Abbotsbury Parish Church

AbbotsburyAbbotsbury Parish Church

St. Nicholas

The church stands in this most attractive village near the famous tithe barn and other remains of a Benedictine Abbey, founded shortly before the Norman Conquest. This great abbey lasted for 500 years until Henry VIII dissolved almost all the monasteries between 1536 and 1541. The present church stands slightly to the north of where the huge abbey church once stood and, in monastic times, was used by the secular parish. It and only half of the original tithe barn remain.


 What we see today is essentially a C14 fabric in origin with a C15 tower.  There was extensive rebuilding about the end of the C15.  The chancel has an attractive plastered barrel ceiling dated 1638.  Note C15 painted glass in the south aisle, late C12 effigy of an abbot in the porch, Jacobean pulpit with tester still showing bullet holes sustained in a skirmish during the Civil War and the superb C18 reredos.  Note also a small thanksgiving memorial recording the fact that no lives were lost from Abbotsbury during the Word War II.




The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

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Abbotsbury Hidden Chapel

AbbotsburyThe Hidden Chapel - St. Lukes

Pick a dry day and some good walking shoes to visit this exquisite fragment of a 13c Cistercian cell and you will be handsomely rewarded.  The chapel is only 32 x 18 ft., but beautifully sited in a wood above a small ravine.  The building is roofless and all that remains now is the west wall, three tombs, an altar constructed from the debris and an interesting crucifix, with Christ wearing a crown.  The tombs are of David and Olga Milne-Watson, who built Ashley Chase House, and a friend.

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Abbotsbury St Catherine's Chapel

St Catherine's ChapelSt. Catherine's Chapel rests on a hill a short distance to the south-west of the village of Abbotsbury.  It is worth the effort to climb up to it because the views are spectacular.  Built in late 14c by the great abbey in the village and, although only 45 x 15 ft. internally, it is immensely strong with massive buttresses and thick walls, which support a stone tunnel-vaulted roof with eight transverse ribs.  A notice inside records the fact that once a year spinsters could pray to St. Catherine:

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Affpuddle - St Laurence

AffpuddleIn 'Highways & Byeways in Dorset', Sir Frederick Treves wrote "No more lovable village church than this is to be found in the county".  This delightful little church nestles close to the river in its generous churchyard.  Although medieval in origin, successive generations often altered it between the C12 and C19, but the result is very pleasing.  It has a splendid perpendicular style tower (1462), decorated with flint and ashlar chequer work and replete with gargoyles and heraldic beasts.

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AlderholtThere was a church in Alderholt in medieval times. However it and its graveyard were destroyed by Cromwell's army in 1649, suggesting that the area was strongly Royalist during the Civil War.  So for 200 years the parish was without a church, until the present one was built in 1849.  The porch and chancel were added later. 

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churchThe hamlet of Almer lies to the north of the busy A31, from where the church can be glimpsed beyond an attractive pond.  This is a bit of a mixture, but has its origins in the C11.

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Alton St. Pancras

Alton St. PancrasThe church is tucked away from the road at the end of a short drive it shares with a manor  and farmhouse.  There has been a church on this site since Norman times, although little is known about it other than the fact that the building had reached such a dilapidated state that by 1870 it was said to be "nodding to its fall".  It was entirely rebuilt with the chancel designed by Euan Christian (1874) and the nave by G. R. Crickmay (1875), leaving only the 15c tower standing with its four very ancient bells.

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St Nicholas, Durweston

After the long journey across the heath, it is by way of a relief to enter this tiny hamlet. The little church appears to rise up behind one and, sitting astride a small hill, it is reached by a steep path.  It is almost entirely 13c and the chancel, with its typical triple lancet windows and the nave are as one with no structural division.  There is no tower, but there is a bell gallery of 17c.  The building did not completely escape the reforming zeal of the Victorians although mercifully it was restricted to the "renewal of seats and fittings" to a design by John Belcher of London.  The octagonal font is 14c and the 1842 organ by Gray and Davidson of London was presented by Louisa Countess of Eldon of Encombe House.

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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.








Alton St. PancrasAskerswell

St. Michael and All Angels

When this church is viewed from the road leading down from the A35 trunk road it seems to stand very upright and one is immediately aware of the magnificent tower of 1403.  By 1858, the original church, which reached back to 1304 was in a sorry state and a new building was grafted onto the old tower to a design by Talbot Bury.

The font has been dated at 1154 and there is an interesting organ with an attractive arrangement of the pipes.  Outside, there is an important 14c English sculpture of Calvary and is found on the left side of the west door.








The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©




St. Edward King and Martyr 
(originally St. John)

The little church is somewhat overshadowed by the presence of the truly magnificent Athelhampton House on the other side of the main road.

It is a purely Victorian structure of 1861-2 and erected as a means of moving the parish church away from the main house.  The design was by John Hicks of Dorchester who was responsible for more churches in the county than any other architect working in the Victorian era.  Thomas Hardy, who was later to achieve world wide acclaim as a novelist, was his architectural pupil and would certainly have worked on this project as a 21 year old.

After the building became redundant it was acquired by Sir Robert Cooke in 1984 and is now used as a church by the Greek Orthodox community.  Their first English church was established in Soho in 1677 and there are presently 111 Greek Orthodox churches in Britain with around 350,000 members.



The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©




St. Mary


The church stands below a line of hills from where, tradition has it, 'The Conjurer Mintern', a C17 local squire is supposed to have jumped over the tower on his horse, knocking off one of its pinnacles as he went! True or not the splendid C15 tower has been repaired. The nave with a wagon roof, attractive stone screen and chancel arch are all C15 although there was a restoration by John Hicks in 1864. The small round font is Norman.







The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©



Alton St. PancrasBeaminster

St. Mary

There has been a church in Beaminster since Saxon times, although no one knows exactly where it was.  The present truly magnificent building, set slightly above the little town it serves, rests upon a site where once a Norman structure stood.

Outside the most distinguishing feature is the superb tower of about 1500, which has been described as 'one of the glories of the West Country'.  It has 41 'crocketted' pinnacles, which make the pinnacles appear to be standing free of the tower, while each actually rests on a springer stone sculpted to form devils or mythical animals.

The rest is mainly C15 and C16 with both a north and south aisle.  Inside, this large church has a spacious loftiness about it and plenty of light.  The western columns of the arcade are early C15 while the eastern are late C15 and probably installed when the Norman tower was demolished. The nave ceiling is a Victorian restoration, but the side aisles ceilings are C17. The impressive corbels are by Burge and Allen who also carved corbels for the House of Commons.  The most attractive chancel screen is by H. Read of Exeter and installed in 1913.  The Jacobean oak pulpit of 1619 is all that remains of the original triple-decker.  Now mounted on wheels, it can be moved around the building at will.  There is a good example of stairs that would once have led to a rood loft extended across the chancel arch.  (Rood lofts carried figures of Christ crucified)  Note also the squint or hagioscope that enabled priests in the side aisles to synchronise the Elevation of the Host by watching the high altar.

The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


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Beer Hackett

Beer hackBeer Hackett

St. Michael

This little church was rebuilt by Crickmay in 1882, probably replacing a medieval building.  In 1897 the tower was added by Ponting.









The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©




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 images and text by Robin Adeney ©


Bere Regis



Bere Regis  St. John the Baptist

Bere Regis church is one of Dorset's real gems and no tour of the County's ecclesiastical buildings will be complete without a visit.  It is situated in the heart of the village and adjoined from some angles by rather dreary housing developments.  However, this only serves to maximise the grandeur of the church.  During the C13 the area was a royal manor.  Queen Elfrida, the mother of King Ethelred moved here after the murder of her stepson King Edward the Martyr at Corfe Castle.  Much later King John  is known to have stayed here on sixteen separate occasions between 1204 and 1216.  In 1259, the manor was granted to Simon de Montfort, the founder of the English parliament, thus ending royal patronage, although the name 'Regis' stuck.  Perhaps the most famous family associated with the manor were the Turbevilles who became the lords in the C13, but died out early in the C18.  This fact fascinated the novelist, Thomas Hardy, who immortalised them in his celebrated 'Tess of the D'Urbevilles'.  Although the village has existed for more than a thousand years, it has been frequently ravaged by fire.  Perhaps the worst was in 1788 when almost all was destroyed, leaving no building of great antiquity or particular merit.



The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


It is reasonable to assume that there would have been a church in the village during the Saxon period, but the present building originates from 1050 when it was a simple cross shaped structure.  Only three items are still visible, which include a stone corbel, some Saxon "long and short work" and an arch vousoir (shaped arch stone) with diaper (diamond shaped) ornament.  During the C12, a narrow aisle was added to the south side and the three bay arcade formed at the time still survives with pointed arches.  The capitals of the round pillars are interesting because they feature grotesque carvings at the angles with representations of bear-baiting, a monkey's head, a king's head and sufferers of headaches and toothaches.  The font is Norman and decorated with interlacing and flowers.  In the C13, the building was extended both eastwards with a new greatly enlarged chancel and  westwards by an extension of the nave.  The C14 saw only a widening of the south aisle.  Squints, sometimes called a hagioscopes, were installed in both the south and north sides of the chancel arch so that there was sight of the high altar and the raising of the Host could therefore be synchronised in the side chapels.  The south squint is unique in that it still retains its original iron grill and the northern one is nicely aligned with a mirror on the organ so that the organist can see what is happening.  In the chancel, there is a double piscina with a shelf  from this period.


Without question the most important bequest from the C15 is the superb carved nave roof, generally thought to have been the gift of Cardinal Morton (1420-1500), who became Archbishop of Canterbury, Chancellor of England and adviser to King Henry VII.  He was born at Milborne Stileham, then part of the parish.  The roof, much of which is gilded and painted, is constructed entirely of oak and is the most elaborate in the county.  There are full length figures of the twelve apostles extending horizontally over the nave with central bosses displaying the head of Cardinal Morton, his shield, the Tudor rose and a golden cord representing the marriage he arranged between King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, which ended the Wars of the Roses.

The C16 saw the addition of the impressive tower and alterations and extensions to the north aisle to form the Morton Chapel at its eastern end.  Above the south porch door are a pair of huge iron hooks with chains, which are of this period and were used to pull the thatch off the roofs of cottages that were at risk from an advancing fire.

In common with almost all churches, the Reformation saw the removal of the rood screen between the chancel and nave, leaving just the access stairway.  The C17 pulpit, discarded during the restoration of 1874-5, was later used to form a reredos in the Morton Chapel.  However, we must be very grateful to the Victorian architect, G E Street RA for his incredibly sensitive restoration, which preserved this sumptuous church for future generations.  The glass, mostly by Hardman, is also Victorian and of very high quality.

There is an exceptionally good and comprehensive church guide.




St Stephen

This is a most attractive setting for a rural church, tucked in under Pilsdon Pen with Marshwood Vale laid out below.  There are just a scattering of houses with the old rectory next door.  Certainly not a village, more a hamlet.   The tower is medieval, but the rest is the result of a sensitive restoration by John Hicks of Dorchester.  The work, which was completed in 1862 included re-using some of the original windows.  

The stone pulpit is Victorian.  The font is also Victorian and carved by Benjamin Grassby, whose exquisite work can be found in many of Dorset's restorations of the period. (see Long Bredy and North Poorton)









The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©




Holy Trinity

The hamlet of Bincombe lies in a fold to the east of a very sharp bend in the road from Dorchester to Weymouth.  This is seriously rural and the little church exudes peace and tranquillity.  There has been a building on the site for over 800 years although all that remains of that period are the blocked up north doorway and squint (hagioscope).  Note the rounded Norman chancel arch.

The south door is dated at 1779.  The Victorians extensively altered the chancel and raised the floor in 1862.  The furniture is of the same period.  The organ was originally in Broadwey church, but moved to Bincombe in 1901.

The Purbeck marble font is early (pre 12c) because careful inspection reveals the marks of fixings associated with a locked cover.  This was a requirement after 1236 to deter the theft of consecrated water for superstitious purposes.

The clock was installed as a thanksgiving after World War II.

In the churchyard lie two German-born soldiers of the York Hussars who were shot for desertion in 1801.  There was a large camp on Bincombe Down where the Grand Old Duke of York may have marched 10,000 men up and down the hill!


The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©


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 ©


Bishops Caundle

Bincombe1.jpgBishops Caundle

Unknown Dedication

This a most attractive roadside church serving the village around it. The tower and nave are C15, although the nave was restored in 1864 by W. Slater. The chancel is 1300 in origin, but that too was altered and restored at the same time.

There is a Victorian carved stone reredos and a C15 octagonal font. The large memorial of 1815 commemorates the Daubeney and Herbert families. Note also Charles II's coat of arms dated 166, just one year after the Restoration - see also Trent.

Other Dorset churches by Slater are: Chetnole, Oborne (new church), Pentridge, Sherborne Abbey (in partnership with R.C.Carpenter).