The Society of Dorset Men began in July 1904, initially as an organisation of exiles living in London- who seldom met a fellow Dorset in the capital city. Since the 1970s, the Society has been largely based in Dorset and is supported today by 1,150 members throughout Dorset, the UK and around the world.

Rev. Dr. John Travell FRSA, the Society’s Chaplain and Historian who lives in Dorchester, has written an illustrated history which chronicles the 112 years between the foundation and the present day. The 98 page book is illustrated by a large number of topical photographs, some originally published in the Society’s Dorset Year Books, published almost every year since 1904.

Around 80 members and invited guests gathered at Dorset County Museum to launch the book and tohear their President, Lord Fellowes of West Stafford DL, compliment the author on having written a most interesting book. HM High Sheriff of Dorset Sir Philip Williams Bt. JP DL joined in the congratulations, as did the Mayor and Mayoress of Dorchester, Councillor Tim and Anita Harries.

“I am delighted that this account of the Society has been written,” writes ITV playwright and Oscar winner Lord Fellowes in the foreword. He became President of the Society in 2011. “There is a good deal of fascinating detail to be explored and what pleases me most, is that there is throughout, the strong sense that this Society has always been for all the people of Dorset,” continues Lord Fellowes.

The Society has its beginnings in the combined initiatives of two people- William Watkins and G. R. Crickmay. In 1898, architect Crickmay organised a dinner and meeting at the Whitehall Rooms in London, to promote the idea of forming the Society. Thomas Hardy wrote a letter of support when the meeting to form the Society was held on 7 July 1904 in the offices of William Watkins at London Wall. It was then known as The Society of Dorset Men in London. The book traces the early years and the appointment of Sir Frederick Treves GCVO as the first President. The Dorchester-born surgeon famously saved the life of King Edward VII by operating on his appendix, postponing his coronation.

Among the pages of the new book are a number of interesting features, including:

  • Thomas Hardy OM became President in 1907, always a great supporter of the Society. He coinedthe motto “Who’s afear’d,” later adopted by Dorset County Council. “During World War I, this motto came to be the slogan of defiance and courage for all those from Dorset who were serving in every branch of the forces.”

  • The annual “veast” [feast,] today better known as the County Dinner, has long been a highlight of the Society year, originally held in London for men only. From the 1960s, a dinner was held in Dorset every year- as well as one in London. The 1983 London Dinner took place at the Mansion House, hosted by Lord Mayor Sir Anthony Jolliffe GBE DL DSc DMus, born in Weymouth andelected President in 1984. London dinners ceased in 1991, but the Dorset County Dinner is still agreat success, the next being held on Saturday 29 October..

  • Distinguished guest speakers at County Dinners have included Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips, Bishop of London Rt. Hon.& Rt. Rev. Richard Chartres, Admiral Lord West of Spithead and Lieutenant General David Leakey, Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod at the House of Lords.

  • In memory of William Watkins JP, who passed away in 1925, the Society endowed the new Ophthalmic Ward at Dorset County Hospital, then in Trinity Street. Llewellyn Watkins, who had taken over as Secretary from his late father, handed the ward over to Lord Ellenborough, Chairman of the hospital. A brass plaque, mounted on oak, was presented to the ward- sadly not rescued when the hospital was demolished.

  • “From the beginning, the association between the Society and the Dorset military has always been close. The story of the Dorset Regiment from its first forming in the 18th century, is an integral part of the proud history of the county. The Society was quick to recognise this and Commanding Officers of the Regiment were made Honorary Members.”

  • During World War II, a comforts fun was again created, as in the Great War, for servicemen serving in Dorset units. Winston Churchill had been guest speaker at the 1924 dinner in the Holborn Restaurant. “Complimenting the Society on joining themselves together to cherish that love of county and home, Mr. Churchill went on to say that local patriotism was the only true foundation of national patriotism.”

  • Modern events are covered in the book, such as the planting of a cedar of Lebanon tree in the grounds of Minterne House to mark The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012. This was the last public duty performed by the late Roy Adam MBE, Chairman of the Society for 21 years, assisted by his son Stuart- the current Chairman- and the 12th Lord Digby.

  • The late Gordon Hine FRICS from Shaftesbury, “a towering personality at the centre of the organisation” as Secretary for 25 years, passed away a few days after Roy Adam. Gordon became a member of the Society’s committee in 1958 and was a member for 61 years, having joined when working in London in 1953.

An illustrated history of The Society of Dorset Men is on sale for £6 from the Tourist Information Centre at Dorchester, Gullivers Bookshop in Wimborne, Books Afloat at Weymouth, Waterstones at Dorchester& Bridport, Dorchester Post Office and the Keep Military Museum at Dorchester.

Individual books can be ordered by post from Alderman Andy Hutchings at 23 Hereford Road, Weymouth, Dorset DT4 0QB at a cost of £8- including UK postage. Please make cheques payable to The Society of Dorset Men.

The Society of Dorset Men was founded 112 years ago on 7 July 1904. Since the 1970s, the main activities of the organisation have been centred on Dorset. Today, there are around 1,150 members throughout the UK and all over the world. The President is Oscar winner and ITV Downton Abbey playwright Lord Fellowes of West Stafford DL.

The four objects of The Society of Dorset Men are: “to make and to renew personal friendships and associations, to promote good fellowship among Dorset men wherever they may reside, to foster love of the county and pride in its history and traditions and to assist, by every means in its power, natives of Dorset who may stand in need of the influence and help of the Society.”

Membership of The Society of Dorset Men costs £10 a year. For further information, consult or telephone Membership Secretary Peter Lush at 01305 260039.

Michel Hooper-Immins