Stour Provost

Church imageStour Provost

St. Michaels & All Angel

The village has Saxon origins and it is almost certain that one of their buildings stood on the present site of the church.  By the time of Domesday (1087), one Roger de Belmont held it, although he, in turn, gave it to the nunnery at St. Leger de Preaux in Normandy, France.  At the time this was a popular activity with wealthy French nobles.  However during the wars with France, King Henry V confiscated the revenues from French-held properties, which included this village.  A new church was built early in the C14, but the Bishop of Salisbury found it necessary to remind the villagers that they needed to have it properly consecrated!

The church is approached via a lych-gate and path protected on both sides by venerable old pollarded trees. The current building is essentially 1302, however like many churches, it has been altered from time to time as the congregation's fortunes ebbed and flowed.  The lower stage of the tower is C15, further up is C18 and the embattled top has two C15 gargoyles.  The porch is C19 with a C14 doorway (note the excellent boot scraper).

Certainly the most impressive feature of the interior is the superb richly carved C16 roof in the chancel, although the structure is actually C19.  The rebuild was entirely paid for by a former incumbent, Rev. H.J. Slingsby.  In the south wall there are small lancet windows, which may have been salvaged from the original church or possibly brought from another building.  In 1703 a 'singing gallery' was installed at the west end, but was removed within living memory.

This is a very interesting church with a fascinating history and well worth visiting.  Note there is an excellent guide to the church.


The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Church imageStourpaine

Holy Trinity

The village has its origins in the Saxon period and the name derives from an amalgam of 'Stour', from the river that flows past and the lords of the manor, whose name was Payne.  Yet from the lower Blandford to Shaftesbury road, Stourpaine, despite its antiquity, does not appear to be much of a settlement.  However, this is a poor conclusion.  Unseen from the road, there is another running more or less parallel, which serves the bulk of this attractive assortment of houses and the church lies at the southern end.

There appears to be some doubt as to whether there was a Saxon building, but by 1085 the village was sufficiently important to rate an entry in the Domesday Book.  This suggests that there may well have been a church although no record survives.  Records do exist to confirm a building begun in 1190 that survived until 1300.  During the 15c the original tower was pulled down and the present one erected in its place.

By the 1855, the church, along with so many in the County, was reported to be in such a poor state of repair that the architect, T H Wyatt, was forced to report that, apart from the tower, the whole building would have to be rebuilt.  It is, therefore, a 15c tower attached to a Victorian church.  Wyatt preserved two perpendicular windows from the old structure and installed them in the the north wall of the new nave.

During the restoration (1858), the ancient font disappeared and had to be replaced with a 'new' one.  There is something of a history of old fonts going missing during the 19c, probably because they were considered coarse.  Other examples can be found at  BeaminsterChaldon Herring and Kimmeridge.  The present organ, by Forster and Andrews of Hull, was installed in 1882 at the expense of the incumbent, Rev R R Watts, at a cost of £95.

A decision was taken in 1911 to replace the rather dismal pine pulpit.  However, the cost of a replacement was prohibitive, so five men, including the vicar, set about creating a new one.  The 'labour of love' lasted for three years of spare time and the new, beautifully carved, oak pulpit was dedicated by the Dean of Sarum on 27th September 1914.

An important 1670 memorial in the tower, to John Straight, a Puritan Vicar is worthy of close inspection.

There is a really excellent church guide.

The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

Stourton Caundle

Alton St. PancrasStourton Caundle


The building is largely hidden from the road and you approach up quite a long paved path, which heightens the anticipation, but once there you find a truly delightful little country church - as much for its looks as for the obvious love that has been lavished upon it through the ages.  Its origins are medieval and the chancel is 13c with lancets, the tower 14c and the nave 15c.  The plastered wagon roof is an excellent example and the 17c pulpit and re-sited altar rails at the entrance to the choir are particularly fine examples.  Behind the pulpit, a stair way leads up to where the rood screen once was.  Towards the end of the 19c the building had reached a parlous state and was near to collapse.  The tower was found to have footings that only penetrated the soil by about a foot. Fortunately, there followed a sensitive restoration.

Other items of interest are a memorial tablet to Aylen Fernandez by Eric Gill, 18c font and a recumbent alabaster effigy of a lady on a tomb chest.

As a commemoration of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee, the 18c clock in the in the tower was restored to full working order.

The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©





St. John the Baptist



This is a wonderful mellow church in a most attractive village setting.  It is essentially C14 and constructed from golden-coloured sandstone in cruciform with a central tower, supported by great arches.  To the right and high up on the chancel arch is a stairway, which once led to the rood loft, from where more stairs lead to the upper part of the tower. The wagon roof was constructed by shipwrights from West Bay.  Note, the squints (or hagioscopes), the C18 pulpit and the Victorian font, which came from Bedfordbury Chapel in St. Martin's Lane, London, when it became redundant in 1920.  Also, the three-sided altar rail. The organ was a gift in 1920 to commemorate the loss of two sons from one family within three years of each other.  

Symondsbury has been the subject of two major renovations.  The first in 1835 involved plastering over the internal walls and roof, which ruined some medieval frescoes.  The stone mullions and traceries were ripped out from the windows and replaced with small panes between iron bars.  Galleries were erected and pews installed in the chancel; some with their backs to the altar.  However by 1919, C.E.Ponting, the diocesan architect, had been called in and the second great renovation was put in hand.  This work, which was undertaken almost entirely by the congregation and the rector, more or less undid the damage done by the Victorians.  The plaster was removed, the mullions replaced in the windows and the galleries torn down.  Central heating was installed.  The carvings on the choir stalls representing all the works of Creation are by members of the congregation of this period.  This was a huge undertaking for amateurs and future generations must be grateful for an amazing achievement.

There is an excellent church guide.

The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©




St. Andrew

This church must rank among the most important in Dorset.  You have tantalising glimpses of the building as it is approached, but it is only when entering the churchyard that the beauty of whole suite becomes obvious.  Adjacent to the church stands the impressive chantry house of circa 1500, which was almost certainly built for a chantry priest.  There is now no sign of the chantry chapel, but his duties would have included saying daily masses for the souls of departed patrons: the living having probably been endowed in perpetuity.  Slightly to the south, stands the elegant remains of a preaching cross, modified in 1924 to serve as a memorial.

Most impressive of all is the delightfully slender 14c limestone spire, surmounted by a copper weathercock from 1698. It was reputedly rebuilt in the early years of the 20c and is one of only three ancient spires in the county. (The others are Iwerne Minster and Winterbourne Steepleton) The south porch, through which the building is entered, is also 14c and attached to the wall is a painted early 19c notice asking the congregation to remove their "...pattens and clogs before entering the church"!  The rest of the building is essentially 15c.



 The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

Once inside, you are immediately confronted by, perhaps, the best screen in Dorset that divides the chancel from the nave.  This really superb wooden structure of six light divisions features fan vaulting and rich foliated decoration along the top.  On the north side, the stairs are still in place, which led to the top of the screen where once the Rood would have stood.  This usually took the form of effigies of the Cross in the centre with the Virgin Mary on one side and St John the Baptist on the other.  The rather heavy pulpit is Dutch c 1600 and the wooden lectern is constructed from Jacobean panels, perhaps from a clerk's reading desk.  The pew ends are very interesting with various decorations of, for example, a deer, birds and a representation of the 'flight from Egypt' and some from the 19c bearing the arms of Rev. William Turner, who was the incumbent.  However the most fascinating shows the figure of a man holding a cup, which recent research suggests depicts St John who was challenged by an unbeliever to demonstrate his faith.  The test was for him to take a poison and survive after two others had been shown to have died from it.  After praying, the saint took the poison and did indeed survive.

Rev. William Henry Turner was the incumbent for forty years during the 19c.  He undertook a fairly major restoration without wrecking the building, which sadly so often happened when his less sensitive contemporaries elected to 'improve' their ancient buildings.  His works included painting the chancel ceiling, lengthening the nave and installing plaster rib-vaulting and building the polygonal western vestry.  In 1853, he had a recumbent effigy of himself with his hands crossed over a Bible superbly executed in stone by W. Theed.  This was somewhat ghoulishly stored in the vicarage until his death, aged 89, in 1875.  It now lies rather serenely in the north chapel.  The arch above the entrance to the chapel is itself a memorial of 1633 to Ann Gerard whose family were lords of the manor.




St. Laurence

In a steep valley, this is an exceptionally beautiful setting for a church, even by Dorset standards.  The building itself is most attractive and worthy of its lovely site.  There appears to have been a church here since well before the Norman Conquest of 1066.  By 1243 a little chantry chapel was established by John Bayouse, whose family name was associated with the Bayeux tapestry.  The known list of priests extends back to 1267.

There is still a small section of the wall of the 13-14c building near the tower.  The porch and northern side of the church belong to 15 to early 16c.  Note the very important painted Tudor rose, which was re-discovered by Webb & Kempf in 1988, but was probably painted sometime after 1486.  The south aisle, south arcade and clerestory were added in 1838 and beautifully match their northern counterparts.  In 1906 the chancel was enlarged when a new organ chamber and vestry were built.

The first organ was installed in 1685, which lasted until 1895 when the present instrument, by William Sweetland of Bath, replaced it.  The font is Medieval, but has been damaged by over zealous re-cutting.  The pulpit is Jacobean.

There is an excellent guide available

The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Wareham Lady St.Mary

Alton St. PancrasWareham

Lady St. Mary

The most impressive view of Lady St. Mary is from the road from Stoborough.  It seems to tower above the other buildings on the river bank, yet it is almost impossible to photograph the whole, except from the rather dreary north.  Tradition has it that St. Aldhelm (639 - 709) founded this church and, although added to, it remained untouched until 1841.

As with so many wonderful churches in the county, the Victorians simply could not leave them alone.  In many cases if work had not been done the structures would certainly have collapsed, but a dilapidated roof is hardly an excuse to demolish the nave.  What we now have is a Saxon church with a plain Victorian nave.  Nevertheless, it remains an exceptional church of great interest.

The south chapel with 13c vaulting is dedicated to St. Edward, who was martyred at Corfe in 978.  The 14c chancel is magnificent  with a superb east window and range of four sedilia with a double piscina in the eastern bay.  The landmark tower was added in 15c.  Later, galleries and box pews were added, although both were removed by the Victorians.  There is a unique 12c octagonal decorated lead font mounted on a Purbeck stone base.

Of its many illustrious rectors, probably the most celebrated is Rev. John Hutchins who was the incumbent from 1744 to 1773.  He was responsible for producing the definitive history of Dorset's buildings, which is still in use today. (See alsoBradford Peverell)

The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


West Stafford

Alton St. PancrasWest Stafford

St. Andrew

This gem of a church is impossible to miss because it is absolutely in the middle of the little village.  As with so many, there was certainly an earlier building on the present site because 15c windows have been re-set in the nave and the tower belongs to the latter part of 16c.

However, it is essentially a Jacobean church of about 1640.  The plastered wagon roof, the superb screen between the nave and chancel and the pulpit replete with a painting of St. Paul and tester are exceptionally pleasing.  The Communion rail is late 17c and the most impressive chandelier above the nave is dated at 1712.  There is an 18c western gallery with a good coat of arms on the front. Alas, the Victorians simply could not resist 'improving' this lovely building in 1898 by constructing a chancel to a design by Ponting.

The church is closely associated with Thomas Hardy, Dorset's world famous novelist.  In 'Tess of the d'Urbervilles' it is the setting for her marriage to Clare (see chapter 33) and the non-wedding of Christine Everard in 'A Changed Man and Other Tales - The Waiting Supper' Part II.

In 1893, Hardy designed the house built on Talbot's Mead for his brothers and sisters.  It was named 'Talbothays' at about the time the same name was chosen for the farm in 'Tess'.  The church was supported by Hardy's brothers and sisters.

The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Whitchurch Canonicorum

Whitchurch CanWhitchurch Canonicorum

St Candida and Holy Cross

When Sir Frederick Treves wrote his superb description of Dorset around 1900, he describes the Marshwood Vale as ".....a somewhat sullen hollow, shunned by man for there is hardly a habitation in it." Yet in Norman times there was a castle with a vineyard and Robert de Maud was so taken with it that he was prepared to be indebted to the tune of "....£380, five marks, five palfreys and four Norway hawks to have the Barony of Mirswude." Indeed, according to the excellent guidebook, William the Conqueror thought so well of it that he appointed his personal Chaplain Guntard to the benefice. It was, at one time, the largest parish in England and claims to have been founded by Alfred the Great, who bequeathed it to his youngest son Ethelwald (890).


The interesting name is derived from Canon's Whitchurch because the tithes were divided between Salisbury and Wells. The church, popularly known as the cathedral of the Marshwood Vale is simply magnificent and is dedicated to the little-known saint, St Candida, who was originally called St Wita. There is no doubt that there was a Saxon church on the site, but nothing now survives before the earliest part, which is the C12 south doorway protected by the C15 porch. The nave and central section are C13, although some of the south windows and the lights in the clerestory are of 1848-50 by Joseph Butler of Chichester. The Early English (1190-1310) capitals of the nave arcade are beautifully carved with deeply cut flower and wild plant designs. The arch to the middle bay of the north arcade is pointed and has another deeply-cut zigzag motif. High up on the south side of the chancel arch is a door, which would certainly have once led to the rood loft. The splendid tower, which greets the visitor on entering the churchyard, is C15 and the south porch is also from this period. In the chancel, there is a fine elaborate example of a stone canopied monument with a recumbent effigy of Sir John Jeffery, one of Queen Elizabeth I's knights, who died in 1611. Also in the chancel is a memorial to Sir George Somers, born in Lyme Regis in 1554 and a contemporary of Sir Walter Raleigh. He is generally credited with the discovery of Bermuda, giving great assistance to the American colonists and being William Shakespeare's inspiration for the 'Tempest'.

The pulpit is an excellent Jacobean example, decorated with large arches. There is a most impressive organ, rather hidden away in the south transept. The font is Norman and cauldron shaped with an intersecting arch decoration.

Probably the principal reason for the church being built was to enclose a shrine to St Candida, although there does seem uncertainty about her origins. For 900 years, local legend suggested she was a Saxon Christian woman who was murdered by the Danes. They landed at Charmouth, ran riot in the area, pillaging and killing as they went. Other hypothetical origins were offered in C19, but most collapsed after careful scrutiny. Nevertheless, her C13 shrine is still in the north transept and takes the form of a stone altar like structure with three oval (mandorla) openings into which limbs can be placed in the hope of healing. Handkerchiefs or notes are sometimes left in lieu of people too sick to come themselves. In 1900, when repairs were being undertaken as a result of settlement, a lead-lined casket was found containing the remains of a small woman, who had died aged about 40. The words "HIC-REQUECT-RLIQE-SCE-WITE" ("Here rest the remains of St Wite") were found on the lid, clearly indicating that these were indeed the remains of the saint. The survival of the shrine is most remarkable and exceedingly rare because all were supposed to have been destroyed during the Reformation. In medieval times, the shrine would have been a major pilgrim attraction and, as a result, a major source of revenue for the church.


The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Wimborne Minster

Wimborne MWimborne Minster

St. Mary

If you approach Wimborne from almost any direction, one of the first things you see is this great Minster church, which by its very size dominates, but certainly does not intimidate, the centre of the town.  

A Minster church was a teaching church, in addition to being to being a monastic order.  Before there were theological colleges, those who wanted to train for the priesthood or to learn more about Christianity, went to a Minster church.  Hence York Minster, Beverley Minster, etc.

WIMBORNE MINSTER was founded as a nunnery in 705 by Cuthberga, (sister of a Saxon king – King Ina) and so it remained, although an effective missionary centre, until it was dissolved in the early 11th Century, when the enclosed order was replaced by a college of canons which survived until the Dissolution of colleges and chantries in the 16th Century. As a minster it served as a base for the evangelization of the surrounding area. A little of a second Saxon church survives in the North transept but the church was thoroughly rebuilt on the present large scale towards the end of the 12th Century, from which the nave, crossing and first bay of the chancel survive. The crossing is very fine, with its lantern tower, though the battlements are a clumsy 16th Century addition. Then follows the Eastern part of the chancel, 13th Century Early English work, including the very elegant East window of three lancets. The 14th Century contributed the transepts and finally the 15th Century accounts for the raising of the nave clerestory and high timbered roof and the well-proportioned West tower.

The church is one of the most interesting in the County - its many treasures include a chained library, the quirky tomb of Thomas Ettricke (who refused to be buried either in or out of the church, so his tomb chest reposes in the South wall of the chancel - he had the chest made in his lifetime but misjudged the date of his death, as appears from the obvious alteration), an astronomical clock with a quarter-jack on the tower, several fine and interesting tombs and a tablet to Gulliver, a well-known smuggler who was twice churchwarden!

By 713 a Benedictine Nunnery had become well established in which there were, at any one time, some 300 to 400 nuns in training.  This nunnery was situated in what is now Deans Court.  So, in 740 a group of nuns, led by St. Boniface and Sister Leoba, traveled to Bavaria and founded a Christian community at Ochsenfurt, and this community flourishes today.  In fact, it is now twinned with Wimborne Minster.

In 1318 King Edward II bestowed on the Minster, together with some 10 or 11 other churches, the title of “Royal Peculiar”, thus removing such churches from ecclesiastical jurisdiction, as well as ensuring the revenue went to the crown.  This practice was abolished in 1846, but the Minster still retains the title.

In 1562, Queen Elizabeth I vested the Minster with 12 governors to oversee its affairs and this is still the position today.

Over the arch at the entrance to the baptistry, there is a coat of arms.  This was originally that of King Charles I, but when Cromwell came to power, the Minster conveniently removed and “lost” it, despite the area being strongly royalist, and sat on the fence.  Accordingly, the Minster suffered little damage from Cromwell’s soldiers, apart from a few broken windows and the removal of gold ornaments, etc.

When Cromwell died, and King Charles II acceded to the throne, his coat of arms was displayed and is the one there today.

The Dorset Historic Churches Trust gratefully acknowledges the contribution made to these notes by Mr Patrick Moule and Mr. John Davis, the Head Guide of the Minster.

The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Worth Matravers - St. Aldhem's Chapel

ST. ALDHELM'S CHAPELIt is a long walk from the car park to St. Aldhelm's Chapel at Worth Matravers, but well worth the effort.  This small squat building sits above the cliffs on a headland adjacent to a line of coastguard cottages and a modern observation point.  It is a dramatic place and this little church harmonizes well with its setting.

Read more: Worth Matravers - St....



St Andrews

St. Andrews presides genially over the handsome stone houses of Yetminster, a high proportion of which date from the seventeenth century, when the village achieved an unusual prosperity. The church, of course, is much older: it has Saxon origins, and retains the carved base of a preaching cross of that period. What stands, however, belongs largely to the third quarter of the fifteenth century, except for the low and simple chancel, of about 1300, with its characteristic trio of lancet windows overlooking the street.


The fifteenth century work – nave, aisles, porch and tower – has greater pretensions, and is a good example of a uniform, aesthetically ambitious scheme undertaken on a relatively small scale and with limited means. The exterior, whose best face is to the south, is given grandeur by the row of large battlements that partly conceals the roof, by the sturdy elegance of the tower, and by the vigorous tracery patterns in the broad windows (recalling those of Sherborne Abbey). Eleven of the twelve original consecration crosses survive. The interior of the nave is appealingly spacious and light, thanks to its very broad plan, which (with its aisles) is nearly square, and to the tall wide arches that flank the main vessel. The lack of upper windows makes this, like St. John’s, Yeovil, a ‘hall-church’, echoing the great halls of castles and the open-plan ‘preaching churches’ of the Franciscans and Dominicans. Large parts of the original oak roofs remain (including the central one, a graceful semi-circular ‘barrel’ roof), as do some of the original benches.  

From the artistic point of view the most precious feature of the church is the amount of original colour that survives on walls, roofs and even benches. The survival of such a comprehensive unified scheme is rare. Though the traces of it are often faint, much decayed, or destroyed, what is left hints at an interior once ablaze with bright red, green, blue, white, gold and black. These colours were gathered in vigorous chevron or spiral patterns, or employed to pick out the foliate and heraldic decorations of the roofs, or to illuminate the sacred monogram IHS, the first three letters in Greek of the name of Jesus. Among the original carved capitals is one illustrating the favourite medieval joke of the geese (the hitherto gullible people) hanging the fox (the rapacious and mendacious friar). A more genteel but equally entertaining detail is the little horse on a boss in the roof, the ‘rebus’, or punning emblem, of the local magnate, Sir John Horsey of nearby Clifton Maubank, who may well have paid for the nave and tower.

The intervening centuries have seen the adornment of the church with attractive funerary monuments, notably the great early sixteenth century Horsey brass and the pleasantly naïve Minterne wall monument of more than a century later. Successive restorations have succeeded for the most part in consolidating rather than replacing the medieval fabric. The most recent of these was completed in 2000; it attended to traditional re-leading of the roofs, modern electric wiring and lighting and necessary repairs to the external stonework.

The small but very beautiful organ, (Hill, 1880), was brought from Stone in Buckinghamshire in 1987. One manual with 6 stops and one pedal stop.

There is a ring of 6 bells: “two new, two recast and two historic. Well matched, steady-going and majestic”. There is also a Service bell. The oldest bell is about 1400, the youngest 1995. 

A team of local people has beautified the church with hassocks, many of which have been specially designed for it. More recent still – the ‘Millennium Hanging’ all twenty-six canvaswork panels that show the life and history of the village, is now finished. These were designed to be used at special festivals and some of them are already on permanent display in the Trim Room, St. Andrew’s Hall. Viewing can be arranged by contacting This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or contact the Churchwardens. 

The Dorset Historic Churches Trust wishes gratefully to record its sincere thanks to  Christopher,  Frances and Patrick Moule for the preparation of these notes. 

Yetminster is notable as the home of the medical pioneer of vacines, Benjamin Jesty a farmer, who in 1774, successfully immunised his wife and two sons against smallpox.

The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©