Thursday, January 1, 2015

A vampire, a lost stately home and grass track racing

I came across an old programme for a grass-track meet recently, it was cheap and of local interest so I picked it up. Thing was I had no idea at all where Eastbury Park is so did some investigation and it's yielded a great, if rather unrelated to two-wheels, story.

First the bike stuff: Blackmore Vale MCC was one of the larger clubs in the Dorset area, this at a time when motorcycling was a mainstream activity in the UK and clubs flourished. The club is still going strong organising trials; back in the day they were behind numerous events including the road racing at Blandford Camp (the meet where in 1950 Geoff Duke debuted the Norton Featherbed frame).

Programme from a BVMCC organised
road race at Blandford Camp.
Looking through the programme (not all of it is published below, the contents aren't particularly fascinating...) the Eastbury Park meet was a fairly small one. Typically for an early post-war club meet (I would guess this was somewhere around 1949 / 1950) most of the machines entered were modified pre-war road bikes. There is representation from Blackmore Vale MCC members as well as a strong contingent from the Ex Home Guard Tigers MCC (XHG Tigers). The XHG Tigers are also still very much alive and kicking and it's worth checking out their site for a potted history of the club. Most of the riders names are now no longer familiar but in there is grass-track legend Lew Coffin riding a 350 AJS.

XHG Tigers MCC club logo.
Anyway, on with the story... George Dodington, a whig politician, purchased a farm near Tarrant Gunville in Dorset in 1709 with the aim of creating a grand new estate. He commissioned Vanburgh, the architect behind Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard, to design the house. Dodington had made his fortune as Secretary to the Treasury of the Navy, served as a Lord of the Admiralty and from 1715 was Lord Lieutenant of Somerset. Dodington died in 1720 before Eastbury House was completed.

Eastbury House in its heyday. 
Dodington's estate passed to his nephew, George Bubb, who was the son of an apothecary from Weymouth in Dorset and assumed the name of Dodington on inheriting the estate. Bubb can best be described as a 'courtier' and was friendly with Frederick, Prince of Wales. Bubb was connected to the notorious Hellfire Club and was rumoured to be involved in a spy ring collecting information about Jacobite activities. There are few kind words surviving for Bubb, Alexander Pope penned a poem avowing a strong dislike of him and even Country Life Magazine describes Bubb's diaries as 'gossipy and creepy'. Perhaps high society's distaste for Bubb was for a man who was 'nouveau riche' and often described as vulgar, or perhaps Bubb was just quite genuinely an arse. 

Bubb died in 1762, he had only been given Eastbury Park for his lifetime according to the will of George Dodington. Thus the estate was then passed on to Earl Richard Temple of Stowe who had no interest in the vast, opulent and slightly gauche residence. The estate was put on to the market but had no takers, Earl Temple even offered an annuity of £200 to anyone who would live there but still had no interest. Earl Temple passed away not long after inheriting the estate and in turn it passed on to his son, George, 2nd Earl Temple of Stowe, who also struggled to maintain Eastbury House. The only answer left was to demolish the house less than fifty years after it was built. Much of the house had gone by 1783.

Eastbury House as it survives today in part.
The story becomes bizarre and macabre here... 2nd Earl Temple was much of the time based in his Italian retreat. His Steward, a William Doggett, was left to run the Earl's affairs in Britain. Instructions were sent to Doggett to further demolish the house. Instructions which were well heeded by Doggett who oversaw the demolition and believing his master would not be returning pocketed funds from the sale of the building materials. The materials apparently went into the construction of nearby Bryanston House, the Rectory at Tarrant Gunville and Ashmore Manor. However 2nd Earl Temple did decide to return from Italy. Word reached Doggett that the Earl had been seen alighting from the London Mail Coach on the Blandford Road. On hearing the news Doggett committed suicide by shooting himself  knowing that he would be found out as soon as his master returned. Doggett was buried at Tarrant Gunville Church, it is said that his bloodstain could not be cleaned from the marble floor at Eastbury House.

Stories of hauntings by the ghost of Doggett began to circulate, ranging from the opening and slamming of doors and apparitions of Doggett with his face covered in blood  to headless horseman tales. At the stroke of midnight a coach driven by a headless coachman and pulled by headless horses was said to ply along the road by the park and up the drive to the house. The coach would stop to pick up a ghostly Doggett on the way and convey him up to the back of the house whereupon Doggett would alight and enter the panelled room where he shot himself in endless repeat of his final act.

The gates to Eastbury House where the headless coachman
plies his route.
Tarrant Gunville Church was rebuilt in 1845 and the churchyard re-organised. It was necessary to exhume Doggett's corpse in the building works. The corpse was found to be in a perfect state of preservation, a rosy glow upon his cheeks but with the bullet wound as it had entered his jaw and exited his skull clearly visible. Strangely his legs were bound with a broad yellow ribbon. Upon seeing the corpse locals decided to dispatch the 'vampire'. How they did this is not recorded beyond 'the accepted way' which at the time was with a stake through the heart. Following the slaying of the vampire the hauntings apparently ceased though tales of sightings persist to this day.

All that survived of the original house was the stable block and servants quarters. Thomas Wedgewood of the famous potteries family leased the house for a short while after which it was sold to a famous sportsman called James John Faquharson. This brings the story full circle as the house stayed with the Farquharsons and the current resident, J Farquharson esq, is President of the Blackmore Vale MCC.

Eastbury Park grass track meet programme
front cover.

Eastbury Park grass track meet competitors
list.



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