In the footsteps of Treves — Between Hambledon and Bulbarrow
Steve White and Clive Hannay continue their journey round today’s highways and byways of the county
Published in May ’07
The second in this series continues to follow Sir Frederick Treves (1853-1923) on his journey around Dorset, undertaken as research for the book Highways and Byways in Dorset, first published in 1906. Sir Frederick cycled more than two thousand miles to complete this task, while Joseph Pennell (1857-1926), an accomplished artist and friend of Whistler, visited various locations independently in order to draw the sketches that accompany Treves’s narrative. I would apologise to the residents of Child Okeford for the fact they do not get a mention in this article; for whatever reason, Treves’s only mention of Child Okeford is that the village lies on the road to Hambledon Hill.
Treves wrote of Shillingstone: ‘Shillingstone is a roadside village of some charm. It still can boast a maypole, although the spirit of May dances and the cult of the May Queen have long died out. The rural Pan, if he will celebrate the dawning of summer, will neither deck himself with flowers nor tune his pipe, but will rather take an excursion train to London, for there is a station in Shillingstone.’
Treves was incorrect in his assumption that ‘May dances and the cult of the May Queen’ had long died out. The reason that there was still a maypole when Treves visited Shillingstone was because it been had re-instated in 1903 after being blown down by a gale in around 1890. Shillingstone’s maypole, which measured 110 feet 1 inch in height and was sunk some 8 feet 5 inches into the ground, was sited next to the village cross. So famous was this maypole that William Barnes, the Dorset dialect poet (who incidentally taught Treves in his youth), wrote:
And Shillingstone, that on her height
Shows up her tower to op’ning day
And high-shot Maypole yearly dight
With flowry wreaths of merry may
Until the pole’s final dismantling in 1939, there was a regular gathering of villagers for a May dance. It appears that this was an event involving some considerable preparation, a large number of people and a great amount of alcohol, drunk into the early hours of the next morning. It would be a risky affair to re-create the event nowadays, at least at the same location – the maypole stood next to what is now the busy main road through the village.
Treves’s tone regarding the station to London seems to hide a certain contempt for the railway, at least as far as small villages and the effect it had on them was concerned; whilst there had been a station in Shillingstone since 31 August 1863, he maybe felt that the splendid isolation of his Dorset was under threat. He would therefore perhaps have been relieved to hear that the last train called at Shillingstone on 5 March 1966 and the station closed. The railway was on the Somerset & Dorset line, or the Slow & Doubtful as the locals used to call it. To show how things can appear to go full circle, the station at Shillingstone is currently undergoing something of a renaissance. A local group, The Shillingstone Station Project, have got together to restore the station and even hope to have trains running again some time in the not-too-distant future. It seems ironic that rather than ruining the splendid isolation, it appears that Shillingstone could benefit in many ways through the restoration of its station.
Treves continues: ‘The very beautiful and graceful village cross has been restored, or indeed renewed now as a jubilee memorial. It stands in the roadway, a delicate Gothic pinnacle with an orchard and a thatched cottage as a background’. Pennell’s illustration shows this very scene.
This appears to be another error by Treves. Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee took place in 1887 (when the church was fitted with a new clock by way of a memorial). Mrs Louisa Wilhemana Chapman, a very wealthy landowner whose husband, Kyrle Alfred Chapman, met an untimely death in 1891, had the cross restored in his memory in 1903, some sixteen years after Victoria’s jubilee. It seems that Mrs Chapman was not the most popular person with the majority of residents of Shillingstone. Reliable information suggests that when the ‘delicate Gothic pinnacle’ was struck by lightning and damaged in the latter part of the 20th century, those older residents with memories of Mrs Chapman rejoiced!
Next Treves visited Okeford Fitzpaine: ‘Okeford Fitzpaine the next place along the road is as pretty an old-world village as will be found in this green hollow of the shire. It derives its name from the great family of the Fitzpaines….The village is of some size being made up of two rambling streets in the form of a cross. It is part of the Dorset of old days.’
Okeford Fitzpaine, one would have to agree, remains one of Dorset’s most attractive villages and retains what Treves describes as its ‘old-world’ prettiness. This is, in part at least, due to the villagers’ fight to retain the rural charm and solitude of Okeford Fitzpaine, culminating in them successfully winning a battle to have ugly overhead electric cables removed (photographs of Okeford Fitzpaine from the mid-1950s show a profusion of overhead telephone wires). As a result, the view drawn by Joseph Pennell is little changed in the modern painting by Clive Hannay – only one building appears to have gone.
Visiting Ibberton, Treves romanticises: ‘The beautiful, old-fashioned village of Ibberton – a jumble of thatched cottages, gardens, and orchards – lies in a green bay made by a curve in the downs. If the sea could reach it there would be found, in the place of the village, a sheltered cove in an amphitheatre of hills. The church, which is reached by a flight of fifty steps, is so high up on the slope that the view from the churchyard extends far beyond the northern limits of the county by way of the Blackmoor Valley.’
Apart from some extra dwellings, not much seems to have changed in Ibberton. The churchyard must claim some of the finest views of any churchyard in the country and Treves’s description of this area would stand scrutiny today. However, there is a mystery here: why did Treves not mention that when he visited St Eustace, Ibberton, the church was in a state of disrepair? Photographs inside the church, dated 1901, show that the aisle roof had collapsed (in 1889) and the church was in a sorry state. In fact all services (except weddings, which continued to be solemnised in the nave of the dilapidated church) took place in a temporary church, now the village hall, from 1893 until 1909.
Whilst unable to establish exactly when Sir Frederick visited Ibberton, I do know that the month was June and the year was somewhere between 1903 and 1905, Highways and Byways being published in May of 1906. My best guess for this oversight would be Treves’s assumption that by the time his book was published the church would be either restored or near to being so. His book, in effect a guide to promote Dorset, would be better served by not mentioning the dereliction he would have witnessed.
Treves goes on to say about the interior of Ibberton church: ‘Here is to be found, safe from pilferers and book collectors, a chained copy of the “Book of Homilies” dated 1673.’ That rare copy of the ‘Book of Homilies’ continues to reside in Ibberton church, still chained, secure in its own glass case.
A tour around the area between Hambledon and Bulbarrow, following in the footsteps of Treves, would suggest that for this part of Dorset at least, changes over the last one hundred years have been minimal. Treves, who seems to have been attempting to capture in his narrative what he considered to be a disappearing Dorset, would be delighted.