I am a historian with a life long love of history who read history at Bath Spa University gaining an Honours Degree and a Masters degree. These credentials were gained with the help of some very special teachers.
Mrs Williams our history teacher at King Arthurs, Wincanton, brought history alive. Lessons were full of intrigue, mysteries and exciting places where momentous events unfolded.
University was even more epiphanic with professors like John Newsinger, Graham Davis, Alan Marshall, Paul Hyland and Patrick McQuinn entertaining and educating. Hour lectures flew by, information eagerly gobbled up, obscure texts fished out and devoured!
Reading history at Bath, I was very fortunate to discover my research tutor, Professor Patrick McQuinn, was a contemporary of Adrian Gregory’s. Thus my interest in the First World War, which stemmed from my late Grandmother’s stories of her brother Jim Sharp, gained further inspiration from Patrick, who suggested looking at how the First World War was remembered in local villages. This was slightly baffling, until I began reading material, including Adrian Gregory’s book and an article by Catherine Moriarty. Then I was hooked!
The National Inventory of War Memorials was set up in the mid 1990s by Catherine Moriarty for the Imperial War Museum. The aim was to log details of the nation’s war memorials including the names of the fallen, the monument type, who paid for it and who was responsible for its upkeep. In academic circles the revolutionary study of War Memorials found a champion in Adrian Gregory of Cambridge University, whose book ‘The Silence of Memory’ had just been published. This pioneering school of thought placed war memorials and rituals at the heart of First World War study.
Accordingly my dissertation researched parish war memorials in a small area of the Blackmore Vale – Abbas and Templecombe, Henstridge, Horsington and South Cheriton, Milborne Port, Stalbridge, Kington Magna, Buckhorn Weston, Marnhull, North Cheriton. Information from the memorials was gathered, analysed and set into a wider context; a corresponding database was also established. This served its purpose and subsequently led to providing details to the National Inventory.
Graduation was followed by study for a Masters degree in History under the watchful eye of Professor Graham Davis. Research papers produced for this degree include ‘The Principle of Elibility in the Poor Law Unions of Wincanton, south Somerset, Sherborne, west Dorset and Sturminster Newton, north Dorset.
‘The Growth of Swanage’ looking at economic changes from traditional industry of quarrying and fishing to the rise of a ‘seaside resort of quality.’
‘A Micro History of Sherborne’ – 20,000 word research study of Sherborne in west Dorset, looking at the impact of industrialisation on population growth. Studying the traditional agrarian economy, (male employment) the development of the silk industry (women and children) and how this effected population growth.
After academic study, it seemed natural to return to gathering research for a regional study of the First World War. The only way to do this is by visiting the town or village and I quickly found out that my chosen location, the Blackmore Vale region is a BIG area covering over 60 square miles. There are 110 Towns and Parishes – 81 in Dorset, 24 in Somerset and 5 in Wiltshire, which centre around the market towns of Sherborne, Sturminster Newton, Shaftesbury, Gillingham, Mere, and Wincanton.
As the subject of war memorials was still in its infancy there were few relevant internet sources or major works to be consulted. Much of my fundamental local research was carried out by foot slogging round the parish, visiting and talking to people, looking for, and at, information, photographs and anything people were good enough to find. There are more than 120 commemorating over 2,000 names, is an interesting experience. Surprising few people know where their local memorial is located. At times I was accompanied by my young baby and even more recently by the same son now 11 years old! The small accompanying database of information now holds around 5,000 ww1 records & biogs covering all Towns and Villages in the Blackmore Vale region and including many more in the counties of Somerset, Dorset, and Wiltshire.
Having gathered all the information my dilemma was which to complete first – an in-depth look at one village’s experience or a broader based study of a region. Even then, it was clear of the importance of First World War study, and of the lack of town/village case studies. One of the few contemporary books is Bridport and The Great War – Its Record of Work at Home and in the Field, published in 1923 by J. W. Rowson. By 1997 I had decided to concentrate on one village and a few (!) years later, i.e. in 2009, the first book was complete – ‘Henstridge a Somerset Village and the First World War.’ Follow the link in the right side bar.
Now in 2014 a regional study has been completed resulting in a new 500 page draft of the book ‘WW1 Armed Forces Book of Remembrance Blackmore Vale Region. I am currently seeking ways to get this published in book form.
NEW and available only through this website is information of WW1 service personnel and biogs relating to each Town and Village in the region and beyond. Follow the ‘Download WW1 War Memorial Names’ link on the right side bar