A Brief History of SDNQ


The first collected volume of SDNQ, published in 1890.

In the autumn of 1887 a group of antiquarians from Somerset and Dorset ¬†decided to create a local journal, based on the example of other counties such as Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, and Lincolnshire. An increasing interest in antiquarian matters across the country had resulted in the creation of a series of journals called simply ‘Notes and Queries’. These journals were envisaged as a ‘repository for the preservation of facts’ which would include notes on items of antiquarian interest, transcriptions of documents and queries about historical matters. The Somerset and Dorset group recognized that the journal they were creating was likely to have a smaller audience than larger shires, so they wisely decided to cover both counties. The first issue came out in March 1888, and Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries has been published in unbroken sequence ever since. This is a remarkable achievement, given the difficult conditions in two world wars and the parlous lack of funds that continually dogged its efforts for the first sixty years. It is one of only two that have achieved this longevity (the other being Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries, which started later), the others having long fallen by the wayside.

Some of the original contributions are now old-fashioned, inaccurate or have been superseded by more recent research, but many of the first contributors were clergymen with time on their hands who delighted in making extracts from their parish records, some of which have now disappeared. Others were genealogists who liked nothing better than copying inscriptions from tombstones, now no longer legible or entirely crumbled away. The queries were widely varied from the start. What was the inscription high up on the western face of Blackwell church in Somerset, what were the words of the songs sung by ploughboys as they trudged up and down the furrows, and what terms, other than oaths, were used in addressing farm animals? Nearly all found answers, and Blackwell’s rector risked life and limb in making a rubbing of the inscription by hanging over the battlements.

Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries is an amazing ‘repository’ and not just for what interested people in the 1880s. It is still alive and well, appearing twice a year in March and September. The two editors, one for each county, still publish notes and queries from subscribers on a wide range of subjects and now also include reviews of new books relevant to the history of the counties. During its long life, SDNQ has recorded evidence on local history, archaeology, architecture, genealogy, heraldry, dialect, literature, family history, customs and folk lore of the two counties. Recent articles include relics of Cranborne Abbey, the first Dorset printed book, the Royal Navy’s forgotten graves, Wimborne Minster markets and fairs, parish and community at Lyme, Dorset mills and millers in manorial records, Major Gollop’s songs at Netherbury, and the several branches of the Hardy family.

Centenary edition of SDNQ, 1988. 

It is also a forum for exchange of information, the Queries section containing requests for information about a range of subjects. Responses are often printed, leading to a lively pooling of knowledge about often obscure topics. Recent queries have included subjects such as roofless tenements, World War II radio sites in the two counties, burying places for suicides, early church records at Purse Caundle, and the lock-up at Poole.

For many years, such indexes as were issued were embarrassingly inadequate, but lack of funds prevented anything better until after the last war. Subscribers now receive an Index to each volume as it is completed. Recent editions of the publication are still in print and available for sale. The first thirty volumes are now available on-line at findmypast and can be searched by subject or name. Local historians will discover that SDNQ is packed with references to places in both counties and find many significant notes containing valuable evidence hitherto not known outside a limited readership.

Ann Smith


SDNQ appeal for subscribers, 1929.

In 1929, an appeal was sent out for new subscribers to SDNQ.¬† Amongst the benefits of subscription it was noted that ‘Subscribers are invited to submit Notes and Queries. A great deal of pleasure and profit may easily be obtained by inserting such questions or giving information to those who ask.’