• David Lloyd

The Gillingham Historian July 2020

Updated: Mar 4

The Newsletter for Gillingham Local History Society and Museum

July 2020 Vol.10 No.8


Just a reminder

· Closing date for the competition will be 31st July 2020.

· Entries don’t have to cover the whole period as they will still give a snapshot of what you have been doing.

· If your school is taking part and you have returned there, please take your diaries to school before the end of term.

Otherwise, as the museum is not yet open, please contact Penny Peat on penelopepeat@gmail.com to arrange delivery/collection (with social distancing observed).

· If you have a digital diary, please contact Penny before sending.

· Please mark your diary with your name, age, postcode and contact details.

· Reminder of age categories: 3 – 6 years; 7 – 11 years; 12 – 16 years; 17 – 99 years.

· Winners will be announced at the end of September 2020. All diaries will be returned, although winning entries will be given the opportunity to donate them to the museum for the archives.


BACK IN TIME A reflection on 1820 - Two hundred Years Ago

What was happening in Gillingham and area? Any news at all was reported in the Salisbury and Winchester Times and that was very little. The following is a sample which did appear.

ADVERT: To be SOLD by Private Contract – about 70 tons of Prime Meadow Hay, in Lots. To be LET – About 100 Acres of Pasture Land for the Feed of Sheep, until Old Lady-day next. Application to be made to Mr G Godwin.

CAPITAL TIMBER – Gillingham, Dorset. TO BE SOLD BY AUCTION at the Phoenix Inn on 24 February – Thirteen lots of good ELM, OAK, and ASH. TIMBER TREES, with their Heads and Bark; and seven Lots of POLLARDS; standing on the Parsonage Farm and other Lands in the parish of Gillingham.

At a MEETING on 22 January at the Red Lion Inn, Shaftesbury, of the Blandford, Wimborne, and Shaftesbury Agricultural Association, for the protection of the Rights and Interests of Agriculture, Robert James of Gillingham was added to the present Committee. Who was Robert James? See below.

An ADVERTISEMENT for 31 July reveals that Robert James owned Wyke Manor Farm which was to be sold by Auction on 7 August at Garraway’s Coffee House, Change-Alley, Cornhill, London. “This truly desirable Estate, consisting of a most substantial MANSION in good repair, a double coach house, excellent stables, gardens, green-house, and other convenient offices, forming a most complete residence for a genteel family, with one of the best FARMS in the West of England, in the highest possible state of cultivation, containing nearly 400

acres, within a ring fence, part Freehold and part Copyhold of Inheritance (with a small fine certain on death or alienation), and a small part Leasehold for long terms of years, of rich Arable, Water Meadow, and Pasture LANDS; capital orchards well stocked with choice fruit trees, two good Farm-houses, three barns, new built brick granary (see photo), ox stalls, and all other necessary farm buildings, in the occupation of Robert James, Esq. the owner.”

Today this is known as Wyke Hall and the farm across the road. Robert James acquired Wyke House (as it was then known) in 1810. It was then occupied by John Farquhar in 1822 (two years after the above advertisement).

What was not reported in the 1820 Newspapers was the fact that John Constable the painter visited Gillingham for the first time at the end of July 1820. Our Society President, Sam Woodcock went back in time and arranged an interview in order to find out what brought him to Dorset and to Gillingham in particular.


S.W./ Mr Constable, I’ve been wondering how on earth a Suffolk born artist came to visit this wonderful County of Dorset and also to visit the quaint little market town of Gillingham

J.C./ Well it’s a long story but I’ll be brief, but in doing so I will illustrate it with some of my paintings. It was the summer of ’98 that’s 1798 you understand! I was a young man of 22 and as some would say (but I couldn’t possibly comment) a budding young artist. My family were millers, owning several mills in the area the main one, and our family home, being that of Flatford in East Bergholt.

My parents at that time were very friendly with the Rev. Brook Hurlock and his wife who was a curate in the nearby village of Langham. (Not to be confused of course with your own hamlet of the same name just outside Gillingham!)

The Rev. Hurlock, (a somewhat nervous character as I recall) took care of the parish on a day to day basis, the actual Rector making only a rare appearance. It was on one such occasion in that summer of ’98 that I gained his acquaintance. I was invited to tea especially to meet him, for I was told he was particularly interested in art and artists.

S.W. / Sorry to interrupt, but could you clarify something for me?

J.C. / Yes of course.

S.W. / I’m a little muddled as to the relationship between the Curate and the Rector, surely as Rector he would have been in full time residence there.

J.C. / Ah in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a vicar or rector could hold several livings or parishes and commute between them all as he wished.

S.W. / Oh I see do go on.

J.C. / Well I was a little apprehensive to say the least at the thought of meeting this Rector as I’d heard so much about him.

S.W. / This intrigues me. Who was he?

J.C. / He was Dr John Fisher, a Doctor of Divinity, Master of St. John’s College Cambridge and private tutor to Prince Edward Duke of Kent who was later to become the father of Queen Victoria.

S.W. / Yes I can see why you may have been a little nervous.

J.C./ However, I need not have worried as Dr Fisher soon put me at ease and before the afternoon was over we seemed like old friends! We met up several times during the next few days and he appeared most interested in some of the rough sketches I had done, especially the one with the hay waggon in the water – I must finish it sometime!

Dr Fisher was appointed Bishop of Salisbury in 1807 and after repeated invitations to visit I eventually made it in 1811. This was to be the first of many such occasions. (Bishop’s Palace left)

This was an ideal situation for in the times that were to follow I was able to sketch many views of the Cathedral and the surrounding water meadows. The Fisher’s were fine hosts and always made me welcome.

Not only that, but Dr Fisher took time to escort me in my explorations of the area, visiting Stonehenge and even arranging a visit to Stourhead where we spent a couple of days as the guests of Sir Richard Colt Hoare.

It was during this time that I first met the Bishop’s nephew John Fisher who was a gifted amateur artist. We struck up an immediate friendship which was to last the rest of our lives!

S.W. / Ah tell me a little more about him as it can be a little confusing, there being two John Fishers!

J.C. / Yes of course. John the younger graduated from Christ’s College Cambridge in 1810 and was immediately ordained by his uncle the Bishop who appointed him to Salisbury Cathedral Deaconry and as Rector of Idmiston Wiltshire.

S.W. / Ah thank you that begins to clarify it.

J.C. / I will now skip a few years.

S.W. / But you haven’t mentioned how you came to be in Gillingham right up at the north of the County.

J.C. / Ah sorry, nor I haven’t. Well you remember I explained earlier that a vicar or incumbent could hold more than one living. Well in April 1819 my friend John Fisher was appointed Vicar of Gillingham while still retaining his living at Osmington. This was a very lucrative offer as the living was worth £1000 a year which was then worth more than double of all his other church appointments put together! He had also recently been appointed Archdeacon of Berkshire, which permitted him to acquire a house within Salisbury Cathedral Close.

S.W. / Goodness! (Thinks – I wonder how much that would have been in 2020?)

Sorry, did you say Berkshire?

J.C. / Yes at that time it was part of the Salisbury Diocese.

Once established in Gillingham he soon became aware of the picturesque mills and rivers in the area and lost no time in writing to me, inviting me to visit, knowing my keen interest in capturing the images on my canvas.

S.W. / So you made haste to go

J.C. / Well not exactly, for by this time we had a two year old little boy, John Charles and my wife had just given birth to our second child. However, Fisher was very persuasive, arranging for us to stay at his Salisbury residence.

I quote from his letter – “----- Mrs Fisher is delighted with the thoughts of seeing Mrs Constable and her little boy. We have a capital nursery for him. Bring some good drying oils with you. – You are to stay as long as you find it convenient.”

So how could I refuse? At least Salisbury was not quite as far to travel with the encumbrance of a small baby as it would have been to go on to Osmington or even Gillingham, where I gather the vicarage was rather damp and needed much improvement. Even so, it was a 16 hour journey with an overnight stay.

S.W. / So you didn’t visit Gillingham?

J.C. / Yes I did actually. We arrived in Salisbury at the beginning of July 1820. The Fisher’s by that time had children of their own so with our two little ones you can imagine the noise and disruption that took place! – So much so that Fisher and I decided to leave the ladies to it and seek refuge in the peace and quiet of the countryside! We made a number of day trips out to places such as Stonehenge, the New Forest and various villages not too distant from Salisbury, this may have included Gillingham but I am uncertain.

I do recollect however that Fisher and I stayed in the vicarage in Gillingham (see left) for a long weekend between Friday July 28th and Tuesday August 1st.

During this visit I made a number of sketches (see right) and was so impressed with the area I was determined to return for a longer stay whenever my diary and domestic commitments would permit.

S.W. / and did you?

J.C. / I did indeed, but unfortunately not until 1823 when I was able to stay for about a month. That visit gave me ample time to explore the area, make several sketches of a wonderful old mill and complete an oil painting of the Bridge at Gillingham. For the first two weeks the weather was appalling, but fortunately I was able to make full use of Fisher’s art studio in the vicarage. Towards the end of August the weather cleared and we experienced several weeks of balmy sunshine and autumn tints. But that’s another story. I’m feeling rather tired now. I’m not used to being interviewed.

S.W./ Thank you Mr Constable for a most interesting and informative interview.

J.C./ The pleasure was all mine. Shall we take tea?


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