The Dorset ShepherdFriday, September 3rd, 2010
Most local residents are familiar with the Thomas Hardy Statue set back from the road at the ‘Top of Town’ roundabout but there is also a less well know bronze sculpture of The Dorset Shepherd inspired by a William Barnes poem located in Durngate Street.
Bronze sculpture inspired by Williams Barnes
The statuesque ‘The Dorset Shepherd’ sculpture was inspired by William Barnes’ poem, The Shepherd o’ the Farm. William Barnes was recognised and admired as a great poet by some of the foremost literary men of his time, including Thomas Hardy who regarded him as an equal. John Doubleday, made the sculpture in 2000 and sees it as a tribute to quiet heroism and wisdom and said “We look back at the values of a past age, to men who were intelligent, wise and interesting people. They were in harmony with the seasons and the natural world and probably had more to teach us than we could possibly teach them.”
Who was Williams Barnes?
The Dorset dialect poet was born in 1801 at Bagber near Sturminster Newton into a farming family. Even though his formal schooling finished at 13 he went on to work for Solicitor Thomas Coombs in 5 South Street, Dorchester, as an Engrossing Clerk until 1823, when he became a schoolmaster at Mere, Wiltshire. During this time he studied many subjects including sciences, history, archaeology, philology and languages. He was a gifted, intelligent and self educated man, who learned to play several musical instruments and mastered painting and engraving, as well as writing poetry in standard English and the Dorset dialect. In 1823 William Barnes opened a school at Mere in Wiltshire, and after his marriage to Julia Miles in 1827, the couple later moved to Dorchester and ran a boarding school – it closed early due to economic and rural poverty. William Barnes would have witnessed the unrest in the countryside with the Crown Court in Dorchester used as the setting for the 1834 trial of the “Tolpuddle Martyrs,” a group of 6 brave men from the nearby village of Tolpuddle who protested against pay cuts by wealthy landowners.
In 1835 the Barnes family set up a school in Durngate Street. The large property housed ten boarders, twenty five day students (boys) as well as the Barnes’ four children, two servants and a trainee schoolmaster. It was also during this time that he started studying for his Divinity Degree with St. John’s College, Cambridge. Studying mainly from home over a ten year period, he was awarded the degree in 1850. He was ordained in 1848 and was appointed curate at Whitcombe near Dorchester. Barnes died in 1886.
Poems of rural life
His first poem was published in the Dorset County Chronicle in 1834 with a full collection of poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect being published in book form in 1844. Barnes drew inspiration from rural life and was one of the founder members of the Dorset Field Club, which established the Dorset County Museum.
His wife’s death, in 1852, affected him deeply with many of his poems describing his love for her. He left, for our enjoyment, poems that paint a picture of the life and language of rural Dorset which had almost disappeared at the time he was writing. The Collection at Dorchester Reference Library contains most of his published works and is available for reference only.
With Barnes’ close association with Durngate Street, having lived and worked there, this area is a fitting location for ‘The Dorset Shepherd’ sculpture. This statue is a poignant reminder of Dorchester’s on-going role as a market town with strong historic links to sheep farming and the wool industry.
When next in Dorchester why not follow the Sculpture Trail to discover more of our town’s secrets and historical past.