Episode 12 Britain's Heritage Heroes


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Episode 12

John Craven and Jules Hudson meet a woman who has built a traditional sailing boat from scratch and join a youth club finding new ways to tell stories from the past in Dorchester.


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We're travelling across the UK on a mission.

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All over the country, our heritage is at risk.

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Ancient buildings and monuments are under threat of demolition.

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Valuable arts and crafts are on the brink of extinction

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and our rich industrial heritage is disappearing fast.

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We're scouring town and country in search of the nation's unsung heroes

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determined not to let our heritage become a thing of the past.

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Today we get to grips with leather in Britain's last oak tannery.

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Push!

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And we meet the people working to keep our boat-building heritage afloat.

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On this journey, we uncover the hidden treasures of our country -

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treasures that are certainly worth fighting for.

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And meeting heritage heroes saving Britain at risk.

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-Look, Jules, there's blue over there.

-That, John, is the sea!

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THEY LAUGH

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Is it really?

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Yeah, and all this green stuff...

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-That's the land!

-That's the land, yeah!

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On this journey we travel pier to pier to explore the south-west of England.

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We started in Dorset and head through Somerset and Devon

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and finally end up at the western tip of England in Cornwall.

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Today, Devon and Dorset don't disappoint.

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On the trail for skills with humble origins,

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we meet the communities and champions keeping our heritage alive.

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So, Jules, we're crossing yet another border now,

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heading into Devon.

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Yes, we are. To a tannery.

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Now, I suppose that you know that a tannery is not a place

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where you go to get an artificial suntan?

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Oh, not indeed.

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-No, they're a very ancient form of industry, aren't they?

-Yeah.

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I saw one in Morocco, in Marrakesh, last year in fact...

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Bragging about his foreign holidays again!

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Well, I don't think anything had changed there for centuries.

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It was a filthy, quite dangerous place to work.

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-And very smelly, I'm told.

-Incredibly smell, you have no idea!

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I'm told that they're so smelly that the rats don't go in there.

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That wouldn't surprise me!

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-And we are going in one!

-Oh, happy days!

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There's been a tannery on this site in Colyton since Roman times.

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Although it's been re-built over the years,

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the basic processes of tanning cattle hides hasn't changed.

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Tanneries like this were once commonplace up and down the country.

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They worked constantly to keep up with the never-ending need

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for leather shoes, bags, bridles and saddles.

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'This place is now the last oak bark tannery in Britain...'

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You can certainly smell it, can't you?!

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'and it's been in Andrew Parr's family since 1864.

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'The majority of the hides produced here are exported abroad

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'for the luxury leather market.

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'A lot of us wear leather but maybe aren't familiar

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'with the processes involved, some of which are a bit gruesome.

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'This is not for the faint-hearted!'

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-So, where are we here, Andrew?

-This is the lime yard.

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This is where the hides start and they gets soaked in water and lime

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for a fortnight and that will loosen the hair by the roots

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and then they're be ready for de-hairing.

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-So it's literally just shaving off.

-It's not quite shaving

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because it's a blunt blade so the hair comes out by the roots.

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So you're not cutting it off like shaving,

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you're taking the hair out with the roots and all.

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It's properly fleshy, this, isn't it?

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I mean, it's like a huge piece of bacon.

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Yeah, this is the hair side, the good side and on the other side,

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you've got some fat left on and that's the inside of the hide.

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-It's pretty gruesome, isn't it?!

-What will it be used for eventually?

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We're doing two types of leather.

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Shoe leather, soling leather, stiffener leathers,

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insole leathers, or equestrian leathers

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which will be bridle butts, stirrup butts, harness bags.

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Well, just watching these guys working here,

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how much has this changed over the centuries?

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This is exactly how it would be centuries ago.

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-Probably back to the Iron Age?

-The trouble is nobody knows when tanning started

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because it's always been there. There's no history of it

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because I don't think they could write when it started.

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-This really hasn't changed at all, has it?

-No.

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What do you call this? Has this got some nice ancient name?

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Well, I call it a scudder.

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A scudder! How about that?! That is a scudder!

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Well, clearly a lot more scudding to do here.

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What's the next stage of the process, Andrew?

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Once he's finished scudding, we put them in water to get the lime out of the surfaces.

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-Then it's ready for the tan yard, which is where we're going now.

-Right. This way?

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Yes. The tan yard.

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Right, so this is the tan yard. Just be careful as you come in.

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The tan yard?

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-Yeah. It's full of pits.

-It doesn't look much like a yard.

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There's 70 pits here to fall in, so just follow me.

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Every town in the country would have have had a tannery, wouldn't they?

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-I think Colyton had two.

-This is the very last one...

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The last oak bark tannery of this sort, yeah.

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It's a proper pit tannage so it's divided up into these pits.

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-So there's a hide hanging from each of these poles?

-That's right.

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These are on suspenders at the moment so the leather of these hides

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is suspended from these sticks for the first three months

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and then moved up from pit to pit for the first three months.

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What's that solution there?

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That's the tan liquor. That's water and oak bark tan.

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So it's liquid oak, effectively?

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It's liquid tan because actually, we only want the tan out of the bark.

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You don't get a lot of tan out of the wood, it comes out of the bark.

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So we've soaked the tan out and left the bark and the oak behind.

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Once the leather has been through its various tanning processes,

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any marks must be removed.

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Cod oil is then added, which helps make the leather more supple.

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Gary and Liam do about 100 of these a day!

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It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.

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Can I join you guys?

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I'm all kitted out and Andrew says you've got a job for me.

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We have, yes. You can join in.

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-Can I take over from you, Liam. Have a quick break?

-OK.

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-What are we doing here?

-You get all the creases out.

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Get it all nice and level and flat.

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Do you get young people... I mean, Liam looks pretty young to me,

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but are there other young people coming on to keep it going?

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Well, at the moment the older ones are,

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but there is a few young ones coming into it now.

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Cod oil now?

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Cod oil, please.

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Yuck!

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Is that about right, do you reckon?

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Yeah, that's fine.

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-Right.

-Yeah, we carry it and put it on nails to hang up and dry out.

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And how long will it stay up there?

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That will stay up until next week.

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-Have I got the job?

-That's brilliant, yes!

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-That's right, there's a nail on that side.

-I got that.

-That's it.

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I feel a bit guilty, doing Liam out of a job!

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I think I'll let him take over again.

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-Good to see you.

-Yeah!

-Cheers.

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A cod oil handshake in a rubber glove, how about that?!

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The process is then finished by Doug,

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who puts the leather through a roller.

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MACHINERY CLATTERS Doug! Doug!

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Hello!

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Turn the machine off!

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I am in a minute, I've got to wait.

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It's quite a violent-looking machine,

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but it's all about pressing down on the leather.

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But what does it do? Does it make it stronger?

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Does it tighten the leather at all, or just make it easier to work

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when it's shipped off to the...

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Well, I don't know to be honest.

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-They just sent you up here to roll and you said, "OK."

-Yeah.

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JULES LAUGHS

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-Can I have a go?

-Yeah.

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-Is it safe to have a go?

-Yes.

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You just feed it in?

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Yeah, just so much at a time.

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Yeah.

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-Shall we pull it out?

-Yeah.

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Turn it off a second. Let's have a feel of this.

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With a little bit of rolling,

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-suddenly that had been transformed, hasn't it?

-That's right.

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Do you mind if I borrow this

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and take it off to show John to see the finished product?

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I'm going to leave you rolling...for another 20 years!

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-Yeah!

-Cheers, mate! Lovely, look at that!

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18 months in the curing, 18 months growing to be a full-sized animal.

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So, three years for a bit of leather.

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-Ah! Mr Craven!

-Mr Hudson!

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-What's this then? A tea break?

-You need one, it's hard work!

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-Well, I have to say, you look the part.

-I feel it, yeah!

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-I bet you were glad of this. Was it a very messy business?

-It was indeed, making those!

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Well, I've just seen the final but of the process

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where the hides get rolled, with Doug, with an amazing machine.

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-Do you know why he rolls them?

-Did you not ask him?

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I did, but he doesn't know either! But he's been doing it for 20 years!

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-But just feel that.

-Yeah, make it nice and flat when you roll them.

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Isn't that wonderful? You wouldn't get that just from a machine.

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No, let's hope modern technology doesn't ring the final death knell

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-for a place like this.

-Keep buying decent shoes, John!

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-Have you got that, then?

-I've kind of borrowed it.

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-I'll give you a tanner for it.

-Yeah!

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It's a relief to breath fresh air back the open road!

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We're making our way east through Weymouth, to Osmington.

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One of the striking things in the landscape

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around this part of the world, are the carvings on the hillsides, the horses.

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It's brilliant. When you've got a landscape that underneath the turf is full of chalk.

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Lift the turf and you've suddenly got a fantastic, artist's material.

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You can make any shape, any form you like.

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We tend to think they're prehistoric and mysterious,

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but some of them are far later than that. Relatively modern, you know.

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Napoleonic... I'm thinking of the Great Horse with George III on it.

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Yeah, and this one has seen much better days, I'm told.

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There are bits missing.

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-Like the King's arms.

-Poor old George, yes!

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Standing 100 metres tall on a hillside near Weymouth

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is one of the most impressive monuments created for a British monarch.

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The White Horse at Osmington is a monument to King George III.

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During his reign in the 18th and 19th centuries,

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Weymouth became one of his favourite holiday destinations.

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So enamoured were the townsfolk with him,

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that in 1808 it took an estimated 100 men three months to create this proud monument.

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What was once a great homage to a much-loved King,

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was becoming a blot on the landscape, until local man Geoff Codd

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was spurred into doing something about it.

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One day my wife and I were driving up the hill

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and she happened to say to me, "Isn't that White Horse looking awful?"

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We were highly conscious that over the 200 years plus

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since it's been up there, it's been slowly deteriorating

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and we looked at it and thought, "Oh, my God, this isn't what we want the world to see."

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So we got a group together, which comprised people from Dorset County Council

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and our community and various experts.

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We set about removing 160 tonnes of stone, off the monument,

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which had been inadvertently put there, 20 or 30 years ago.

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Dorset Countryside Ranger Nick Tarrier has been working with other volunteers

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to get the King, and his horse, back in shape.

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It's quite hard labour. I don't think it's any different from when it was first made.

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With the gradient of the slope, you can't get any machinery on the hill.

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Trucks you can barely get near.

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So it's mattocks, pick-axes, buckets, spades,

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and bags to haul the chalk off.

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The second task was trying to decide how we'd get the outline.

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Having been changed so much over the years, what the original outline was.

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To ensure the most accurate restoration job is carried out,

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recorded images of the horse, in its past form, have been collated.

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With the use of GPS technology, they've been able to plot the original outline of the monument.

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We feel very passionate about it

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because it's a part of our heritage.

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National heritage, it's not just ours.

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It's about one of our kings, who was famous

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and, hopefully, this will become famous too.

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We're headed west, 30 miles along Dorset's famous Jurassic Coast

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to the pretty little town of Lyme Regis.

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The Jurassic Coast itself, John, we're talking 180 million years ago.

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Did you report on the creation of the Jurassic Coast on Newsround

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180 million years ago?

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It feels like it, sometimes.

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We're descending now into Lyme Regis.

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It's gorgeous, isn't it?

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-A beautiful old town.

-Yeah.

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It's one of those nice ones, it hasn't been swamped with candy floss and fruit machines.

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It's a nice, pretty, coastal town.

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I guess, as it was, back in the Victorian day.

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-It's busy, isn't it?

-Yeah, look at it.

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Lyme Bay, like most coastal areas, has a proud fishing tradition.

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In the mid-1800s, the mackerel fishing industry was king,

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with over 100 small boats trawling these rich coastal waters for the catch of the day.

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The vessels used were called Lerrets

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and were often built by the men who fished from them.

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This sturdy boat also doubled as a lifeboat, saving hundreds of people over the years,

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and giving it a firm place in the area's maritime history.

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Determined not to see this part of Lyme Bay's heritage lost,

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Gail McGarvey took it upon herself to build the first lerret in 40 years.

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-Littlesea.

-Yeah.

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Lovely little boat, isn't it? Hello, Gail.

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-Morning.

-Gail, how are you? Nice to see you.

-Nice to see you.

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-Well, thank you very much!

-This is a local boat, is it?

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It's wholly pertinent to Chesil Beach, which stretches behind us to Portland.

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How much at risk is the lerret?

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Well, the mother boat stands over on the shore - she's 1923

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and she's one of a few remaining seaworthy boats.

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There's just a handful left, and so it seemed imperative

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to capture the lines of the mother boat and create a daughter boat.

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-But you didn't have a plan?

-No, no formal plan, built by eye,

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so you are using the mother boat as your guiding force.

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"By eye" means if it looks right, it is right?

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Your eye is a fantastic thing - it shouts out at you

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if there's something that's unfair, as we call it in boat building!

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Not sweet on the eye!

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And lots and lots of rivets.

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-Yes, yes!

-I tell you what, though, John, have a sniff.

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I used to live on a boat - it's got this lovely smell of varnish,

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-of sea water.

-I don't often sniff boats!

-I love the smell of a boat!

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-You know what I'm talking about!

-Many people sniff boats.

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It's lovely, it's just got this lovely, timeless sense about it.

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It's definitely a sensual thing, I think, boat building,

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and people's draw to boats.

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Had you got a lot of DIY practical experience before you got

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interested in boat building itself?

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No, I had no formal woodworking skills at all.

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I'd lived on boats and I just had this strong feeling

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that I wanted to make them the core focus of my life.

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It's been a fantastic process.

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We've been able to preserve the art of boat building by eye, but also preserve this particular vessel

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and give it life into a new generation.

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It was here at the Boat Building School in Lyme Regis

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that Gail learned her craft. Up and running for 13 years,

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it's one of only two independent colleges

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where traditional boat-building skills are taught on full-time courses.

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Students are self-funded, and range greatly in age and background,

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but all share a passion for boat building.

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Running the school is principal Yvonne Green.

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Everybody's busy building boats. What happens to them when they're finished?

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The boats are owned by individual students who pay for the materials

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and they take them away at the end of the course.

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Some of them talk about selling them - I have to say,

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it's very rare they can bring themselves to get rid of them.

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The other thing they do is they use the boats as a CV,

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so they put the boat on a trailer, go and see the yard

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they want to work for and they can say, "This is what I've produced."

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-Pretty impressive CV.

-Very impressive, yeah.

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'Jackson is one of the youngest students here at the school.

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'Like Gail, he is building a very traditional fishing boat.'

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Already you can see she's got some graceful lines - what kind of boat will it be?

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It's a pilchard fishing boat,

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traditional Cornish one from the 19th and 20th century.

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-Is this going to go to work?

-This will be a working boat, yeah.

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That must be quite nice to be working on something that you know won't be in a museum.

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No, it's going to be working.

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We talk about a learning curve, but nothing's straight on these.

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-Nothing's straightforward.

-Nothing's easy at all.

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-And you're clearly loving it?

-Yeah. No regrets.

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-Will you go on and become a boat builder?

-I hope to travel the world -

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there's a lot of work in New Zealand, Australia, so...

0:18:190:18:22

Touch wood, that's what I'll do!

0:18:220:18:25

Well, there's plenty of it to touch! Best of luck.

0:18:250:18:28

Back out on the shore,

0:18:280:18:30

it's time to launch Gail's lerret in the traditional style.

0:18:300:18:34

-This is hard work, isn't it?

-HE GROANS

0:18:350:18:39

I feel a bit underdressed, really.

0:18:430:18:45

We thought we'd turn out proper. When we first launched the boat

0:18:550:18:59

in 2010, we wanted to, in a way,

0:18:590:19:02

echo boat-building launches of the past where people

0:19:020:19:06

took enormous pride in the boat that had been built.

0:19:060:19:09

-And got dressed up for the occasion?

-Yes, exactly, in their Sunday best!

0:19:090:19:13

The foreman of the yard would always wear a bowler hat.

0:19:130:19:18

On that day, I presented Roy, who was mentor for the build...

0:19:180:19:22

-He's got the hat on!

-So he has his bowler hat.

0:19:220:19:25

We've got four oarspeople.

0:19:250:19:29

Jeff will be here in the stern with you acting as cox and I'll be in the bow.

0:19:290:19:35

-What's this for?

-LAUGHTER

0:19:370:19:40

Push!

0:19:400:19:42

-Hey, it works!

-It works!

0:19:570:20:00

-Hey, thank you very much!

-Goodbye.

0:20:020:20:06

It's quite easy to row, isn't it?

0:20:150:20:18

Yeah. This is the way to do it.

0:20:180:20:21

Why are these oars so wide, Gail?

0:20:250:20:28

-So you can leave an oar like that?

-Yeah.

0:20:280:20:32

John, keep rowing!

0:20:320:20:34

No, I'm talking to Gail about the oar. Right, OK.

0:20:340:20:39

-Sorry about that...

-Sorry, yes.

0:20:410:20:45

We're all completely out of synch now! Where were we?

0:20:490:20:53

Gail, it must feel like a real sense of achievement

0:20:530:20:57

-to have built this boat and see it in action once again.

-It's fantastic.

0:20:570:21:02

To think that we managed to preserve the line of the Lerret

0:21:020:21:05

is a great thought. When you're building the boat,

0:21:050:21:10

you see her grow and grow, but when she comes out onto the water

0:21:100:21:15

then she really has her full life.

0:21:150:21:17

She just becomes her own creature.

0:21:170:21:22

Well done, Gail, for reviving this wonderful little boat.

0:21:220:21:25

-I think we're ready for the Atlantic now.

-Yes.

0:21:250:21:30

-OK, guys?

-I think France is that way!

0:21:300:21:33

'What a fantastic treat to sail in a fishing boat

0:21:340:21:37

'with a history that goes back centuries.

0:21:370:21:41

'Did anybody bring a rod?

0:21:410:21:43

Ever onwards and it's back towards Weymouth, an hour east of here.

0:21:450:21:50

All along the coast, there are lots of forts and castles

0:21:500:21:55

and watch towers. A lot of them, I think, Henry VIII built them up?

0:21:550:21:59

Henry VIII was a great fort builder and he built some fantastic

0:21:590:22:03

surviving examples, but every generation has left their mark

0:22:030:22:07

when it comes to the defence of the country.

0:22:070:22:10

Like the abbeys that Henry VIII knocked about a bit,

0:22:100:22:13

quite a few of his castles now are in a pretty bad state of repair.

0:22:130:22:17

Well, I guess what comes around comes around, really!

0:22:170:22:20

And there's one not far from here.

0:22:200:22:22

Sandsfoot Castle is a mile along the coast from Weymouth.

0:22:250:22:29

It was built by Henry VIII in 1539 as one of the many defences

0:22:290:22:34

aimed at deterring the French and Spanish from invading.

0:22:340:22:38

However, decades ago, this crumbling structure was condemned

0:22:380:22:41

and has since been closed to the public.

0:22:410:22:45

David Carter has been working closely with the local authority

0:22:490:22:53

for the last 15 years. Having raised £300,000,

0:22:530:22:57

the public will be able to enjoy its faded glory once again.

0:22:570:23:02

This castle is a unique piece of English history

0:23:020:23:05

that served its country very well until it fell into disrepair.

0:23:050:23:08

I'm really passionate about this building. It's an ancient monument.

0:23:080:23:12

Of all the Henrician castles, there's only one like this.

0:23:120:23:15

It's a reminder for people of their past,

0:23:150:23:18

the importance of the area and the significance of this piece of coastline.

0:23:180:23:23

'Parks Development Officer Lucy White has been involved

0:23:230:23:27

'in the project since the start and she's keen to make it a hands-on history venue.'

0:23:270:23:32

We want to give the castle back to the people of Weymouth

0:23:320:23:36

and Portland, and give them an opportunity

0:23:360:23:39

to go inside the castle and see what's in here, feel the walls,

0:23:390:23:43

really get involved in what was there, see the open fireplace,

0:23:430:23:48

just so they can get back in touch with the history of the castle.

0:23:480:23:51

And they've not been able to do that for generations now.

0:23:510:23:55

What a magnificent backdrop this will be for theatre.

0:23:550:23:59

The amphitheatre will also lend itself to actually having some musical events here.

0:23:590:24:04

But to preserve this castle from falling into the sea

0:24:040:24:09

and giving it back to the public is money well spent.

0:24:090:24:12

Now we're heading 10 miles north into the beautiful Dorset countryside

0:24:170:24:22

to the old market town of Dorchester.

0:24:220:24:25

We're going to look at a youth club project now.

0:24:250:24:29

It's the Dorset Youth Association,

0:24:290:24:31

which seems to be doing some very interesting work.

0:24:310:24:34

And helping to preserve quite a lot of the area's history

0:24:340:24:37

and heritage and really getting youngsters involved in understanding

0:24:370:24:41

what their past is all about and how that fits into the national story.

0:24:410:24:45

The Dorset Youth Association has been running since the '40s

0:24:450:24:49

and has 70 groups across the county.

0:24:490:24:51

Its mission has always been to improve

0:24:510:24:54

the quality of life for young people in the area.

0:24:540:24:57

Recently there's been increasing demand for them

0:24:570:25:00

to support young people with additional needs.

0:25:000:25:02

Having just won Heritage funding, the group is delving

0:25:040:25:08

into the local archives and is chatting to original youth group members.

0:25:080:25:11

The idea - to build a timeline of Dorset history.

0:25:110:25:15

Another bright idea they've had is to utilise current GPS technology.

0:25:150:25:21

Led by excitable historian Alistair Chisolm, they're plotting out a history-themed treasure hunt,

0:25:210:25:26

which can be followed using a smart phone.

0:25:260:25:28

Small boxes will be found along the way with clues to the area's history.

0:25:280:25:33

-This looks like the group I'm looking for. Alistair?

-Absolutely.

0:25:330:25:38

-Jules!

-Nice to see you.

-Nice to see you indeed.

0:25:380:25:40

-Have I arrived at a crucial moment?

-Absolutely, the perfect moment.

0:25:400:25:44

We were just discussing the peace and tranquillity of the water meadows,

0:25:440:25:49

but now we have something rather grisly and gruesome!

0:25:490:25:53

What does it say above the door?

0:25:530:25:55

-Hangman's Cottage. Oh, I'm scared already!

-You've given me the fear!

0:25:570:26:02

-Absolutely, I can see those knees are shaking.

-Look at those!

-Look!

0:26:020:26:07

-This is a bit of Dorset where history really comes alive.

-Absolutely.

0:26:070:26:11

One of the places that people were hanged is just along the river where we were walking.

0:26:110:26:16

You're going to do a trail - what sort of things do you think

0:26:160:26:20

we could put inside the little box that's going to be for the...?

0:26:200:26:25

-Rope?

-What a good idea - a miniature rope with that noose at the end.

0:26:250:26:30

-Yeah, that'd be good.

-Now what's the idea behind the boxes?

0:26:300:26:34

-Well, it's a modern thing, what's it called?

-GPS.

-GPS?

0:26:340:26:40

GPS, and then you can locate the box and find out a bit about the story of the place you're looking at.

0:26:400:26:45

-Where next?

-The Town House?

-The town house?! Right, lead on. Show us where it is.

0:26:450:26:50

Excellent idea. This-a-way.

0:26:500:26:54

'This historic treasure hunt would not be complete without a visit to the Roman Town House.

0:26:540:26:59

'It's an extremely well preserved building,

0:26:590:27:01

'housing incredible mosaics dating back to the early 4th century,

0:27:010:27:05

'offering us a glimpse into Roman life.

0:27:050:27:07

'Local student Jack has been volunteering with the group

0:27:070:27:11

'for a couple of years and is passionate about the area's heritage.'

0:27:110:27:14

How big a role do you think you can play with initiatives like this?

0:27:140:27:18

Oh, yeah, you've got to get young people involved early.

0:27:180:27:22

While it's still interesting, because when you get to 17, 18,

0:27:220:27:27

people aren't interested in history - they have their own paths to follow.

0:27:270:27:32

If you get them involved with it, like the youth group, early,

0:27:320:27:37

you learn about it casually and it doesn't seem almost as if you're learning it.

0:27:370:27:42

So you're saying we should introduce people to history by stealth?

0:27:420:27:46

It makes sense, doesn't it,

0:27:460:27:47

because everyone hates sitting in a classroom at some point

0:27:470:27:51

and this is a much better way of learning about it.

0:27:510:27:54

'I love to see young people who are so enthusiastic about their local history getting involved

0:27:540:28:00

'with a great new scheme like this.

0:28:000:28:03

'What a day it's been.

0:28:030:28:06

'The tannery was fascinating, though I can still smell it on my clothes.

0:28:060:28:11

'And I really enjoyed being out on Gail's boat.

0:28:110:28:14

'What a great piece of living history that was.

0:28:140:28:17

'Next time we'll meet an enthusiastic bunch

0:28:170:28:20

'determined to breathe life back into a great historic house.

0:28:200:28:24

'And sample the good life with a couple who are getting back to basics.'

0:28:240:28:30

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:28:400:28:42

Series in which John Craven and Jules Hudson meet the people saving British crafts and heritage.

Castles, white horses and raw hides are all on the agenda as John and Jules experience life in the last oak bark tannery in Britain, meet a woman who has built a traditional sailing boat from scratch, and join a youth club finding new ways to tell stories from the past in Dorchester.