All the fun of a Victorian Fayre at the Dorset County Museum

The Victorian Fayre last year at the Dorset County Museum

The Victorian Fayre last year at the Dorset County Museum

On Sunday 21st February, from 2.00pm to 5.00pm, the Dorset County Museum opens its doors for the second year running to a traditional Victorian Fayre to celebrate the birthday of William Barnes, Dorset dialect poet. This FREE event will offer something for all the family.

Stalls will include traditional crafts and gifts and the chance to learn rural skills. There will be Maypole dancing for the children as well as popular parlour games.

The friends of the William Barnes Society and Tim Laycock, well-known folk musician, actor and storyteller will provide traditional singing, music, dance and poetry reading throughout the afternoon.

Frome Valley Morris Mummer

Frome Valley Morris Mummer

The Frome Valley Morris Men will perform the Mummers and Hoodening play. The event would not be complete without a raffle, quiz and a Victorian afternoon tea.

Marion Tait, Honorary Curator of the William Barnes Gallery and Archive said that last year the Victorian Fayre was a huge success and was hoping for a repeat performance.

For further information contact the Museum on on 01305 756827 or check the website on or follow us on Facebook and Twitter

William Barnes celebrated at Museum’s Victorian Fayre

Dorset County Museum Victorian FayreOn Sunday 22nd February 2015, the Dorset County Museum’s Victorian Hall was transformed into a traditional Victorian Fayre to celebrate the birthday of Dorset dialect poet William Barnes. The atmosphere was full of hustle and bustle with numerous stalls from traditional crafts to popular parlour games; Victorian paperboy selling his broadsheets and a demonstration of net making and other rural skills. The museum’s Tea Room worked flat out to provide Victorian afternoon tea for 350 visitors.

The Language of Flowers proved to be really popular with people queueing to create their own style Nosegays and Tussie Mussies with fresh flowers. Likewise the demonstration on creating Dorset Buttons saw very enthusiastic folk fashion their own design.

Net Making

Sue Worth of The New Hardy Players demonstrates Net Making

The Herb stall gave an informative look into culinary and medicinal uses of that period.
The fantastic display of hand-made bonnets drew quite a crowd as did the dining table which depicted the difference between the gentry and the rural labourers.

The children had their own entertainment including pin the tail on the donkey, making little peg dolls, a variety of toys to buy and dressing up in period costume.

Musician and Storyteller Tim Laycock captivated the audience of his portrayal of a teacher in a Victorian classroom. Whilst fellow members of the William Barnes Society and The New Hardy Players entertained all with music, song, poetry and country dancing which was enjoyed by people of all ages.

Alastair Simpson and the Cantate Rustique choir

Alastair Simpson and the Cantate Rustique Choir

Alastair Simpson conducted the Cantate Rustique choir to perform four pieces: Ralph Vaughan Williams’s famous Linden Lea; a setting of The Lew O’ the Rick by the blind organist of Shaftesbury, F. F. Coaker, from the 1950s; a 2002 work by Peter Lord, Come; and Alastair’s own harmonisation of the folk musician Tim Laycock’s touching melody to the words of Barnes’s grief-stricken poem The Wife a-Lost, the last being a premiere.

William Barnes Collection Curator, Marion Tait said “This was a hugely successful and amazing event where all had a great time at the Victorian Fayre raising over £600 towards the redevelopment of the museum’s William Barnes’ Gallery.”


A huge thank you to Battens Solicitors, Dorchester, for sponsoring the event and a special thank you to all volunteers who took part in the Victorian Fayre and celebrating William Barnes Birthday

  • Alastair Simpson and Cantate Rustique
  • Alistair Chisholm
  • Friends and family

Thank you to the following businesses for supporting the William Barnes Collection.

  • Dorset Flower Men, Dorchester Precinct
  • Bridget, Fruit and Vegetable stall, Dorchester market
  • Beth King, Tolpuddle

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.