– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –
Today we are looking at another ruined Dorset church, but this is one that doesn’t appear ruined until you look at its history. This just looks like a small village church but in reality, it is only half of a church standing in a village that now has two. But what happened to the rest of it and why is there now two? This is Fleet Church.
Fleet is a small straggling village that sits near the banks of the brackish lagoon that shares its name. Across the other side of the water is the famous 18 mile long Chesil Beach, a long and narrow tract of shingle, and beyond that, the open sea. This was once the village’s sole church and it was built around the 15th century. Life went on as normal until one day in 1824 when everything changed!
In November 1824, a huge storm blew up at sea, creating massive waves. The waves crashed onto Chesil Beach with such ferocity that despite the shingle bank being some 50 feet high, they breached the defences and swept inland, hitting the villages of Fleet, Chiswell, and other places farther along the coast. The devastation was huge with numerous cottages being destroyed or damaged, and Fleet Church itself being all but destroyed. A local boy who witnessed the scene wrote some 73 years later:
“At six o’-clock on the morning of the 23rd I was standing with other boys by the gate near the cattle pound when I saw, rushing up the valley, the tidal wave, driven by a hurricane and bearing upon its crest a whole haystack and other debris from the fields below. We ran for our lives to Chickerell, and when we returned found that five houses had been swept away and the church was in ruins.”
What was left of the nave had to be demolished and what you see today is just the chancel which was renovated. This no longer acts as a church, having been deconsecrated, although it still contains several monuments to the Mohun family who lived in Fleet Manor in the 16th to the 18th century.
As was common in those days, collections were held in churches up and down the country to raise funds to help the devastated community and a new church was completed in 1829. This stands farther inland in order to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy.
The village of Fleet, its manor house, and its old church have been immortalised in J Meade Faulkner’s book Moonfleet which was published in 1898. Perhaps because of this, it is always intriguing to visit the ‘half’ church. As you stand there in that peaceful churchyard with just the gentlest of breezes and the cry of gulls, it is really hard to imagine the devastation of that fateful day in 1824. It never happened before and it has never happened since but this now tiny church stands as a monument to a day that changed many lives!
Thanks for stopping by.
Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler
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