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Somerset & Dorset
Family History Society

Heritage Alliance Open Day

What a wonderful day the Heritage Alliance Open Day held at the Family History Centre in Sherborne on Saturday 31 May turned out to be. It was the first public coming together of the newly established Sherborne heritage group consisting of the Somerset and Dorset Family History Society, Sherborne Museum, St Johns’ Almshouse, Sherborne Boys’ School Archives and Sherborne Steam and Waterwheel Centre.

It was a lovely day and I was particularly excited as I had been working on my exhibition of basket making concerning a local family, the Deacons; and some descendants of the basket makers in Sherborne and Nether Compton had promised to visit and get together at the exhibition.

Col Iain Swinnerton standing beside the old basketmaking tools made by his family firm.

Col Iain Swinnerton standing beside the old basketmaking tools made by his family firm.

Because of pressure on space within the Centre I was just inside the door and I could see the two representatives of the Almshouse wearing the authentic costumes standing just outside the door.

The Welcome Committee

The Welcome Committee

These two were so important to the success of the day as any passers-by showing the slightest interest in their colourful costumes and big smiles found themselves gently ushered through the door.

And what a treat was in store for them. First up a fascinating display of old photographs of Sherborne prepared by Elsie Smith. These never fail to captivate new and old residents and visitors alike. I was then ready to tell a little of the local basket making industry, before visitors went on upstairs where information on the benefits of joining the SDFHS and what the Family History Centre has to offer could be found, together with the sale of the very comprehensive stock of current books and some interesting old ones too.

Lace-makingOne of our members demonstrated the wonderfully complex and fascinating way in which handmade lace is produced.

The Museum had a popular display on Sherborne’s silk industry, with some magnificent examples of articles of clothing produced from the silk made here in the town.Silk costumes

The display included live silkworms, viewable via a magnifying glass, which was a particular attraction for some of the younger visitors. Continuing on a silk theme the Sherborne Boys’ School Archivist told of how the current school library and some of the classrooms are in buildings which were once part of the former Benedictine Monastery’s domestic buildings and were used by the Abbey Silk Mills in the production of silk. The Steam and Waterwheel Centre had a continuous slide display on the reclamation and working of the pumping station in Castleton.

The St Johns’ Almshouse produced a most interesting exhibition on the beautiful building that has stood for centuries in the heart of the town.Almshouse display

The highlight for me occurred at 11.00 when members of the Deacon family came together – with several generations and branches of the family meeting up, most of them for the first time. I had produced a little booklet on this basket making family and I am pleased to say they all sold like hot cakes. I am now in the process of developing this further and hope one day to properly tell the story of this momentous coming together … so do watch this space!IMG_7090

Three generations of the Deacon family meet together outside the Research Centre

Three generations of the Deacon family meet together outside the Research Centre


All together it was a really satisfactory day all round – and did I mention the cakes? As usual a warm welcome with tea and homemade cakes made the visit complete.

Barbara Elsmore


Member and Guest Blogs Welcome

We welcome guest and member blog posts on any topic with a family history connection and invite you to send your contributions, which should include photo/photos, to the editor Barbara Elsmore