Photographer Neil Baird is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this social documentary photography.  From project ‘Wessex“.  To see Neil’s body of work click on any photograph.


The Wrights

John and Sue Wright,  retired business owners

Like many incomers, they discovered the area on holiday many years ago and often came to get away from their busy life in London. ‘Eventually we realized we could afford to buy a small place down here which we visited as often as we could for several years. Since we first came here we knew we would eventually come to stay, and when we found the cottage it was obviously the time to take the step’.


Toby’s Youth Project

Ben Peat, Eoin Brew and Jonni Piston at Toby’s Project young people’s center in Shaftesbury

‘We don’t like it round here. It’s a place for old people and there’s nothing for us to do’ says Eoin. ‘I’m leaving as soon as I can to go and work in Aberdeen in the oil industry’. The other two agree. ‘But it’s not so easy for everyone to do what they want’ Jonni adds. His family is Romany travelers who are temporarily camped in one of the council’s permitted traveler camp areas.


Gold Hill

Visitors to the Shaftesbury area all head for the town’s famous ‘Gold Hill’.

Shaftesbury has a successful small economy with many independent stores, cafés and antique shops. Tourism is the area’s biggest industry. Gold Hill is situated next to Abbey Walk where Shaftesbury Abbey was sited. Founded in 888 it was the first and the most powerful women’s religious community in the country, partly because it housed the remains of Edward the Martyr, whose relics were responsible for Shaftesbury’s rise to power. Until the Abbey’s dissolution in 1539 Shaftesbury was an important town – a place of pilgrimage and a destination for Royalty. It is now better known for a more recent event – the filming of Ridley Scott’s iconic 1970s and ‘80s Hovis TV commercial at Gold Hill.


The Painter

Clare Hatcher is a painter and illustrator who works in her garden studio.

She shows her work in a permanent display space in Shaftesbury’s Swan’s Yard, and is kept busy painting commissioned work, mostly portraits. Clare was once a student at an independent school in the area, and loved it so much that she decided a long time ago that this was the only place she wanted to live. ‘I can’t imagine myself living somewhere that doesn’t offer the beauty of the landscape and relaxed rural way of life that I have here. I only wish the public transport was better’.


The Arts Centre

The cast of Shaftesbury Arts Centre’s new theater production with their director Sue Cadmore

The Arts Center is a much loved institution, and central to the Shaftesbury area’s cultural life. It has a 250 seat theater, galleries and workshop spaces. The programme features popular live music events, a film society, theater productions and a wide variety of classes in the visual arts. It is funded entirely by its membership, and is run by local volunteers.



Brenda, 86, lives on Shaftesbury’s famous Gold Hill.

She is a retired historian but remains very active and has for many years been a prominent member of the local historical society. She is well loved and respected in Shaftesbury and is frequently involved in debates over planning and renovation issues around the town. ‘I do tend to annoy people’, she laughs, ‘I let them know my opinions and that often makes me unpopular!’


 The Mayor

Win Harvey is the Mayor of Shaftesbury.

Like all her colleagues around the country hers is a volunteer role, and this is the second time she has been voted Mayor of the town. When not running her small shop selling hand-made teddy bears Win is doing some kind of town council business. ‘Most of my spare time is spent undertaking duties as mayor’ she says, ‘and as well as a busy schedule of regular council and committee meetings which I chair, I attend events, openings and award ceremonies throughout the year.


The Tunnels

Richard was ‘born and bred’ in Shaftesbury.

Since he was small he has heard stories of ‘the tunnels’. Although dismissed by some as pure fantasy, rumors of a network of ancient tunnels leading from the Abbey ruins out to numerous locations on the town’s outskirts persist. Monks used them for secret rendezvous with Shaftesbury’s nuns, or the nun’s themselves built and used them in the uncertain times leading up to Henry VIII’s dramatic dissolution of monastic communities, or they were smugglers tunnels perhaps, since some are thought to end at previous sites of the town’s many public houses. According to Richard one of those tunnels runs ‘immediately under The Ship right where we’re standing’.


The Organic Farmer

Nathaniel Page runs a 250 head organic cattle farm near Semley in Wiltshire

The farm is managed by Nat, his wife, and a herdsman. This is a serious farming venture but Nat, an ex diplomat spends most of his time working as the co-director of a not-for-profit organization based in Romania and the UK. Fundatia Adept run environmental and sustainable initiatives in Transylvania, helping local farming communities to maintain sustainable farming and land management practices while protecting the unique unspoilt Transylvanian landscape.


 Mr Punch

Chris Jolliffe is the owner of Mr Punch’s Emporium in Bell Street, Shaftesbury.

‘I have been in this shop for over 25 years, he says, and although I love the area, and the business, I have other things I want to do, like travelling, so I’m going to be selling up. I’ll be back though. Because I love it here. I just bought a piece of woodland and a lake near East Knoyle where I am keeping four Rheas’.


The Gladwys’s

Brian and Jane Gladwys at Castle Hill

They are retired property developers who moved to the area fifteen years ago. ‘We came here for the pace of life and the natural beauty’ says Peter, ‘and to be somewhere nearer to our kids, one of whom is in Hampshire, and the other in Devon.  Funny really because we hardly ever see them. But we would not want to live anywhere else. We’re here for good’.


The Woodsman

Rural areas like this have a surprising number and diversity of small and medium sized businesses, although many of the local skills and traditional occupations struggle to survive. But an essential service in such wooded countryside that remains strong are the ‘woodsmen’ – foresters, tree surgeons, hedge layers and others who plan, plant and maintain the trees and hedges at the side of public roads, and in private properties and estates throughout the area.


The Dowser

Helen Lickerish, dowser and Feng Shui practitioner, at Wingreen tumulus

Wingreen is a local landmark and probably the highest point in the area. The tumulus is surrounded by trees. There is runic graffiti cut into the trees all over the site, and there is frequently evidence of ‘floral offerings’ left at the bases of the trees. ‘There is almost certainly a Wiccan or Druid influence in the area, she says, ‘it’s not such a straight conservative area, once you start to scratch the surface’.


See also:

The Forgotten People

By Neil Baird