bonded outside the blacksmith's, on a bonding platform, which was removed only when alterations were made at the Half Moon Inn in the 1950s (see plate 12).

Wheels for heavy carts were cold-bonded. A flat iron bar was shaped to fit the wheel and sections of it were spiked on to the wheel, care being taken to see that the heads of the spikes were left protruding to give more gripping power to the wheel.

Light spring wagons, pony traps, and vans had wheels which were hot-bonded. The wheel was laid on the bonding platform with the hub fitting into the centre hollow. The correct length of a flat metal bar was measured, and the ends welded together to form a circle ; this was then heated in the forge until it had expanded just enough to slip over the wheel. At this precise moment, two men picked it up with tongs, dropped it round the wheel, hammered it on, poured cold water immediately on it to cause rapid shrinkage and to prevent the wheel from catching fire.

There was plenty of work for the THATCHER as most of the cottages were roofed in this way. The Dunford family, who lived at the Knapp, the house on the right of the ford (plate 3), were the chief thatchers, and they used both reed and straw. There was also Mr. William Kandall, thatcher to Mr. William Manfield.

It is recorded that on the 1st August, 1867, at the Dorchester Agricultural Society's annual exhibition, he was awarded £2 prize "to the labourer, not exercising the trade of a thatcher, who shall have done the thatching upon a farm for the longest period, in one person's employ, or on the same farm - 11 years - recommended by Mr. William Manfield, Portesham'' .

During the FISHING season, some men were employed at Langton Herring and Abbotsbury. Fish was regularly taken by cart to Poole, Blandford and Salisbury. In the winter, these men went as "strappers'', to do hedging, ditching, threshing, and any other casual jobs as required.

A TALLYMAN visited the village regularly from Dorchester, bringing samples of cloth from which clothes were made to order, the villagers paying him one shilling at a time.

GYPSIES came annually into the village to sweep chimneys and to sell pegs, heather, and other things.

 

A RAG-MAN paid a monthly visit. He collected rags and rabbit skins which he put in the middle of the cart, with cups and saucers, pots and pans outside for direct trading. Rabbit skins were also traded for oranges and baskets of fruit.

 

MOLE CATCHING was done during the First World War; "We used to go around the hedges looking for mole runs, with a short stick. Then we would put it down the hole instead of using our hands. In the main runs we would put traps to catch them before they got out in the fields to make mole heaps of earth. After catching them we would skin them, and nail them on a board to dry. After drying we sent them away to sell at a fur merchant. We would get so much a dozen."

 

Most women worked in the home and all their spare time was spent in BRAIDING or net making. In this the girls also helped after school and in the evenings. Although poorly paid for their work, it helped to contribute towards the household necessities. It is said that the children were taught braiding in school. The needles were usually made of wood, by their husbands, though some metal needles were in use. The headquarters of the net-making industry was Bridport. The agent, at one time Mr. Jolliffe, would bring the twine, of varying thickness, from Bridport once a week, and distribute it to the cottagers. 'They, in turn for their work would be paid in groceries from his grocer's shop.

Some women worked full-time on the farms or the dairies.

Others would help at threshing time, preparing the reeds and straw for thatching. After the harvest had been gathered in, the women and girls would go into the fields gleaning or "leasing". They walked systematically up and down the field picking up the remaining ears of corn. This was their property and the miller would grind it for them at a cheaper rate, thus providing flour for the home and meal for the pig, for most cottagers kept a pig, which was later salted down for pork.

 

THE FAMILY SCENE

The village was practically self-supporting. From the farms and dairies, milk, butter, cheese, and eggs could be purchased.

Much spare time was spent working in the allotments, where the boys were expected to help too. As most of the cottagers could not afford much meat, vegetables were a vital part of their diet. Cabbage and shallots were salted ; jam of gooseberries and blackcurrants were made for the store cupboard. There was also a plentiful supply of mackerel, which was also salted down in earthenware pans for winter use.

On 17th May, 1868, the Dorset Chronicle reports as follows : "At Bridport, immense quantities of mackerel have been taken during the past week, and on Saturday evening they were sold at the harbour for the exceedingly low price of 4s. for 100 prime fish '' At that time bread cost 8 1/2d for a 4lb. loaf. The Dorset Chronicle reports that the chief constable of Dorset had issued a public notice stating that bread, except French or fancy bread and rolls, had to be sold by weight, and that there were to be proper scales in the cart or shop, so that bread could be weighed in the presence of the purchaser; that if bread made of mixed meal and flour was not marked M, the baker was liable to a fine of 10s. for every pound of bread thus sold.

The cottages were mainly thatched and their accommodation consisted of a large living-room with a lean-to linney, and two other rooms upstairs. The living-room was probably furnished with a large whitewood table and chairs, a high-backed settle, and a large dresser with its decorative display of blue glazed ware plates and dishes, and a colourful array of assorted jugs, sauceboats, and cups. On the wails might hang a picture of Queen Victoria, a framed text, and a needlework sampler beautifully embroidered.

It is almost certain there would have been many framed pictures, depicting scenes of heroism, child innocence, Patience, Hope and Charity.

The fireplace had either an open fire or a small kitchen range.

There would be a black iron kettle by the side, and hanging from the chimney would be a crook on an adjustable ratchet, on which was hung the large iron pot. In one cottage a copper had been built alongside the range in a large chimney alcove. The mantel shelf would be high and often draped. On it, in the centre would be a decorative clock, and at either end would almost invariably be seen ornaments, dog comforters, and other treasures.

The cooking was done on the open fire or the range. In the iron pot suspended from the chimney was cooked the main meal of the day, which consisted of meat, potatoes, carrots or swedes, each tied up separately in a net, and left to simmer together. Sometimes mackerel would take the place of meat. Another time, a "skimmer cake'' might be cooked on top of the other foods. It was a dumpling mixture, which was spread out on a plate, placed over the other foods, or placed on the stew and cooked in the steam. A popular pudding was the roly-poly, which would be boiled in the pot in its own net, with the meat and vegetables.

The other meals consisted of bread, butter, cheese, and jam.

In some cases the menfolk returned at lunchtime for their main meal, but usually this meal was eaten in the evening.

On Sunday, there was a slight difference in the menu. The meat, usually pork, was roasted in the baker's oven, which was always kept warm at the week-end and the cottagers were thus able to have joints cooked slowly in it for the price of 6d.

 

Another Sunday treat was the dough cake. Dough was bought from the baker and taken home to be made into a dough cake, which was then returned to the baker's at one o'clock, and the cake was ready at 4 p.m. One of the few occasions the cottagers had beef was at Christmas when the farmer usually gave them a joint of beef.

With no labour-saving devices and with open fires or black ranges, housework was arduous, especially as all the water had to be carried and heated. The floor downstairs of rough and uneven flagstones was kept scrubbed ; the ironwork would need black-leading; there was plenty of mending and sewing to be done, for most of the clothes were home-made.

Water had to be fetched and carried in pails on shoulder yokes. There was a chute at the Springhead, and at the Green, but there was a well at Goosehill. A piped supply with street taps, which can still be seen, was put in at Queen Victoria's Jubilee. All the village drainage went into Portesham Stream, which became very polluted.

Dress contrasted greatly with town fashions. Over their trousers and shirts, the men wore smocks. These were made of strong, heavy stuff and beautifully smocked with the Dorset feather stitch. They had a collar, and an opening at the back and front, so that the garment could be turned round when one side became dirty.

A woman wore elastic sided shoes, bought from Weymouth. or button boots; wide legged cotton drawers or pantalettes, red or white petticoat, black stockings and a frock, over which was invariably worn a long white apron. On her head, a soft cotton bonnet was worn. This was made with very many tucks and piping in the crown, heavily quilted to frame the face, and a deep flounce to cover the neck.

 

The girls wore long pretty pinafores, some of broderie anglaise usually a wide brimmed straw hat and button lots.

 

The boys wore grey jackets, shirts with Eton collars, knee breeches, ankle boots and a cloth cap.

When a villager died, it was customary to toll the church bell very slowly, one strike for each year of the deceased's life. A village funeral was a solemn occasion, and a study of the church registers and gravestones reveals how high the mortality rate then was, when comparatively so many died as children or at middle age, Coffins were made by the local carpenter for which the parish rate was 30 shillings a coffin. It was carried on men's shoulders, or if for a distance, on farm carts. The bier, which is still in use, was bought at the end of last century. Every home on the route between the deceased's house and the church would have its window blinds drawn. People in the streets showed respect and courtesy by standing quite still as the coffin passed, men doffing their hats.

 

WELFARE

Portesham was in the Petty Sessional Division of Dorchester.

Not all Portesham people lived blameless lives. There is record of a local man being fined 5s. for not having a dog licence; another was also fined 5s. for riding on the shafts of his cart. One poacher, with over four years prison time to his credit, was disappointed in his efforts to obtain his usual Christmas dinner in prison, when the magistrates took an unusually lenient view of his offence.

"At a Vestry Meeting held the 17th day of February, 1870, the following were nominated as liable to serve as constables :

Charles Bartlett, George Bartlett, Henry Fooks, James Godden (Jnr.), John Hayne, William Bartlett, William Mayo, Richard Church-house''.

 

THE DOCTOR: who lived at Abbotsbury travelled by pony and trap and sometimes on horseback. There was no nurse, but an acting mid-wife came from Abbotsbury to help with the confinements.

Mrs. Martha Downton of Portesham also acted as mid-wife.

The following is an entry in the Dorset Chronicle on 24th December, 1868 : "Dr. Parker's long and faithful service in Abbots- bury and district has been acknowledged by the Weymouth Board of Guardians who have unanimously voted a handsome increase of salary to their medical officer." Dr. Parker was succeeded by Dr. Hawkins.

There was NO DENTIST but teeth were drawn by the doctor.

However, there was a dentist in Weymouth who regularly advertised thus : "MONS. LEYS, Surgeon Dentist, of 5 St. Thomas Street - supplies artificial teeth, unrivalled for use, comfort and natural appearance."

He guaranteed his dentures for ten years, and was willing, without extra charge, to attend patients at their own residences by appointment, if within one mile of Dorchester.

 

The clothing and coal club was endowed by the Grove and Masterman Charities. The coal club still exists, and has been of great benefit to the villagers. In 1868, coal cost 1s. shilling per cwt

 

TRAVEL

The gradually decreasing times of travel from Weymouth to London is shown by the following figures :

In 1791, the Mail Coach took 15 hours.

In 1825, a light coach took 15 hours.

In 1868, the train did the journey in 4 hours 38 minutes.

Very rarely did the villagers leave the village. Travel was bv means of carrier carts, or horse and cart. There were three carts; one owned by Mr. Bartlett, one by Mr. Pitcher, and one Mr. Jolliffe. These went to Dorchester and Weymouth, usually twice a week, on market days, and Mr. Jolliffe also had regular contact with Bridport on Wednesdays. Passengers booked their seats and were picked up at the door. The return fare was one shilling. If asked to do so, the carriers would bring back goods for the villagers. Market gardening produce, butter and eggs were also taken to Weymouth for sale on a market stall, which could hired for the day. The more 'modern' members of the village posessed a bicycle. These were at first solid tyred, and there was a cycle shed and shop at Mr. Dawe's, the bootmaker.

There was very little communication with the neighbouring villages. Only the fishermen seemed to establish some contact. The roads, of course, were rather primitive—a discouraging factor. Thev were gravel, taken from near Hardy's Monument, or chalk. Each parish was responsible for the roads passing through it. Bv law, each able bodied man was to give six days labour or cash towards the upkeep of the roads. The parish annually appointed Waywardens to be in charge. In 1868, Mr. William Mayo of Friar Waddon was the Waywarden, The last mention of a Wavwarden in the Parish Register was, "At a Vestry held the 23rd March, 1893, Mr. Hawkins was appointed Waywarden for the ensuing vear."

In 1888, the responsibilitv for the maintenance of first and second class roads such as the Weymouth to Bridport Road. was taken over by the Dorset County Council. Then in 1894, the parish council relinquished its responsibility for the minor roads to the Weymouth Rural District Council. In 1929, the R.D.C. gave up the minor roads to the Dorset Countv Council, who are now responsible for all the roads in Portesham.

 

For those who could afford it, and were interested there could be a holiday in the Channel Islands, organised by the Weymouth and Channel Islands Steam Packet Cornpanv In 1868 it was running a summer service of three boats a week each way, arid a winter service of two boats each way a week. Thev also organised a variety of excursions to Lulworth, Bournemouth, Swanage and the Isle of Wight, the fare to the latter being 5s. from Weymouth.

 

THE RAILWAY

A railway reached Portesham in 1885, on the opening of the Railway, an independent local enterprise whose main objective was the commercial development of local deposits of Portland and Purbeck stone and of iron ore at Abbotsbury. 'Ihe line was first proposed in 1872 but parliamentary sanction for its construction was not obtained until 1877, and even then shortage of capital and troubles with contractors and landowners still combined to retard progress. In the end it was the Great Western, with whose Weymouth line a junction was to be made at Broadwey, which came to the rescue. In 1883 they agreed to work and maintain the line on its completion and the following year advanced £810,000 towards the cost of construction. They also appointed a director to the Abbotsbury board.

 

The first train from Weymouth ran on Wednesday, 4th November, 1885. "for the purpose of testing the metals and furnishing the stations", and on its arrival at Abbotsbury the employees were entertained to dinner by Mr. Manfield. A weekday service of four trains in each direction was opened on the following Monday.

Alas—the promised mineral train failed beyond a small tonnage of stone brought to the line by a tramway from a quarry above Portesham station. In 1888 Mr. Barclay Bruce, owner of the quarry and the line's principal shareholder, sought to expand the tramway up the Ridgeway to the gravel pits near the Hardy Monument. Neither of these schemes succeeded, however, and in 1896, heavily in debt, the Abbotsbury company was dissolved. The line then became legally what it had been all along in practice - an ordinary rural branch of the Great Western.

The railway did not create a new industry for Portesham and Abbotsbury as hoped, but it did extend the horizons of the villagers. The trains were soon increased to five (plus a daily goods) and from May 1906 residents of Coryates and Shilvinghampton enjoyed the convenience of a halt of their own. This service appears to have sufficed for many years but by 1935 it had grown to a peak of seven weekday trains and four on Sundays.

After the war, like rural railways everywhere, the Abbotsbury branch was hard pressed by the lorry, the bus, and the motor-car, and on Saturday, 29th November, 1952, the trains ran for the last time. During the greater part of the line's existence its most important originating traffc was not stone but milk. This was handled at Coryates Halt as well as at the ordinary stations, and also at a rudimentary "milk platform" at Friar Waddon. The working instructions for the branch even included a special note, enjoining senders of milk from Coryates to "have their milk ready on a four- wheeled barrow" and "assist the Guard to load the churns into the train".

 

COMMUNICATION

Much of the local news would be spread by word of mouth as the carrier carts trundled back and forth from the towns to the village. Two newspapers were in circulation; these were the weekly ones. The Dorset Chronicle was delivered each Thursday, and the Western Gazette on Fridays. The Dorset Daily Echo first appeared on 25th May, 1921. It was printed in Bournemouth and distributed from 2 St. Mary Street, Weymouth. Seven days later, the Dorset Daily Press came out, but this was taken over by the Dorset Daily Echo in 1929; the paper was then called The Dorset Daily Echo and distributed from the present offce. Daily contact with the outside world was maintained by post.

The Mail Cart, as it was called, was a red box on two wheels, drawn by a horse. The driver, or letter carrier, sat on the front of the box. Its route ran from through Portesham, Waddon, Friar Waddon, Elwell Street in Upwey, Winterbourne Monkton to Dorchester. There the horse was stabled for the night and the return journey was made the next day.

The Post Offce was at Blagdon House until 1890, when it was transfered to "Clovelly". The present Post Offce was built by Mr. Williarn Duck, somewhat later. In 1865, Jeremiah Brett Stickland was the Postmaster.

Kelly's Post Offce Directory of 1867 gives the following data :

"Letters arrive from Dorchester at 7.40 a.m.; dispatched at 5.30 p.m. The nearest money order offce and post town is Dorchester. Pillar box is cleared at 6.30 p.m. and Sundays at 11 a.m."

In 1889 it mentions Mr. Frederick Sticklands as "the registrar of births and deaths for the district".

The Dorset Chronicle reported in 1867 that, "An extraordinary number of letters reached the Dorchester Post Offce on the morning of Christmas Day (1867). We are informed that the letter carriers never had such a laborious day since the establishment of the offce in the town, the mail bag containing between 3,000 and

4,000 letters. It is hoped that the carriers, who although welcomed by all are but poorly paid, reaped a good harvest of Christmas boxes such as they deserve."

 

EDUCATION

In these days of well heated classrooms equipped with every modern teaching aid, well fed and clothed children studying a broad curriculum, using a large library of up-to-date books, and the vast resources of the Local Education Authorities, it does us no harm to read of the early struggles of the school.

For our great-grand parents there were no television lessons, film strips or radio programmes to break the monotony. Roorns were cold, books few and badly written and poorly illustrated!

Partial deafness. eye troubles, reading blockages and psychological difficulties received no treatment and little understanding, and the afflicted were left to become retarded.

Education is no longer a Charity; it is the right of every boy and girl in the country. But without the early struggles and experiences our present system would not have evolved.

There was no school house, nor is it known where the school was.

The Report of the Select Committee on Education of the continues, "There were also four other containing together 43 children, three of which were kept by women." It concludes, "The poorer classes have sufficient means of education."

To date, research has revealed no information whatsoever as to the date of the opening of the school or its vicissitudes during the first four years. The first entry in the earliest log book, now in the school's possession, was made by Miss Anna Maria Eva Symes, the 'mistress' on Friday, 13th June, 1873

"Commenced my duties on Monday morning. Find the school has been closed for a year, and during that time the children have either been kept at home or have attended dame schools: consequently they are undisciplined and extremely backward."

At the turn of the century, the school staff consisted of two certificated teachers and a monitress. Mr. and Mrs. Brode were in office from 1895 until 1906. They were followed by Mrs. F. Brooks, who remained as headteacher for 15 years until July 1921. Then after a few changes, Miss Kathleen M. J. Symonds became head-

mistress for 17 years until January 1945, when she became head of Abbotsbury School. Mrs. Vickery, now headmistress of Holy Trinity Infant School, followed her and remained for 10 years.

 

Miss Price was then headmistress until Miss Riches took over in September, 1959; she remained until December, 1967, when she was followed by Mrs. Sandra Harding, the present acting-head Mistress, assisted by Mrs. T. Mentern.

Until after 1881, education was neither free nor compulsory. The School fees varied, but a penny a week seems to be the more usual amount. Children were adrnitted at five and usually left at twelve.

A major problem was poor attendance, which was a seasonal one. On 17th July, 1801, the following was entered in the Log Book: "The average of the first class boys was 3 this week and several of the girls have been absent gathering fruit. The task of teaching anything above Standard IV seems quite hopeless in this district.

First the older children are kept at home for the garden work, then the fishing, and now haymaking and fruit picking. The harvest will soon follow, and then getting in apples and potatoes, and if you try to persuade the parents that they stand in their children's light, the remark is, 'Well you know the law can't make me send them'." In desperation this same teacher eventually resorted to bribery, as is shown by a later entry, "The mistress has promised they shall have tea and an evening's amusement if they attend better." Other reasons for attendance were: "been dibbing, gleaning, blackberrying, girls' netting, Waddon Races, Temperence Treat, Yeomanry Sports in Weymouth and the Foresters".

Naturally, illnesses played their part. There is constant mention of, whooping cough, ringworm, mumps, bad throats, chicken pox, bronchitis, and scarlet fever; in 1880 "measles were raging".

1897 came the "dreaded influenza"; "The number of people ill in the village with influenza is truly astonishing", reports the head teacher in 1897.

In the early days, the curriculum consisted of sums on slates, copv writing, dictation, sewing of shirts, samplers, patchwork for Reading Sheets. How long the school day must have seemed then!

And how welcome were the half-holidays given for various reasons, such as, "the assistant and I had to play the harmonium for a wedding", or "to attend a Temperence Demonstration", or for "Garland Day", or the Annual Treat to Abbotsbury which involved a train ride, and after the Diocesan Inspector's visit.

In spite of the rigid formality of the early curriculum, efforts were made to broaden it. Dull though it may seem in these days of environmental studies and free expression, the boys and girls must have welcomed the efforts made to introduce subjects with more interest and appeal to children. Historical Readers were introduced; also Geography, Poetry, and Object Lessons, the latter based on animals, fruit and other subjects familiar to the pupils, such as building with cubes, letter pieces

"Varied Occupations", and paper folding, and even "musical drill" to the multiplication tables and to "When the rosy morn appearing", must all have acted as an incentive to better work.

No wonder now that the following entry was made in the Log Book, "The children numbering 70 were given a tea by the teachers as a slight reward for the marked improvement in the interest thev take in their work."

When interviewed, most of the older villagers admit school was dull; they had to sit so still, and on the rare occasions they were allowed to talk, it had to be in whispers; the cane was always in prominence on the teacher's desk and one form of punishment, that of holding some slates above the head with outstretched arrns, was very much disliked.

There were some happy times though. How they looked forward to being chosen to go to the station to collect library books or stock, for it meant a release from the classroom. Then there was the making of the Christmas Pudding. All the pupils brought the ingredients, mixed and stirred them, and the teacher cooked the pudding on the classroom fire. When cooked it was consumed at the Christmas Party. There were also School Concerts, the proceeds of which went to purchase prizes for those who had passed their examinations creditably. One villager remembers the time, early this century, when dressed in a smock and padded with a cushion, he had to recite :

"I be a varmer, stout and strong,

Toiling hard and toiling long,

Ploughing, sowing, reaping, mowing,

Planting, weeding, raking, hoeing

So that Spring shall bring again

Waving grass and sprouting grain."

 

The school child of 2068 will think that our present methods were very antiquated as he uses all the wonderful scientific teaching aids of his time. He may even laugh at the 1868 school of his great-great-great-great grandparents, But will he be so caught up in the Space and Science Age that he will know nothing of his heritage or of the natural wonders around him?

Let us hope that the progress in our next hundred years will advance along wise, humane, and kindly lines so that all that is best in our present system will be retained, and all that is bad replaced.

 

THE LEISURE HOURS

At a time when living meant hard work with long hours and poor payment, leisure time was not wasted. Living and working in close contact with one another for the welfare of their small community, had taught them regard and respect for their neighbour.

Thus their entertainments, though simple, were peaceful, creative, resourceful, and self-made.

Music played a major part in this. Singing was encouraged in the school, where school concerts were regularly held and well supported. The church had a large choir and a church band. There were many of these church bands in Dorset.

 

The near-by village of Winterbourne Saint Martin had a well-known Sextet. In 1850, it comprised four clarinets, a hautboy, and a bass viol. The hautboy played the tenor part, an octave above the voices, according to custom. The player at that time was a mason, known as Uncle James, who also blew the bassoon in the village band. The hautboy was often spoken of as the "vox humanner" and was considered a very difficult instrument to blow; indeed the terrible story of the man in a neighbouring village who "blew himself blind" in his efforts, deterred many from attempting to play the instrument.

This band ceased to play in 1870.

Some few years later there are records of a wedding, at which the band from Winterbourne Abbas was invited to play. The clarinet played the air, the flute the tenor, and the 'cello the bass.

The clarinet added a flourish of grace notes and an occasional chalumeau" note. After the ceremony an appropriate Wedding March was expected, and as Mendelssohn and Wagner were ruled out, a martial hymn tune was evidently the next best thing. It so happened that the leader's choice fell on Sir Arthur Sullivan's "Saint Gertrude", so that the bridal party left the church to the strains of "Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war". Fifty years later, on their Golden Wedding day the same bride and bridegroom returned, to give thanks for their long and peaceful married life.

The Portesham Church Band ceased to accompany the Services in 1872 when the gallery and the old box pews were removed from the church but it was revived each year for carol singing at Christmastide. At the turn of the centurv it was led by Mr. Hodder who played the bass viol. There was a violin, a clarinet, and a small harmonium carried on a hand cart, and plaved bv a blind man, Mr Philip Thresher.

This gallant little party, about a dozen in all, continued to play and sing every Christmas up to the time of the Great War, not only to the village, but to the whole neighbourhood. The hand cart was pushed up Portesham Hill and down into Little Bredy; it was pushed up Winter's Lane and over the hills to Corton and Friar Waddon, bringing the message of Christmas hope and joy to old and young alike.

Besides the Church Band there was also a Village Band, led by Mr. James Jolliffe; it had all but fifteen members. The leader played the euphonium and cornet; there was a drummer and a violinist, and the others played brass instruments. They also walked round the parish, playing and singing carols nightly from Christrnas Eve to New Year's Eve, finally singing the New Year in on the Green, near the King's Arrns Inn.

Village concerts were popular entertainment and were held in the Temperance Hall. The Watford family came to the village every year to give a concert, the main feature being playing on tumblers of water. The Manfield family also gave concerts and performed plays, often at Christmas time.

A series of concerts, called Penny Readings, consisting of poetry readings and songs, were held in the schoolroom at Coryates.

Here are some of the items presented :

Longfellow's "The Wreck of the Hesperus"; a glee by Monck titled, "Lily, Sweet Lily"; Mr. Pickwick on Ice; Eliza's escape from "Uncle Tom's Cabin' Cowper's "John Gilpin"; a ballad, "The Religious Woman", by Mrs Sewell —"ending", reports the Dorset Chronicle, "with the usual local anthem”

It continues, "In spite of torrents of rain the room was crowded; neither were any of the readers deterred attending, although some of them came from a distance. The several pieces were received with marks of approbation, and the audience retired expressing their satisfaction with the good mental fare with which they had been regaled."

The sitting-room of the present licensee of the Half Moon Inn used to be the dance hall of the village. Saturday night was dance night and often the dancing continued outside the Inn to the music of a concertina.

Another form of recreation was following the hounds along the valley from Waddon, where the hounds were kept, to Upwey.

School was not popular on this day, and many truants were caned the next day. It seems that finally the schoolmistress had to admit defeat, for on another occasion, it is recorded that the Managers of the school granted a half holiday on the steeplechase day.

The following story is well known in the village. One night, the hounds seemed very disturbed and there was a great deal of barking. A man was sent out to quieten them. Though the noise then ceased, the man was never seen again, and it is assumed that the hounds ate him!

There were the annual village outings too. Whit Monday's outing was by horse and cart to the Chesil Beach, and on Easter Monday there was an afternoon of tea and games on Rocket, the field to the north of Winter's Lane, when sports events were organised for all ages.

There was a skittle alley at the Fountain Inn, and at the turn of the century, a successful football team. The Misses Manfield held a series of woodcarving lessons each winter, and judging from the results, still proudly displayed in some of the cottages today, many became very adept at this exacting craft.

 

As for the children and youth of the village, many games still popular nowadays were played safely along the roads, a sign of the deserted nature of the roads of a century ago. The girls played the ever-popular hop-scotch, locally known as "Icky-bed". Other common games were "whipping the top"; skipping, which apparently was done without the songs and rhymes that accompany it today; and marbles. The latter was a great favourite, and certain holes in Front Street, the school playground, and even the church porch were reserved for this pastime. The marbles were coloured, but one marble, the "alley", was of multicoloured glass, and it was the chief one, worth six ordinary marbles. Bowling the hoop was a pastime suitable for the colder days of autumn and winter, and it was played by both boys and girls.

The boys had iron hoops, about two to three feet in diameter, and made by the local blacksmith. To propel it, the boy would hold an iron crook at the rear of the hoop, press against it, and run as fast as he could. As there was often no traffic along the road, he could go for a considerable distance. The girls usually had wooden hoops, propelled by means of a stick.

The Band of Hope had a large membership among the youth of ages up to 14 years. The village meetings were held once a week, and their main feature seems to be the singing of Temperance Songs and Hymns from its own book, written by William Hoyle. Every year its members had an outing to Weymouth Sands, when a special train was run for them.

The Band of Hope was the junior branch of the Temperance Movement, which swept through the country at the end of the last century, and which had strong support in Portesham. Here it was started bv Mr. Absolom Dawe and Mr. Tidby. A Temperance Hall was built in 1882 and used for most of the village social occasions.

This building, erected next to the Chapel built in 1867, still stands though no longer used for its original purpose.

 

The schoolroom extension to the Chapel was built in 1905. Sunday school was at one time held twice on a Sunday, and annual outings to the beach were arranged for the children. The Chapel, a Primitive Methodist, has always been in the Weymouth circuit.

Twice a year, a man with a barrel organ visited the village. On receipt of a copper or two, he would place a stick in a cage and one of his birds would alight on it. The stick with the bird would then be passed over a box of folded tickets, whereupon the bird would pick out one. On this ticket was revealed one's fortune.

Other visitors to the village were barrel organ players with a monkey, and sometimes a dancing bear.

"POSSUM FES' WEEK", held in the first week of August, was the highlight of the year. Stalls were erected all the way up Front Street, and all kinds of useful and ornamental articles were sold—pots, pans, laces, tapes, crockery, and sweetmeats. In the evenings, there was dancing in the street, often continuing until the early hours of the morning. It is thought that the "Ring Dance", described by Thomas Hardy in "Under the Greenwood Tree", was seen by him at one of these festivals. The Fes' Week was discontinued after 1913.

 

THE GAME OF VIVES

Two hundred years ago the churchyard was a popular resort of young people who used it as a playground. The glaziers' bills in the churchwardens' accounts point to the damage caused to the church windows.

 

In 1791 we find the following entry:

We whose names are underwritten taking into our Serious Consideration the Many Damages done to the Church as also the Invasion of Private Property, together with the Nuisance and above all the Prophanation arising from the Scandalous Practice of Playing at Vives in Church Yarde have this Day agreed to put a Stop to so Infamous a Practice in respect of That belonging to our Parish.

This, therefore, is to give Notice That Whoever shall presume to Play at Vives in this Church Yarde from the Day of the Date hereof will be prosecuted with the Utmost Rigour of the Law, as so Complicated an Insult upon God and Man calls for and demands at our Hands.

Given in the Vestry of the Parish of St. Peter Portesham this 14th Day of April, 1751

 

Signed

J. Rhudde Vic.

Jo Hardy

Cha. Masterman

Wm. Soper

Charles Hawkins, &tc

Church Wardens 

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