The great Edwardian surgeon and chronicler of all things Dorset, Sir Frederick Treves, wrote "The feature of greatest interest in Puddletown is the church, one of the few in the county which has been happy escaping the hand of the restorer..... No church can compare with this in human interest and nowhere can one come into closer communion with the homely spirit of the Dorset of the past." His words were as true at the turn of the last century as they are today, because this must be one of the most exciting parish churches in the county.
There was certainly a church here in Saxon times, probably on the present site, but the oldest part of the building is a section of the tower, which is not older than 1180-1200. This may have been a restoration. During the 13c, the building was made cruciform by the addition of transepts. The bulk of the present structure was erected in about 1400, when the magnificent oak roof was added. In 1505, there was a further restoration, when the opportunity was taken to raise the roof so that a clerestory could be inserted. Further works included adding the north aisle, raising the tower by a further 20 feet with an external staircase and the provision of a parapet around both church and tower. Patronage was in the hands of the Prior of Christchurch Priory until the dissolution in 1539. He had granted permission to hold a weekly market and fairs twice a year. (The fairs continued until the 1914-18 war.) Reginald Pole, the son of the Countess of Salisbury, was vicar here from 1532 to 1536. He went on to become a Cardinal and Archbishop of Canterbury under Queen Mary. (See Christchurch Priory - Salisbury Chantry.)
In 1634, following a meeting of parishioners, it was agreed that there should be new seating throughout, repair of the defective pillar and arch, a new pulpit and prayer desk, Communion Table and rails, a western gallery and a new font cover. So it is from this period that we have been bequeathed the superb church furnishings seen today. The triple-decker pulpit with tester above is a particularly fine example and the box pews are a delight. Until Charles II (1679) men and women sat separately and scholars and little boys had to sit right under the rector's pew! Under Charles all this primness was swept away.
Despite a campaign, led by Thomas Hardy the author, to preserve the tiny original chancel, it was enlarged in 1911 at the expense Rev J C Brymer, who was the Lord of the Manor. Two years later, the slate roof of the porch was replaced with a stone one. By 1933 the magnificent oak roof was in a poor state and a very comprehensive and careful restoration was carried out.
Thomas Hardy, the celebrated Dorset writer, used Puddletown as 'Weatherbury' in his novel 'Far from the Madding Crowd'. There had been a family association with the village because his grandfather had played the violincello in the church band. However, by 1845 the band, much to their disgust, were dismissed and a barrel-organ installed in their place. It does not seem to have lasted because by 1852 it, too, was replaced by a small organ. The present instrument, erected in 1906, was made by Hele & Co. of Plymouth.
The unusual beaker-shaped font is Norman. Damage to the lip may have been caused when seals were removed following an Interdict laid on England by Pope Innocent III in 1209.
The painted texts of Holy Scripture on the walls are from the 17c.
There is an excellent church guide.
The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©