Rose­mary Collins dis­cov­ers how a Dorset town com­mem­o­rated the cen­te­nary of the 1918 auc­tion in which it was put on sale

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How a town com­mem­o­rated be­ing auc­tioned off in 1918

The Dorset town of Stal­bridge lived through two his­toric mile­stones in 1918. As well as the end of the First World War, Lord Stal­bridge, the owner of al­most ev­ery prop­erty in town, de­cided to auc­tion them off. On 1–4 Septem­ber 2018 the Stal­bridge His­tory So­ci­ety held an ex­hi­bi­tion, ‘Stal­bridge for Sale’, to mark the auc­tion’s 100th an­niver­sary. As Judie Ralph, the so­ci­ety’s sec­re­tary, ex­plains, the cat­a­logue and other doc­u­ments pro­vide a unique snap­shot of the town in 1918.

How Did You Re­search The Ex­hi­bi­tion?

We used the 1911 cen­sus, and ob­vi­ously the 1920 elec­toral roll was use­ful. It doesn’t give spe­cific ad­dresses but it does give the street, so in some cases we know that ten­ants were still liv­ing in the same place in 1920. How­ever, it took some time for all of the i’s to be dot­ted and the t’s to be crossed. We used the auc­tion cat­a­logue, which was ex­tremely use­ful be­cause it told you who the ten­ants were in 1918. We also used the rent books in the Dorset His­tory Cen­tre in Dorch­ester, and school rolls.

What Hap­pened To The Prop­er­ties That Sold?

A num­ber of the farms were bought by their ten­ants. How­ever, some farm­ers were not able to buy their prop­er­ties, and there were some re­ally sad ad­verts in the pa­pers about a month later from farm­ers who were sell­ing up their stock and their equip­ment. And some of the houses were bought by one of the lo­cal em­ploy­ers who ran the milk fac­tory in the town. He clearly bought prop­er­ties that were lived in by some of his key work­ers, pre­sum­ably to give them se­cu­rity of ten­ure.

How Did You Or­gan­ise The Ex­hi­bi­tion?

We had a series of about 10 posters that were A0 size (roughly 33 inches x 47 inches) pick­ing out spe­cific el­e­ments like the churches, the pubs, the farms and even my house, which was called the Li­brary and Read­ing Rooms in the sale. Some­body else had un­cov­ered the de­tails of Church Hill House, which was where the doc­tor lived and had his practice and a mini hospi­tal, be­cause of course this was be­fore the cre­ation of the Na­tional Health Ser­vice. We were very lucky be­cause a bril­liant lo­cal graphic de­signer took the in­for­ma­tion that we’d gath­ered and cre­ated these amaz­ing posters for us. The ex­hi­bi­tion was a com­bi­na­tion of the very big posters and the A4 sheets that we cre­ated for each of the prop­er­ties, plus three copies of the orig­i­nal cat­a­logue, other doc­u­ments from the Stal­bridge archive, and maps.

What Was The Com­mu­nity Re­sponse Like?

We were very ner­vous, be­cause the ex­hi­bi­tion had cost well over £1,000 to mount. But we were re­ally thrilled. Be­tween the do­na­tions that were given over the course of the ex­hi­bi­tion and do­na­tions from lo­cal busi­nesses and lo­cal peo­ple, we ac­tu­ally cov­ered our costs.

More im­por­tantly, the at­mos­phere in the hall was won­der­ful. There was a real sense of com­mu­nity, and a com­bi­na­tion of lo­cal peo­ple who’d come to find out about their fam­i­lies and the build­ings of Stal­bridge, to­gether with vis­i­tors who had come from much fur­ther afield whose ances­tors lived in the town. Peo­ple were meet­ing mem­bers of their fam­ily who they didn’t know ex­isted.

‘There were sad ad­verts from farm­ers sell­ing up their stock and their equip­ment’

This map of the town’s High Street and the sur­round­ing area was used in the 1918 auc­tion

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