Our Stalbridge History Society is many things. It is a serious academic research society. It is practical and down-to-earth and two years ago put on an extremely detailed exhibition of the sale of properties in Stalbridge in 1918. It reaches out to its membership, putting on events and topics that people want to hear about and it also has an intensely human side.
This human side was brought home to me recently when we put on a rerun of the 1918 exhibition at Stalbridge Hall. Some visitors to the exhibition left a note saying that they were researching the family history of the Gatehouse family of Stalbridge. I recognised the name and followed this up, for I knew that my father had courted a girl named Dorothy Gatehouse before the First World War. They split up and both married somebody else.
The inquirers came to see me and it turned out that the lady was the granddaughter of Dorothy Gatehouse. I knew that during their courtship she had given my father a beautiful carving set and later, when he married, my father explained its presence to my mother. She put it in a cupboard and didn’t use it. Eventually it came to me and I put in another cupboard.
I showed them photographs of my father in his youth and they showed me photographs of the Gatehouse family. Then I presented the carving set to the granddaughter of Dorothy Gatehouse and she was absolutely delighted with it, promising to show it to her children and grandchildren and tell them the story.
This incident illustrates graphically some of the things that I love most about working with history. It involves people, so is intensely human and what one discovers can be so unexpected.
© Hilary Townsend