Wimborne St. Giles must be one of the most outstanding village churches of Dorset. The rather plain early Georgian exterior with a tower of 1732 adjacent to an attractive suite of almshouses offers no hint of the splendour inside. In 1908, the building suffered a catastrophic fire, as a consequence of soldering on the roof. The celebrated architect, Sir Ninian Comper (1864-1960) was retained by Lord Shaftesbury to undertake the restoration. The result is a riot of colour and magnificence, unmatched elsewhere in Dorset.
The nave is almost square and the adjustments to the original are rather unfairly described by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner in 'Buildings of England - Dorset' as "Comper at his most wilful!" The wooden pulpit and benches in the north nave were saved from the fire of 1908. The decorated roof is borne up on the outspread wings of the angelic hosts, symbolising the heavenly firmament. The altar is separated from the nave by a wooden rood screen, on which there are the figures of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and St. John. The Shaftesbury family pew is incorporated into the screen. The reredos has alabaster figures of Christ on the Cross, St. Giles, St. Anthony, St. Benedict, St. Francis, St. Edward King and Martyr, St. Osmund, St. Aldhelm and St. Rumbold. The golden tester above is carved with the Holy Dove and Tongues of Fire, around which are written the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Ghostly Strength, Knowledge, True Godliness, Holy Fear.
Above and behind, is a full-width gallery with seating for the choir and ringers and dominated by the superb two-manual organ by Harrison and Harrison. The font is of 1732 and the magnificent cover, designed by Ninian Comper, was given by 9th Earl of Shaftesbury.
On the south side of the high altar is the charming memorial to robins who nested during the building works. "Here while the respond to the arcade of A.D. 1887 was building, a robin nested and again during the building of the new arcade after the fire of 1908". It was decided to embed the nest in the wall; this exposed the first nest in a bottle with a descriptive note. Now both are in the wall.
The most famous of all the Earls of Shaftesbury was undoubtedly the 7th (1801-85), who was responsible for improving the lot of working children through a number of reforming acts passed through Parliament. In addition, he was president of the YMCA, the Ragged School Union (renamed the Shaftesbury Society after his death) and was a founder of the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. There is a memorial to him in the family pew, but the better-known one is the statue of Eros, which adorns Piccadilly Circus and whose arrow points towards Wimborne St. Giles. When he died "all England " is said to have wept for him. He was offered burial in Westminster Abbey, but had declined and is buried here.
The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©