Hilary's Diaries - Hilary Townsend President of Stalbridge History Society
Titles by Hilary Townsend
This month I should like to consider the importance of farming in Stalbridge. There is much good Oxford clay here and, as Thomas Hardy said of the Blackmore Vale, "in which the fields are never brown, and the springs never dry."
This made our ground excellent for dairy farming. Once the railway was established cheese, milk and butter could be sent far away and the Westminster estate added purpose-built north facing cheese rooms to the farm houses they rebuilt.
Cook’s farm at Thornhill is an excellent example of this development and my grandfather, making cheese from 1884-1907, not only made huge quantities of Dorset Blue Vinny and cheddar cheese but became innovative. He is said to have been the first cheesemaker in the Blackmore Vale to make cheese with celery seeds in it.
Agriculture and the railway brought much trade and prosperity to Stalbridge. In 1873 a young man named Charles Meader and his brother had trained as jewellers in Blandford. They could not in the terms of their apprenticeship set up in business within 10 miles of Blandford so considered Stalbridge and Bournemouth.
Stalbridge was a bustling market town full of trades linked to agriculture, surrounded by the gentry and also with 14 public houses. Bournemouth then was just a small fishing village so the Meader brothers chose Stalbridge. They set up a small jewellers shop at the top of Station Road.
The estate rebuilt this and the business flourished for many years, stocking all manner of goods as required. As an agricultural town we took our time from the seasons, not the clock but with the coming of the railways we had to use the clock and Mr. Meader donated a fine one above his shop to meet this need.
What I have written this time concentrates on the prosperous and flourishing aspects of Stalbridge agriculture but it was not like this for everyone. Grinding poverty, harsh labour, sickness and superstition also flourished. More about this next time.
© Hilary Townsend