Alec Arthur George Walbridge (1916-2017)

Alec also wrote the bookon the history of St. Mary’s.




DH  We are going to talk largely about Toller Whelme and Beaminster.  First of all, Alec, how old are you?

AW I am 90+ now.  Plus two or three days.

DH  And where were you born?

AW  I was born in 1916 in the East Wing, the18th Century wing of Toller Whelme Manor.

DH  And how many brothers and sisters did you have?

AW  I had one brother and three sisters.  Only one sister is still living.

DH  And how long did you live there?  How long did you live at Toller Whelme?

AW  I’ve been at Toller Whelme twice in my life.  The first time I lived there until I was 4 and the second time I came back when I was already at college and I was at home until 1963.  (Noisy clock chiming in the background)  

DH  What do you remember about the people who lived there?

AW  Yes.  It was very interesting because there were quite a number of people working in and around the estate.  Especially when I was young. First of all I had a maid to look after me when I was an infant.  She was called Hilda.  Eventually she married a mason from Bailey & Sons and became Hilda Poole and she retired to Beaminster where I visited her for many years.  So she was virtually my nanny because my mother had ill health at that time.  

There were interesting people like carters.  The carter’s boys who lived in the cottages.  There was shepherds, people like that and of course my father farmed as well, he farmed Middle Farm which was about 600 acres so there were all sorts of interesting people.  And, of course, also in Beaminster where I knew an awful lot of people.  People like the Frampton brothers, or Sam Gibbs or Richard Hine or Canon Hutchings.  

DH  Tell me a bit about one or two of those.

AW  Well Canon Hutchings was the most interesting character because he had a dreadful speech impediment.  In the pulpit and in church he was word perfect but if he spoke to you outside of the church you virtually had to help him out with his speech.  Now, as a psychologist I’ve amuch better understanding of that; much more could have been done for it today.  But he was a very learned man and he was one of my two referees when I went to college.  In those days you had to have, if you were going into the sort of medical side, you had to have a scientitic referee and a moral referee.  Canon Hutchings was my moral referee and Dr. Pym was my scientific referee.  how many students would get into college today under those conditions I don’t know.  

Dr. Pym was another very interesting man.  Trained at Edinburgh.  The only X-Ray was at Dorchester, far too far away to send someone in a wagon and a very bumpy ride so he set bones on a farmhouse kitchen table and did it with remarkable accuracy and touch.  Not bettered today.  And, of course, they didn’t plaster them, they had to be tightly splinted.  And those people recovered and had full use of the limbs.  I remember such incidents, they made a great impression on my mind.  A nurse used to come with him and drape a sheet soaked in disinfectant all round the table and that became the operating theatre and he also operated on my mother who had a diseased knee.  It had to be opened and cleared and stitched.  They did a marvellous job.  She recovered.  She walked on it perfectly afterwards.

DH  And did he come then in a pony and trap or in his car?


AW  By then it was a car, before then it was a pony and trap.  Spare ponies were at the Walnuts.  There was a man there who looked after his horses and traps and when it came flying back from Drimpton or somewhere on one mission, changed the horses so they could fly off to Toller Pocorum on another.  A very busy man.  Ahead of his time in many ways.  In many ways controversial to the medical profession of those days but, unfortunately, he was very wrong in some aspects I’m afraid.  Not his fault of course.  My younger sister had polio in the days of the big polio epidemic in Beaminster and, instead of exercising the limb, he got an aluminium trough made and they strapped the limb immobile into that trough and of course she lost the use of the limb.  Today I would do something quite different but that was thought to be the right treatment then.

DH  Now some people say his Rover car was the first car in Beaminster?

AW  It was the first car after Johnnie Hunt’s car.  Johnnie Hunt’s car had gone off the road by then.  It was still down at Southgate.  Parts of it were still there when it was sold up down there, lying about.  I went to the saleroom and some bits were still around.

DH  Tell me a bit about Johnnie Hun’t car.

AW  Oh well, Johnnie Hunt’s car was a remarkable thing.  First of all John Hunt had never seen a car, nor had anyone else around here, but he had read about Benz and what Benz had done in America and the internal combustion engine.  He decided if Germans could make a car, he could make a car.  Well, the trouble was he could not make the cylinder block in the Southgate wagonworks.  They did a lot of woodwork, metalwork, that sort of thing, had all the machinery.  But they could not do big castings.  So he had the cast block, a four cylinder block, cast in Birmingham, sent back to Beaminster where he Lapped and Honed and fitted the cylinders himself. 

He worked out his biggest problem was the clutch and he is said to have woken up in the middle of the night with an idea for it, scribbled it down at once on his notepad which he kept by his bed and he made a kind of (? unclear) clutch.  Not a very satisfactory clutch but it worked.  And the car, I never remember it in use because it was always out of use by the time I knew such things but I saw it when it was still in the works at Beaminster. It had no driveshaft, the back wheels were driven by two chain drives to the engine.  There was no distributor or coil as such but there were four Run Coff Coils (? unclear) under the dashboard which supplied the spark to the cylinders in turn.  It was a longish vehicle, sort of built on the lines of a wagon.  It had been used a lot in the summer……………. In early days he took it to Weymouth and people paid for rides from Weymouth to Wishing Well and back.  There was great curiosity.  But by the time I remember it was virtually off the road.  And by that time cars, other cars manufactured in this country, had arrived, and Dr. Pym had one of the first ones.  That one I think is still around – it had been up to a few years ago.  That was Dr. Pym.  


Then, of course, other famous characters Mr. Dart, Headmaster at the Boys School.  Again a man of great perspicacity and discipline.  Discipline was the big deal in those days.  That’s why children learnt because they didn’t have any other opportunity and, of course, the cane when necessary.  Not violently or unnecessarily in my opinion but occasionally.  He ran a very good school – Boys School – and he’d all sorts of interests.  Some of his boys left after the first year to go to the Grammar School, of which I was one.  He encouraged that but he also encouraged all sorts of diverse skills for those who didn’t go to the Grammar School.  His immediate, next Assistant Master was Sandy Powell who walked to school every day from Mosterton in all weathers and never missed a day’s teaching.

It says something.  Then well of course I moved from there to the Grammar School at the age of 10.  (? unclear) by Mr. Skyrme.   Another man of great discipline and also quite a great learning in the Classics.  I started straight away, of course, with the shorter Latin Primer which I can remember only too well.  ‘Barbus Amat Julia’ is how it starts off.  Very strictly and we really had to learn our declensions and conjugations.  So much of that was useless, but I found it quite useful many times since.  When I did anatomy it was quite useful to me.  That year’s anatomy in London and, of course, more recently when I’ve done research on to maps and documents and so on.  It’s enabled me to translate words for myself.  It comes back to you even after years.  It was so well drilled in.

We also had some other remarkable people at that Grammar School.  There was Miss Peters who taught  mathematics without fault and it took you to the level of the Oxford Higher which in fact was higher than the present First Year Syllabus at University.  And, of course, Mr.Graveson, a Quaker gentleman, who was an extremely competent teacher of botany and agricultural science.  Hence students were sent here on scholarships from all over the county.  And of course we had our experimental plots, our experimental greenhouses where…………… what’s it called now ………… Close, opposite the old Grammar School, its  flats now.

DH  Hanover Court?

AW  Hanover Court.  That was not there, of course, it was all greenhouses.  And later, of course, the girls were boarded.  Up until that time they weren’t.  But they were boarded in the house opposite and later at Woodlands.  My last year at Grammar School I stayed on an extra year because college didn’t have extra spaces.  They promised me a place the following year but I had to do a year.  Now called a Gap Year.  So the first term I went to Allington and taught in Allington School with another very disciplined and competent Headmaster, Mr. Walker, who gave me his class and retreated into the corridor to watch what I did.  

After that I returned to Beaminster Grammar School and in those days I thought I was going to do biology later on for a degree so I thought I’d better do…………….. we hadn’t done zoology………. so I’d better do zoology.  So for two terms I spent all my time disecting – as you know you had to disect one of every animal of every file.  And these were sent to me by post – postmen must have been puzzled in those days with parcels marked ‘Animal Remains’, Live Insects’, all sorts of things and….. which I did, I then did the level exam, not the Oxford Higher this time I did the Bristol Higher because they had laboratories……………… we couldn’t take the exam in Beaminster of course so I went to Bristol University and stayed for a few days.  There were two exams and each one takes a whole day


DH  Now you lived in Toller Whelme and you lived at Buckhams, how did you get to school?

AW  Well, when I was first at Buckham, I walked to school.  I was then 5 and that was quite common practice.  Schools were very strict.  If  you were late, you may be a 5 year old, maybe a thunderstorm, there might have been snow, if you were late you still got punished.  They were very strict.  Lots of children, of course, walked until they were old enough to have a bicycle or a pony.  When I was old enough I had a bicycle. Before that though, one of the boys who used to sometimes walk with me came from East Axnoller and on his way to school one morning he scratched his knee on a stile at the top of Buckham Down and he died a few days later from Anthrax.  No, sorry, not  Anthrax, Tetanus.  Lockjaw.  Well, I walked to school.  Dark nights didnt seem to make any difference. Sometimes my parents would send somebody to meet me if the weather was specially bad and it was a dark night.  We didn’t leave school until 4 o’clock so we worked right through really with just a lunch break.  There were two breaks, short breaks, mid morning and afternoon and about an hour at lunchtime.  So we had to take our own lunch with us which we were allowed to have at the school so we had vacuum flasks which regularly got broken, and some people, and my sister did and my brother, would sometimes go to the restaurant which was next to Lloyds Bank in Beaminster and they would provide lunches.  At one time we also had lunch at Gibbs which was a baker at Prout Bridge.  We’d have lunch there.  

When I had a bicycle there were all sorts of problems.  First of all, the top road, so called Broad Road, was flint and so you had endless punctures.  So you always carried a puncture repair kit with you.  Tunnel Road was all right, it was surfaced, but it wasn’t all that good.  I once hit a big stone in Tunnel Road which diverted me into the middle of the hedge as I was going down.  However, we got to school and we had to have lights for our bicycles and the cycle lamp was acetyline gas and it had acetyline in a container at the bottom, water in the top which dripped of course when it was turned on, and the acetyline and the water produced the gas which lit with a Bat’s Wing burner.  so we had to have matches for this.  And that was it.  Unfortunately the town boys, who didn’t have far to come to school, used to sneak into the cycle sheds and turn on the water during the day. Result was, of course, by the time we came to go home there was no gas, no light.  Well the police were very strict in those days and so we all had to walk with our bicycles all the way home.  It was one of the nasty little tricks that the Grammar School boys who belonged to Beaminster used to do.  I don’t think we ever got our own back on them but I should have thought of some way of doing it.  

The academic level was quite high and quite strict.  Latin was taken right through to the end.   We did French at Oxford Higher Level, history of course and, in our early years, the sort of practical subjects were not forgotten.  We did woodwork, metalwork – that was the first year or two. We did art, music – of course we had to drop those later on to make time for the Oxford Highers.  We did Oxford School Certificate with about 8 subjects.  I did it twice in slightly different subjects, 8 subjects.  And we did Oxford Higher in 3 subjects and one or two ancillaries.  One ancillary being Latin because some Universities, London for example, would not admit you without Latin.

DH  Now obviously living in these two places you had to come into Beaminster shopping.  Tell me a bit about coming in shopping.

AW  Well let’s suppose we’re going shopping from Toller Whelme or Buckhams if you like.  From, say, Buckham.  My father would say ‘Harness the pony and hitch it into the cart’ which I’d do.  I’d been taught to do it from early on.  Quite a common thing for boys to be able to harness horses and ponies, hitching the wagons and traps and Governess cart.  Then my mother would drive us into Beaminster.  Now we might park on The Square and take out the pony or we might park in Red Lion yard or New Inn yard.  In any case an Ostler would come out from one of the pubs and take the pony in to the stable while we were shopping.  We would then go shopping.  

I remember one occasion when I was to have a new suit for Easter.  Mother promptly took me to Brooks the Tailor, next to Framptons on The Square and he measured me up and said to come in next week for a fitting.  After that we went shoppingto Carters.  Now lots of the dry goods were in sacks, little of it was packaged in those days. My mother would perhaps want bacon so they would show her several sides of bacon from which she chose what she wanted.  They would slice it on a machine.  If she wanted cheese – there was a big cheese on the counter – they would cut what she wanted with a wire cutter.  Sugar, for example, they would shovel it out of a sack with a metal scoop and then they’d take a big piece of blue sugar paper, twist it into a bag, and put the sugar in there and all sorts of things like that.  In fact anything you wanted in the way of grocery.  And of course sometimes we went to Pines because his shop was rather specialised.  For example, Pines specialised in wines  more so than Carters.  Carters probably had a wider range than Pines so both shops were necessary.  

Then of course we might want some bits and pieces for repairs at home so we went to Tollmans.  Tollmans was an enormous shop right on The Square there where the paper shop is now in recent time and it extended way back there with all these mahogany counters backed by shelves and shelves of mahogany drawers full of all the bits and pieces, nails and screws.  Opposite side of the road, where Pickwick’s is now, another big shop extended right through to New Inn which, of course, is Buglers now and the bigger bits and pieces there.  Because the farmers and people, housekeepers, they did all their own repairs so they needed all the bits and pieces with which to do it.  

Well, perhaps my mother would want a new hat.  Now if she wanted a new hat she would go to London House in Hogshill Street and they would show her patterns of the latest in hats and then she would choose one and they would pass it down to the girls in the basement, milliners, and they would make the hat.   Within a week or so she’d have a new hat.  If she wanted a new dress she would go to Miss Burbage in North Street on The Green and, again, Miss Burbage would show her patterns, she’d choose the fabric, and in no time at all Miss Burbage would have made the dress.  There were all these different kinds of trades in Beaminster.  You could get almost anything………… no-body every thought of going to Crewkerne, Bridport, Yeovil to get something, you just went down to Beaminster.  There were shops in Church Street, shops in North Street, shops in Fleet Street and odd shops in Hogshill Street where (? unclear) is now, cycle shop for example was in Hogshill Street.  The Post Office on The Square.

DH  Where was the cycle shop?  


AW  Where the Post Office is now.

DH  And who ran it?  What was the name of it?

AW  Maceys

DH  Maceys.

AW  And of course there was Colbornes on The Square.  Not the present Colbornes, father, grandfather.  Post Office.  At Christmas we used to rear a lot of turkeys and they were sent, prepared and sent, by post all over the country and when they were packed we took them to Beaminster into the Post Office and the Post Office guaranteed next day delivery anywhere in England and Wales.  And we never had a turkey that was delayed in the post.  Mr. Colborne saw to that.  He also was in command of, at one time, of the Home Guard.

DH  He was the Sergeant wasn’t he?

AW  I’m not sure of his rank, I think he was a Sergeant.

DH  Now, when you’d got all these groceries, did you take them all back?

AW  Ah, no, we didn’t.  You didn’t walk out of the shop with the goods.  Now take for example the grocery.  Tommy Carter, or his assistant, would give them to a lad called Johnnie Farnham.  Johnnie Farnham had been born handicapped and he had a full time job when he left school with Tommy Carter and he took the groceries to put them in your trap, wagon or Governess cart on The Square.  They were just left there until you came.  Nobody ever stole anything.  Unheard of.  Nobody ever stole anything anyway, all the doors and windows always left open anyway.  That sort of thing went on.  Another tour was the great………….twice a year we had the Fair and the animals were on the Fairground and The Square was full of amusements of course.  Driven by a great steam engine which drove the generator.  Because Beaminster had no electricity.  They had precious little drainage let alone electricity.  I mean the virtual sewers, rivers, were open in Hogshill Street, shut down St. Mary Well Street which of course was called Duck Street.  The corner of Tunnel Road, all these places, top of Fleet Street, they were all open.  Dr. Pym was amazed that we never had a huge plague of Typhoid or something – which we never did partly because we were probably all actively immune.  So up at the Fairground they sold cattle, sheep, pigs…………there were gypsy horse dealers……..

DH  That was up on Toller Down?  The Fairground?

AW  No, no.  The Fairground in Beaminster, Fairfield.

DH  Right, Fairfield.

AW  No, Toller Down Fairground had gone by then.  Then of course, occasionally the Zoo came to Beaminster.  It was called a Menagerie.  There were all these animals in cages.  They made a great ring around The Square.  Quite a smell as well I might say.   But it was all very interesting to us because none of us in those days had been to a Zoo, seen any of this sort of thing and of course there was everything, lions and tigers and then, not in cages of course, there was the occasional camel – I don’t remember any giraffes or elephants and not really rhinos, probably too much for them.  But there were various llamas and things.  All sorts of animals from different parts of the world.  Then of course they had the great containers to bring the food for them, which they had of course to be fed, and so on.  And there was a story, of course, of the chap Norris who went into a lion’s cage and got out alive.  That happened before my time.

DH  Now, coming in with horses; obviously horses have got to be shod at some time.  How was that done? 

AW  That was done at the Farriers in Hogshill Street which is now Tollmans.  I sometimes had the job of bringing in two Shire horses because the Shires wore out their shoes of course ploughing and had to be regularly shod.  So I saddled one and led the other.  Very uncomfortable ride, they’re far too wide, and of course they weighed half a ton each and although they’re nice gentle well behaved horses you can’t really make them do something they don’t want to do.  They were far too heavy for that.  So I would come in with them quite nicely and perhaps deliver some harness to the harness makers in Hogshill Street and then take the horses up to the forge to be shod.  Then I would go away and do any shopping or what I needed to do and then back to collect the horses once they’d been shod by Mr. Shaplin or Dick Whitty and I used to be interested watching them blow the forge and all that, done by hand of course.  Kids used to gather round there always. See all the sparks flying.  And then, when I’d gathered the two horses, I would take them down.  As soon as they got into Hogshill Street and I’d turn them towards home they immediately realised ‘We’re off for home now’.  So they took it into their heads, depending which way I was going, they would promptly gallop like a cavalry charge right through Beaminster and up Whitcombe Road or right up through Tunnel Road.  A very uncomfotrtable ride on a Shire horse that’s galloping.  It really is.  I’ve never forgotten that.

DH  Now one of the other things I’ve heard about is the Flying Circus and Racing Ground.

AW  Oh yes.  Yes.  Well, of course, the circus used to come regularly about once a year and sometimes it was on Fairfield and sometimes on the cricket ground which was by what is now called South Lodge which is really North Lodge actually.  South Lodge was the other.  You get these things.  It’s just like the Strode Room being called the Strode Room which it isn’t.  And then they used to have the Fair in there, the Circus in there.  Lots of people used to go.  They used to be there for several nights.  They had to be gone, if they were here on a Saturday, by Saturday night.  Well, the rule was before the bells rang on sunday morning.  They had to be out of town.  The same applied to the Menagerie.  All that had to be gone and the place cleaned up by Sunday.  But not only did the Circus with all its acts, you know flying trapezes and animals of course, all sorts of animals, lion tamers, tiger tamers, all that sort of thing, but the huge marquee of course.  But also Melplash Show used to be there every other year.  First of all they used to be in that field, at Parnham, and then later at Fairfield until eventually they had the permanent site in West Bay Road which, incidentally, was eventually given to them by my cousin.  The Walbridges are everywhere of course.  Two Clans if you like I’ve noticed.  Both with the same origin.

DH  One with one ‘L’ and one with two ‘Ls’?

AW  You know how it happened don’t you?

DH  No.

AW  The Clergy in the 18th Century thought they were clever.  They thought it should be ‘Wall’- the English word for wall.  They were quite wrong.  It was a Saxon word for  Roman, ‘Wal’.  So when they filled the Baptismal Register in with two ‘Ls’ those people, thereafter, had two ‘Ls’ and became a separate Clan.  Most living in the valley of the Frome.  Walbridges – you can look at my website of course to read the history – but Walbridges, what are left of them, mostly live in Dorset.  We came, of course, from the Netherlands, Saxon times, and we made our landing at Witherstone in the Witherstone Forest.  From whence we moved to what is now the village of Powerstock and, since the early Registers everyone’s called Walbridge and many have the same Christian names we’re unable to trace the family tree through Powerstock.  People didn’t move out from Powerstock until later – one of the first was a marriage of an Edith Walbridge in Beaminster in mid-16th Century.  They then gradually moved out over Dorset but most of them have moved to America.  There are very few in Australia but there’s a great many in America.  They live in three places, California (mostly boat builders), Boston (where they were all sorts of technical people) and near Detroit (where they make motor cars).  They visit sometimes and we can take them to Powerstock and show them the badly damaged original Saxon font where the original ones were baptised.  So we have a long history and the history in America started with one man – three set out in sailing days to go to America.  One died on the voyage, one changed his name when he got to America – we don’t know why – so he’s untraceable.  The other is the founder of all the American Walbridges and there’s a record of it in the Library of Congress where you can look it up.

DH  Now, going back to Toller Whelme.  Racing Ground.  Why was it called Racing Ground?


AW  Race Ground.

DH  Race Ground.  Which is at Pipsford isn’t it?

AW  It’s part of Pipsford.  The first field going into Pipsford called Race Ground because in Medieval times they used to have horse racing for betting up there.  Not in my time.  But, in my time there was an Air Rally there.  In 1921 one day, (1921 or 1922, I’m not sure of the date), it was arranged for all these small planes to fly in to Race Ground from all over the country.  Some were of the string and fabric ones, biplanes, they’d been in WW1, some were high wing or low wing monoplanes and all the usual makes of those days and there was a prize for navigation – the ones who arrived most accurately first – and then they had little exercises like dive-bombing Parnham with flour bombs, flying out over Beaminster and back.  Quite famous people were there.  The Duchess of Bedford for one who disappeared some years later over the North Sea, I think it was Amy Johnson who likewise disappeared a bit later on.  All the well known sort of fliers were there and we were allowed to go round and look at all the planes and so on.  But there was trouble because some people handled the fabric planes and they made holes with their fingers in the fabric and they had patches which they’d brought along and stuck over the holes.  The planes still flew off just the same.  You can imagine Health and Safety today would go up the wall!  But that’s how it was.  

The first thing I remember at all, at Toller Whelme, when I was 3 years and 4 months was the first Armistice Day in 1919 and coming over in the sky were the Airships.  These Airships had been stationed at Hooke during WW1 to patrol the Channel and they now attached great Union Jacks to their sides and came flying over Toller Whelme quite low down.  And then they turned and went over Beaminster and of course I remember that extremely well.  It must have made a great impression on me.  These great things in the sky.  But that was one of the interesting things about the history then that something like that should happen in a place like Hooke.   

DH  Yes.  The other thing associated with WW1, of course, was the gun in The Square.  Did you ever…………..?

AW  Yes.  It must have been in the afternoon of that day.  We went down to Beaminster I think just to see what happened and I remember there was a gun being put on a plinth but also there were rows and rows of soldiers and some of them on horses.  And I remember that, I’ve got a little picture still of that which I’ve never really lost.  I suppose it really made quite an impression.

DH  Right, well, I think we’ve covered everything I was hoping to ask you.  Thank you very much indeed.