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