Thursday, June 23rd 2016
Today began with breakfast in the branch of Costa beside our hotel. When we emerged afterwards, we discovered that a small crowd had gathered around this gentleman in the street. Engaging personality though he was, the main interest centred on the personage sitting on his glove.
This was a Harris Hawk and I describe her as a personage for she emanated a definite personality of her own. She sat very quietly on the glove, showing no signs of nervousness or concern, though she darted her gaze here and there, keeping tabs on all the activity around her.
Harris hawks are widely used where certain other species of birds are considered a nuisance. For example, they were used to clear pigeons from Trafalgar Square and I found one being used for deterrent purposes in St Pancras Station (see The Sheriffs and knitters of Nottingham) and another in King’s Cross (see Some sculpture and a hawk). Hawks are used in Dorchester to reduce the numbers of gulls.
An animal lover like me is likely to enquire, with trepidation, ‘Does she actually kill any?’ but the answer has always so far been a reassuring ‘No. Her presence is enough to deter them.’ This is likely to be true, at least in the case of gulls, for these birds are protected and not allowed to be killed. The frequent presence of hawks is enough to persuade the gulls not to nest or congregate here.
The day’s outing involved another long bus ride which, happily, turned out more successful than the interrupted journey to Salisbury (see Dorchester 2016 – Day 2). This time our destination was the little town of Blandford Forum. For its location relative to Dorchester, see the map below. (Click for the Google Map of the area.)
A bus for Blandford runs from Dorchester South railway station, just a few yards from the hotel. This time, the bus completed its journey without any breakdowns, bringing us safely to our destination.
Known more usually as simply Blandford, this town has borne the official name of Blandford Forum since 1288. A clue to its importance is its alternative name, Cheping Blandford, in which the first word (a variant of ‘Chipping’) indicates that it was an important market town.
A naive etymology might suggest that the town began as a settlement that sprang up beside a ford across a putative river called the Bland. This, of course, is not the case. Blandford lies within a curve of a river called the Stour – you may have to expand the Google Map to see the course of the river.
The Domesday Book called it Blaneford and there is an earlier ancient reference to a Welsh-sounding Blaen-y-Ford. A theory has it that the first part of the name (Blane- or Bland-) derives from an Anglo-Saxon word, blǽge, which is the name of the blay or bleak, a small fish. According to this, the name of the town would mean ‘bleak fish ford’. In the absence of plausible alternatives, this explanation has gained general acceptance but we cannot be entirely sure of it.
The name of the river, Stour, occurs in many forms all over Britain and the continent of Europe as a name for a river. Various theories suggest a range of possible meanings, though the most plausible proposes the meaning ‘large’ or ‘powerful’, indicating that it could be the name of the major river in a given area. Considerable uncertainty remains, however.
Further down Salisbury Street we found this handsome set of almshouses. They were founded in 1682 for ten poor persons by George Ryves, a local landowner, sometime warden of New College, Oxford, and later Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University. He was also involved in the translation of the New Testament for the King James Bible. The almshouses are Grade II* listed.
A niche above the doorway in the house has been occupied by what I take to be a tutelary goblin. Where does it come from, I wonder? Is it modern or does it come from an old building?
Blandford has suffered at least four fires in its history. The first was in 1564 and destroyed buildings but without lost of life. The second occurred in 1677 and destroyed some 30 homes. Two more fires took place in the 18th century, the first of which was in 1713, when part of East Street was burned out. In 1731 there occurred a conflagration so serious that it has been recorded as the Great Fire. This destroyed most of Blandford and only a few buildings survived it, one of which was the almshouses mentioned above.
The Pump House was built in 1760, both as a memorial to the Great Fire and to supply water to citizens of the town. It was designed and gifted by John Bastard (c.1688-1770). John and his brother William (c1689-1766), architects, furniture makers, carvers and plasterers, were responsible for rebuilding the town after its 1731 devastation by fire. They worked in a classical style that was already a little old fashioned by their day. Nonetheless, they can fairly be said to have recreated Blandford from the ashes and the town has been duly grateful to them. (The pump house is Grade I listed.)
This robust house has rarity value in being, like the almshouses, one of the few survivors of the fire of 1731. It was built in the mid-17th century by Dr Sagittary who held German and English degrees in medicine and practised as a doctor in Blandford. He was a native of the Palatinate (South-West Germany) and this is thought to explain the Germanic character of the design. (Grade I listed.)
Further along on a green beside the Methodist Church is a sculpture by Jo Burchell. I don’t know if it has a title but it was commissioned in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and a notice tells us that you can find hidden in the structure a diamond (presumably a diamond-shape, not an actual gemstone), ‘2012’ and an ‘R’.
We didn’t visit the parish church this time around. Perhaps we will do so on another visit. Dedicated to St Peter and St Paul, it was build in 1832-9 and is the work of John Bastard. He apparently designed the tower with a steeple but, finances giving out, this was never made and was substituted with a wooden cupola, much to the architect’s recorded disgust. The church is currently in poor repair, which no doubt explains the scaffolding, but has merited a Grade I listing.
Next we went along to have a look at the Blandford Town Museum.
We received a friendly welcome at the museum and we conscientiously viewed all the exhibits. The museum is quite small as far as space is concerned and could probably do with larger premises as it is packed with material. The history of the town is covered and include two mock-ups of old businesses which I photographed.
Being interested in clocks I could not fail to notice that this nice pendulum wall clock was made by a local clockmaker called Robert Hood. (The lighting was not conducive to photography in that area.) I wasn’t able to find out much about Robert Hood though I have putative dates for him of 1800-79.
This large and imposing building combines the roles of town hall and corn exchange. It is dated 1734 and is now Grade I listed. Guess who built it? Here’s a clue: it’s signed ‘Bastard, Architect’. No prizes for that, then. It’s a nice piece of work faced with Portland Stone.
We popped inside for a quick look at the Corn Exchange. I doubt whether any corn is bought and sold here nowadays and the interior has been rearranged as a space for events and entertainments. Today there was a market of jewellery and other small objects, and a cafe.
Before undertaking the journey back to Dorchester, we went for a late lunch. We chose the Simla Indian restaurant. Here we enjoyed a good lunch and this rounded off our visit to Blandford nicely.
The bus did not break down on the ride home, either. Bonus!
(Edited 24/07/16 to resolve errors of location.)