– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –
Continuing our theme of ruined Dorset churches, and by that I mean churches that no longer fulfil their original purpose, we pay a visit today to a very beautiful little chapel in the Lyscombe Valley.
This chapel stands in a broad and beautiful bowl of a valley which is surrounded by chalk downs. It is known as Lyscombe Bottom, the name Lyscombe coming from ‘lisc’ which is Saxon for reeds, and ‘coombe’ meaning valley. Running down through this valley is a small stream, a tributary of the River Piddle, and in front of the chapel, this stream broadens out to a sheep wash pool.
Lyscombe is a tiny hamlet comprising very few buildings, including the chapel and beside it the ruined priest’s house. The chapel itself dates originally from the 12th century although it has been restored and rebuilt over the years. It was an out-chapel owned by Milton Abbey which is some 5 miles away, and was probably on a monastic route since it is half way between Milton Abbey and Cerne Abbey. This would once have been a stopover place for pilgrims. With the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Milton Abbey grounds were taken over by Henry VIII who passed them to Sir John Tregonwell, who in fact was heavily involved with the Dissolution on the king’s behalf.
At some point, probably during the 17th century, the chapel was converted to a cottage and bake house, probably for farm workers. It was still in use in 1950 although it subsequently had to be protected by a Dutch Barn type building that was erected over it. It ultimately failed completely in the 1990’s when the roof collapsed. In the latter half of the 20th century, the cottage also became derelict.
This was not the end of the story for this tiny chapel though because in 2005 funding was obtained by the then land owner for its restoration, with walls being renovated and a new thatched roof being fitted. Such was the quality of this restoration that it has been recognised with several awards. Sadly, the priests house was beyond repair so this was just made safe.
Lyscombe is a magical place! The chapel retains much of its original charm and perhaps unusually has remained small and simple when most churches have been extended and enlarged over centuries. With the ruined Priest’s House standing beside it, this place has a real sense of history that conveys something of its purpose and heritage. It stands in the most beautiful surroundings, remote, with no roads running through, and just the gentle rippling of the stream and bleating of sheep for company.
It’s purpose has still not ended since Lyscombe Chapel now forms a community space and doubles as bunk house type accommodation for walkers. It seems to me that this is an appropriate use for it, restoring it to a stop over place, albeit for modern day ‘pilgrims’. It is just the loveliest place to spend some time and any walk is made richer for visiting this diminutive chapel in its idyllic setting.
Oh yes, and one more interesting fact – apparently the rent originally paid for this site was 12 fish per year!
Thanks for stopping by.
Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler
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