The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Dorset Lives: The sage of Langton Matravers

Reg Saville, respected historian and musician, founded the Langton Matravers Museum. Now in his 95th year, he told Tony Burton-Page about his remarkable life.

Reg Saville at his home in Langton Matravers

Reg Saville at his home in Langton Matravers

There is probably nobody alive who knows more about Langton Matravers than Reg Saville. He was born there, grew up there, and has spent the last fifty years there. His only period of absence was for his army service in World War 2 and for his first teaching post in Harrow. Since his return, he has given countless lectures on local history, taken hundreds of people around places of interest in Dorset (Purbeck in particular), and has become revered as the founder of the Langton Matravers Local History and Preservation Society and as the driving force behind the creation of the Langton Matravers Museum. For all this and his many other services to the local community, he was awarded the MBE in 2004.
Reg’s story actually starts with the Battle of the Somme in 1916, for it was during this that his father’s best friend, Reg Bartlett, was killed by a shell while they were advancing side by side. His father, David Saville, survived, although he was later shot in the jaw and nearly died. After the war, he was sent by chance to Swanage to recuperate; recognising the name Langton Matravers as Bartlett’s home, he went in search of his friend’s family. He met his sister Beatrice, who was startlingly similar to her brother: they fell in love and married. Beatrice gave birth in 1922 to a boy, who was inevitably christened Reginald in memory of his late uncle, in a service at St George’s Church in Langton Matravers. His mother was the organist of the church and his father and grandfather were both in the choir, and Reg’s regular attendance there was the foundation of his love of music.
At the age of eleven he went to Swanage Grammar School. Music was not offered as an academic subject there, but he was determined to take it for the School Certificate examination. He bought scores, records and books and became a self-taught musician. Fortunately there was a sympathetic member of staff at the school: Miss Sheffield, the history teacher, not only took him to concerts at the Winter Gardens in Bournemouth but inspired in him a passionate interest in all things historical which has remained with him ever since.
He was now determined to read history and music at university, but only at Leeds could he read both. So in September 1940 he headed north, there to study his chosen subjects and to be trained as a teacher in them. However, his time as a student was curtailed in his second year by the arrival of his call-up papers. He was startled by this, for as a trainee teacher he was in a ‘reserved occupation’ and thus exempt from military duty. However, on checking with the university’s Registrar, it was discovered that his name had been recorded as ‘Sackville’ and that he was therefore not legally in a reserved occupation.

 The Langton Matravers village sign, designed by Reg in 1951 for the Festival of Britain and still in place six decades later

The Langton Matravers village sign, designed by Reg in 1951 for the Festival of Britain and still in place six decades later

So Reg had to go to war. He joined the Royal Corps of Signals and went for his training to Ossett, a dozen miles to the south of Leeds. To his astonishment, he was to become a Wireless Operator – a task for which he felt himself singularly unsuited. Nevertheless, he accepted the challenge and in due course was sent to Italy with his unit in 1943. Ever the autodidact, he taught himself Italian and in his free time saw as much of historic Italy as he could, as well as going to concerts and operas. He finally returned home in 1946 and completed his university course at Leeds, leaving with a history degree and teaching qualifications.
He soon found employment at Harrow High School (at that time an independent grammar school) as Head of History. Moreover, remembering his own experience at school, he persuaded the governors to introduce music to the curriculum and became the Director of Music. But his roots were in Langton Matravers; he frequently returned home (he had been appointed choirmaster at St George’s in 1947), and in 1951 he was seconded from his teaching post to organize the village’s fortnight-long arts festival, its contribution to that year’s Festival of Britain. The village was declared one of the three winners in the south of England in the BBC’s competition for the best local festival. In the midst of all this, Reg designed the village sign, which hangs by St George’s Church to this day.

 Reg aged 24, on the day before his discharge from the Army

Reg aged 24, on the day before his discharge from the Army

Reg moved back to Langton permanently in 1963, taking up a post as Local Historian for the Leeson House Field Studies Centre, as well as teaching music at local schools. His mother was the organist at St George’s and Reg became her assistant, only taking over when she died in 1981 after 65 years in the post. As well as three choral services every Sunday, Reg masterminded frequent concerts in the church until his retirement in 2001.
In 1971 he started the Langton Matravers Local History and Preservation Society, and the next year the Langton Matravers Parish Museum collection was started. A small room in the village was leased to display this collection in ten rotating exhibitions, but the Stonemasonry and Quarrying exhibition was so popular that there was a demand for it to be permanent. The society persuaded the parish church to lease the former coach house and stables belonging to the Rectory so that it could be housed there, and this was agreed on condition that a row of stone sheds in the stable yard should be demolished – which Reg did almost single-handedly. The museum opened in 1987, with Reg as the Honorary Curator.

The museum at Langton Matravers, founded by Reg Saville

The museum at Langton Matravers, founded by Reg Saville

Reg produced three pageants on the history of Langton, with scripts by him, as well as six nativity plays. As chairman of the Local History Society he wrote some thirty booklets on topics of local interest, in addition to two books: Langton   Purbeck, a history of the parish, and My Wartime Experiences. He still lives at the family home in Langton and is regarded to this day as a fount of knowledge in all matters pertaining to Purbeck.

Dorset Directory