I only know three facts about “The Horse With The Red Umbrella” Tea Rooms and Coffee House and only one of them is mentioned in this souvenir.
Firstly: This spot on the High Street was once occupied by the Loyalty Theatre, between 1828 and 1843, before becoming a glass and china shop and then “The Horse With The Red Umbrella” in 1970 [named after the last play to be performed at the Loyalty Theatre, allegedly].
Secondly: I was made so welcome on my first visit “The Horse With The Red Umbrella” when I went in there for my elevenses I went back there for tea [or dinner as some people prefer to call it] on the same day!
Thirdly: My travelling companion, Mrs. W, never gets the name of the restaurant correct! It is usually the Umbrella that slips her mind and it is often replaced by another wet weather item, like wellies or galoshes! Not that that is problem, because we always remember The Horse.
Heights have been something of a theme recently. The Keep is an impressive, in terms of its scale, Portland stone construction, dating from 1879 and, if you are willing to pay the admission price for the military museum that now occupies the building, you can climb the spiral stairs all the way up to the roof. Once informed by the ladies stationed at the entrance that I could go up onto the roof I thought to myself, “It would be rude not to!”
The Keep Military Museum’s own website quotes a description of the building by the well know art and architectural historian Pevsner, who describes it in less than favourable terms: “The monumental gatehouse is a knock-down affair. Two round towers to the front, the archway between. Three storeys of long slit windows. Rock faced with a vengeance. Today it is a grade 2 listed building. The designer was probably Major AC Seddon R.E, head of the War Office Design branch at this time…The barracks behind were humble by comparison“. As somebody who grew up by the seaside, The Keep reminds me of the castle shaped plastic buckets and the resulting crenelated sand castles they produced.
The Keep is topped with two flags, the Union flag and the flag of The Rifles. In 1958 the Devonshire Regiment and the Dorset Regiment amalgamated to form the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment. In 2007 the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment was amalgamated with a number of other regiments to form The Rifles, which still has a Reserve Company [the Territorial Army as was] based Dorchester.
The spiral staircases in the towers give access to the museums galleries on three floors and then you are invited carry on and step out onto the roof. It was a rather windy day and the situation was unique in my experience, in that the area of the roof is very large, but the battlements around it are very short. The two gentlemen working on the maintenance of the tower didn’t seem to mind climbing up even higher and out onto the scaffolding you can see on my photographs, but one of them did remark to me that, “It was a bit windy”.
The Keep is tall enough for you to get a unique perspective on a number of tree tops and the comings and goings of the Bridport Road. The military museum itself is very interesting and, if you like heights, I would recommend a walk on the roof.
This made my travelling companion Mr. W smile. “Tutankhamun Town Centre” conjures up such spectacular images. Egyptology is not a specialist subject of mine, but the ruined temple complex of Karnak came to mind. Could you imagine rows of columns, like stone palm trees, covered in hieroglyphics, lining the High Street from the statue of Thomas Hardy [which is just off the High Street, but I’m sure you can stretch your imagination a bit further regarding this detail] to the River Frome?
On a serious note, the sign actually refers to The Tutankhamun Exhibition, which has been a permanent fixture in Dorchester since 1986. I haven’t visited the exhibition myself, but the its website informs me that, “All the exhibits have been carefully crafted by meticulous reference to the original antiquities, photographic records and detailed measurements and diagrams. Craftsmen and artists have recreated the treasures by using, wherever practicable, materials and methods used in making the originals, making the treasures shown in this exhibition identical as possible to the originals now in Egypt”.
“Very numerous indeed are the Roman remains which have been found in and about Dorchester. The town, as Thomas Hardy says, “announced old Rome in every street, alley, and precinct. It looked Roman, bespoke the art of Rome, concealed dead men of Rome. It was impossible to dig more than a foot or two deep about the town, fields and gardens without coming upon some tall soldier or other of the Empire, who had lain there in his silent, unobtrusive rest for a space of fifteen hundred years”. In the museum are piles of Roman relics. The town itself still conforms to the lines laid down by the builders from Rome – a town of four main streets, North, South, East, and West”.
Sir Fredrick Treves, “Highways & Byways in Dorset“.
To paraphrase my good friend and occasional travelling companion Mr. W, “Perhaps, one day, someone will write about us looking at this blue plaque and then they might put up a blue plaque to commemorate the fact we looked at it“. I didn’t mention it at the time, but I did think to myself, “Getting the fact we looked at this blue plaque in print and published, on the internet at least, might be easier than you think!” My travelling companions and I are not well versed in the works of Thomas Hardy, although we had all heard of his novel “The Mayor of Casterbridge” and you can’t visit Dorchester for long before you find out Hardy’s fictional Casterbridge was based on Dorchester, so the presence of a Thomas Hardy related plaque did not come as a surprise. The unusual wording of the plaque was quite a talking point though, because it seems to commemorate the occupation of the building by a fictional character, although I think the spirit of the message is meant to convey that Thomas Hardy’s description of the house in the novel was inspired by this rather grand building. Perhaps I should read more Hardy before I return to Dorchester in the Summer and then I might see the place very differently.
So, in the hope of getting our pseudonyms on a blue plaque in Dorchester one day, I would like to put into writing that Mr. W [my advisor in all things relating to Dorset folklore, public houses and micro breweries], Mrs. W [my advisor in all things historical, knitted or baked] and myself, Mr.B, [flâneur, blogger, man of letters and amateur photographer] stood outside number 10 South Street, Dorchester, on the afternoon of the 29th April 2015.
Now, how long do we have to wait for a blue plaque?
pS. Speaking of knitting, have you seen the Dalek Mrs. W knitted for me? It’s quite something! https://anticsroadshowblogspot.wordpress.com/2014/04/05/souvenirs-knitted-dalek-wimborne-minster-september-2011/