The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Photographing listed Dorset

Eric Leeson LRPS on the huge Images of England project and the part he has played in it

Anderson Manor was built in about 1622 for John Tregonwell

The Images of England project is managed by the National Monuments Record, the public archive of English Heritage. It is funded by a £3m Heritage Lottery Fund grant, awarded through the Millennium Festival Fund in 1999. Financial support is also provided by English Heritage. The aim is to create a ‘point in time’ record of the 370,000 listed buildings in England. The Images of England website links the photographic images to written statutory descriptions. In Dorset there are almost 10,000 listed buildings and a total of 65 volunteers have photographed within the county. I became involved when volunteers were sought from members of the Royal Photographic Society.

A briefing session was held, where photographic guidelines were given which included the requirement to take only one photograph and in it to capture the ‘defining image’. This image needs to show the architectural character of the building, its construction, materials and design. That was the challenge which persuaded me and many others to volunteer. The 35mm film is provided by Images of England, who arrange for the exposed film to be developed and scanned, the negatives eventually being returned to the photographer, who retains the copyright.

Abbotsbury is well-known for its Abbey Barn, St Catherine’s Chapel and other buildings, but this little former basket factory is also listed

I received my first allocation of ‘targets’ for Corfe Mullen and Shapwick and started my photography on 2 August 1999. I would never have imagined that I would still be active in 2007 and would have photographed in so many parishes. It is very time-consuming and in the early years, many hours were spent just trying to locate properties from often scant information. Names of owners or occupiers do not appear in the records. It is much easier now as the Ordnance Survey grid reference is provided.

There have been a few gaps in activity for various reasons. In 2001 the foot and mouth restrictions prevented photography for many months in rural areas but I was allocated Blandford, which kept me busy until the constraints were lifted. Blandford, apart from the traffic, was particularly rewarding. Look above the shop fronts in the Market Place, East Street and Salisbury Street to appreciate the splendid architecture.

The gravestone to Jane Topp at Witchampton which the author was able to date after the grass had been strimmed

Now the photographic work in Dorset is nearing completion, it is time to reflect. I am pleased that I took part for various reasons. Having lived in Dorset for most of my life, I visited areas I had never seen and met lots of people, most of whom were very pleasant and interested in the project. Early in the scheme, I was interviewed live on air by the News Editor of Wave 105, sitting in the YMCA studio in Bournemouth, which had been flooded, while heaters were trying to dry out the equipment with a temperature in excess of 100?F. I was photographed with a milestone in Blandford for a regional newspaper and contacted by a national photographic magazine which published an article on the Images of England project, including three of my photographs.

There were a couple of near disasters, both in the north of the county. Having been given permission to photograph a house from its garden, I had set up my tripod when a boxer dog came bounding out from behind the house. ‘Don’t worry, she’s only a puppy,’ the owner shouted. I stepped from behind my tripod to greet it and this boisterous juvenile canine jumped into me, ripping my pullover, causing me to lose balance and almost knocking me down a steep embankment.

The turreted white building between Brownsea Castle and the landing-steps is known as the Family Pier

Most amusing, looking back now, but quite frightening at the time was being chased by an amorous llama. The lady farmer advised me that the best view of the house would be from the adjacent field. The male llama was several hundred metres away at the far end of the field. He had been isolated because he had been misbehaving by worrying her sheep. Having concentrated and taken the photograph, I looked up to see the llama charging towards me, obviously with only one thought in his mind. Luckily, camera, tripod and I just made it unscathed to the gate.

There were countless times when I was mistaken for an estate agent and approached by people enquiring whether a particular property was for sale.

I have met many very helpful people, as when I visited the church graveyard at Witchampton. The grass was very high around some of the monuments on my list. I called at the vicarage and was advised that the Parochial Church Council was responsible but the message would be passed on. When I returned a few days later, the grass had been cut and areas around the tombstones strimmed. On my list was ‘the Jane Topp Monument (date unknown)’. To my delight, the date 1775 at the base was now clearly visible and the records could be completed.

A milestone on the A354

In November 2001 I photographed Anderson Manor, a magnificent Grade 1 listed house built in 1622 with spectacular chimney stacks. The owner invited me into the dining room, where I explained the purpose of my visit over a cup of coffee. He showed me the arched fireplace and we chatted for a while. He told me that a friend had lent him a new book of Dorset buildings which included a photograph of his house. He had no knowledge of when it was done and wondered if I could help work out the position from where it was taken. We concluded that it was most likely photographed from midway along his drive, and it subsequently transpired that a family member had given permission.

Another example of people putting themselves out to help was the skipper on the Sandbanks/Brownsea Island ferry to whom I explained my task. All the buildings facing the sea, from Brownsea Castle northwards, are listed and he kindly cruised very slowly along the front, which allowed me to get reasonably sharp images. The lighting could have been better but it got the job done!

The 17th-century building at Winterborne Muston has been described both as a manor house and (by Pevsner) as a ‘cottage of unusual pretension’

Very recently, the National Trust gave permission for photography of their listed properties not visible from public land. I visited Brownsea and Studland to complete the task and received the utmost help and co-operation from the respective land managers. While setting up to take the Gatehouse to Brownsea Castle, I spotted a one pound coin embedded in the gravel next to a tripod leg. My lucky day perhaps? I cleaned it off and popped it into a pouch in my camera bag. Mission completed, I returned to the jetty where a ferry to Sandbanks was just about to leave. I went aboard, relieved to have completed the job. A couple of minutes later, the skipper announced that the destination was Poole Quay. Oh dear! I was on the wrong boat. I had to go all the way to Poole Quay, then stay on the boat for the return trip to Brownsea.

The Stone Quarry at Swanage, so called because stone from quarries in the surrounding area was shipped from here

On reaching Brownsea, I retrieved the one pound coin from my camera bag and dropped it into the ‘tips pot’, bringing a smile and ‘Thank you, sir’ from the young crewman who helped me ashore. The ladies at the reception thought that I had returned for more photography. There are signs clearly stating the destinations which I hadn’t noticed earlier but which helped me to get the right ferry this time, for the short trip back to Sandbanks at the end of a very long but photographically successful day.

In November 2005, I was privileged to attend the Celebration of Achievement lunch held by English Heritage at Kew Steam Museum to thank volunteers, some of whom had taken an incredible number of photographs, as the project goes into its final stages.

The Images of England website is, where it is also possible to register in order to gain access for ‘advanced searches’.

The former Greyhound Inn in Blandford’s Market Place is perhaps the pinnacle of the Bastard brothers’ re-building of the town after the 1731 fire

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