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Part 3: Growing Up in the Dorset of William Barnes

Hilary Townsend

I was born and brought up in William Barnes` part of the Blackmore Vale near Sturminster Newton and had a very happy childhood before and during the last war. Now, many years later, I can review the influence of those days. What did I learn? First of all the sheer beauty of the landscape I saw all around me and the images have been with me ever since, a yardstick and a great comfort.

I then learned a great sense of the timelessness of the Blackmore Vale, a way of life tied to the seasons and the natural world – no wonder Barnes was such a searching critic of the Industrial Revolution and its effects. And the Dorset dialect was all around me then, natural and vigorous, spoken everywhere.

The work of the philologist William Barnes has made our world aware of the foundations of our Dorset speech in the world of King Alfred and the incursions of the Vikings. On a practical and totally unexpected personal level to me, understanding our Dorset speech has been of great benefit in my work. When I worked as a lecturer in a Technical College in middle age, the caretaker at the College spoke in such a broad dialect that only I could understand him. This meant that I was the liaison officer between him and the rest of the College staff for all our supplies.

I mentioned just now that I learned a sense of the timelessness of the Blackmore Vale but I have one reservation now – the elms. I thought those great trees would last forever. Now I follow every development in attempts to disease proof the elms. Perhaps they will return one day. I hope so.