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History & CommunityAn early Dorset poet and writer

An early Dorset poet and writer

We are used to thinking of William Barnes, (1801-1886) and Thomas Hardy, (1840-1928), as our Dorset poets and writers. However my son, Nigel, discovered an earlier Dorset man who fits the bill. He was William Holloway baptised in June 1761 in the parish of Winterborne Whitchurch, four miles from Blandford.
The Dorset Record Office, in Dorchester, advised that they have little in his file, except a few poetry books, but are aware of an article about William Holloway, the Dorset Poet on the internet. We found this, credited to “Dorset Ancestors”, April 10th 2010 (Biographies, Winterborne Whitchurch) and this has been my main source of information about Holloway.
William Holloway was the last child of Lawrence and Frances Holloway. Their great uncle, also William, was a churchwarden at his birth. Unfortunately, William was orphaned, as his father died before his son was 2 years old, and his mother died a few years later. William was apparently adopted by his grandmother. At school he is said to have studied some Greek and French and began to enjoy Milton, Gray, Shakespeare, etc. After school he moved to Weymouth and became apprenticed to a local printer. Holloway then became in charge of a printing shop attached to Weymouth Circulating and Municipal Library, owned by John Love. Holloway married Christian Jackson at Melcombe Regis on 1st November 1787. They had four children, all daughters.
At age 37 Holloway completed his first work about the Halsewell shipwreck disaster in 1788 and a small book of verse The Cottager in 1789, both published by his employer, John Love. In 1790 and 1791 Holloway contributed five descriptive verses for 12 Weymouth Views, published by John Love, with engraver James Fittler.
By 1792 Halsewell and The Cottager had covered Holloway’s expenses. Love then published an historical ballad, The Fate of Glencoe. Holloway was interested in dramatic arts and theatrical life and composed a short epilogue for a play at Weymouth’s Theatre Royal and lyrics for a song to open a new theatre at Dartmouth.
In 1793 Love unexpectedly died and his business stock was advertised for sale. Holloway inherited the printing equipment and materials for a fee of 10 guineas per annum, which he was unable to afford and could not take up the offer. Holloway and family moved to London and he obtained a position with the East India Company, in their office in Leadenhall Street, and the family lived nearby. The job, as a clerk, was reasonably well paid, with free breakfast. The Steward family of Weymouth had associations with the East India Co., and Holloway dedicated two poems to Frances Steward, a former mayor of Weymouth. Perhaps a Steward had written Holloway a letter of introduction? Holloway worked for the East India Co. for over 30 years and most of his poetry was written during this period. He seemed to be nostalgic for his native county, e.g. The Rustic Favoured – a fragment in Dorset Dialect, The Peasant’s Fate (reprinted 4 times, one dated 1801) and Scenes of Youth. Holloway’s poetry was quite prolific, other titles being Poems on Various Occasions in 1798, The Baron of Lauderbook of 1800, The Chimney Sweepers Complaint in 1806, The Minor Minstrel of 1808 and The Country Pastor in 1812.
He later partnered John Branch and they produced a small volume of Natural History.
Holloway retired from the East India Co. in 1821, aged 60, but he was not pensioned for 10 more years. The family moved to Hackney, three miles away which was then a village, and possibly less expensive than Leadenhall Street. So he did not move back to Dorset, despite his poetry showing his interest in rural life. His wife died in 1852 and Holloway himself began to decline, and his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, cared for him. The other three daughters married London men. William Holloway died at 93 years, in 1854 and is buried in Stoke Newington Cemetery, under a memorial stone. His obituary was published in the Times and acknowledged his work at the East India Co., but not his poetry.
We have acquired a reproduction of The Peasants Fate, including several shorter poems, all by William Holloway. I am not a great follower of poetry, but have read this volume. We have no record of Holloway’s schooling, but this book includes many words which I needed to resort to the dictionary for their meanings, as they are not now in common use. The poem gives fine descriptions of the seasons and wild plants, and of walking to town for market and fairs and of the local people. His love of the countryside in Dorset is evident and it is surprising that he did not return here, on retirement. But his daughters had settled down in London. “Notes” at the end of the book show some evidence of his wide reading, e.g. Dr Johnson’s Dictionary.
We have another acquisition, A General Dictionary of Provincialisms—Written with a view to Rescue from Oblivion the fast fading relics of bygone days. This does not seem to have been noted by “Dorset Ancestors”. The book is dated 1839, printed by Sussex Press, Lewes and has around 200 pages. It discloses that Holloway had not travelled far from the South of England and much of his research into the dialect of the rest of the country is from other writers books, the earliest he read being dated 1775. He states that the British language has words from Ancient British, Roman, Danish, Saxon and Norman languages. Holloway believed that the early British language is best preserved in Wales and less purely in Cornwall, but has not spent much time on the latter, as he had little acquaintance with it! He says that much of our official language is still based on Norman French, including the town criers call of “Oyez !”.
Surprisingly, Holloway does not include much Dorset dialect, referring it to be very like Somerset and Devonshire. He only says that S is Z in Dorset, but less strongly than in Somerset; Th is D; F is V and Him is un and Ago is agoo. Wiltshire differs little from Dorset, with old Saxon pronunciation retained as in the English Among being Amang, from the Saxon Oumang, and the English Along being Alang. He goes through the remaining counties in his Introduction, before proceeding with his “Dictionary of Provincialism”. I was surprised that some of the local dialect which I occasionally encounter is not included, however it has been interesting to learn how much work on language was carried out by this poet.
It has occurred to me that our present local language may be changing because of television.
The next meeting of Bridport History Society is still on Zoom only, on Tuesday November 9th at 2 for 2.30 pm. The speaker will be Member Lucy Goodison on “The Myth of the ‘Green Man’ and other ‘Fertility Fantasies’, including images in many churches. Contact Jane on 01308 425710 or email
Cecil Amor, Hon President, Bridport History Society.

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