On Friday 3rd June 2022 Managing Director of the Great Dorset Steam Fair Ltd, Martin Oliver, unveiled a commemorative plaque at the Royal Oak, Okeford Fitzpaine to mark the site where the GDSF concept first evolved. The plaque was one of four unveiled as part of North Dorset village Okeford Fitzpaine’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
Martin Oliver said: “The idea came about when the Somerset and Dorset Railway closed. My father, Michael Oliver OBE and friends gathered here, and the idea started here on 20 January 1968, with the inauguration of the Dorset Steam and Historic Vehicle Club, the forerunner of the Great Dorset Steam Fair. Although we are the world’s largest heritage fair, this is home.”
Three of the original participants of the 1968 meeting were present for the unveiling, John Cluett, John Antell and Stephen Hubbuck. Stephen had also created a splendid archive display admired by many friends of the GDSF who joined villagers to celebrate the occasion.
With the 52nd Great Dorset Steam Fair only weeks away, Thursday 25th – Monday 29th August, it was marvellous for visitors to the Royal Oak to be greeted by the splendour of a steam entourage with thanks to John, Paul and David Antell of Shillingstone and Craig Morris who along with their families, brought their steam engines; Fowler Ploughing Engine “Dreadnought”, Robey Traction Engine “Wally” and a Wallis and Stevens Advance Roller. The evening was lite up with the majesty of the Burrell Scenic Showmans Engine “Earl Beatty” courtesy of Robert Coles with James, Jenny & Harry Duncombe on the footplate. With union jacks adoring the engines, live band, dancing, good food and great company several toasts were made, to the Queen, the Show and absent friends.
Martin and his family wish to thank Andrew Vickers and The Okeford Fitzpaine Local History Group, Okeford Fitzpaine Parish Council, Villagers of Okeford Fitzpaine and all the staff at the Royal Oak for their hospitality, an unforgettable day had by all.
A rather lovely link to the show was Mrs Anthea Calcott who was the landlady at the Royal Oak at the time the inaugural steam meeting took place, and also unveiled a blue plaque outside her home, marking the site of the village jail. A blue plaque to Sir Ernest John Hutchings Lemon was unveiled by his granddaughter, Christine Broomhead who travelled from Surrey for the event. Lemon was born in Okeford Fitzpaine and was the vice chair of the London Midland Railways. He was instrumental in production engineering during World War Two, speeding up the manufacture of Spitfires and Hurricanes critical to the war effort. Mrs Broomhead said: “I am very grateful to you. This is the only memorial to my grandfather.”
A further commemorative plaque was installed, marking the birthplace of John Freke, barber surgeon and surgeon at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London. He was also the first ophthalmic surgeon, inventor of surgical instruments, and a co-founder of the College of Surgeons.
The Okeford Fitzpaine Local History Group researched the history behind the people commemorated in the village and have opened a small museum where interesting artefacts about the area are displayed on an ad hoc basis.