THE ‘great fire’ of Sixpenny Handley in May 1892 started at the wheelwright’s at the top of the village and quickly spread, destroying most of the village’s pretty thatched cottages.
The subsequent rebuilding of the village lead Sir Fredrick Treves to describe the village in his book Highways and Byways of Dorset as “the ugliest village in Dorset”.
Now Sixpenny Handley with Pentridge Parish Council has secured a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant to enable research into the disaster. Children from Sixpenny Handley First School, Little Pennies Pre School and 1st Woodcutts Scouts will be finding out about the stories surrounding the fire to be commemorated in a new community festival day The Sixpenny Handley Waistcoat Festival.
The name of the festival comes from the period after the fire when so many families had lost their homes and belongings that the surrounding villages generously donated clothes, so many that they used to say you “could tell a Handley man as he wore two if not three waistcoats”.
Parish events committee member Jenny Gordon said: “We are so excited to have been awarded this grant, there are many fascinating stories to be unearthed about the fire and we can’t wait to get started.
“Sixpenny Handley is a fantastic village to live in and we want to settle an old score by showing Sir Frederick Treves and the rest of Dorset that we think we have the best village.
“The Waistcoat Festival will help put us back on the map as well as share our heritage and history with the rest of the county.”
Children will learn about the history of the village, and in particular the fire, through working with artists, traditional craftsmen and local people as well as accessing local archives at The Priests House Museum in Wimborne.
The festival, on Saturday May 17 from noon to 4pm, will showcase the children’s work, celebrating their achievements with music, stalls, craft demonstrations, craft activities, competitions, storytelling and much more.
A lantern parade and commemorative beacon lighting will take place at Church Farm Campsite from 8pm to 9pm.
The project is being run entirely by volunteers.
Nerys Watts, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South West said: “Sharing Heritage is a wonderful opportunity for communities to delve into their local heritage and we are delighted to be able to offer this grant so that Sixpenny Handley can embark on a real journey of discovery.”