William Barnes: The Dorset Poet

Portrait of William Barnes, Dorset County Museum

Portrait of William Barnes, Dorset County Museum

I, the son of John and Grace Barnes, was born at Rush-hay, a little farmling at Bagbere in the Parish of Sturminster Newton, in the Vale of Black-more . . . so wrote William Barnes, who was born on this day, 22nd February in 1801.

Though William’s grandfather had been a prosperous yeoman, his father was recorded in a census of Sturminster Newton taken on 10th March, 1801 (now in the Dorset History Centre) as ‘Labourer in Husbandry’. Yet in spite of lowly circumstances and his mother’s death when he was fifteen, young William had a happy childhood spent in his own home and in frequent visits to his father’s sisters at Pentridge Farm nearby. After schooling at a dame’s school and at Sturminster Newton, he was taken on as a clerk in a solicitor’s office in Sturminster, and in 1818 became engrossing clerk with the firm of Thos. Coombs & Son in Dorchester. It was in the High Street, soon after, that he first saw and fell in love with Julia Miles.

Encouraged and helped by friends of his youth, William Barnes had already developed gifts for music, literature, art and the classics, but her parents opposed him as a suitor, on the grounds of poverty. This eventually decided him to embark on a new career, and after he had kept a school at Mere for several years, he was at last, in 1827, able to marry Julia, the woman who was to be a source of intense happiness and a devoted support to him as long as she lived. At Mere he continued to keep school, practised his already developed talent for woodcuts and copper-plate engravings, brought out his first book on philology, for use in schools, studied the Welsh language, and in 1833-4 published seven eclogues in the Dorset dialect.

In 1835 he returned to his own county, settling first in a house in Durngate Street, Dorchester, later moving to another next door to Napper’s Mite in South Street, and in 1847 settling in the house on the west side of the same street which bears a tablet commemorating his 15 years’ residence there. His life was full, with his school, his children, his friends (amongst them, Thomas Hardy), his publication of ‘Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect’ in 1844, his interest in archaeology and geology which led him to become a member of the Council of the Dorset County Museum after its inauguration in 1845. He published a philological grammar in 1854, having mastered not only the classics but 60 other languages.

William Barnes Statue, St. Peter's Church, Dorchester

William Barnes Statue, St. Peter’s Church, Dorchester

In 1847 William Barnes was ordained deacon and instituted to the tiny parish of Whitcombe and its beautiful church, not far from Dorchester; but it was not until 1862, 10 years after his wife’s death, that he gave up his school and was presented to the living of Winterborne Came, the neighbouring parish. In the charming rectory which still stands on the Dorchester-Broadmayne road he lived with his daughters, and it was here that, according to Lucy, who was to write his Life under the pen-name of ‘Leader Scott’, he adopted the ‘cassock and wide-brimmed hat, knee-breeches and large buckles on his shapely shoes’ which became his characteristic garb, as well known today as in his own, since the fine statue by Roscoe Mullins was placed outside St. Peter’s Church in Dorchester.

William Barnes' Shoes, leather with buckle clasp, 'antique' style hand-made, 19th Century. Wearing these with knee breeches and cloak, he was a familiar figure in Dorchester until 1883.

Displayed in the Dorset County Museum, are William Barnes’ ‘shapely shoes’., leather with buckle clasp, ‘antique’ style hand-made, 19th Century. Wearing these with knee breeches and cloak, he was a familiar figure in Dorchester until 1883. © DCM

From the rectory, William Barnes, now old but vigorous still, went trudging out in every kind of weather to help his scattered parishioners. Indoors he had his family, his friends, and his interests. He lies in the churchyard of Winterborne Came, his grave is marked by a Celtic cross. Long before his death in 1886 he was famous in the outside world, but it was not his fame (hardly realized by most of his neighbours) but his poems, which he read aloud in the authentic dialect of his youth, moving his audiences to laughter and tears, which endeared him to his fellow men of Dorset, reflecting as they did the deep love of countryside, country ways and country people which characterized this learned yet essentially simple and genuine man.

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Event: Learn to Crochet at Dorset County Museum

Rug Making at Dorset County Museum 2012

Rug Making at Dorset County Museum 2012

Evening craft sessions for adults start 26th February 2013. Following the huge success of daytime craft sessions in 2012, Dorset County Museum is now running a series of evening sessions, just for adults, on a number of different crafts and techniques. 

The first session is ‘Crochet for Beginners’ and will be held on Tuesday 26th.

February at the Museum.  Running from 6.00pm to 8.00pm, the cost is £7.50 per person and pre-booking is essential as numbers are limited to a maximum of 15 per session.  All the materials will be provided and participants will be able to learn enough basic techniques to make a simple coaster or place mat.

No previous skill is required for this session which will be run as a friendly group activity – why not come along with a couple of friends or meet new people there?  In the coming months the group will cover silk painting (on 16th April), making rag rugs, silver clay jewellery and seasonal crafts for Christmas.

Daytime sessions also run throughout the year – the next one is Tapestry Weaving on 13th March. For further information pick up an events leaflet at the Museum or check the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org

New Exhibition: The Past Made Present at Dorset County Museum

Great British Summer by Louise Roll © 2012

Great British Summer by Louise Roll © 2012

Encounters: Wessex Contemporary Artists meet Dorset County Museum.  At last, an exhibition of contemporary art that can be accessed and enjoyed by all. 

Works by a total of 24 artists are displayed in the exhibition which opened this Saturday at Dorset County Museum.  At the exhibition preview over 200 people enjoyed exploring the new works of art, many displayed alongside artefacts from the Museum’s unique collections.  Jo Saurin, one of the artists and a curator of the exhibition said, “This is not an exhibition designed to intimidate the visitor but to encourage them, through encounters with fragments of the past, to unearth buried memories and make them contemporary. Encounters focuses on shared ancestry, poignant memory and loved landscape and there are links throughout with objects and ideas held by the Museum.”

Jon Murden, director of Dorset County Museum said, “This is one of the most challenging exhibitions we have worked on for some time, but also one of the most fascinating.  For me, the mixture of brand new works of art displayed alongside the iconic artefacts which inspired them is particularly interesting.”

The artists, all from Wessex Contemporary Arts, will be there personally on three mornings to talk about their work – come along between 10.30am and 12.00pm on 21st February, 4th and 11th April to meet them, hear about their work and find out what inspired them.  Some of the artists are also running workshops to encourage tactile engagement with processes and concepts that are at the heart of Contemporary art.  Obfuscation is not part of this exhibition.  Pleasure, recognition and personal involvement is.

The Museum’s archaeology collection has been the focus of the largest number of artists with the Dorset landscape, the coast and Maiden Castle close behind.  Poetry, library books, farming, mourning jewellery and fresco painting have also inspired other parts of the show.  Another strong category explored by some artists is enquiring into the whole concept of the Museum itself.  Visitors will see how this examination of these collections has led to the creation of many original works of art from richly coloured paintings inspired by ancient pottery to delicate bowls beautifully crafted from leaf skeletons, fish scales and other natural objects.

Encounters: Wessex Contemporary Artists meet Dorset County Museum runs until 7th June 2013 and entry to the exhibition is free.  For further information pick up an exhibition leaflet at the Museum shop or visit the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org

New Book: “Discovering Dorset’s Wild Flowers” by Peter Cramb.

John Mansel-Pleydell DCM © 2013

John Mansel-Pleydell DCM © 2013

Dorset is a special county for wild flowers. Its natural features provide many different plant habitats which in turn support a rich variety of beautiful, interesting and sometimes rare wild flowers. These flowers have been recorded by many generations of botanists and used by Dorset people as medicines, food, dyes, decorations and garden plants. As importantly, they have over the ages been a source of inspiration, joy and spiritual refreshment to countless individuals.

This book traces the history of the botanical exploration of Dorset from the early pioneers such as William Turner (c.1510-1568) and John Ray (1627-1705) to the first Dorset resident botanist, Richard Pulteney (1730-1801) and John Mansel-Pleydell, one of the founder members of the Dorset County Museum in 1845. The latter published the first full flora of Dorset in 1874, listing all the wild flowers then known in the county and was the first President of the Dorset Field Club – forerunner to the Dorset Natural History & Archaeological Society we know today. Subsequent floras were published in 1948 by Ronald Good (1896-1992), President of the Society from 1961-65, and in 2000 by Humphry Bowen (1929-2001).

The book also describes twenty of Dorset’s most interesting wild flowers, giving details of when, where and by whom they were first recorded in the county, their current distribution both in Dorset and Britain as a whole and their importance to people. These include Tree-mallow, first recorded by John Ray at Chiswell, Portland, in 1670, and the beautiful and rare Early Spider-orchid, first recorded by John Mansel-Pleydell near Worth Matravers in 1874. Both these and many of the other flowers described can still be found where they were first discovered, enabling the reader to follow in the footsteps of the pioneering botanists.

Discovering Dorset's Flowers by Peter Cramb

Discovering Dorset’s Flowers by Peter Cramb

Illustrated with the author’s photographs of the flowers and their habitats and line drawings by Margaret Cramb, Discovering Dorset’s Wild Flowers will appeal to members interested in the county’s wild flowers and also make an attractively priced gift for family and friends.

The author and publishers are generously donating all sale proceeds from this book
to the Dorset Natural History & Archaeological Society. It is on sale now in the Museum Shop.

  • Published by P. & M. Cramb (2013). 64pp. ISBN 978-0-9537746-4-7. Price £5.95.

Half Term Fun at Dorset County Museum

Dinosaur Fun at the Dorset County Museum

Dinosaur Fun at the Dorset County Museum

Dorset County Museum will be running two different events for children during half term week.  Both are completely free thanks to generous sponsorship from Battens Solicitors through its Charitable Trust.

On Tuesday 19th February the brand new Dino Club has its first session. This club has been specially designed for children aged 7 and under and each session will have a different dinosaur as its theme.  This week’s dinosaur is the Megalosaurus – a Jurassic dinosaur up to 9m long which walked on two legs, and had sharp teeth and claws.  The activities will include making giant megalosaurus footprints.  Dino Club runs from 10.30am to 11.30am and only takes place in the school holidays.

On Wednesday 20th February there is a family activity from 10.30am to 12.00pm.  Everyone is welcome and the theme is ‘Five things you didn’t think you could do in a museum!’  These include making new labels for exhibits, rearranging a display case and dressing up some of the statues.  Both events are free, and there’s no need to book – just turn up on the day.

For further information contact the Museum on 01305 262735 or check the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org