Curious Dorset Churches – Part 2

– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –

Today, we are going to look at another curious Dorset church, and this one is an absolute gem! It stands in a tiny hamlet and is in fact a tiny church but one that has remained to a large extent unspoilt and certainly unchanged in layout since it was built in the 12th century. This is St Andrew’s Church, Winterborne Tomson.

St Andrew’s Church, Winterborne Tomson.

St Andrew's Church
St Andrew’s Church, Winterborne Tomson

The small hamlet of Winterborne Tomson takes its name from the nearby stream that flows in winter only, known as a Winterborne, together with the name of the Thomas family who once owned the manor house. Its diminutive church was built in the early 12th century and in terms of layout and structure, it has remained much the same ever since. It has of course been altered in some ways over the centuries but this has always been tasteful done so that the church remains cohesive.

Externally, the main changes involved re-roofing in the 15th/16th century as well as raising the roof slightly, and the fitting of new Tudor style windows. Just one of the original windows remains.

The church is ‘curious’ for a number of reasons, one being its apsidal east end as it is one of only four English single celled churches to have this feature. An apsidal end is a curving east wall with a roof that also curves in line with it. This is more noticeable in the picture below.

St Andrew's Church
The Apsidal East End

It is really the fitting out of the interior that makes this a stand out church, since it has one of the most complete sets of early 18th century oak box pews in the county. These are truly magnificent, and as was the custom, the ‘boxes’ get larger the nearer they are to the front of the church. This was to maintain the social hierarchy of the local people with the wealthiest and most noted people being in the front pews whilst those lower down the social scale squeezed in the smaller boxes at the rear.

St Andrew's Church
Georgian Box Pews

The pews were inserted at the expense of William Wake who was then Archbishop of Canterbury and who once lived nearby. Around the same time, the oak pulpit was also added and strangely this included a ‘sounding board’ above it. This was to ensure that the minister’s voice carried to the back of the church but in such a small church, it was hardly needed. Another seemingly superfluous feature is the rood screen that is still in place, separating the congregation from the altar.

St Andrew's Church
The East End with Box Pews, Rood Screen and Pulpit

The wagon or barrel roof inside is also quite a feature, especially the way it curves around the apsidal end and those beautifully ornate, if somewhat eroded, bosses at the joins.

St Andrew's Church
The Ornate Apse Ceiling

At the west end of the church is a gallery which is in a somewhat dilapidated state. This was probably once a rood loft that has been recycled to provide a small amount of additional seating.

St Andrew's Church
The West End with its Dilapidated Gallery

Towards the end of the 19th century, worship at this delightful church had ceased and it fell into disrepair. In fact, in the early 1900’s the building was used for storage and to provide shelter for farm animals. It was in a very sorry state!

In 1929, the Society for the Preservation of Old Buildings became involved and they sold some old Thomas Hardy manuscripts in order to raise funds for a refurbishment programme. This is somewhat appropriate since Hardy, a famous Dorset author, was a member of the society for 47 years and was himself at one time an architect who had worked on local churches.

St Andrew's Church
Harvest Time at St Andrew’s

Since its refurbishment, this lovely church has been in the hands of The Churches Conservation Trust and is therefore maintained for future generations. It is in a beautiful part of Dorset and is one of my favourite places to visit. When you walk through that heavily studded door into this haven of peace, you just get a sense of the great history of this place, and the people who worshipped there down through the generations. There is just something about it that sets it apart!

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

If you would like to contact me, my email address is – comments and feedback are always welcomed.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.


  1. Reblogged this on The Dorset Rambler and commented:

    A short while ago I blogged a walk that included the lovely little church at Chalbury – if you missed it it is here. As a result of that post, comments were made as to other Dorset churches that included a full set of box pews and I remembered this post so thought I would reblog it.

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