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Living treasures of Dorset: John Cluett – Musician, painter and former S & D signalman


One could be forgiven for thinking oneself in the Christmas elves’ workshop on arriving to meet John Cluett – an imposing, quintessentially Dorset man – as he taps away in his garage, skilfully making model trains, tracks, and all sorts of bits and pieces out of unwanted scraps for his Gauge-One model railway, which runs the length of his garden.
Interspersed with an occasional ‘Ooh aye’ in a broad Dorset accent, John describes his days as a lorry driver and working as a signalman on the Somerset and Dorset railway. Now retired, he has many hobbies and keeps himself busy, making cider, making things and making people happy with his music. John plays the melodeon and, with his wife Margaret, makes up the folk duo ‘Tatty Bogle’. He is also a keen painter and has exhibited at the Arts Centre in Shaftesbury, where he now lives. John was born and bred in Sturminster Newton, though, and speaks true dialect, which is rare to hear these days.
As he serenades us in his garage – dressed in a bright pink tie, jazzy waistcoat and a hat, which he is rarely without – with his folk songs and jaunty tunes, the music wafts through the streets and brings a neighbour out of the house across the road. Within moments, moved by the melody, she starts dancing a little jig.
He loves Dorset: ‘What’s not to like?  We got it all ain’t we; got seaside, got moorland, got village and pub… whole damn lot is here.’
❱ Portrait by Millie Pilkington, pen-portrait by Liz Pope. Abridged from Great Faces of Dorset, published by Dovecote Press at £20, ISBN 978-0-9929151-0-0. Great Faces is now available from bookshops across Dorset and via

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