Gillingham stands on the northern edge of the Blackmore Vale and was once the centre of a Royal Forrest, replete with a palace. It is an ancient place that can trace its origins beyond the Romano-British period. Rather surprisingly it remained a relatively small rural town until the arrival of the railway in 1859, which prompted the creation of a number of industries, including a successful brickworks

A Saxon church, dedicated to St. Mary, was well established at the time of the Conqueror and was a huge parish with a circumference of forty-one miles. The first recorded vicar was William Clyve de Motcombe who arrived in 1331 and it is known that a chantry chapel was established at about the same time. Jack Skelton-Wallace in his excellent book, 'A Selection of Parish Churches' suggests that the church was probably built between 1320 and 1330. However, what is certain is that in 1838, the tower was moved 20 feet in order to enlarge the nave for the growing population, although the chancel was left untouched and is therefore C14. The original pillars with their ball-flower decoration remain between the chancel and the north chapel. In 1908 the tower was extended upwards and given a battlemented top by the Diocesan Architect, C.E. Ponting. At the same time, the west door was remodeled.


The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

There are a number of superb memorials in the church. The Jessop memorial behind the organ of 1625 is dedicated to Drs. John and Thomas Jessop, who lie side by side on a tomb chest, under a disintegrating arch. John was vicar of St. Marys and prebend of Salisbury Cathedral (d.1625) and Thomas was a physician in the town (d.1615). The memorial to Frances Dirdoe of 1735 is memorable and beautifully executed with the Three Graces. In fact, Frances (died aged only 34) was from a family of fifteen siblings and the memorial represents her with two of her sisters, Rebecca and Rachel, who were her executors. Their father, Sir Henry Dirdoe's memorial is in the chancel.

The most beautiful area of this interesting church is the chapel of the Good Shepherd, which was dedicated by the Bishop of Salisbury in 1922 and designed by W.D.Caröe (1857-1938), who was responsible, among many other things, for the magnificent reordering of the east end of Sherborne Abbey. He was the architect to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners from 1895 to his death and was a major figure in the Arts and Crafts movement. The beautifully carved reredos depicts, Christ the Consolator flanked by St. George on one side and St. Louis of France on the other. At the top, extending from the canopy are exquisitely carved angels on either side. The chapel was given by Carlton and Emily Cross in memory of their son, Lieut. Reginald Carlton Cross, who died, aged 26, on 7th June 1918.

The octagonal font is perpendicular with paterae motifs. The magnificent principal reredos with its representation of the Adoration of the Infant Saviour was designed by H.P.Burke Downing and carved by the internationally renowned Nathaniel Hitch when he was eighty years old.

This is a wonderful church, which is well worth a visit.


Glanvilles Wooton

Bradford AbbGlanvilles Wooton

St. Mary the Virgin

The earliest part of this delightful little church is the 1344 chantry chapel, which was endowed so a priest would say mass for the departed every day for ever.  The tower was added a little later.  However the building seen today is the result of a major rebuild by the Victorians to a design by G.R.Crickmay 1875 - 76.  There are two modern clergy stalls by Robert Thompson of Kilbury, Yorkshire, known as The Mouse Man because all his work is decorated with a carved mouse.






The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Bradford AbbGoathill

St. Peter

Set in a tiny rural hamlet, this is a simple little church of great charm  The nave is late C13 with a chancel of 1873 grafted on to it

A local farmer, who was churchwarden for 43 years, gave the pulpit and lectern and in his memory, his wife gave the dado rails.






The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

Gussage All Saints

Bradford AbbGussage 

All Saints

The church lies at the western end of this attractive settlement, which is one of three Gussages, all connected by a little stream. It sits charmingly in a grassy churchyard and without a hard path leading from the road.  At first sight, it looks as if it is yet another product of the Victorian era, but this would be very wrong.  It is early Decorated 14c with a tower that was built in three stages and finished in 15c. The first recorded vicar, Galfred de Wermondsworth, was installed in 1347 and the parish registers go back to 1560.

The interior is impressive with a very lofty feel.  This would certainly have been very attractive to the Victorians who nevertheless embarked on a programme of improvement.  The restoration by the architect, Ewan Christian, involved moving the original chancel arch to the north wall in order to form a frame for the organ.  The present chancel arch was installed by the eminent Dorchester architect, John Hicks, who had Thomas Hardy as a pupil before he rose to fame as an author.  The east window, by Bell & Beckham, was installed in 1909 in memory of Rev Waldey.

The most attractive one-manual 18c Walker organ was a gift from the incumbent, Rev Charles Waldey (1857-75), who was responsible for the church restoration.  The instrument, contained in a mahogany case, had originally been designed for use in a private house and was later used by Sir James Turle at Westminster Abbey for choir practice.


The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©



On the north wall of the nave, near the impressive Victorian pulpit, is a shallow recess containing a tomb, which is canopied with crocheted ogee cusping and wall flower decoration.  This arrangement prompted Sir Owen Morshead to suggest that it is an Easter sepulchre (the only other one in the county is at Tarrant Hinton). However others do not agree because a skeleton was found in it during the 1860 restoration.  Note, under the pulpit there is some exquisite carving.

There are excellent guide boards in the church and it is well worth a visit.







Bradford AbbHalstock

St. Mary

This is a very interesting country church built from local rubble.  The oldest part is the C15 tower with its five bells.  The nave is to the design of the celebrated Victorian architect, Augustus Pugin, and completed around 1845-6.  In 1872, further alterations were made to the chancel.  The chapel in the north aisle was given by the rector, Rev. Irving, in 1959 and dedicated to the Saxon saint St. Juthware.  The tradition is that she carried her head to the altar after being beheaded and is the inspiration for some of the Dorset 'Quiet Woman' pub signs.

The corbel stones are exceptionally plain for a Victorian build and it has been suggested that they were left like that in anticipation of decoration by a stone carver.  Perhaps the money ran out? 





The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Bradford AbbHammoon

St. Paul

This delightful little church stands in the centre of the hamlet of Hammoon, just to the north of the remains of a C14 village cross.  The chancel and the south wall of the nave are C13.  It was altered in C15 and again in the C19 when the nave was lengthened and the little bellcote added.  The early C15 reredos is particularly important because it is a fine example of West country work.  It was found in a south London dealer's yard in 1945 and had been an overmantle to a fireplace.  It is thought that it had originally been created for a church nearby since it is made from local Ham stone.

The roof is a good example of C15 construction by a double framed pitch with moulded and cambered tie beams connecting the principal rafters.  The oak pulpit is dated 1635 and the font is C14.  There is a large sculpted C14 head, reputedly taken from the bridge, but which may well have originated in the church.  Note, the largely unexplained offset of the chancel - it is aligned with the nave, so that it cannot be said to be 'drooped'.



The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Bradford AbbHampreston

All Saints

This fabulously interesting church, situated in a very rural setting, almost certainly has its roots as early as the Saxon period (600-1066).  However, it was not until 1261 that the first Rector was recorded.  As with so many churches, throughout the ages the building has been modified to suit the ebb and flow of parishioners and the changing religious requirements.

The nave, chancel and sanctuary are medieval 14c covered by a 17c wagon roof, now with the timbers exposed. The tower is also 14c, although the west window is of 1892 by Kempe.  The Purbeck stone font dates originally from 13c, but was probably re-cut in 15c.  The rest of the church belongs to a Victorian restoration of 1896, which was absolutely essential because the church had been allowed to become badly dilapidated.  Apart from reversing the decay and enlarging the building, the design by Romaine Walker & Tanner incorporated a new north aisle, organ chamber and porch.  The opportunity was taken to remove galleries on the south side and across the tower that had been installed in 1812.

In the sanctuary there is a delightful sedila with a list of rectors inside.  The oak communion table with turned legs is from the 17c.  The 15c east window  features Christ's Crucifixion.  In the chancel, notice the 12 stone corbels, which look more like gargoyles, but are supposed to remind one "..we wrestle not against the flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this world.." (Ephesians 6 verse 12)  The stone pulpit is of 1872.  There is an excellent hatchment of 1803 with the arms of the Greathead family.  This would have hung outside the home of the deceased for some time before being brought into the church.

There is one of the best guides in the county available for this church.

 The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Bradford AbbHaydon

St. Catherine

This is a rather forlorn building just outside the southern gates of Sherborne Castle.  Pevsner says it was built in 1883 to a design by Carpenter and Ingelow who were also responsible for North Wooton and a memorial to George Wingfield Digby in Sherborne.













The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

Hazelbury Bryan

Bradford AbbHazelbury Bryan

St. Mary & St. James

This must be one of the most beautiful settings for a country church.  It overlooks a delightful suite of buildings by a large pond.  

It is said to be the third church on the site and this one is mainly of C15 with an imposing very upright tower.  Inside, the wagon roof is delightful and the church is nicely fitted.  There is some painted stained glass in the upper part of the east window and the pulpit of 1784 by a local craftsman is interesting.  According to the church guide, the lectern made by a former churchwarden includes oak taken from the Emperor Hadrian's bridge at Newcastle-on-Tyne and there is a suggestion that this wood was probably growing at the time of Our Lord.  The Mother's Union Banner in the Chancel was made from brocade used in Westminster Abbey for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.  The gold braid on the hangings behind the altar were used at the Coronation of George VI.

The Chancel was restored in 1892 and 1932.


The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Bradford AbbHermitage

St. Mary

This church is in a most attractive and peaceful setting adjacent to an 18c farmhouse.  As is often the case, the origins are obscure, but it is certain that in the 14c there were a group of hermit friars here following the rule of St Augustine and enjoying the patronage of King Edward I (1239-1307).  By 1460 the friars had gone and it had become a free chapel with its own priest.  In 1514 it was annexed to Cerne Abbey and after the Dissolution of the Monasteries it became a perpetual curacy under the Crown.  This arrangement continued until 1935 when the then Prince of Wales (later to be Edward VIII) transferred the Hermitage and Hilfield Village School to the people so that it could be used as a Village Hall.

The present church was extensively restored during the 17c and rebuilt in 1800.  There was once a tower at the west end, which included a room to house the curate and there was a chamber over the porch which accommodated a bell and wood for his fire.  The single bell in the stone bell-turret is dated 1795 although the bell-wheel was rebuilt in 1990.  

During the Second World War (1939-45) several pictures from the Bournemouth Art Gallery were hung in the church to reduce the risk of damage from bombs.  The small picture in the nave was a gift in memory of the assistance given.  To the right of the altar, note the very sensitive Madonna and Child.

The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Bradford AbbHillfield

St Nicholas

It is a chapel style church set on a hill side all alone, yet there is evidence of an ecclesiastic building having occupied this site for many hundreds of years.  Its origins are now obscure, but are probably 13c.  However, in company with innumerable other churches in the county, by the 19c it had been allowed to fall into a ruinous state.  The architect, R.J.Withers* of Sherborne was given the task of restoration, which was completed in 1848 and incorporated several of the ancient features.

The bench ends are interesting and the position of the Communion rail unusual in that it has been placed at the entrance to the chancel.

Leigh and Melbury Bubb are also by this architect




The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Bradford AbbHilton

The attractively rural village of Hilton lies in a fold in the chalk downland beyond the mighty Milton Abbey.  This is a quiet place and the church is tranquil too.  The present building, thought to have been erected in 15c, almost certainly replaced an earlier version because there is evidence of both Saxon and Norman masonry.  The Victorians carried out a careful restoration in 1890. 

On the outside, on the south side, beside the priest's door into the chancel is a dole table below the window.  Widow's loaves would have been placed on this shelf.  Note, the sundial dated 1690 above.

Inside there are a number of very important items.  The windows in the north wall are thought to have come from the cloisters of Milton Abbey after the Dissolution (1536 - 40).  There are two Medieval painted panels hung on the walls of the tower and are regarded as the finest in the Diocese.  At one time they formed part of a very large screen at Milton Abbey, but were removed in 1774 and restored by James Wyatt before being given to the church.  The images are of ten of the Apostles ( Judas Iscariot has been replaced by St. Matthias, St Paul has been added.  Only St. Bartholomew is missing).

The pulpit is Jacobean


The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

Hinton Martell

BH21 7HE

Bradford AbbHinton Martell


The present structure replaced a much earlier version, which by 1869 had reached '..a state of general decay..' so that it was universally resolved to take it down and build a bigger new church on the site.  The estimated cost was £1,640, a huge sum for a parish largely consisting of farm labourers and without a wealthy landlord to help.  A £200 loan was promised by Queen Anne's Bounty and advertisements taken in local newspapers appealing for subscriptions.  At some point around this time there was a fire and there is some doubt about the provenance of the tower, which maybe the original C15.  The money was raised and a new church built in 1870 to a design by G. R. Crickmay (the author Thomas Hardy was working for him at the time so there maybe some of his work here).  The quite excellent church guide by Canon Wm Bernard suggests that the architect was John Hills of Dorchester, but since there is no reference to him in Pevsner's Guide, it is probably a misprint for John Hicks, who practiced in Dorchester and died in 1869 after which his outstanding work was carried forward by Crickmay. Canon Barnard gave an exemplary service to the parish of 40 years, which must be something of a record in modern times.

The building has a splendid decorated wagon roof to the chancel and some superbly executed corbels by sculptors Boulton and Weaver.  The Purbeck stone font is C13.  This is a 'High Church' and there are some beautiful artefacts associated with this calling of Christianity.


The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Hinton St. Mary

Beer hackHinton St. Mary

St. Peter

The best part of the village of Hinton St Mary lies to the east of the main road out of Surminster Newton. Here are a collection of beautifully mature houses and cottages and where the little church of St Peter, on one side reaches out to almost nudge the road, and on the other, reaches back to the exquisite manor house with its glorious gardens and magnificent C17 facade.

The church is by William Oborne of 1846, who skillfully incorporated an existing late C15 tower. If the exterior has a very pleasing mellow feel to it, the interior, by way of contrast, is rather cold and austere. There is a splendid C12 lead lined tub font, still complete with iron rings that were once used to lock it against possible misuse by witches and a most impressive monument to Sir Thomas Freke, who died in 1642. (See Iwerne Courtney)

On Friday 13th September 1963 John White, the blacksmith of Hinton St Mary, telephoned Roger Peers, the curator of the Dorset Museum, to tell him that he had found what appeared to be a Roman mosaic while mending a water pipe. This turned out to be the earliest representation of Christ found to date at about the middle of C4 and of the greatest historical importance. Two pavements were discovered, which had been laid in the country villa of a Romano British aristocrat. They were subsequently taken by the British Museum, but are surprisingly not on display to the general public. A plaque records the facts together with an image of Christ.

The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Beer hackHolnest

St. Michael

This little church lies almost all alone in a large graveyard on the western side of the main Dorchester to Sherborne road.  The village it served has largely vanished.  It has not always been so for Sir Frederick Treves reports in his 'Highways and Byeways in Dorset', first published in 1906, that there was a huge mausoleum, "of marvellous hideousness" erected by a local squire.  This squire was clearly rather hung-up about death because he used to make his staff practice his funeral arrangements, including the full procession, on a regular basis!  There is nothing left of the building now.

The church is delightful with a short tower and a variety of roof shapes.  The experts seem to be coy about the dates of this building, although it is mainly C15 and the chancel is definitely 1855.  Inside, the most important feature is the charming white painted box pews with a unique (for Dorset) curved candle sconce above each.  There is a Jacobean pulpit and C13 font.



 The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Beer hackHolt

St. James

A church here was repaired in 1493 so that the inhabitants would not have to walk to Wimborne for services, which they were finding trying in bad weather.  It was completely rebuilt in brick in 1836 to a design by John Tulloch, who was responsible for two or three other churches in the county.  T.H.Wyatt was responsible for the chancel of 1875, which hugely improves the otherwise rather plain interior.  The pulpit is early 17c and was brought from Wimborne Minster in 1858.







The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Beer hackHolworth

St. Catherine by the Sea

This is a church made out of little more than a garden hut.  The vicar of Stroud Green, Dr. Linklater (1887 - 1915), used Holworth House for holidays.  His widow built the church after selling Holworth House in 1926.  This is a very simple, but holy place.  (See Dottery)








The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Beer hackHooke

St. Giles

As is so often the case, this church has been altered or restored throughout the ages. The nave is essentially C16 with C15 windows. The chancel was added in 1840 when the opportunity was taken to restore the chancel arch. The impressive tower was added to a design by G R Crickmay of Weymouth, who was also responsible for the chancel. There is a splendid barrel roof to the nave. The chantry chapel on the south side is entered through a wide and generously decorated arch. The area houses the electronic organ. The hexagonal font is C15. 

The most important artifact in the building is the superb sculpture of St Giles executed by Benjamin Grassby. He was a superlative London craftsman who made his home and workshop in Powerstock after falling out with his employer. He entered the statue in a class at the Dorset Industrial Exhibition in 1878. It won its class and he was awarded a silver medal. Grassby's work can still be found in 45 Dorset churches. (See East Holme, North Poorton, East Lulworth, Longbredy, Morden and West Lulworth to name just a few)

An interesting church well worth a visit.


The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Beer hackHorton

St. Wolfrida

In AD. 961, a Benedictine abbey was founded at Horton.  It had a chequered history and was from time to time damaged and plundered.  Nevertheless it survived in various forms until the Dissolution of the Monasteries when it was surrendered to Sherborne Abbey on 18th March 1539 and the Priory church became the Parish church.  The rare dedication is to Wolfrida, who was the first abbess.

By 1720, the building had been allowed to decay to a ruinous state and in 1722 it was almost entirely rebuilt.  Externally, the most impressive feature is the tower with its pointed roof and heavy cornice that has a very strong resonance with the eminent C18 architect, Sir John Vanburgh (1664-1726).  These features are so similar to his designs for the unfinished Eastbury Manor House at Tarrant Gunville that one wonders if he had, in fact, designed them or perhaps someone in his employ.

Inside, the 'L' shaped layout is slightly strange, making it impossible for some of the congregation to see the altar.  There is a splendid plaster and gilded C18 reredos, with a Dove in the centre symbolising the Holy Spirit.  The four cherubs are said to have been modelled on the vicar's four children, who died in infancy.  There are two excellent effigies, thought to be C14, of a cross-legged knight and his wife.  The organ is impressive.

The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Beer hackIbberton

St. Eustace

This is a church that cannot be approached by car because it nestles on the side of a hill surrounded by beautiful trees and the only access is by a steep path.  One has a slight feeling of pilgrimage on the walk up from the village, with tantalising glimpses of the building on the way up.  Once there, the effort is well rewarded by this lovely little building that harmonizes so well with its surroundings.  Indeed, it is hard to imagine that by the end of the C19 it had been allowed to fall into such a ruinous state that it was nearly pulled down.  Fortunately, by then the wilder excesses of Victorian vandalism of ancient buildings were being frowned upon and this church was sensitively restored by Ponting 1902-9.  It is mainly C15 with a C17 porch covered by some very ancient tiles; one is part of a set of 4 which carried the following inscription in Latin: 

The time is short,
Death is swift,
Guard against sin,
Then thou doest well.

There are fragments of Tudor glass in the windows of the north aisle.  Some good monuments and an interesting stone lectern and C15 font.  Wonderful views.

The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©