St. Nicholas

At 705 ft. above sea level, this is the highest village in the whole of the chalklands of Southern England.  This is an ancient place.  Evidence has been found belonging to the Bronze, Celt and Roman periods that suggests the village had been occupied for 3000 years.  

Although the present church has medieval roots, the present building is essentially of 1874 by Charles Edwards of Exeter.  It is set back from the road, which gives it a slight independence from the village.  There is no tower, but the nave has a pleasant bellcote.  The most important feature of the church are the corbels of animals in relief carved by John Skeaping in 1949.  In addition, there is an interesting 12c font with elaborate wooden cover and a reredos by W.H.R. Blacking 1949.






St. Aldhelm

This little church stands on a knoll above the hamlet it serves.  It has a most impressive porch attached to the south tower.  Inside there are benches on both sides where the farmers had to wait before being summoned by the rector to pay their tithes.  The doorway into the church is Norman replete with zigzag.  The rest of the building is 15c in origin.  There is a splendid harmonium to provide the music and an Elizabethan pulpit with arabesque panels.  Impressive woodwork in the roof.







The Trust gratefully acknowledges text by Robin Adeney and Photograph DHCT©


Binghams Melcombe

BinghamsBinghams Melcombe

St. Andrew

This delightful little country church rests in the grounds of a great house in what must be described as an exquisitely beautiful setting.

There was certainly an earlier church on the site, the records of which go back to 1150 and are held in the County Museum Library, however the present building is thought to be 14c.  The tower is mid 14c and has a window with reticulated tracery.  The Horsey  Chapel on the south side is 15c and is separated from the nave by an oak screen with the initials S.T.F (Sir Thomas Freke) and dated 1619 on the reverse.  Sir Thomas Freke is more associated with Iwerne Courtney (Shroton) where there is a superb oak screen in front of his memorial.  The Chancel was added in 1844, also with a reticulated tracery window.  The present font is Norman and was brought from the chapel at Higher Melcombe in 1951.  The pulpit was bought from the Bastard brothers of Blandford in 1723.

There is a stuffed owl perched high up on the north side of the chancel arch whose job is to deter bats!





The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©




St. George


This is a really splendid genuine Victorian church with its associated school alongside.  The nave was built in 1810 and lengthened in 1837-38.  Ewan Christian was responsible for the rest, including the apse, but not the tower, which was completed in 1903-5 to a design by C E Ponting and at a cost of £1,656.  The wooden ceiling to the Apse is most attractive.


Note the most impressive organ and at the rear of the building an excellent funeral carriage by Goodfellow of Wincanton.





The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Buckhorn Western

Buckhorn Western

St. John the Baptist

There is a legend suggesting that Christianity came to the area shortly after Joseph of Arimathea had established his settlement at Glastonbury.  Later the parish was linked with the monastic community of Marsh Court only a mile away.  What is absolutely certain is that there was a church on the site from earliest times and parts of the present building date from early C13, which is when the incumbents were first recorded.  As a result of the generosity of Sir Francis Stapleton, the Patron, in 1870 the Victorians restored and enlarged the church to a design by G R Crickmay of Weymouth. 

As with several Dorset churches, the chancel is out of alignment with the nave signifying Christ's drooping head on the Cross. The interior is classically Victorian with some splendid chandeliers.  In the north side of the chancel, there is a recumbent effigy of a knight not wearing armour, but clad in tabard and hose and said to be Alexander Mobray, who died in the village in 1410.  Font is C14.  

Note the piscina with the beautiful flower shaped water outlet.

There are two painted panels attached to the walls of the ringing chamber at the base of the tower, which at one time formed the front of a singing gallery.  These were painted by Sir James Thornhill FRS, the first painter to be knighted.  He lived in Stalbridge and was MP for Weymouth.  His other works include: the Dome of St. Paul's Cathedral: The Princess Apartment at Hampton Court: Kensington Palace and Blenheim. Hogarth studied under him and eventually became his son-in-law.

 The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

Child Okeford

Child Okeford

St. Nicholas

The church rests on raised ground slightly above the rest of this big village, but well below the ramparts of Hambledon Hill. 

It has a powerful C15 greensand tower, but the rest is a Victorian restoration of 1850 and another by T.H.Wyatt of 1878-9.  The slightly garish chancel was refitted with marble facing to the walls and gold mosaic on the reredos by Wippell & Co in 1911.  The organ in the chancel was built to a specification of Sir Arthur Sullivan (Gilbert & Sullivan) who stayed in the village.

An interesting church well worth a visit.






The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

Compton Abbas - New

Compton Abbas New

St Mary the Virgin

This is an exceptionally attractive church with a broach spire designed by George Evans of Wimborne and erected during 1866-7.  Inside, the ribbed chancel with apse makes a very pleasing focus of attention.  There is a Lady chapel and a Norman font featuring 'trails', which may have been re-cut by the Victorians.

The church was built so that it was nearer the centre of the main village, thus rendering the 'old' church redundant.






The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

Compton Abbas - Old

Compton Abbas Old


Only the tower remains of the building, which became redundant when the toll road was built around 1870.  It would have been to this church that the Dorset Club Men were taken during the English Civil War.  Note the remains of an ancient preaching cross.  On the 22nd August 1995 the only occupants of the old churchyard were two splendid geese!  (See Compton Abbas).








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 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 ©

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 ©


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 ©

Hazelbury Bryan

Hazelbury 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 text by Robin Adeney and Drone Photgraph by Richard Noble © DHCT 2018

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 ©



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 text by Robin Adeney and Drone Photography by Richard Noble DHCT © 2018


Beer hackLydlinch

St Thomas a Beckett

Hardly a village, more a large hamlet, Lydlinch sits on top of rising ground with the river Lydden running below and consists of a collection of houses either side of the A357 road and one road running at right angles to it.  Yet, set back in a delightful churchyard, framed by old trees, stands a  most attractive and unspoilt ancient church.  

It is perpendicular in style and predominately 15 and 16c.  The venerable tower complete with a clutch of gargoyles is certainly from the 15c when most of the better towers in the county were constructed.  Immediately above the porch, with its 16c door, is a sundial and above that again is another attached to the tower.  Inside, the building offers an air of lofty spaciousness, which is most apparent when viewed from the 19c gallery at the rear.  This is a unique structure because it is supported on wooden pillars, painted to resemble stone, and has a front constructed, in part, from cast iron.  At the back there is a surprisingly small organ. The high chancel arch with a wooden cross supported on a beam is very striking.  

On the southern side of the nave, the 1838 stone arcade is very pleasing.  Above and between the arches hangs a really excellent hatchment.  Hatchments are generally thought to have started in the 17c and were diamond shaped painted with a deceased person's coat of arms.  These formed part of an elaborate funeral heraldry and were hung outside the house, sometimes for the duration of the period of mourning, before being moved permanently into a church.  The practice continued into the very early years of the 20c with a slight increase in the size of the later versions.

The pulpit is early 19c and the 12c font, under the gallery, is fashioned from a square block decorated with arches.

Two people are particularly associated with this church.  Perhaps the more famous is Parson Barnes the Dorset poet, who spent his childhood years on a nearby farm and who went to school in Sturminster Newton.  He left a well-known poem about the church bells. (See Winterborne Came). The second person is commonly known as 'The Lady of Lydlinch'.  Legend has it that she was born and brought-up in West Parley during the 14c.  In due course, she married a man from Lydlinch where she lived for the rest of her life.  However, her heart was always in West Parley and when she died, she left instructions that her heart should be buried there.  During restoration of the West Parley church, a 14c urn was found and placed in a glazed niche, behind bars, in the outside of the east wall where it can be seen to this day.  Outside the porch at Lydlinch church there is an ancient tomb with the following words inscribed:

'Here lie the remains of a lady who gave the rector of this church for ever one portion of 'tyths' arising out of Dudsbury farm in West Parley and another out of Knowle farm in Woodlands'.

Such generosity; it seems a shame she was so modest that we do not know her name.

This is an exceptional church that handsomely repays a visit.


The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Church imageMappowder

St. Peter and St. Paul

Mappowder stands in a commanding position south of the village of Pulham and high above the edge of the Blackmore Vale. For 300 years this was the seat of the Coker family whose 1654 mansion has long since been pulled down to make way for a splendid farmhouse, whose gate posts are the only relics of the earlier building.

The brown stone church of St.Peter and St.Paul is almost entirely late C15 although the chancel is by Slater and Carpenter of 1868. This is a very beautiful church in a lovely setting. The west tower has Somerset tracery in the bell openings. The simple porch and south aisle elevations are embattled and the different decoration of the later chancel elevation is a clever reminder that it was an addition and not a part of the original. Inside, the large plain glass windows allow light to flood into the building. It is a surprise that there is no stained glass and one must assume that Cromwell's men probably smashed what there was.

In the south aisle there is a niche which contains the small (2 ft) C14 recumbent figure of a knight with crossed legs, holding a heart. There appears to be some uncertainty as to the origins of the figure because there is no formal date or inscription. One theory suggests that it represents a boy whose mother dedicated him to the crusades, while another has it that it records the death of a knight in a foreign land whose heart only was brought back for burial here.

The impressive square table font of C12 is of Purbeck marble. Pevsner described the screen under the tower as being 'prettily flamboyant' and looking Victorian. In fact, both it and the reredos are the 1925 work of the Rev. G.A.Coleman and his friend Mr. Ringrose.

This is a church that generously rewards a visit.

The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

Margaret Marsh

Church imageMargaret Marsh

St. Margaret

This is a small hamlet in Blackmore Vale country.  The name probably derives from one of the Margarets who were C14 abbesses of the nunnery at nearby Shaftesbury, and 'Marsh' simply refers to the soggy land.  The dedication to St. Margaret may refer to St. Margaret of Antioch, who was a popular saint in the medieval period with around 200 English churches bearing her name. 

The church is almost entirely from the 1872-3 restoration by Crickmay, although the pleasing tower, with Somerset tracery on the bell-openings, is C15.

The church is locked.







The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Church imageMarnhull

St Gregory

Marnhull is a hill-top settlement and stands above the river Stour.  It was once a place famous for bull-baiting, which took place on the 3rd May each year and was very popular until "put down" in 1763 because of the very bad behaviour of the spectators.  Later in that century, the rector wrote that the place was renowned for its tall people, both men and women.  Thomas Hardy made the village 'Marlott' in his novels and the home of one of his most famous heroines, Tess of the D'Urbevilles.

The church is very impressive with a splendid 15c tower that can be seen for miles around and regarded by some as the finest example in Dorset.  There is a lone Norman pier, decorated with scallops and masks, in the north arcade, which indicates that there must have been a substantial building on the site from that period.  However, the present church is essentially 15c and the richly coffered roof of the nave also belongs to that century.  The Victorians re-built the south wall and installed the south arcade in 1852.  They improved the chancel in 1882, although the east window had to wait until 1911 for glass by Morris & Co.

The mural painting of the Creed and the Lord's Prayer above the chancel arch is from Queen Anne's reign (1665-1714), although whether this was paid for by her Bounty (the result of a strong resurgence of Anglicanism) is not clear.  There is a rood-loft stairway on the northern side of the arch.  This would have led to the rood loft stretching across the chancel arch and on which would have stood figures of the Cross, St Mary the Virgin and St John the Baptist.  The oak screen below the west gallery is from the Charles I (1600-1649) period and on either side are traces of Consecration Crosses.  During the Middle Ages, it was common to incise twenty-four into a church,  three on each internal wall and twelve outside.  The bishop who consecrated the building would anoint each one with the words 'Sanctifecetur hoc templum' (blessed be this church).  This was a visible sign of dedication and a defence against the powers of the Devil.

The Nottingham alabaster effigies on an altar-tomb depicting a knight in armour with a woman on either side, have been near certainly identified as John Carent (senior), who died in 1478, with his two wives.  The somewhat mutilated state of the work is thought to have been caused by the theft of alabaster to make dies for coins.

Sir Nikolaus Pevsner declares that the font is " enormous, uncouth square block with top spurs...."!  However, it was almost certainly made from the great stone of a wayside Cross.  The references are all coy about giving it a date.

The church at Marnhull has been blessed with two families who have provided quite astonishing service through successive rectors.  Three generations of Glissons put in 106 years during the 17c and 18c and the Place family 107, one of them, Harry Place, managing 50 years.

This is a wonderful church that amply rewards a visit.

The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Church imageMotcombe

St Mary


The present church was designed in the then fashionable Neo Norman style by G. Alexander and completed in 1846. It replaced an earlier building about which this commentator has been unable to find any details. This project must have proved to be an extremely difficult brief because the architect was obliged to draw up no less than six different sets of plans for his clients. He was asked to change from the Early English style to Perpendicular and alter the size of the church three times. The cost came to £1,901 19s 6d of which £1,760 13s 10d was raised by subscription. Interestingly, the faculty of 1847 was issued to confirm what had already been built!. (Alexander was also responsible for East Stour 1842: Enmore Green 1843 and Sutton Waldron: 1847).

The church sits in a delightful churchyard next to the village school. Inside, the building is tall and bright with light streaming in through the generous aisle windows. Arches on either side of the nave, which are supported by octagonal piers, lend a sense of grandeur to the scene.

The font is C13 with a C17 cover.

A new and very beautiful glass door has been installed between the porch and the church. Also, in a very far sighted effort to offer really modern facilities, a new servery and lavatory have been provided at the rear of the north aisle.

This is a church well worth visiting.

The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

Okeford Fitzpaine

Church imageOkeford Fitzpaine

St Andrew

This delightful village has settled in a fold of the hills. There are some exquisite Dorset cottages as well as some bigger and more impressive buildings. None more attractive than the mid C18 rectory originally built for the Rev. Duke Butler. Sir Frederick Treves, the eminent London surgeon who was Surgeon General to King Edward VII, wrote in his splendid book 'Highways and Byways in Dorset' of 1906 that the village had derived its name from the family Fitzpaine. They were excused payment of certain dues by King Henry III for their "good services to the King at the Battle of Lewis" (1264). However there is a suggestion that the family were actually fighting against the King and had taken him prisoner and were using his seal as they liked! 

This is an interesting and impressively large church that is sited on slightly rising ground. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the tower, which is a strange mixture of C14 and C15. The rest is Victorian 1865-6, designed, with great care, by John Hicks of Dorchester, who used much of the material from the original church. On entering the nave, one's eye is immediately drawn towards the magnificent pulpit fashioned from brilliant white Caen stone, still bearing some original paint and accommodating a number of beautifully executed figures in niches. The church pamphlet speaks of the pulpit having been once a font, but converted back to its original purpose with improvements, during the 1865 restoration. 

The north aisle shelters the Lady Chapel with a most attractive window that borrows strongly from William Holman Hunt's painting of Christ as 'The Light of the World'. Looking west, the principal feature is the baptistery formed in the space immediately below the tower. The font of 1844 by Boulton of Worcester, is made of Caen stone supported on a shaft of red alabaster and decorated with three sculptured kneeling angels, holding in their hands the shell, the dove and the Lamb as emblems of the Trinity. 

To the left of the baptistery there is stairway leading to the bell ringing chamber for six bells. There was a tragedy in 1957 when the Rector, W.R.Mortimer was showing some school children the bells while they were 'raised'. Quite appallingly, the fifth bell was somehow released causing it to overturn and he was killed.

This is a really magnificent village church, which well rewards a visit.



The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

Purse Caundle

Church imagePurse Caundle

St. Peter

This is a delightfully peaceful and serene church in an equally charming village complete with a superb mellow stone manor house of C15.  There is good evidence to suggest that there has probably been a church on this site for more than a thousand years.  However, the first recorded Rector arrived in 1315 and the present building dates from a re-build in 1480.  Subsequently, a chantry chapel was added by William Lange, who died in 1524.  It was subsequently restored in 1896 and again in 1955.

There is a most impressive and attractive Jacobean pulpit with a hexagonal tester above.  The pews have been fashioned from timber salvaged from the destruction of the C18 box pews. The chancel was re-built in 1731 and the nave in 1883.  Note the very fine timber work above.  The font is C15 with a later cover.




The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

Shaftesbury - Enmore Green

Church imageShaftesbury - Enmore Green

St. John Evangelist

This little building clings to the northern slope of the ramparts to Shaftesbury. It was built in 1843 to a then fashionable Neo Norman design by G. Alexander. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner records that there is an apsed chancel, transepts and a crossings tower. 

The church is locked.







The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

Shaftesbury - St. James

Church imageShaftesbury

St. James

Modern Shaftesbury has emerged from a genuine fortified hill town that overlooks, without dominating, the Blackmore Vale. The site was chosen because the slopes on all sides, except for a narrow strip on the north east, are very steep and therefore comparatively easily defended. There has been a settlement here from C9 and King Alfred founded a nunnery for his daughter, Ethelgiva. By C14 Shaftesbury had become the most populous town in Dorset because the nunnery were the custodians of the bones of Edward the Martyr, which guaranteed it as an important place of pilgrimage. (For about this saint see the Corfe Castle entry). 

The parish of St. James extends below the high ground, on the southern side, and can be reached via the world famous Gold Hill, which connects it to the centre of the town.

The original church is thought to have been built in 1138, however the first recorded rector was appointed in 1327. It stood in open ground until 1725 when it was enclosed by a stone wall. By the middle of C19 it had, in common with many others in the county, become very dilapidated and could only accommodate 200 of the 1,000 then living in the parish. A decision was taken with the approval of the Church Building Committee for Dorset, to demolish the old building and rebuild a much larger church with a seating capacity of 400.

The Diocesan Architect, T.H.Wyatt, rebuilt using green sand stone with dressings of Bath stone in the Decorated (or Middle Pointed) style at a projected cost of £3,000. £2,000 was donated by the Marquis of Westminster, who owned most of Shaftesbury and the rest was found from other notables. The foundation stone was laid on 28th May 1866.

By any standard, this is an impressive church and on entering the eye is naturally drawn towards the the large and rather beautiful east window. Below stands the 7 foot altar decorated with five panels of angel musicians, copies of those in the church of St Mary the Virgin, Studley Royal in the Fountains Abbey estate, and painted during the 1900s. The relatively simple pulpit also has five panels. Note especially the beautifully executed carved capitals on the aisle pillars. The south aisle contains the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, where the architect used the east window from the earlier church. Originally it had plain glass, but was installed here with stained glass.

The important two manual organ is by Norman and Beard of 1908. It was refurbished in 2008.

The font is Norman. It was originally in the church of St. Rumbold in Cann on the Salisbury road until it was deconsecrated.

There is a really excellent church guide.

This is an obviously much loved church that is well worth a visit.



The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

Shaftesbury St. Peter

Alton St. PancrasShaftesbury

St. Peter

Shaftesbury is a very ancient settlement and it was here that King Alfred is reputed to have founded a nunnery for his daughter as its first abbess, but there is older evidence still of earthen walls suggesting there was shelter for people 2000 years ago. Edward the Martyr's bones (978) were preserved in the nunnery, which made it one of the foremost pilgrim destinations in Europe and, as a consequence, it became the richest Benedictine nunnery in the country. By the time Sir Frederick Treves wrote his excellent book about Dorset at the start of the twentieth century he described St Peter's church thus...."Not least the headlong of these lanes is Gold Hill. It is a cobbled way, slow to climb, at the summit of which are the not unpicturesque Town Hall, the crumbling church of St. Peter and the Sun & Moon Inn." The building was obviously in a parlous state and was allowed to deteriorate still further so that by the Second World War, the south aisle was used as a grain store leading finally to it being declared redundant in 1971. Strenuous restoration efforts were made by the Friends of St. Peter's and by 1977 it was rededicated, making it the first church in the country to become a full-time parish church after being redundant. So this wonderful building still stands next to the Town Hall in the High Street and is certainly not obviously crumbling any more! 

At one time Shaftesbury had eleven churches servicing the pilgrims, but St Peter's is now the only medieval example remaining (its first recorded incumbent was John Scip 1305) and it appears to be in excellent condition. The entrance is through the tower, which is the earliest part of the building. Aligned with the High Street outside there is a narrow north aisle, which terminates in a Lady chapel, while the south aisle, widened by the Victorians, clings perilously to the top of Gold Hill and probably accounts for the generous buttressing of the tower. Above both these aisles springs a C15 clerestory that allows light to flood into the nave below a beautiful paneled oak-beamed roof. The nave with its C15 arches either side leads to no chancel as such yet the simple 1631 altar placed in front of the illuminated C18 panels on the east wall creates a delightful focus. The pews have been removed in favour of modern chairs and there is a generous and impressive organ. The font is C14 (Perpendicular)

This is a very interesting church, which is well worth visiting.

The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©



Church imageShillingstone

Holy Rood

Long before you reach the church, there is a magnificent preaching cross at the side of the main road, which is well worth inspecting. 

The guide book suggests that a wooden church may have stood on this spot in Saxon times.  However the current building dates from Norman times, although it was pulled about by the Victorians in 1888 (F.W.Hunt).  The most attractive painted ceiling in the nave (1902-3) is by G.F.Bodley whose work can be found in several other churches in the county (see Woodlands).  The square Purbeck marble font is Norman and the pulpit is a good example of the 17c.  Altogether, a most attractive church.





The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Church imageSilton

St. Nicholas

It is possible the church has a Saxon foundation, but the present building dates from the Norman period.  Evidence for this is found in the massive columns supporting the westernmost arches.  Very little is known of the history, but best guesses suggest that the Saxon church consisted of a nave and chancel, to which the South aisle would have been added in Norman times (12c or 13c).  The tower was added about 200 years later and the chantry chapel to the north of the chancel in 15c.

In 1869 the then rector, William Percy, who was also the patron, joined the current fashion and 'improved' the church at his own expense.  Much work was undertaken, including moving the Wyndham monument from the Sanctuary to its present position. The old box pews, reading desk and pulpit were replaced with the present ones.  The plastered barrel-vaulted roof was stripped, possibly to insert new timbers.  At about this time the internal roof woodwork was decorated, as were the plastered surfaces of the walls and the stained glass was added.

Apart from the sumptuous decoration, the most striking feature of the little church is the magnificent Wyndham monument on the North wall.  This is of Sir Hugh Wyndham, who was Justice of the Common Pleas during the Commonwealth and remained so under Charles II.  He bought the Manor of Silton and died in 1684.


The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Church imageStalbridge

St Mary 

It is difficult to decide whether Stalbridge is a small town or a very large village.  Either way, it is certainly an ancient place being mentioned in the Domesday Book and further evidence suggests ownership by the Abbot of Sherborne in the Middle Ages.  Indeed, the list of known Rectors reaches back to 1342.  By the Reformation, the church consisted of a chancel with north and south chantry chapels, with a rood screen separating it from the nave.  The greensand font bowl with Ham Hill stem is early C13 and there is a C14 piscina in the east wall of the south transept.

The present church is large and stands above most of the settlement, overlooking the Blackmore Vale.    As usual, almost all of the old building was swept away by the Victorians, leaving just an arcade of piers, although the north chapel is Henry VIII.

The first 'restoration' was in 1838 when the old north aisle was doubled in size.  In 1868 the old squat south tower was replaced with a taller and more impressive one designed and entirely paid for the Rev Henry Boucher of Thornhill.  The chancel arch and much else was rebuilt to a design by T.H.Wyatt in 1878, together with the provision of a new carved screen.  It is easy to condemn the Victorians for apparently vandalising old buildings, but in many cases they were left with no alternative, because the previous generation had so neglected their churches that many were in a ruinous condition and at real risk of falling down.  Towards the end of the Victorian era, efforts were being made to preserve the old rather than knock down and rebuild.  Significant too, in the case of Stalbridge, was the fact that the community was expanding rapidly.  By 1880, there were congregations of 200 in the mornings and 400 at Evensong (their total offertory was just £2-0-10 so they were not affluent).  In 1898 the old two decker pulpit was swept away in favour of the current carved oak version. 

The church is blest with a magnificent clock manufactured by Burden Brothers of Salisbury and presented by the Rev L.C. Powys during his incumbency of 1837-67. It is the most complicated clock they made and regarded as the best example of their work because in 1896 it was fitted with a carillon that plays seven hymn tunes, one every three hours. The hymn changes each day automatically and they are:

Sunday: Easter Hymn 1
Monday: Lead kindly light
Tuesday: Lord Dismiss us
Wednesday: We love the place
Thursday: O Praise ye the Lord
Friday: Rock of Ages
Saturday: Abide with me

This is a most impressive church that has an uplifting feeling with its high wagon ceilings. 

Before leaving Stalbridge, note the really excellent example of a preaching cross outside the Old Rectory, which is generally considered to be the best in Dorset.  Legend has it that it was originally erected by Galfridius de Mervin as a thanksgiving for his miraculous recovery from wounds received in a battle with the Saracens in 1309.

There is an excellent church guide.

The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

Stock Gaylard

Church imageStock Gaylard

St Barnabas

The little church of St Barnabas rests on the lawn of and only short distance from the magnificent 18c Stock Gaylard House.  The whole suite of buildings is surrounded by about 100 acres of very beautiful parkland, especially noted for its herd of deer.

The present building with a barrel roof is a simple, but most attractive structure designed by W. J. Fletcher and built in 1884.  There are no pews, just chairs and the music is provided by a grand-piano.   On the southern side, there is a 13c effigy of a Crusader Knight, cross-legged, in a heavily cinquefoiled recess.  It is thought that he may have founded the original church.  At the back of the building on the northern side is a memorial to Captain Farr Yeatman in the form of a bronze relief by Henry Pegram.  He died in 1917, in sight of Jerusalem, in order to save the life of another and is buried in a military cemetery there.




The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

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 ©

Stour Row

All Saints

This a simple chapel-style church with quite a dramatic single bellcote.  It was built in 1868 to a design by John Hicks of Dorchester, one year before his sudden death.  Hicks was responsible for the building or restoration of 27 churches and as a result must be regarded as, by far, the most prolific Victorian architect in the county  On 3rd October 1867, The Dorset County Chronicle reported a gala day following the roofing-in of the new church at which about 300 people took tea and participated in rustic sports while the Sturminster band played lively music!

Sturminster Newton

St. Mary

The Parish Church of St.Mary's dates back to around 1269 and was built by Abbot John Selwood, one of the last Abbots of Glastonbury, before the Abbey ceased to be, with the dissolution of the monasteries.  Today, the bells ring out from Selwood's tower and the nave, with overhead ,a fine wagon roof, remains with projecting wooden carved angels, not found anywhere else in Dorset.

Between 1825-8 the Church was rebuilt at the expense of the Rev Thomas Lane Fox to the design of William Evans.  A new chancel was built, transepts were added and both aisles were extended.  The tower was increased in height, a new organ was provided, and the church reseated.  When he died in 1861 Thomas Lane Fox left only £2-19-5d, his whole fortune of some £100,000 having been spent on the church and his parishioners.

The Church is noted for its eight stained-glass memorial windows.  Two are by Mary Lowndes (1857-1927), Britain's first stained-glass maker and an activist for women's rights.  The "Nativity" in the West Tower in memory of her mother was the first window she made.  The "Resurrection" in the Warrior Chapel commemorates her father, Vicar of Sturminster for 36 years.  Most remarkable is the SE aisle window by Harry Clarke of Dublin 1921.  This was made in memory of Roma, wife of Sir Drummond Spencer-Smith, who is buried in the churchyard with her husband.  It is a pure Art Deco design of three women saints standing in a frieze shoulder to shoulder, with the Virgin and Child in the centre.  It was made by Harry Clarke himself in Dublin using ancient "slab-glass" technique and medieval colours. Sir Owen Morshead, the founder of the Dorset Historic Churches Trust, who lived in Sturminster and worshipped at St. Mary's, called it "rich in textures, gorgeous in colour".

Other features of the Church are some fine woodcarving including a lectern commemorating William Barnes, the Dorset poet born in the Parish, and a magnificent Wellingtonia tree in the Churchyard.

The Dorset Historic Churches Trust gratefully acknowledges the above contribution prepared by Major General J.O.C.Alexander, CB, OBE


St. Andrew

The village of Todber is made up largely of modern houses and the little church seems almost lonely.

Although the south tower has some medieval masonry and a saddleback roof, the church is actually a complete Victorian re-build of 1879.  According to Pevsner, Elizabeth, Marchioness of Westminster, paid for it.

Todber featured during the Cromwell administration as there is a record in the Dorchester Museum Library which refers to court proceedings on 27th November 1646:

"Ordered that Mr. Clarke who hath been in arms against the State and not submitted himself shall forbeare to officiate in Stower Provost where he hath lately intruded, and is therefore required to appeare before us at Blandford on Tuesday next. Upon the peticion (sic) of the inhabytants of Stower Provost in this Countie it is ordered that Mr. Matthew Toogood, clerke, an orthodox divine, shall officiate the Cure of the parish church of Stower Provost aforesayd, and for his labour and paynes to be taken therein shall have and receive the sume of twentie shillings a weeke."

In fact, Mr Clarke  was rector of Todber and was tortured by the Roundheads. (Extract from the excellent Stour Provost church guide.)

The Church is locked.
The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


St. Mary

This is one of the Dorset churches that is a must for any Thomas Hardy enthusiast.  The tower is 15c.  The rest is to an original design by John Hicks (died 1868), but executed by C.R.Crickmay in 1869.  Thomas Hardy was an assistant to both Hicks and Crickmay and he is usually credited with the design of the capitals and possibly the bearded heads that form the corbels.  Hardy was great friends with the vicar, Thomas Perkins (1893-1907) and would often bicycle out to evensong.  There is a lovely description of him reading the lesson 'with the steam rising from his brow after all the exercise on a hot afternoon.'

The font, reredos and pulpit are all of 1869.

The Trust gratefully acknowledges ext by Robin Adeney and Drone Photograhy by Richard Noble. DHCT © 2018

West Orchard

St Luke

The hamlet of West Orchard is very rural Blackmore Vale with a scattering of cottages and dairy farms. Considering the size of the community, it may be quite a generous church.

This is a simple building with a twin bellcote, lean-to transepts and a chancel, mostly to a design by T.H. Wyatt of 1876-7.

The church is locked.

The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

West Stour

St. Mary

The little church has its origins in the 13c, and for more than 600 years, has been the responsibility of the Rector of Gillingham. However in 1840, like so many others in the county, the whole structure, including the tower, was rebuilt.  Some elements were salvaged, which included an 18c window in the east wall and in the chancel two widely-splayed lancets in the north wall and another one-light 13c window with a 16c trefoil head, plus another 14c window.

There is a gallery, limited to 40 persons, across the west end of the nave. The pulpit and communion table are both 17c and there is a piscina.  The font is 13c.  The pine pews together with new floor tiles were installed in 1912.

Outside, the entrance gate was improved with brick pillars and an ornamental arch to commemorate the coronation of King Edward VII (1901).  The exceptionally long handrail was installed in 1986 as a memorial.

The Trust gratefully acknowledges drone image by Richard Noble and text input from Robin Adeney ©

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