– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –
So we come to the last part of this ‘Quirky Dorset’ set and we pay a visit to one of those ‘ghost villages’, a once tiny but thriving hamlet which is now just a skeleton, the soul having departed long ago. And this is a hamlet with a somewhat sad story too. This is Stanton St Gabriel.
Stanton St Gabriel
The now virtually deserted hamlet of Stanton St Gabriel sits part way up the west facing slopes of the Golden Cap headland in a somewhat exposed position, open to the elements that whip across this part of the Dorset coast. Indeed, it is perhaps this very exposure that was its downfall! It is a community that was mentioned in the Doomsday Book, but by the 18th century, death knells were already sounding!
The name Stanton comes from ‘stan’ and ‘tun’ meaning farm on stony ground, and it was very much an agricultural community, although fishing also became a feature since there was a path down to the shore some 200 feet below. The now ruined church was dedicated to St Gabriel, hence that part of the village name, and there is a sad story that is traditionally related around that!
The story goes that a man called Bertram and his new bride were on a barque when a storm blew up and the vessel they were on was founding. So Bertram went to the captain and asked for a very small boat to at least give them some chance of survival. They spent some days in their tiny boat and Bertram prayed to St Gabriel, promising that if they survived the storm, he would build a shrine to the saint. Eventually the storm subsided and the boat was washed up on the shore below Golden Cap, but sadly Bertram’s wife had not survived the ordeal. Bertram, however was true to his word and he is said to have built the chapel in Stanton St Gabriel, interring his wife in the church beneath the altar.
By the 18th century, villagers began to drift away to find employment elsewhere, many in the Rope Works of Bridport. Around this time also, the old coach road that passed through the village eroded away, a new turnpike being built further inland. Thus, gradually, the heart went out of the community and the settlement became isolated, a relic to days gone by. Eventually, it became a deserted village cut off from its surroundings, and the church and cottages were left to the elements.
Today, the manor house remains, plus one or two small cottages but these are now holiday lets and are just monuments to what was at one time a busy, if always struggling, settlement of farmers and fishermen. In 1906, Sir Frederick Treves wrote that Stanton St Gabriel was, “a village which was lost and forgotten centuries ago.” This is still true today!
This whole series on ‘Quirky Dorset’ is about places that have an air of mystery, and Stanton St Gabriel fits into that category well. It is a place that time, and people, have forgotten. It is today frequented by just wildlife and walkers, and for the most part it is even bypassed by many of the latter since it needs a detour off the main coast path to find it. But, to bypass this old hamlet is to miss a little Dorset gem since it is a delightful and peaceful place.
If you ever walk this part of the Dorset Coast Path, take the short detour inland and walk through this faded hamlet and wonder what life here was like here years ago!
Thanks for stopping by.
Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler
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