The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Dorchester in the 1960s

Jo Draper has come across a collection of photos less than fifty years old but showing a different world

At 300 feet above sea level and on well-draining chalk, Dorchester really doesn’t expect to flood except along the river. In August 1960 it did flood. July had been very wet, and on 27th August a storm produced an inch of rain very quickly. Charles Street (still lined with houses and other buildings which have since been demolished) shows the result of the downpour.

Dorchester in 1960 was still a fairly compact market town, with a population of only about 12,000 at the 1961 census. The late 1950s Town Guide described the town as ‘the centre of a predominantly agricultural county, and its industrial and business interests are, therefore, largely devoted to the needs of farmers’. The market was then still running twice a week, on Saturday as well as Wednesday, with extra fairs for sheep and other animals as well.

To our eyes the town seems still full of local shops and businesses – fishmongers, several grocers, glass and china shops and so on, but no supermarkets.
These photographs appeared as a group of negatives, now in the Dorset County Museum, and illustrate one event very well – the extraordinary flood of August 1960, when the photographer caught the town’s daily business being disrupted by swirling water.

Other photographs give us the market, both the weekly produce side and the sales of animals. Animal sales ceased at the market in the 1990s, having been an important part of the town for centuries.

The photographs show the town less than fifty years ago, but they do seem to show another world, where people wore proper coats and hats to go shopping or to the market, and proper mackintoshes and caps to cycle.

Prince of Wales Road just after the storm, with a van which was surely old even in 1960. This was before MOT tests, and the age and variety of the vehicles caught by the flood photographs is amazing.
‘In South Street flood boards went up in the doorways of Messrs Shooter’s milk bar and adjoining cake shop’ (Echo), both seen here. Milk bars were new and trendy in 1960.
Further up South Street, the delivery man seems to have taken refuge inside his van, but the cyclist is more intrepid
Looking along South Street, with swirling water. Wilfred Snook, the record shop, was very important in the later 1950s and 1960s.
Dorchester market in about 1960, with a horse sale setting up. Dorchester had been a market town for centuries, and sales of animals were an important part of this.
Setting up for the produce auction in one of the open-sided sheds at Dorchester market in about 1960. The turkeys suggest that the occasion was close to Christmas.

A pen of sheep at Dorchester market in about 1960, contained by the traditional hurdles. These were so important for the markets and fairs that during the 18th and 19th centuries the town had a hurdle house in which to store them.
Rams posed neatly at Dorchester market, probably for the May sheep fair. They have been shorn and groomed to look their very best. In 1960 the champion ram made 300 guineas, a fantastically high price.

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