– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –
Just one final ruined Dorset church for this week and this is one to which the term ‘ruined’ can very definitely be applied! It has had quite a past and there has been some determination shown by the community to keep it going but eventually the battle was lost. This is St Andrew’s Church on the Isle of Portland.
St Andrew’s Church, Portland
St Andrew’s Church stands, or rather stood, on the headland above Church Ope Cove. It was built in 1100 by the Benedictine Monks of St Swithin of Winchester who had had the whole of Portland bestowed on them by Edward the Confessor, and it was built on what was believed to be the site of a rather grand Saxon church.
The first damage to the ‘new’ church occurred in the 13th century when a fire broke out. It was rebuilt. Then twice, in 1340 and 1404, French raiders tried to destroy the church by setting fire to it, and twice again it was rebuilt. This was only the start of its problems however!
Over the years, a detached tower was added and after a landslip caused damage in the 17th century, efforts were made to shore up the hillside on which it was built. Forty years later, there was a further large landslip which caused yet more damage. This was like fighting a losing battle and after yet another landslip in 1735, known as the Great Southwell Landslip and the second largest in Britain, half the graveyard slid down the hillside.
Some 20 years later, the decision was finally taken to close the church and to build a new one in the centre of Portland, part of it being demolished to provide stone for houses. However, this still wasn’t the end for this church as yet more damage was caused by bombing during WW2.
One of the interesting features that remain are the so called pirates graves. Popular belief has it that these are graves of pirates because they bear the skull and crossbones but this is in fact not necessarily the case since it was fairly common practice to carve these emblems simply as a sign of death.
That’s not to say that there was no involvement with bad things along this coast as undoubtedly smuggling was an activity that would have taken place here, and the church was always under threat from foreign pirates.
St Andrew’s Church stood on a beautifully rugged part of the Dorset coast and did its best to withstand attacks from above and below but ultimately the fight against erosion was one it couldn’t win. It is interesting that Portland is comprised of some of the best limestone rock that features in many of the UK’s major structures such as The Cenotaph in London, St Paul’s Cathedral, and Buckingham Palace. In fact, Portland is synonymous with the quarrying of solid, good quality rock. So maybe this church was just built in the wrong place!
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Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler
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