– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –
Its time for a new theme for the coming week and I thought we would revisit an old theme and add some more posts about ‘Quirky Dorset’. I hope no one is getting bored with these posts but I guess I just like anything that is quirky or a bit off the wall 🙂 ! And this first one this week is definitely quirky, as well as somewhat gruesome. This is the story of the rather unusually named Bloody Shard Gate!
Bloody Shard Gate
Bloody Shard Gate is an area with blood on its hands! Did I mention ‘hands’…….we might just find out more about hands, or a hand, shortly!
This lovely valley is part of The Cranborne Chase where the kings of England stalked deer down through ages past. It is a very peaceful and lovely part of the county and is a delight to walk through with its ancient coppice wood, now redundant and providing cover for much wildlife to enjoy. Bird song abounds as you walk these paths, but it has not always been quite so peaceful!
Although it is known as Bloody Shard Gate, the name no longer actually refers to a gate at all but rather is the name of the area. Whether there ever was an actual gate I am not sure but the word ‘shard’ in local dialect indicates a gap in an enclosure. I suspect the reason it bears its name, aside from the obvious ‘bloody’ connotations, is more because it is the meeting point of five paths.
Cranborne Chase has always been a place of conflicts. Dorset was evenly divided in the English Civil War, resulting in lots of bloody battles. Of course people have always fought over land use, and there were often battles with deer and hunting. There was even a battle between two packs of dogs resulting in the death of 45 animals. And there was a 100 year battle by farmers who wanted the right to destroy deer that strayed onto their land, damaging crops. At the time, deer were protected and only the king’s hunting party was allowed to kill the animals. The farmers eventually won that battle when the protection order was lifted, probably because hunting was going out of fashion. In 1829, after 800 years of protection, it is said that 12,000 deer were shot in two days by villagers.
But there was one particular battle that scarred this area for life, and gave it its somewhat gruesome name!
That event was a bloody skirmish that took place in 1780 between gamekeepers and poachers that became known as The Battle of Chettle Common. The battle was brutal, one keeper being killed and others injured. Ultimately the gamekeepers won the day but there is an interesting story concerning one of the poachers who actually turned out to be a sergeant in the dragoons. During the battle, he had a hand severed and was captured. Fortunately he was a popular man and got off with a light sentence, eventually being allowed to retire on half pay. Many years later, the man died and was buried in London, minus one hand!
But what happened to his severed hand? Well it is said that his regiment buried it with full honours of war in Pimperne churchyard. But it seems the hand found no peace because it was never reunited with its owner, and local tradition has it that it roams the area at night searching for the dragoon sergeant. Even as recently as 1970, people have reported seeing it!!!
For all its chequered past, this is now a beautiful and peaceful area to explore, but if you ever walk that lovely woodland path at dusk, and you feel something around your ankle……..!
Thanks for stopping by.
Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler
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