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“What’s new in Dorset local history?” A report on the day

Posted in News

On Saturday 18 November Dorset History Network presented the now annual “What’s new…” event held at Dorset History Centre. The day provided a networking opportunity for members and guests alike to discuss recent work, research, and activities throughout Dorset.

We began with a talk from Emma Ayling (Director of Priest’s House Museum), titled “Telling Stories – a Narrative Approach to Curation“. Emma informed the audience about the Museum’s plans for the future, and their Heritage Lottery Funded ‘Revival Project’. Emma explained the plans to better exhibit some of the museum’s 35,000 items, and discussed issues of branding and rebranding. It was explained that the Revival project was built around the notion of a community project, with contributions towards exhibitions coming from different community groups.

This was followed by Jane Ferentzi-Shepperd and Sheila Meaney presenting Bridport Heritage Forum’s “Plans for 1918 and the Peace“. They explained the history of the research and development work in Bridport. The audience were reminded of successful World War One projects held in Bridport since 2014, and the nature of local community was emphasised. Jane and Sheila talked about the importance of encouraging people to do their own research, and the notion of getting the history out to the community, rather than relying upon people coming to exhibitions. We were also told of plans for 2018, including work on a book on WW1 local history.

Following a short break, our keynote speaker, Dr. Rose Wallis (Senior Lecturer, University of the West of England) delivered an interesting and engaging lecture titled “Justice in the balance: archives and engaging the public in criminal justice histories“. This lecture told the audience of the recent work in relation to Shire Hall, Dorchester, and Dr. Wallis gave a brief overview of the history of the court system in Dorset in the 18th and 19th Centuries, and explained some of the problems that the system faced. Dr. Wallis emphasised the importance of archives in any historical engagement work, and noted that court records often provide a diary for the poorer sections of society in this period. Modern visitors relate better with the more ‘human’ stories these records provide, and therefore the records are invaluable to telling this story. Dr. Wallis gave the group a case study into Elijah Upjohn, a young criminal from the 1830s, and recounted his particularly colourful tale. The importance of collaboration was also stressed, with local knowledge combining with academic knowledge to fully inform tales. Dr. Wallis finished her lecture by stressing that historical issues faced relating to social reform and questions about criminal reform are ones which are still relevant to modern audiences, and that is why projects such as the Shire Hall project are important.

Following lunch, Dr. Mark Forrest spoke on behalf of Dorset Record Society about the “Treswell maps of Purbeck“. This talk explained the history and the work of Ralph Treswell in Purbeck for Sir Christopher Hatton. Dr. Forrest repeated the idea that collaboration was the key to understanding historical documents, and the recently published volume on the maps of Treswell (a joint publication between four experts in their field) further highlighted this point. The audience were also shown comparisons with Treswell’s other works, and modern maps, as well as comparisons with contemporary cartographers.

After these talks, members of DHN were invited to update the entire group about their recent work.

Jane Ferentzi-Shepperd led by discussing ongoing work in relation to migration from Dorset and the 20th anniversary in 2018 of the Dorset and New World Seminar, held in June 1998.

Katherine Barker told the group about her work into the tradition of ‘Pack Monday‘ in Sherborne (held on the first Monday after 10th October annually), and the importance of reviving and maintaining historical traditions.

Brian Phillips of the Milton Abbas Local History Group discussed the developments of a website and Facebook page for the group, as well as the Old Town Project, and research into the siting of roads around Milton Abbas.

Freda Hennessey concluded the meeting by telling the group of the beginnings of work into Thomas Hollis and his work around Corscombe, and requesting assistance. This work is planned ahead of the anniversary of Hollis’ birth in 2020.


Consistent themes of collaboration and community were highlighted throughout the day, and by the end, the audience were able to reflect on the wide variety of topics being researched across Dorset. Dorset History Network would like to thank all of the speakers, in particular Dr. Wallis for delivering an excellent keynote address.


**The day also held Dorset History Network’s AGM, and the Chairman’s report will be made available in due course.**