With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, why not head down to Dorset County Museum and discover Dorset’s own answer to Romeo and Juliet.

Cupid drawn by William BarnesIf you were asked to name great romance stories, you would not be alone in recalling tales of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet or Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. However, on our own Dorset doorstep, one of the most epic love stories took place which not so many people may be aware of. This is the real-life love story between William and Julia Barnes.

The story began one morning in March 1818 where a chance encounter led William Barnes to first set eyes on a young Julia Miles as she stepped down from her stagecoach outside the King’s Arms Hotel in Dorchester. At which point he was described as being smitten immediately and even ‘involuntarily muttering to himself “that shall be my wife” (Chedzoy, 2010: 27). Their courtship was one worthy of any Shakespeare play or Hollywood movie script. Their love was forbidden by Julia’s disapproving father so the couple were forced to express their feelings in a series of intense love letters.

Shown below are two authentic examples of the handwritten letters from William to Julia.

William Banes Love letter

This letter c. 1820, points out the difficulty for the couple to have a conversation face-to-face. However, this obstacle does not stop the love-struck William from attempting to entice Julia into ‘granting him the happiness’ of attending a concert with him.

William Banes Love letter

This letter divulges William’s attempts to arrange an ‘accidental’ meeting with Julia. This highlight the need to keep their courtship a secret because it was strictly forbidden. It is this forbidden love and the couple’s determination to follow what their hearts desired which is so reminiscent of Shakespeare’s famous ‘Romeo and Juliet’ story. William and Julia both use phrases such as, ‘Yours devotedly’ and ‘Yours faithfully’ to end nearly all of their communications, showing the deepness of the star-crossed lovers’ feelings for one another.

This exchange of letters and series of ‘accidental’ meetings continued over an incredible nine years. (A time span not many modern men would have the patience to withstand nowadays!) Until, they finally married in 1827. So whatever romantic plans you have for your Valentine this February, be sure to remember true love can last much longer than one lifetime.

These love letters make up a small part of the extensive collection held by Dorset County Museum on the life of William Barnes. The Barnes’ gallery is due to undergo an extensive redevelopment where Barnes’ love life, poetry and achievements are to take a more prominent place. The refurbished gallery is expected to be opened in August 2015. For more on the lives and love story of William and Julia Barnes please visit Dorset County Museum.

To find out more information about Dorset County Museum’s Barnes collection or to plan your next trip to the museum, please visit www.dorsetcountymuseum.org

Gabriella Crouch

Further reading:

  • Chedzoy, A. (2011), The People’s Poet: William Barnes of Dorset. The History Press: Gloucestershire.
  • Lindgreen, C. H. (ed.) (1986), The Love Poems and Letters of William Barnes and Julia Miles. Dorset Record Society: Dorset.

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A British Earthwork by Rev. William Barnes

Maiden Castle, Dorchester, DorsetA British Earthwork by Rev. William Barnes

[An Archaeologist speaks.]

The grassy downs of Dorset,
Rising o’er our homes of peace,
E’er teem with life and riches
In the sheep and precious fleece;
And charm the thoughtful roamer
When, like us, he climbs to scan
Their high-cast mounds of war – the works
Of Britain’s early man,
Whose speech, although here lingers yet
His mighty works of hand,
Has ceased a thousand years to sound
In air of this green land,
And startled may it be to hear
The words of British kin —

An gwaliow war an meneth,(1)
An caer war an bryn.(2)

Their breastworks now are fallen,
And their banks are sunken low;
The gateway yawns ungated,
And unsought by friend or foe.
No war-horn (3) calls for warriors,
And no clear-eyed watchmen spy
For tokens of the foe, around
The quarters of the sky.

No band, with shout and singing, (4)
Sally forth with spear and sword,
Staying foes at wood or hill,
Or at the waded river ford;
Or else to take the hill, and fight
To win, or die within

An gwaliow war an meneth.
An caer war an bryn.

There were lowings of the cattle
By the rattling spears and swords;
There were wails of weeping women
And grim warriors’ angry words —
“Be every Briton fearless, or
For ever live in fear;
And bring his ready weapons out —
His bow, and sword, and spear! (5)
For what have we to fight the foe?
Our children and our wives!
For whom have we to fight? For those
Far dearer than our lives!
And we, to shield them all, will die,
Or else the battle win,

Yn (6) an gwaliow war an meneth,
Yn an caer war an Bryn ! “

But now, in sweet, unbroken peace,
May Dorset land-folks sleep;
In peace may speed the gliding plough,
In peace may graze the sheep;
In peace may smoke our village tuns,
And all our children play;

And may we never need nigh banks
To keep the foe at bay!
And blest be lord or farmer
Of the land, who wins our thanks
By sparing from the spade and sull
These olden British banks,
And not destroying, for a crown
Or pound that he might win,

An gwaliow war an meneth,
An caer war an bryn.

Notes:

(1) – “The ramparts on the mountain.”

(2) -“The stronghold on the hill”  

This is In the old Cornoak or Cornish-British, that of our West of England.   The modem
Welsh would be —

“Y gwaliaie ar y mynydd,
Y au caer ar y bryn.”

Au pronounced ace; y like e in le, French ; ” mynydd,” munneethe.

(3) – Cadgorn.   The bugle-horn was used for hunting, war, and drinking.

(4) –  By the laws of Hoel Dda, when the Welsh marched to battle the bards were to go before them singing a national song, now lost, called “Unbenaeth Prydain” (“The Monarchy of Britain “). This, however, was later than the time of the upcasting of our earthworks.

(5) -A law triad gives, as law-bidden weapons which every man was to keep ready for battle, a sword, a spear, and a bow with twelve arrows.

(6) – In.

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