St. Nicholas


The bulk of Durweston stands to one side of the busy Blandford to Sturminster Newton road.  This was once part of the Portman estate, whose great house, Bryanston, is nearby.  

Like many others in the County, the site has been occupied by a church for a long time.  The tower of the present flint and greensand building certainly reaches back to C15, although the rest is a skilful Victorian restoration of 1846 by P C Hardwick.  Durweston appears to have been his only church in Dorset, although he was responsible for a parsonage in Haydon, some interiors in Sherborne Castle and alterations to St Giles House (1854). The font is C12 or 13. Inside the church and above the south doorway there is an ancient sculpture of an apparently headless man shoeing a horse.  However, the horse is standing on only three legs, while the hoof and leg being attended to is separate!  This is the legend of St Eloy, the patron saint of blacksmiths and metal workers, who put the leg back on the horse afterwards.  He was apprenticed as a goldsmith in Limoges in France, later finding great favour with the king.  He became the Bishop of Noyon before dying in 659.


 The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Perhaps the most important vicar to have held the living was the Rev Lord Sidney Godolphin Osborne, who arrived in 1841.  He was the brother-in-law of Charles Kingsley, the author of 'The Water Babies' and, for a while, curate at neighbouring Pimperne.  Although the aristocracy were well represented among Victorian clergy, it was usually the 'younger son' and only exceptionally rarely the title holder.  However, 'SGO' as he was known, proved to be an outstanding example of a campaigning parson.  He was appalled by the lot of the agricultural labourers in his parish and tirelessly promoted their cause through the press, by giving evidence to the Poor Law Commissioners and any other means at his disposal including reminding the Church of its responsibilities.  Of course these activities did not win him too many friends amongst the landowners and efforts were made to muzzle him, although without success.  Unemployment coupled with terrible conditions prompted him to encourage many to emigrate, some at his expense.  Between 1815 and 1895, 13 million people left the United Kingdom for good; 100,000 from Dorset alone. He died in Lewis, where he had retired, in 1889.

In 1991, the eminent sculptor, Don Potter, aged 89, accepted a commission to carve stone figures of the Madonna and Child and St Nicholas.  These have been placed in separate niches in the tower and demonstrate how this brilliant artist has harmonised his work with an ancient setting.  Don Potter was a pupil of Eric Gill before branching out on his own and teaching at Bryanston.  He died in 2004 aged 102.




East Chelborough/Lewcombe

East Chelborough/Lewcombe

St. James

St. James'  is one of those Dorset churches which is awkward to find, but well worth the effort.  This one is buried away at the end of a very long drive and adjacent to a private house.

At just 38 x 15 feet it is very small and Sir Nikolaus Pevsner thought it dated partly early 16c and  partly early 18c.  However, by far the most striking feature is the huge circular window that dominates the east wall.  This is a veritable regiment of angels shown from a variety of angles and records a death in 1893, so the glass is Victorian although the wood surrounding the lower half is clearly 18c.  Another smaller circular window adorns the rear of the building below the bellcote.  Interestingly and unusually,  the font has been placed in front the communion rails and is clearly 18c.  There is no formal pulpit, but there is a small three decker clergy pew.  The organ is generous for such a small building.

In all a tranquil and delightful place.




The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


East Holme

East Holme

St. John the Evangelist

The first record of East Holme is in The Domesday Book where it says 'Elured' held the area before the Norman conquest of 1066 and goes on to mention that "it paid a tax for 2 hides and a virgate of land (about 30 acres). Four villagers had 1.5 hides and a virgate and the value was 20s."

In 1142, Robert de Lincoln gave the manor of Holme to the large Priory at Montacute on condition that they provided four monks in a cell to chant there throughout the year for the souls of certain members of the de Lincoln family. A small 'alien' Cluniac priory was built, which stood behind the present Priory house. Alien houses were founded by wealthy French nobles and given as presents to their favourite Norman monasteries. Some were virtually independent of their foreign superiors while others were not and their priors subject to dismissal on a whim. The 'cells' were very much 'branch offices' and often places of punishment for disobedience or insubordination to a superior. The fortunes of all these establishments depended on the political scene with France and when the two countries were at war, they were subject to temporary seizure.


The priory church probably served the parish until the Civil War, but by 1746 it was certainly in ruins because bits, including a Norman arch, were salvaged for a new church at Creech Grange. For the next 150 years all baptisms, marriages and burials were carried out in the parish church of Stoke. By 1702 it was in the hands of the Odingsells family, but in September 1722, the estate was sold to Denis Bond of Grange, who being without an heir, gave it to his nephew, Nathaniel. He built the present mansion and in turn gave it to his nephew, Rt. Hon. Nathaniel Bond KC, a successful barrister (and Treasurer of the Inner Temple), who defended Jane Austen's aunt on a charge of shop lifting. (He was Vice-President of the Board of Trade (1804) and Judge Advocate General in (1806). He died a bachelor in 1813.


During the nineteenth century, the Church of England enjoyed a huge renaissance propelled by the twin, if very different, flames of the Evangelical Revival and the Oxford Movement. In the first half of the century 2,000 new churches were built and the same again between 1851 and 1870. Old churches were modernised to bring them in line with the 'correct' ecclesiastical style, which many commentators regard as acts of quite unprecedented architectural vandalism and which resulted in countless important heritage buildings being destroyed. On the other hand, the neglect of the previous century had left many, including the priory church of East Holme, so decayed that if nothing had been done they would have certainly become ruins. In Dorset, hardly a church survived unscathed. Yet, despite all this patronage and enthusiasm, the national census of 1851, which also measured church attendance, showed that only 40.5% of the population went to any sort of church and a mere 21% were practising Anglicans. Disturbingly, the number would fall even further by the end of the century. Nevertheless, works went on unabated in a genuine attempt to encourage the population by providing places of worship that were ecclesiastically correct and usually within walking distance of their homes.


In 1864 Holme Priory became the residence of yet another Nathaniel Bond when he married Lady Selina Scott, a daughter of the 2nd Earl of Eldon, whose home was just five miles to the south at Encombe House. It was an excellent marriage because it joined two of the county's most illustrious families. The Bonds had been landowners in Dorset and elsewhere since the 15th century, while Lady Selina's grandfather had been a hugely successful London lawyer who had occupied the prestigious post of Lord Chancellor of England for a record of 25 years. Lady Selina brought wealth and enhanced social standing to Nathaniel's already secure independence. However more importantly, it was to be a quite exceptionally happy union, blest with eleven surviving children. Both families had a history of church-building. The first Lord Eldon was responsible for the complete refurbishment of the 'old' church at Kingston. In 1746 Denis Bond started building a church at Creech, which John Bond completed in 1840. Other members of the family were responsible for Tyneham, where one of them was the incumbent for 57 years until his death aged 95 in 1852. These traditions were to be carried on at East Holme by the young Bonds and, later, by Lady Selina's brother, the 3rd. Lord Eldon, who founded the magnificent and very expensive 'new' church of St. James (1880) at Kingston, to a design by the celebrated London architect G.E.Street (1824-81). Both churches were erected in memory of one of their sponsor's siblings: East Holme commemorates Nathaniel's brother Denis, who had died in 1863 and Kingston, one of Lord Eldon's five sisters. In both cases, the family deaths resulted in large bequests in response to which the recipients almost certainly felt an obligation to erect a memorial church.


The Architect.

John Hicks designed East Holme church to a commission of Nathaniel Bond, who paid the whole cost of about £1,500. Hicks was responsible for the building or restoration of at least 27 churches in Dorset, mostly in the gothic revival style, yet very little is known about him. However, we do know he was the son of a Gloucestershire rector and that he had been in architectural practice in Bristol before moving to Dorchester and setting up in offices at 39, South Street, some time before 1852. He was fond of telling the story of a dream he had in Bristol, which concerned a tower he had designed and was, at the time, being built. During the dream a large crack appeared. When he awoke he was so concerned that he immediately saddled his horse and rode out to inspect the structure, only to find the crack exactly as he had seen it!

Perhaps unfairly, he is often posthumously better known for his association with the author Thomas Hardy, who was articled to him from 1856 to '62 and, after gaining further experience in London, became his assistant from '67 until his death in 1869. (It is, therefore, unlikely that Hardy actually worked on the East Holme project, but he must have known about it.) As a result of this connection, Hardy's many biographers have bequeathed various sketchy descriptions of John Hicks, but most agree he was "an amiable, straight dealing man" and, being a classical scholar, exceptionally well educated for a provincial architect.

We know he was married because there is a reference to Mrs. Hicks "sending down" to ask Hardy and the other apprentice, Bastow, to "make less noise." Towards the end of his life he was severely afflicted by gout, which was why he was obliged to offer Thomas Hardy the position of assistant and probably the reason he was not present at the consecration ceremony. Hicks died at the early age of 53 on the12th February 1869.

Many scholars regard the church at North Poorton (1862) as his finest work, although similarities to East Holme can be found in Combe Keynes (1866) and Athelhampton (1861)


The Church

The site chosen for the church is remote from the house and raised above the surrounding land to avoid the risk of water logging the graveyard. The present apparent isolation of the building is misleading because when it was completed in 1865 the East drive to the house ran close to it, which meant it was the first building most visitors would have seen.

The main contractors were Messrs. Wellspring and Son of Dorchester.

The walls of this small building of just 49 feet in length are constructed from dark brown sandstone, which was quarried from Holme Mount, about a mile to the south. The roof is of Purbeck stone and a single bell is mounted in a bellcote at the west end. Slightly surprisingly, there is no separate priest's door giving direct access to the chancel, which was a feature so much appreciated by the Victorian clergy.

The rather subdued exterior leaves the visitor entirely unprepared for the riot of colour inside. The walls are richly decorated with leaf scrolls and texts and are the work of Lady Selina's own hand. She must have been a very remarkable person because apart from this artistic 'tour de force', which took 7 or 8 years to accomplish, and the demands of a very busy social and family life, her kindness was such that she still found time to read to the elderly of the parish. Her diary tells of an exceptionally happy if short life of only 48 years and her art is an eloquent testament to this. During 1996 and '97 her work was carefully restored by Richard Smith.

Running round the top of the walls is a bold cornice of Bath Stone, which has been beautifully formed into a floriated design and, at one point, frames the words "This church is erected, A. D. 1865, to the glory of God, and in the memory of Denis William Bond, obiit January 23, 1863". The north and south walls are punctuated by engaged shafts of Purbeck marble surmounted by generously sculpted corbels from which the roof trusses spring. Supporting each shaft is a stone boss, some of which were colourfully decorated by Lady Selina with family shields. In the chancel, there are exquisitely carved angelic stone capitals by Benjamin Grassby of Powerstock. The chancel arch, which rests on shafts of polished Purbeck marble, has been moulded from Bath and Ham Hill stone in alternate courses.

Throughout, the windows are of richly stained glass and the triple lancets above the altar, partially divided vertically by more engaged marble shafts, are particularly fine. Although there was no stained glass when the building was consecrated in April 1866, windows were probably added as memorials when family members died. The windows in the chancel represent St. Denis, the first bishop of Paris, martyred in the late 3rd. century, St. John the Evangelist and St Sophia - Holy Wisdom. The memorial windows in the north side of the nave portray the agony in the garden, the road to Calvary with St. Veronica holding the handkerchief and the Risen Lord appearing to Mary. On the south side are the visit to Mary by Elizabeth; Martha and Mary and 'He set a child in the midst of them'. The east window shows the Wise Men with their gifts, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. The Evangelists are in the four corners.

The altar table was a gift from the Rt Rev Walter Kerr Hamilton, the Bishop of Salisbury (1854-69) who performed the consecration ceremony. The attractive font carried on yet more marble piers, may have been a present from Lady Selina's mother-in-law, the wife of the Rev Nathaniel Bond of Creech.

In the chancel, the choir desks support finely carved oak praying angels that are the work of R.L. Bolton of Worcester and there is some very fine brass work supporting the simple altar rail that is clearly influenced by the emerging Arts and Crafts Movement. The floor is decorated with an excellent example of Victorian encaustic tiling provided by Messrs. Mawe.

For the size of church, the organ is generous. The bulk tends to dominate the chancel and overflows into the diminutive vestry behind, to such an extent that, before the days of electric fans, the bellows had to be mounted in the ceiling and operated by a lever and push rods, to allow any room at all. It is worth mentioning that many of Hicks's church vestries are smaller than their contemporaries, but in this case the church was originally designed to have a simple harmonium. The current magnificent instrument did not arrive until 1881and was a gift from the Rogett family of Sandford, who made similar contributions to Lady St. Mary in Wareham and the church at Sandford. Lady Selina's daughter, Miss Louisa Bond, the second baby to be baptised in the building, played the East Holme organ for 70 years and was a churchwarden for 46 years (1910-1956), which must surely constitute a record of service to any one church.

Although the building is now lit by electricity, artificial light to the nave was originally provided by very attractive double iron candle brackets and glasses. The chancel desks have fitted plain brass candlesticks and the altar is resplendent with two large lavishly decorated candlesticks.

Outside, the church is approached through a lich gate, which was erected in 1891 in memory of Lady Selina by her brother, Lord Eldon and her surviving sisters, Lady Cottesloe, Vicountess Boyne and Lady Eustace Cecil.

Beyond the gate, the path is paved and there are clipped yews on either side. The churchyard itself extends to just over a third of an acre with many monuments and tombstones, including two in the form of Celtic crosses, in memory of the founders. In spring, the solemnity of the place is cheered up by an exquisite carpet of crocuses and snowdrops.

Unlike the majority of parish churches, which have often evolved as a result of an amalgam of several styles as successive generations left their marks, East Holme is a rare example of high Victorian art at its very best in an entirely nineteenth century building.

The Parish

East Holme is a tiny parish consisting of just seventeen households, including Holme Priory. Although always the parish church, it was originally designed for a congregation which consisted mainly of a large group of family and servants from the Priory together with local tenants, giving it the attractive feel of a private chapel.

From the consecration to 1913, the parish was served by the rectors of Steeple. After that, the vicar of East Stoke served both parishes. When East Stoke lost its vicar in 1974, it joined with Wool, and East Holme linked with Wareham. Since1980, the parish has been served by the team ministry based at Wareham, though still retaining its status as a parish church.

A connection with the village of Powerstock

Despite being completed in 1865, the consecration ceremony did not take place until the week ending the 12th April 1866, probably to fit in with the Bishop of Salisbury's schedule. A contemporary newspaper report refers to the fact that the officiating archdeacon was Thomas Sanctuary of Powerstock and that the harmonium was played by a Miss Gunning.

These two people form part of an intriguing connection. John Hicks was the restoration architect of Powerstock church between 1854 and '59. Benjamin Grassby, the sculptor, had his workshop in Powerstock. A Miss Gunning, (surely the same person who played the harmonium at the consecration ceremony?) who was herself the daughter of another archdeacon, was responsible for painting an exquisite floriated design over the windows of the Powerstock chancel. Thomas Sanctuary's wife painted further floriated designs on the walls of the nave. (both decorations can still be seen in Powerstock church). It cannot be stretching the imagination too far to assume that Mrs. Sanctuary and Miss Gunning were friends of Lady Selina, through their common interest in decoration. Although the two parishes are over thirty miles apart, the nineteenth century was a period of frantic railway building and by 1857 the benefits of the national network had extended to much of Dorset, which made travel between the two places simple. Powerstock had its own station on a branch line to Bridport and East Holme was (and still is) served by Wareham.

Thomas Sanctuary is himself worthy of comment, because apart from re-building Powerstock, he was responsible for North Poorton and West Milton, which was completed by G. R. Crickmay after Hicks' death. Before Sanctuary arrived, Powerstock had a reputation for being very wild and it was because he had been a boxing blue that he was offered the living!

The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


East Orchard

East Orchard

St. Thomas

Rather like West Orchard, this church serves a small scattered rural community traditinally dedicated to dairy farming.

The building consists of a nave with a chancel and topped with a simple single bellcote. It was designed by Evans & Pullan and constructed in 1859-61.

The church is locked







The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


East Stoke

East Stoke

St. Mary - Redundant (converted to a dwelling)

This roadside building of 1828 was designed by Owen of Portsmouth and replaced a much earlier 13c structure, which had been badly sited lower down in the water meadows and was prone to damp.









The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


East Stour

East Stour


The village of East Stour lies a few miles out of Shaftesbury on the busy A30 Sherborne road. A sharp bend forces a driver to slow down just as the church appears set back from the road. 

The church is squat with a square tower that imparts a solid and somewhat timeless appearance. In fact, it is an 1842 rebuild of an earlier church in the then fashionable Norman style. All that remains of the original building is the C12 font and a nice carving of a pelican, which has been incorporated into the lectern. Nevertheless this is quite an impressive building by George Alexander who was also responsible for the nearby St. John the Evangelist at Enmore Green 1843 (Shaftewsbury), St Mary at Motcombe 1846 and St Bartholomew at Sutton Waldron 1847.

Perhaps the most distinguished past resident of the village was the author Henry Fielding, who grew up here from 1710 and returned at the start of married life in 1734. His most famous work is 'Tom Jones.'



The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©



St. Nicholas

Edmondsham is a delightful village and the church, which is reached through an opening in a long beech hedge and a lengthy drive, does not disappoint.  There is a C12 arcade of two bays, a chancel arch and flint and greensand tower of C14.  One suspects the Victorians were busy, but the references are coy on the subject.

This very nice estate church is associated with the nearby Elizabethan Edmondsham House.







The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©



St Osmond

Evershot is one of those intriguing settlements that seem too large to be a village yet really too small to be called a town.  It must have grown in importance with the coming of the nearby railway during the 19c.  The main street is generous and replete with a shop and the famous Acorn Inn, called 'The Sow & Acorn' by Thomas Hardy in 'Tess of the d'Urbevilles'.  At the higher end of the road, overlooking the houses, the church has been placed for all to see.

The original building to stand on the site was Norman, erected during the reign of Richard I (Coeur de Lion 1186-99).  The only elements to survive are part of the tower arch and the chancel arch, which was rebuilt between the north aisle and the organ chamber during the 19c restoration.  The present structure is essentially Perpendicular (1335-1530) and of great character, but the Victorians felt obliged to twice improve it in 1852-3 and again in 1864, both to designs by the Yeovil based architect, R H Shout*.  The walls of the organ chamber are lined with Ham stone ashlars and the exquisite corbels were sculpted by Benjamin Grassby (see North Poorton).  The embattled tower has a curious stair turret with a clock just below what Sir Nikolaus Pevsner describes as a "domical top and spire".  The clock, a gift from the third Earl of Ilchester in 1853, was designed by E. B. Dennison, who designed Big Ben, and made by E. J. Dent who was clockmaker to the Queen.

The font is Norman, although the pedestal and wooden cover are Victorian.

Perhaps the most important item in the building is the small brass on the north side of the chancel, which is a memorial to William Grey, who was the rector here from 1511 to 1524.  Known as a 'Chaliced Priest', this is a rare example of a brass because he is shown actually holding a chalice.

 This is a most attractive and very interesting church.

(*Also by R L Shout are : Caundle Marsh, Melbury Bubb and Sherborne Congregational Church)

The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©




Simple chapel style rural church with single bellcote, now redundant and deconsecrated










The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

Fifehead Magdalen

Fife head Magdalen

St. Mary Magdalene

This is a delightful little church serving a charming and very rural hamlet, that has been a settled since ancient times.  It was mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086), however the first mention of a church is found in the records of the Abbey of St. Augustine in Bristol in the mid C12 and the first recorded Rector was instituted in 1307.

The present building dates from C14 when there was a simple nave, chancel and south tower.  A north mortuary chapel was added to house the Newman family monuments in 1750.  There were no further significant alterations until 1904 - 5.

The magnificent candle-lit brass chandeliers in the nave, the 1637 entrance door and the excellent barrel roofs are especially worthy of note.

There are two fonts; the one at the back of the building is particularly interesting because it has elements dating from both C15 and C18.  The stained glass west window is from 1973.

This church handsomely rewards a visit.


 The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

Fifehead Neville

Fifehead Neville

All Saints

A haven of delightful tranquility, the village rests in a timeless wooded rural setting, with a name derived from its Domesday estimate of 'five hides'. The little church with its plain bellcote sits on raised ground adjacent to a large and rather splendid residence.

The first vicar was John de Purcombe, who was installed in 1298. Nothing remains of the original church because the oldest part is the C14 south wall and the chancel arch of the same period. There were major alterations in 1736 when the tower was taken down and the large round headed windows placed in the south wall. The rather plain oak pulpit with fielded panels is also from C18. The chancel is entirely of 1837. Note the piscina is unusually sited on the east wall.

The Purbeck stone font, on a green sandstone base, is C14 and was moved to its present position from beside the door in 1970. The beautiful richly carved lectern must be C19, although the guide books are coy about its origin.

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

Continuing east from the church the road crosses the river Divelish by a ford adjacent to an ancient, possibly medieval, packhorse bridge. The bridge is six foot wide and there are two six foot spans with pointed arches. One of only three in Dorset. (The others are at Rampisham and Tarrant Monkton)

The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©



St. John

This is rural England at its best!  The tiny village perches on the side of the escarpment and the little church clings to the side.  It has absolutely magnificent views, albeit rather spoilt by vast electricity pylons and cables.

The church is in a very simple chapel style and was built in 1854 to a design by an unrecorded architect.  However, it is the brilliant abstract stained glass in the east window by Arthur Buss (1967), which makes a visit so rewarding.  Note, the slate floor to the altar area.







The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

Fleet - New Church

Fleet new church

Holy Trinity

The church stands back from the road behind rather impressive gates and is surrounded by mature trees, giving it a very rural and peaceful feel.  It was built in 1827-9, to a design by Strickland (his only recorded church in Dorset).  The building was erected because the old one, just a quarter of a mile nearer the sea, was largely demolished by a great storm in November 1824.

This is a simple 'Commissioners type' church with a moulded plaster roof and large windows, which allow plenty of natural light.  The similar but smaller roof in the chancel apse is particularly pleasing.

During WW II the whole area was occupied by American troops prior to the Normandy landings and consequently the church has very close links with the United States.



The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

Fleet - Old Church

Fleet old Church

Old Church

The chancel is all that remains of the old church after a very violent storm wrecked it in 1824. Much of the village was destroyed and the sea even breached the Chesil Bank.  

This was a notorious area for smuggling during the C18 and was immortalised in the novel The Moonfleet by J M Falkner.  The 'new' church of Holy Trinity was built nearby on safer ground in 1827-9.








The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©



St. Lawrence

There is a trace of a Saxon door in the tower, but the first real reference is of 1292, when mention is made of the building being a chapel belonging to the Mother Church at Sherborne.  By 1405 it was described as being dependent on that church.  However, this fascinating Gothic Survival (not Revival) church was completely rebuilt in 1628 and sits at the end of a quiet lane, in a very peaceful setting, adjacent to a mellow manor house.  The plan is still medieval with an architectural style that leans towards Late Perpendicular.  There was a rebuild in 1875 of both the arcades and the crenellated parapets were added externally.

The wonderful furnishings owe much to classical influence and are designed for Prayer Book worship.  There are pews with shell top ends and a magnificent wooden screen surmounted by a great scroll, with a smaller one at the entrance to the north aisle.  The pulpit has an hour glass stand.  There is an interesting lectern, which is just a desk attached to the screen.  Note the small scrolled font with a lavish later cover.  In a glass case, there is an amazing wooden chain of 769 single links and cross, all carved from a single piece of lime wood by the Rev Wm Mayo, a past incumbent.

This delightful church will enchant anyone interested in beautiful wooden objects.


The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

Fontmell Magna

Fontmell Magna

There has been a church on the site since before the Domesday Book of 1086, however only the lower part of the tower of the original remains.  During 1862 - 3 it was almost completely rebuilt to a design by the Wimborne architect, George Evans, who was responsible for four other Dorset churches (1).

The most distinguishing feature of the building is a parapet that extends around the whole and which is partly composed of portions salvaged from the earlier church.  Hutchins, the celebrated 18th century Dorset historian, noted that part of it was dated 1530.

Inside, the building is rather plain and typically Victorian, but it is lightened by a very elaborate, brilliantly white, Caen stone pulpit, decorated with the four evangelists.  Unusually, there are no external steps because it is 'built-in' and access is through a door from the vestry.  There is an attractive, very upright, lectern, which is fashioned from lead and mounted on a cast-iron base.  In a corner, below a most attractive stained glass window, rests the remains of a font thought to be at least a thousand years old.

There is a striking memorial in the churchyard to Philip Salkeld, who was the fourth son of the rector.  He died on 10th October 1857 from wounds sustained when 'blowing the Kashmir gate' during the Indian Mutiny; an act of conspicuous gallantry for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

(1) Melbury Abbas 1851-2: Compton Abbas 1866-7: Bloxworth 1870: Poxwell 1868 - pulled down


The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

Forde Abbey


Alton St. Pancras

Forde Abbey



Ford Abbey lies in the remote extreme north-west of the County in an incredibly beautiful heavily wooded valley, which it shares with the river Axe. Unquestionably one of the most attractive houses in Dorset, it is surrounded by 30 acres of sumptuous landscaped gardens and ponds, making an assault on the senses that are both a delight and lasting memory.

The Chapel

The chapel was formed out of the monk's chapter house, by Edmund Prideaux sometime after he purchased the property in 1649.  His architect (see below) carefully preserved the 12c ribbed vaulting and the Perpendicular window above the altar that was originally installed by Abbot Thomas Chard (16c).  Otherwise, the furnishings are excellent examples of 17c craftsmanship.  An impressive oak chancel screen divides the space. It is embellished with an attractive segmental pediment, gilded foliar decorative carving and superb pierced foliage above the double doorway.  On the northern side of the chancel is a small but very pleasing organ, which is said by Pevsner to be late Georgian Gothic.  Opposite, there is a truly magnificent pulpit, replete with its own oval window, which must be the tallest in Dorset!  Presumably it had to be this high so that the congregation could see the preacher over the top of the screen.  It is built into the wall and was commissioned by Sir Francis Gwyn sometime during the 18c.  Other items of great interest are the 12c pillar piscina and the impressive paneling and gilding including some rather glum cherubs.  High on the north wall of the chancel is a late 16c helmet with a bust above.


The History

Legend has it that Richard de Brioniis, Earl of Exeter, founded a Cistercian abbey for 12 monks at Brightly near Okehampton in 1136.  Unfortunately, he died a year later and the monks had to fend for themselves, but after four years and nearly starving they decided to return to their mother-house in Surrey.  On their way through Thorncombe they were met by Adelicia, the founder's sister, who seeing their state, lent them her house and gave them land.  Choosing a site near a ford across the the river, they erected the principal buildings within seven years, although the abbey church took one hundred years to complete.  

In due course, the Order prospered mightily, being showered with gifts of land and endowments in payment for prayers said by the monks for the souls of the departed.  Before the Reformation, England was an entirely Roman Catholic nation and an important part of the religion is the belief that after death the soul enters a sort of 'between' stage known as purgatory.  The duration of a stay there could be reduced by giving gifts to the church during a lifetime or purchasing indulgencies or by paying for priests to say Masses on the soul's behalf.  Ideally, arrangements should be made for the Masses to be said for ever, hence the need for miniature chapels, known as chantry chapels.  All this was strictly for the seriously wealthy and, as a result, the church became hugely rich.  Since they could not pay, the poor were not specifically catered for.  By the end of the 13c, the monastery owned about 30,000 acres of Devon, Dorset and Somerset.

The third Abbot, Baldwin, rose to become the Archbishop of Canterbury who crowned King Richard Coeur de Lion (1189-99) before dying (1190) while accompanying him on a Crusade.  

The monastery flourished for 400 years and its wealth, along with many others, had not escaped the eye of  King Henry VIII.  At the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, Abbot Chard, having undoubtedly heard of the fate of the Abbot of Glastonbury, who was hanged from his own gates for refusing to hand everything over, discretely surrendered Forde to the King's men and was rewarded by being made vicar of Thorncombe until his death in 1543.

For the next 100 years, the Abbey was let by absentee landlords to a number of tenants with the result that the Abbey church was allowed to decay and its stone plundered and used elsewhere.  In 1649, Oliver Cromwell's Attorney General, Edmund Prideaux, bought the property and set about converting it into the gracious mansion it is today.  The Abbot's lodgings became the family's quarters and the lay brothers accommodation was made into a grand saloon and all was much beautified with lavish paneling and plasterwork.  He converted what had been the monk's chapter house (where the business of the monastery was discussed) into a chapel.  The conversion has sometimes been attributed to Inigo Jones, but as he was a well-known royalist it is much more likely to have been the work of Edward Carter who was the architect responsible for the Middle Temple in London.  Prideaux's son, also Edmund, after inheriting Forde (1659) made the mistake of being loosely associated with the Monmouth Rebellion and found himself answering for it in front of the notorious Judge Jefferies.  After a sojourn in the Tower of London, he had to pay £15,000 to escape the gallows.  In the end he was pardoned and quietly lived out his days at Forde.  His daughter, who was married to Francis Gwyn, the Secretary of War to Queen Anne, inherited in 1702.  Their successors continued to live in the house, but died out in 1846 when it was sold to a Mr Miles, who allowed the property to decay badly.  In 1863 it was sold again, this time to Mrs Evans who embarked on the period of serious investment that saved the structure.  Through bequests and marriage, the estate came into the hands of the Roper family in 1905.  It has been in their care ever since.

For further information, please visit www.fordeabbey.co.uk

This is a stunning building in an exquisite setting, which most generously repays a visit.




The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©





Frampton is a very ancient British settlement with its roots reaching back to pre-Roman times. William the Conqueror gave it to French Benedictine monks of the Abbey of St. Stephen in Caen, who held it for centuries. It was first mentioned in 1204, noting that French monks had established a cell and a priory. By 1293, when it is next mentioned, it had become the wealthiest in Dorset. Frampton must have become an important place because the King granted the Prior and his successors the right to hold a Thursday Market on the eve and day of St. Bartholomew's. Some of the monks appear to have been unpopular, perhaps because they managed the estate and collected the rents. During the C15, the king gave it to English monks who appear to have been better accepted. During Queen Elizabeth I's reign (1533-1602), the Browne family purchased Frampton. Frampton Court, built by Robert Browne in 1704, a descendant of Browne Cromwell, nicknamed 'Old Roman' because of his absolute insistence that King Charles should be tried, was demolished in 1932, after being sold to meet death duties.



The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

Today, this large and most impressive church serves a village strung-out along one side of the busy A356 Dorchester to Maiden Newton road. (Jo Draper in her superb guide to Dorset 'Dorset the Complete Guide' says all the houses on the southern side of the road were removed by the landlord in 1840 so as to 'improve the park'.) Clearly, like so many in the county, this church must have replaced an earlier structure. Most of its present form dates from 1695 when the splendid tower was built and adorned, uniquely, by two Tuscan columns, one above the other, at each corner. The nave is more or less square. The Victorians, who could not resist leaving their mark on churches, 'improved' the chancel in 1820 to a design by Benjamin Ferry, who is best remembered for his work on Christchurch Priory. The side aisles received attention at the same time, despite the north aisle originating from C15. The font, given in 1858 by the Duchess of Somerset, is by Thomas Earp, who was also responsible for the magnificent carving on the pulpit in Wimborne Minster (1868). The capitals and corbels are the work of Benjamin Grassby, whose exquisite work can be found in many of the county's churches. The organ is by Walker of London. The whole restoration was paid for by Richard and Marcia Sheridan of Frampton Court, who funded the building of a row of alms houses, adjacent to the church, also designed by Ferry.


Frome St. Quintin

Alton St. Pancras

From St.Quintin

This must be almost unique in Dorset because the church, which is surrounded by a hedge, is in the corner of a field with no road access to it. 

Like so many English villages, the origins of Frome St Quintin are lost in the mists of time. Hutchins records "on a hill in the parish, the ground marks an old encampment".

Certainly, the village and the surrounding land formed part of a royal estate in Norman times, being held by Queen Mathilda, wife of William the Conqueror. In the Doomsday Book it appears as Litelfrome but by the end of the twelfth century it was held by Herbert de St. Quintin, one of King Richard the Lionheart's powerful barons, from whom its present name derives. The mediaeval patrons were the Abbots of Tewksbury and the list of incumbents begins in 1132. Tradition has it that the original village surrounded this delightful little building, but was depopulated as a result of the Black Death, leaving the church isolated.

.The doorway which leads to the vestry beneath the tower is partly twelfth century, whilst the nave and chancel are C13. The surprisingly short tower was added in the fourteenth century and the chancel arch rebuilt about 1400. The south main entrance porch is C15. The various windows reflect these periods. The octagonal font with a cylindrical stem and chamfered base is C12. The church was restored in 1881, with the result that many of its features are late Victorian. Note the splendid oil lamps. The mediaeval altar is of Purbeck marble, repolished and with five more recent crosses, whilst the window above it, depicting the Nativity , is Victorian, as is the carving of the Last Supper. 

 This enchanting little church has a stunning barrel roof and an aisle that dramatically rises towards the chancel and hugely rewards a visit. 

The Dorset Historic Churches Trust wishes gratefully to record its sincere thanks to Linda Williams for the assistance received in the preparation of these notes.

The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

Frome Vauchurch

Bradford AbbFrome Vauchurch

St. Francis

This little hamlet, close to the river Frome, is almost a 'suburb' of the much larger village of Maiden Newton.  The church is placed end-on to the road so that the little bell turret is the first thing that greets one.  It is surrounded by a surprisingly large churchyard containing an impressive sundial.

The building is almost entirely Norman, with just a Victorian chancel added.  The Jacobean pulpit is an important feature and especially interesting because access to it is through an aperture in the chancel arch.  The interior is very intimate and really charming.  

The font is 13c. Note the moving painting of the Crucifixion on the north wall of the nave.




The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©