BRIDPORT Heritage Forum is marking 16 years of commemorative events and displays this year, with plans already underway for 'special Saturdays' later this year.

The forum started in 2002 when a group of local organisations and individuals in Bridport came together to stage an exhibition to mark the Queen's Golden Jubilee. Since then, the group has worked to raise awareness of the town’s heritage and the part that the local people have played in its evolution.

When an event of local or national significance has occurred, the forum has been there to celebrate and commemorate the part that Bridport and its people have played in those events.

Following from the Queen's jubilee exhibition, in 2003, members looked into the town's rope and net heritage, an exhibition funded by the lottery, and marked D-Day in 2004 with vintage vehicles, a night of 40s costume and dance, as well as a veterans afternoon.

In 2005, they decided to follow this up with a replica of the inside of a 1940s house to mark the anniversary of the end of Second World War. More than 6,000 went to the town hall for a trip down memory lane.

In 2008, Bridport Heritage Forum became a charity and held an exhibition on Fra Newbery, an artist that grew up in Bridport.

In 2012, a link was made between the Olympic games and sport and leisure in the town. The‘Roping Everyone In’ exhibition brought over twenty local groups together from fishermen to footballers – all of whom were connected by the use of rope or net in their activities. An exhibition in the town hall gave visitors a chance to have a go at bellringing and admire the Olympic torches.

Members marked the 70th anniversary of end of the Second World War in 2015 and the 65th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth coming to the throne and the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid in 2017.

The group has also been involved in a four-year project commemorating the centenary of the Great War, 1914-1918, and were awarded a Heritage Lottery Grant to fund the initial project - ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’.

The town hall was transformed into a 1914 house – which represented the home of local man - Private Sid Murless- complete with garden and a privy and which backed on to a section of ‘The Western Front’ where Sid had served during the war. The trench had an officer’s dugout and a ‘funk hole’, with ladders leading up over a parapet into ‘no man’s land’ complete with gun fire and explosions.

The exhibition which accompanied the installation looked at the everyday life of both men at the front and their families and friends left at home. As well as display boards, the exhibition featured a recruiting office, where visitors could enlist, and a French café.

A great deal of research went on to discover the stories behind the names on Bridport’s War Memorial. In the autumn the forum will publish those stories, creating a permanent record and tribute to those 148 men and their families.

The research also provided the information for the memorial Cards which appeared in over a hundred shop and house windows in the days leading up to the Armistice Day centenary in 2018. Present day residents of the homes once occupied by men who served in the First World War were asked to place a memorial card in their window.

Another memorial to the men and boys of Bridport was created by the forum at Jellyfields Nature Reserve in Walditch. A wild flower meadow was created here in 2014 and while it flourished for two years, nature took over and the meadow was overtaken by dock leaves and nettles. A programme of cutting and clearing is now in place and a re-seeding programme will start later this year, targeting a smaller, more manageable area.

Heritage Lottery were impressed with the diversity, enthusiasm and professionalism of ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’ and urged the forum to apply for an additional grant to fund a publication which would record the local stories and memories of this time before they were lost. This was done and the book, 'War Peace and New Beginnings', was completed in July 2018 , containing articles and stories written by 13 local people. The book launch was held at the Station Kitchen, West Bay where the connection with WW1 was much in evidence. The railway carriage, now in use as part of the restaurant seating area was originally a First World War nursing carriage which carried wounded soldiers from French ports to hospitals back in England.

The Forum has been involved in many more aspects of local heritage than that associated with warfare. Rope and Net – the town’s industrial heritage - has always been in the fore front of projects.

So, what’s happening in the future?

In August there will be three ’Special Saturdays’ in the town hall on August 3, 17, and 31.

Bridport will already have marked the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day landings during the Second World War, while paying tribute to the American servicemen who were stationed here before embarking for the beaches of Normandy.

Alongside this commemoration, the forum are planning events which will reflect the life of the civilians in the town in the 1940s. Visitors to previous events have always been interested in three major topics - what people ate, what they wore and what they did for entertainment. ‘Special Saturdays’ will give everyone a chance, not only to find out the answers but to get hands-on and involved.

Plans include a restaurant serving food from s rationing recipe book, food tasting and preparing, knitting and darning with a chance to get up close to men’s and women’s utility clothing and watching and joining in with dances, songs and music of the day.

Details of the events will be released closer to the time.