A Skimmington or skimmity ride is a procession, formerly common in villages and country districts, usually intended to bring ridicule or odium upon a woman or her husband in cases where one was unfaithful to, or ill-treated.

There is a perfect example of a skimmington evident in plaster at Montecute House in Somerset.

In ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ (1886) some of the townspeople publicly shame Henchard and Lucetta, creating effigies of them in a skimmity ride. Lucetta is so devastated by the spectacle that she dies. The act of this ritual was subversive and rooted in mocking the different classes, morality, power and authority .

Last Saturday in Dorchester a modern day version of the skimmity ride was held at Maumbury Rings (a Neolithic henge, Roman Amphitheatre and an ancient site of struggle and subversion in itself).

This was to protest against the sheer scale of the housing development proposal to be built to the north of Dorchester. I would like to state that I am not against low cost affordable housing for local people but the proposed site is not congenial to protecting our literary heritage and culture as described by world famous writer Thomas Hardy ‘it stood with the land adjoining clean-cut like a chessboard on a green tablecloth-it was untouched by the faintest sprinkle of modernism.

It was compact as a box of dominoes. It had no suburbs - in the ordinary sense. Country and town met in a mathematical line. It is shut in by a square wall of trees’.

Furthermore, building yet another ‘suburb’ and development larger than Poundbury with 3,500 houses would surely impact on the existing charm and character of Dorchester.

The argument here is homes for need not for greed. The countryside around Dorchester is of significant importance. Building on water meadows surely poses problems in itself alongside the already congested infrastructure around the town.

What would Hardy have thought of the desecration of his beloved Casterbridge? Would the ‘Pair of Blue Eyes’ not have a tear in them at the thought of a vast increase in the size of Wessex? Jude would be even more obscure at the thought of this and the native perhaps would not have wanted to return to this blot on the landscape. This proposed development has caused nothing but discord and disharmony. Surely there are other sites more appropriate but the pure volume proposed is ridiculous.

The etymological roots of skimmity is charivari or chivaree - a European and North American folk custom. The people of Dorchester showed their support on Saturday against the development. Caveat Dorset Council because in Mixen Lane the inhabitants are in Peter’s Finger planning their next act of subversive protest. We will not give up or surrender.

We are ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ and that is where we want to stay. Please continue to show your support by accessing the STAND website : https://stand-Dorchester.net

Mark Damon Chutter

STAND, Dorchester