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The Society of Dorset Men
A Short History of the Society
Records exist which indicate that as far back as the 17th century there were friendly meetings of Dorset men working in London. On the 2nd December 1690 a sermon was preached in the church of St Mary le Bow on the "Revival of General Meetings of the Gentlemen and Others of the County of Dorset" but it is not known how long these meetings continued.
The next positive move was when a Mr G.R. Crickmay organised a successful dinner at the Whitehall Rooms in London in 1898. He was the famous Weymouth architectwho built many of the town’s buildings (and pubs) and who took on the young apprentice called Thomas Hardy. This meeting was attended by a number of Dorset men and chaired by Lord Portman whose country seat was at Bryanston. It would appear that this meeting moved the idea forward and those who had attended went away with the firm intention of spreading the word amongst other Dorset men in London. Therefore, on the Thursday 7th July 1904 at the offices of Mr William Watkins at 62 London Wall, London a further meeting was held to consider the advisability of forming a Society and it was reported to have been well attended. There were representatives from all parts of the County and supported by letters from many prominent Dorset men, including Thomas Hardy.
At that time, there were many men from the County in London who seldom met a brother Dorset and there were many young people emigrating to London from the County seeking employment. It was felt therefore, that one of the principal objects of the Society, should be to assist young people to find employment and to make them feel that they were not separated from the old County. The name chosen was "The Society of Dorset Men in London" but the intention was not just to enlist members from the London area but also men living in the County and overseas. On the 2nd December 1904 the first Annual General Meeting of the Society was held at the Inns of Court Hotel and Mr Swinburn-Hannam a barrister became the first Chairman of the committee, retaining that post until his death in 1935. By this time 125 members had enrolled with a donation often guineas or upwards for a Life Member, one guinea for a Vice President and five shillings for an Ordinary Member. It is interesting to note some of the comments made by some of those attending this meeting.
Mr Taylor Hallett - It seemed to him that Dorset, being in a corner of England, was overlooked and a county with so many interesting features should not be left in the cold.
Mr Montefiore-Brice - He agreed that Dorset was rather overlooked, The railways were developing seaside resorts in Devon and Cornwall but Dorset was being passed over.
Mr Rogers - Speaking as a working man thought the subscription should be kept as low as possible. He represented men not in a high walk of life but though that the leading men of the County should welcome them.
Mr Barrett - Hoped that ladies would be admitted and would like to include them as Honorary Members.
Sir Frederick Treves Bart., G.C.V.O., C.B., L.L.D., the eminent surgeon became the first President.
He of course had already achieved some notoriety by stopping the coronation of King Edward VII at two days notice by insisting that
the King be operated on for appendicitis. A few years previously he had been instrumental in organising field hospitals during the Boer War.
At the battle of Colenso in December 1899, Frederick Roberts the son of Lord Roberts lay dying in his tent from a stomach wound and Treves spent the night reassuring him before he died the next morning.
Sir Frederick had been a schoolboy pupil of William Barnes the Dorset poet, so was probably influenced by him because he also turned to literature. He wrote the "Highways and Byways in Dorset" and his research for this book involved his visiting every town and village in Dorset on foot or cycle. His last book "The Elephant Man and other Reminiscences" described his treatment of John Merrick who was hideously disfigured with elephantine growths on his head.
In November 1982, Sir Anthony Jolliffe GBE DSc, a Weymouth man became the 655th Lord Mayor of London and by his invitation the 1983 London dinner was held at the Mansion House. Sir Anthony was elected President in May 1984 succeeding the late Mr Simon Wingfield Digby MA, TD, DL who had previously held the office for 14 years.
Sir Anthony Jolliffe has been President for 22 years.
The Society's emblem on the Coat of Arms is a silver tower which is said to date from Agincourt, whilst the familiar motto of the Society "Who's afeard, was chosen by Thomas Hardy.
The Inaugural dinner of the Society was held at the Trocadero Restaurant, Piccadilly, London on the 27th February 1905 and there have been annual dinners ever since.
Until the end of the 1980's dinners were held in London and at various locations in the County. Now the annual dinner is held at the Crown Hotel, Blandford at the end of October,
In 1930 it was decided the Society should be known simply as "The Society of Dorset Men" there being no longer a predominance of members residing in the London area.
Since its inception the Society has published a Year Book and 2005 saw issue number ninety six. This is a much sought after and recognised, publication which contains articles, items and poems reflecting the history, traditions and dialect of the County,
The Society has a copy of every Year Book published since 1905. The present Editor is Mr Peter Pitman, who can be contacted on 01305 820377, welcomes articles of interest, humorous or otherwise, prose or poetry. All contributions must be voluntary and should be of a "Dorset" flavour. Contributions with illustrations will also be welcomed. Stamped and addressed envelopes should be sent if contributions are to be returned. The Hon Editor accepts no responsibility in case of loss.
The Society has just celebrated its Centenary year in splendid style at the Officer’s Mess , Blandford. It has a membership of around 1200 and encourages members to be enthusiastic about all things Dorset, not
Left: Our first President
Sir Frederick Treves
Bt. GVCO CB LLD
Right: Founder Chairman