Monday, 23 July 2012

Shaftesbury, Dorset

Way back in May this year, when here in England we enjoyed our allotted annual one week of nice 'summer' weather, my brother and myself visited various areas including the small town of Shaftesbury.
Note my brother's cheery disposition as he recreates the famous delivery boy scene (honed after years of practice being a real delivery boy i.e. he's a postman)

British readers of a certain age might not recognise the place name but you will probably remember the Hovis bread advert (directed by Ridley 'Alien, Bladerunner, Gladiator, Prometheus' Scott) which featured a delivery boy pushing his bike up a steep cobbled path. The voice-over gave the impression that the scene was set somewhere 'up north'. The street, Gold Hill, however is actually located in Shaftesbury, in the southern coastal county of Dorset.

The town was home of Shaftsbury Abbey founded by Alfred and his daughter Ethelgiva in 888. The abbey became the wealthiest Benedictine nunnery in England. The relics of St. Edward the Martyr, who had been murdered nearby Corfe castle, were transferred there in 981 and the abbey became a major pilgrimage site. King Canute died here in 1035.

The abbey was the wealthiest Benedictine nunnery in England. At the time of the Dissolution it was said that "if the abbess of Shaftesbury and the abbot of Glastonbury Abbey had been able to wed, their son would have been richer than the King of England" due to lands and property which it had been bequeathed to the abbey.

As a result of this wealth the abbey was dismantled in 1539 by the order of Thomas Cromwell. The job was carried out to such an extent that you need a good imagination to picture the ruins as ever being an abbey at all.
The scant remains of the abbey. View towards the alter.
So dear reader, you may ask, "why is he rambling on about Shaftesbury Abbey?". Well the reason is that the small on-site abbey museum features stonework pieces excavated from the abbey's ruins, including Saxon carvings and medieval floor tiles.

Purbeck marble head of a knight and support cushion. The detail shows chain mail on the head, which is thought to be unique - late C13th AD.

These tiles (shown above) feature the coat of arms of several local benefactors. These caught my eye and I thought they would be idea references for my late Crusade/Cry Havoc figures. Several of these coat of arms will be appearing very shortly in future posts. Two of the shield designs in particular relate to a fascinating 'what-if' historical story that I will detail in another forthcoming post.


  1. Great post I love the shield designs on the tiles, they must have looked superb insitu.

  2. Now I need a sandwich, good post my friend!

  3. When I saw the Purbeck marble head I thought you were going to say it was an original excavated Hovis loaf! :-)