The Cerne Giant Re-visited

In 1996, Katherine Barker organised a symposium in our old village hall to debate the merits of the two main theories concerning the age of the Cerne Giant – is he pre-historic or much more recent in origin? Before an audience of villagers, various experts outlined why they thought their explanation was the correct one. The audience was invited to vote on their preference both before and after the presentations.  The day was filmed by the BBC and a programme of highlights will be screened at our meeting on November 24th.  Katherine will also outline some of the research that has taken place since and show a short film showing how the Giant was briefly given a female companion. 


Also due to appear shortly, Tom Shippey has written a booklet examining all the theories concerning the Giant’s age and purpose which will bring us up to date on the ideas surrounding our longest standing local resident.


Christmas Film Show December 8th

Following the success of showing the BBC films ‘Away in a Village’ last December, we are repeating the formula this year with mulled wine and mince pies and the focus will be on interviews with local residents. This will include  Hugh Mumford talking to Jonathan Still amongst others. More details to appear later.


Museum of Jurassic Marine Life

We were hoping to visit this museum earlier in the year but the opening was delayed and it is now due to open to the public on 21st October. We will be looking to make a visit in Spring next year.


October Programme Talk

Maybe not a household name but Frederick Harvey Darton had a connection with Cerne, particularly through his book, ‘A Study of Village Life.’ Hear about his varied career from Liz Merry and Tom Shippey on 27th October, at 7.30pm in the Village Hall.


Mike Clark, Chair
Jeanie Parker’s Letter

This is the letter which the Historical Society received earlier in the year from Joyce Squire. The letter, sent by Jeanie Parker to an elderly relative of Joyce’s, describes the experience of being sent as a young teacher, at the outbreak of war in September 1939, to the former workhouse in Cerne, then known as Giant’s View, along with four colleagues and sixty children. A copy of the letter is now on our website and can be accessed by clicking this link. You will also find a transcription of the letter and more information as to how it came into our possession, along with related correspondence. The original of the letter has been returned to Haberdasher’s Aske School for Girls in Acton from where the party of children and teachers came. The letter provides an insight into the dislocation caused by the War and how different it must have been to come to a rural village compared with life in the city.

Joseph Clark

A biography of Joseph Clark, a renowned Victorian artist has just been written by Eric Galvin, one of the extended Clark family. It was launched at a recent family re-union in Cerne which was attended by many of the family, including Graham Clark, a New Zealander whose grandfather emigrated in the early C20th.


Graham has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Cerne’s history and the use of historical sources as he has traced where in Cerne his numerous ancestors lived. He is pictured below with Mike Clark and Helen Hewitt discussing the Society archives and methods of further research a recording of which may be heard here.


Joseph was born in Cerne Abbas and was known for his works of everyday life set in rural households in the West Country. He exhibited almost 200 paintings at the Royal Academy and elsewhere abroad between 1857 and 1916. Lavishly illustrated, the first part of the book deals with his family background in Cerne Abbas. The second part covers his career as an artist. A copy of the book will be available for inspection at our next talk on 22nd September and will be able for purchase from Cerne Abbas stores at £25. Profits from the book will go to TESS (Teso Educational Support Services) which helps disadvantaged children through secondary education in Teso, Uganda.

Clak bookClick here for Clark Book Synopsis

Raleigh’s Restoration

Some people missed the talk given by Ros and Piers Rawson on the history and restoration of their house, on Long Street. They kindly agreed to do a repeat on 15th September and generated a lot of interest and comments.

Last Programme Talk

As part of our scheduled programme, David Forrester, a former resident of Cerne, gave a talk on Fordington, the place he spent all his formative years. Formerly a separate village, most of us just think of it now as a part of Dorchester. David has written a book about Fordington and this wformed the basis for his talk.

Bushes Barn Walk – Will Best and Johnny Morris
The planned walk over to Bushes Barn was postponed and took place instead on 20th July, leaving Manor Farm at 6pm. This was a site visit following on from Will Best’s fascinating recent talk.  Will  accompanied us and we were met at Bushes Barn by Johnny Morris, on whose land Bushes Barn is situated. Both Will and Johnny are lifelong residents of the area and had many stories and anecdotes to tell us about life in this isolated settlement. See last month’s newsletter.

Our website – is constantly being updated and expanded and warrants regular visiting. From the home page you can read more about recent activities and you can access an audio recording of our two most recent talks, which were both outstanding: Will Best on Bushes Barn and Professor John Bourne on the story of the first day of the Battle of the Somme and the background to the conflict. Click here for links to our our new YouTube Channel.  For all this, we are indebted to Andrew Popkin for his energy, enthusiasm and technical knowledge.

If you walk up Duck Street you will be dazzled by the gleaming whiteness of the newly painted milestone which now has its lettering in place.
Grateful thanks to Terry Cox for doing this so skilfully. Terry used to be a professional signwriter. Cerne is a village of all the talents! See this page for some photos.


A few weeks ago, Andrew Popkin and myself located a ‘missing’ milestone just to the south of the village.  This has been obscured by vegetation for many years and is not marked on the current edition of the Ordnance Survey map. It is in excellent condition. Over the winter we will clear the immediate area which is all we can do safely.

Mike uncovering the BM

Village walks
Last year, Patricia Vale led two walks looking at some aspects of Cerne’s history. The focus was on public houses and local industry. These were well supported and Patricia was keen to do a repeat performance this year. Two dates were earmarked – 17th August at 6pm and 25th August at 2.30pm. Both walks started at Hook’s Corner, which for the uninitiated (and means you should come on the walk) is the corner where The Folly meets Acreman Street (A352). Walks lasted about one and a half hours.

Mike Clark, Chair


 Clark book synopsis

Joseph Clark – A Popular Victorian Artist and his world


‘Joseph Clark: A Popular Victorian Artist and His World’

Eric Galvin

ISBN: 9781910388235


Paperback Published: 1st September 2016





The book is a biography of Joseph Clark (1834-1926) the renowned artist known for his works of everyday life set in rural households in the West Country. He exhibited over almost two hundred paintings at the Royal Academy, other leading societies and in International Exhibitions in Britain, Europe, the USA and Australia between 1857 and 916. He reached a wide audience as he took advantage of the growing number of illustrated newspaper and magazine titles in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain. How did the son of a draper and small-scale textile manufacturer in a small Dorset town become one of the best-known artists of his age?

Critics and art lovers recognised his acute observation, high level drawing skills and exceptional empathy with the characters he portrayed and the situations they endured. His works were not sentimental nor did they concentrate on the misery in these situations. Rather they sought to inspire a positive outlook by recalling optimistic and happy occasions. His paintings showed those facing similar situations that they were not alone and encouraged others to offer help and support. This approach appealed to the new middle class patrons and readers of popular papers similar to Joseph’s family and friends.    

The first part of the book deals with his family background in Cerne Abbas (Dorset), general education, the decision to become an artist and his professional training at the prestigious Royal Academy Schools in London.

The second part of the book describes the art world he entered and the various people that supported artists to bring their artistic vision to the public. These included models, artists’ material suppliers, exhibition societies, critics, dealers, auctioneers, art educators and the growing role of the state institutions in art. A chapter is devoted to each of the three main stages in his career – ‘the talented new comer’ (1857 -1868), ‘in the doldrums’ (1869 – 1889) and ‘the grand old man of English Art’ (1890 – 1926). Each chapter considers the impact on his career of changes in his family life, his religious faith (informed by the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg),the critical response to  successive avant-garde art movements and new ways of taking his artistic vision to wider audiences. Each also reviews the individual works he exhibited and the critical response they received.

The final part looks at the totality of his work and how it stands up against key critical frameworks used in the century and a half since Joseph became an artist. Joseph’s career challenges several widely held views about the nature of the art world in Victorian Britain and its relevance to twenty-first century audiences. These include

The view that people in country areas were ignorant of cultural and other developments in the capital

Insurmountable barriers to people ‘in trade’ becoming accepted as a ‘gentleman’ (essential for acquiring art training and acceptance by wealthy art patrons

the view that the art world was entirely about traditional large-scale classical paintings and new avant-guard art movements

the perception that British artists wand their works were inferior and  unrecognised abroad

artists were either aristocrats or ‘starving in garrets’

The book also provides insights into the lives and careers of a large number of now forgotten artists who contributed so much to Britain’s cultural life in the decades leading up to the First World War.    ‘

It contains images of 65 images. These include 51 works by Joseph Clark ( 39 in colour).


Before the end of 2016, will go live with additional images, a readers blog and reference materials.