Dorset's Dream Team - Famous County Faces

PUBLISHED: 15:14 10 January 2011 | UPDATED: 21:41 20 February 2013

Harry Redknapp

Harry Redknapp

From a ravishing Regency adventuress and a pioneering paleontologist, to an Oscar-winning writer and a champion of Wessex, Jeremy Miles looks at some of the county's most prominent residents, past and present, who have made their mark

From a ravishing Regency adventuress and a pioneering paleontologist, to an Oscar-winning writer and a champion of Wessex, Jeremy Miles looks at some of the countys most prominent residents, past and present, who have made their mark

As the New Year dawns we look at some of the movers and shakers who have helped put Dorset on the map over the years. Some are historic figures, others are contemporary residents. All have made a real impact, whether in music, literature, film, medicine, science, sport, or by simply adding to the richness and variety of the countys illustrious heritage. These are the talented members of our Dorset dream team

Thomas Hardy literary genius and champion of Wessex

Dorsets most famous literary son, the novelist and poet Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) put the county firmly on the map with his Wessex novels. Books like Far From The Madding Crowd, Tess of the dUrbervilles and The Mayor of Casterbridge are populated by powerful and often tragic characters driven by passion but constrained by the social history of what in Hardys day was a fast-changing rural South West.
Born at Higher Bockhampton, near Dorchester, in 1840, Hardy trained as an architect and worked in London, but he hated the city and returned to Dorset to devote his life to writing. He lived for many years at Max Gate, near Dorchester. Twice married, he met his first wife, Emma, in the 1870s but by the time she died in 1912 they were living separate lives under the same roof. He married his secretary, Florence Dugdale, two years later but was consumed with guilt over the coldness he had shown to Emma. He died on 11 January 1928, aged 87, and under pressure from the literary elite he was buried, against his wishes, at Westminster Abbeys Poets Corner. His heart, however, was buried with Emma at Stinsford in Dorset.

Jane Digby ravishing Regency beauty, adventuress and Bedouin

With four husbands, and a string of exotic lovers, 19th-century Dorset aristocrat and adventurer Jane Digby (1807-1881) certainly knew how to raise eyebrows. Her story, superbly captured in Mary S Lovells 1995 biography A Scandalous Life, led one reviewer to describe Jane as a 19th-century beauty whose heart and hormones ruled her head.
Born in Minterne Magna, Jane Elizabeth Digby was the daughter of Admiral Henry Digby who had fought with Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar and established a family fortune by seizing Spanish treasure on the high seas. Jane came from rebellious stock; one of her ancestors, Everard Digby, was involved in the gunpowder plot.
Jane, whose lovers included King Ludwig I of Bavaria, King Otto of Greece, and the Albanian general of a brigand army, travelled widely. She rode spirited Arab stallions and seemed equally happy whether living in beautiful palaces, nomad tents or remote caves. Jane Digby died in Damascus in 1881, after 28 happy years as the wife of the love of her life, Bedouin Sheik Medjuel el Mezrab, 20 years her junior.

Benjamin Jesty Yetminster dairy farmer who pioneered vaccination

Late 18th-century dairy farmer Benjamin Jesty (1736-1816) became one of the great pioneers of epidemiology when he conducted a series of experiments to establish that inoculating people with pustular material from cowpox would give immunity to the deadly smallpox. Country folklore had long established that milkmaids could nurse smallpox patients without fear of contracting the disease themselves. So, when a smallpox epidemic swept through Yetminster in 1774, Jesty put this theory to the test. Using a darning needle and a diseased cow, he deliberately infected his wife and their two eldest sons with cowpox. Though they became ill they all fully recovered. Despite being part of a medical breakthrough, Jestys work was not well received by locals, who were appalled at the notion of an animal disease being introduced into the human body. Although taken on board by the medical establishment, Jestys experiments were not widely publicised and much of the credit for the development of an effective smallpox vaccine went to Edward Jenner 20 years later. Jesty is buried in the parish churchyard at Worth Matravers.

Sir John Tavener composer of mystical and religious music and Beatles signing

Sir John Tavener is one of Britains finest contemporary composers, known chiefly for his religious, minimal works and his quietly flamboyant lifestyle. Tall and willowy with long flowing hair and an exotic taste in clothes, Tavener was born in 1944 and trained at the Royal Academy of Music. He found fame in 1968 when his cantata The Whale, an oratorio based on the Jonah bible story, was recorded on The Beatles Apple label. Influenced by mysticism and religion, the cultures of Russian and Greek orthodoxy, Hinduism and Islam have been absorbed into his music. His best-known works include his four-part choral setting of William Blakes The Lamb, the Song for Athene performed at the funeral of Diana Princess of Wales, and The Protecting Veil, for cello and string orchestra, which topped the classical charts for several months and won a Gramophone award in 1992 for best contemporary recording. Knighted in 2000 for his services to music, Tavener, who suffers from Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder that can cause defects in the heart valves, lungs and spinal cord, lives with in Child Okeford with his wife of the past 19 years, Maryanna Schaeferadn, and their three children.

Mary Anning lightening-strike survivor and pioneering paleontologist

Cited by the Royal Society as one of ten British women who have most influenced the history of science, 19th-century Dorset fossil collector and paleontologist, Mary Anning (1799-1847), made vital contributions to the understanding of the Jurassic era. She first made headlines in August 1800 when she was the only survivor of a lightening strike on a tree; three women, including the one holding Mary, were killed and many locals thought her unusual intelligence was due to this fateful event. In 1811 the 12-year-old was combing the beach near her home in Lyme Regis, when she found the first scientifically authenticated ichthyosaur skeleton. Mary would go on to make many more important discoveries including a plesiosaurus, the first British example of a flying reptile. Her work led to fundamental changes in scientific thinking about prehistoric life. Although well-known throughout Britain, Europe and America, her sex and social class (her father was a cabinetmaker) precluded her from full acceptance by the scientific establishment. For many years Anning supplemented her income by selling shells and fossils. She died, aged 47, from breast cancer and is buried at St Michaels Church in Lyme Regis, which contains a stained-glass window installed in her memory by The Geological Society, an organisation that had refused her entry simply because she was a woman.

Billy Bragg musician and left-wing activist

Billy Bragg has long made Dorset his adopted home. An active supporter of the local community, he recently helped set up a National Coastwatch station near his home at Burton Bradstock, and regularly performs and speaks at the countys annual Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival. His love of the Dorset countryside was reflected in his recent work with The Imagined Village, who updated traditional English folk songs and dances. Born in Barking in 1957, Bragg enjoyed a brief punk-rock career before joining the Army in the early 1980s. He quickly bought himself out, deciding a guitar was preferable to a gun.
Alongside a successful performing and recording career, Bragg has remained true to his socialist roots. In 1985, his song, A New England, sung by Kirsty MacColl, was a top ten hit. In the same year he formed the musicians alliance Red Wedge, later joining Charter 88 which advocated reform of the British political system. During the 2001 General Election, he campaigned for tactical voting, a move that found Labours Jim Knight elected on the tiniest of majorities to South Dorset. In 2009, however, Bragg was wrong-footed when, at the eleventh hour, he announced he would be voting Lib-Dem. Tory Richard Drax won the South Dorset seat and the Lib-Dems helped form the current coalition government.

Lord Julian Fellowes Oscar-winning screenwriter and creator of Downtown Abbey

Actor, novelist, director, Oscar-winning screenwriter and deputy Lieutenant of Dorset, Julian Kitchener-Fellowes, is riding high right now. Not only is praise for his hugely successful period drama Downton Abbey still ringing loudly in his ears but it has just been announced that he is to take a seat in the House of Lords. Fellowes was born in 1949, the son of a British diplomat, Peregrine Launcelot Fellowes, and his wife, Olwen. Always keen on acting, he joined Cambridge Universitys famous Footlights and later studied at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art. He has appeared as an actor in many films and TV series but is probably best known for playing Lord Kilwillie in the BBCs Monarch of the Glen. He also penned the best-selling novels Snobs and Past Imperfect. Fellowes shot to worldwide fame in 2002, when his screenplay for Robert Altmans Gosford Park won the Best Writing Oscar. He is married to Emma Kitchener, great-great niece of the 1st Earl Kitchener. They moved to Stafford House, a Grade II listed 17th-century manor house near Dorchester, nine years ago.

Minette Walters award-winning crime writer

Multi-award-winning English crime writer Minette Walters is another of Dorsets literary superstars. She lives with her husband, Alec, in an 18th-century manor house near Dorchester. They have two grown-up sons. Walters, who was born in 1949, originally worked as a magazine sub-editor, supplementing her income by writing romantic fiction. Going freelance in 1977 she continued to write for magazines. It wasnt until 1992 that her first full-length novel, The Ice House, set her on the road to literary fame and fortune. Although rejected by countless publishers, MacMillan finally published it, and it went on to win The Crime Writers Associations John Creasey award for best first novel. Walters next two books, The Sculptress and The Scolds Bridle, were also prize winners. She has since penned a further 11 novels and two novellas. Several of her books have been adapted for TV. Her stories are set in a wide variety of locations and she says that much of the inspiration for her novels is drawn from her work as a voluntary prison visitor. Perhaps just a little local colour tinged her 2003 novel, Fox Evil (another Crime Writers Association award-winner), a murder mystery set in an isolated Dorset village.

Robert Fripp progressive rock pioneer, King Crimson founder and musical collaborator

Guitarist, songwriter, record producer and progressive rock pioneer Robert Fripp was born in Wimborne in 1946 and cut his musical teeth in the early sixties on the Bournemouth and Poole music circuit. He turned professional in 1967, teaming up with bass and drum playing brothers Peter and Michael Giles. The band made little headway but paved the way for the hugely successful King Crimson, which found Michael Giles replaced by Poole bass player Greg Lake (later finding fame in Emerson, Lake and Palmer) and also featured Ian McDonald and Pete Sinfield. Despite countless personnel changes King Crimson has continued on and off over the years, with Fripp as the only constant member. He has been involved in many additional projects working with Keith Tippett, Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel and David Bowie on his album Heroes and Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) as well as collaborations with his wife, the singer and actress Toyah Willcox. They married at Witchampton Parish Church in 1986, and for a number of years lived on the Dorset-Wiltshire border at Reddish House, the beautiful 18th-century manor once owned by the late photographer, socialite, designer and diarist, Sir Cecil Beaton.

Harry Redknapp former West Ham midfield star and big-hitting football manager

He may be an Eastender by birth but larger-than-life football manager Harry Redknapps heart is in Dorset, his home for the past 27 years. A former midfield star with West Ham, arry permanently moved to Dorset in 1983 when he took over as manager of AFC Bournemouth. He also spent four seasons playing with the team in the 1970s. Harry managed Bournemouth for nine years and despite going on to management roles at West Ham, Southampton, Portsmouth and Tottenham Hotspur, he has remained in Dorset. He and his wife, Sandra, have a luxury seafront home in Sandbanks and are familiar figures at local social functions. His son, former England international Jamie Redknapp, is married to pop star and TV presenter Louise Nurding. They lived in Sandbanks for a while but sold up after complaining about a lack of privacy. Harry and Sandras nephew is Chelsea and England midfielder Frank Lampard Junior. Away from football, 63-year-old Harry is interested in animal conservation and has said that he would like to open an animal sanctuary in Dorset.

And finally

Cerne Abbas Giant fertility symbol who went incognito during the Second World War

There are many theories about the origins of the 180ft chalk giant carved on a hillside near the village of Cerne Abbas. The fact is, even though scholars have suggested he may be Celtic, Roman or early medieval, there is no evidence that he even existed before the late 17th century. Many believed he had special powers and there are stories of childless couples dancing on his phallus in the belief that it would promote fertility. In recent years the giant has been used in advertisements for everything from condoms to bicycles. Whatever his true background and intended purpose, the big fella remains a notable Dorset resident. He is proudly tended by the National Trust, which has him rechalked every 25 years. The only time he was kept under wraps was during the Second World War when he was camouflaged to avoid giving enemy aircraft a navigable landmark!

This selection is bound to be contentious, so please tell us who you would include and why. The best two lists will each receive a free years subscription to the magazine, so e-mail your suggestions to or write to Dorset Magazine, Archant House, Babbage Road, Totnes TQ9 5JA

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