Those of you who follow me will know that I have posted before about All Hallows, a one time Dorset village that has all but disappeared. If you missed those posts, there are links here and here. A short while ago, I was contacted by someone who read those earlier posts and my poem ‘Who Cares’ and, like myself, they were moved by the sorry state of the very old cemetery where the late villagers lie. After reading my posts, Peter was inspired to search out the graveyard to see for himself, and he then took it upon himself to spend some time clearing and tidying it, having obtained the necessary permissions of course. Since then, things have snowballed and the East Dorset Antiquarian Society (EDAS) have become involved and are currently carrying out an archaeological project to establish more about the heritage of this forgotten place.
You can see from the picture below something of the state of the old graveyard when I ‘discovered’ it a few years ago, it was completely covered in brambles and overgrown shrubbery with broken down gravestones – totally derelict! A few years later it was even worse, and you could have walked right past without realising it was even there because it had become completely hidden by the undergrowth. The picture at the top of this post shows what it looks like now after a huge amount of work put in by Peter and an occasional helper. There is of course a lot more to do so work is ongoing but new graves are being revealed almost daily.
All Hallows was a village in North East Dorset, a few miles from Cranborne. It was at one time a thriving village, having a church dating from Norman times, and it featured in the Doomsday Book. Its nearby neighbour, Wimborne St Giles, was in comparison, a small hamlet with just a Chapel of Ease. All that changed during the 16th/17th century when their roles were reversed and Wimborne St Giles became the main settlement in the area thanks to the Earl of Shaftesbury making it his seat, building himself a new manor house, and deciding to move the church.
The church at All Hallows was demolished in 1742 and a new church built a mile or so down the road at Wimborne St Giles using the stone from the old church, and with that, the heart went out of the old village. There is now no obvious trace of the original church although foundations may well exist which will hopefully come to light as the project unfolds.
This old cemetery continued to be used for a time but eventually a new one was set up across the road and the original one, along with the people buried there, faded into obscurity. Until now of course! Now, their stories can come into the light again.
One of the things that intrigues me about these places, is the ordinary people and I find myself wondering who they were, what they were like, and what their circumstances were. I am drawn into their histories. If there was such a thing as a time machine, I’d love to travel back to meet them, shake their hands and see how they lived. Of course, we can do that virtually but it takes a lot of research.
The first thing is to learn who they were and this in itself is not easy because the headstones are often barely readable. However, Peter discovered online, a way to reveal the inscriptions using, of all things, flour. The gravestones above show before and after pictures, the after pictures having been digitally enhanced as well. The details become clear, as if the mist, as well as the undergrowth, has lifted.
This particular headstone reveals an extremely sad story and I have transcribed the wording below as best I can:
“In memory of Prudence Barfoot of Woodlands aged 12 years. A humble and teachable, affectionate and grateful child belonging to the St Giles National School whose death was occasioned by her clothes taking fire April ? 1829. The Lord gave her understanding in the ways of Godliness. He proved her in the furnace but during her sharp and sudden trial, she exhibited the spirit realising the comforts of the gospel which had been her guide and supported in death by the saviour whom she sought in life. Her end was blessed. ‘Be ye ready for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh’ “
I find this heartbreaking! All I have found out about Prudence so far is that she lived in Woodlands, a village about 2 miles south of All Hallows and that she was buried on 27th April 1829, having been born just 12 years earlier. I have not yet found out who her parents were but the fact that she went to a National School shows they were poor people – National Schools were set up for the education of children from poor families.
I posted previously about John Ridout whose headstone reveals died in 1862 ‘by his waggon running over him’. I was intrigued by this and researched his background to find that he was married to Jane and was a carter working for All Hallows Farm for 36 years. John and Jane lived in the village and had 5 children, four of whom pre-deceased their parents – they died at the ages of 7, 10, 13 and 16. Only one lived to any reasonable age and he died at 49 so Jane saw the death of her husband and all five children. She ended up as a laundress living in the lodge at St Giles House, the Earl of Shaftesbury’s seat, until she was 87. She died in 1899. Child deaths were of course more common in those days, but how heartbreaking must that have been!
Yet another child grave is that of Mary Jane Haskell who died at the age of 11 years. Her inscription reads:
“Mary Jane Haskell born Oct 7 1844 Died Sep 29 1856. Some children of her own age have contributed to erecting this stone to the memory of a fellow labourer in the common vineyard of their Lord and Saviour.”
Some of the graves and headstones are in perilous condition. The headstone above is in memory of Autharton Reeks who was born in 1846 and died in February 1869. He was married to Eliza Morgan but the couple only enjoyed some 4 years together before his death. They had two children, Charles and Edwin, the latter of whom was born in late 1869 or early 1870 so Autharton would never have known his second son. Autharton is quite an unusual name and a bit of a mouthful and I notice that in some places he is referred to as being Adam Reeks – well who can blame him!
As you can see from the picture above, the headstone has broken in two as there is a large tree growing out of the grave.
Another villager was William Welsted who died in 1694. He was buried on 12th November 1694 and although he was not a wealthy man, a list of his chattels at the time of his death shows him to be worth £318. Updating that to today, this would be the equivalent of some £40,000, so he was not a poor man either. I find it amazing to think that the list above was written over 300 years ago and I’m reading it today. It makes interesting reading although it is as hard to decipher as some of the gravestones are. What I have been able to make out is that he owned 6 cows, 3 calves, 7 horses, 9 pigs, as well as poultry, barley, oats, hay etc – clearly William was a tenant smallholder.
I am sure a lot more stories will emerge as this project goes forward and more hidden graves come to light. The people I have detailed here are just normal villagers and farm workers whose lives interest me. There are graves of the more wealthy too, including landed gentry and previous rectors – their stories will be much better documented and easier to establish than the ‘ordinary’ people whose lives tend to just fade into obscurity.
When it comes to the graveyard, wealth and position count for nothing and the ravages of time have affected the graves of the rich and poor alike. There is much restoration needed if this place is to become a true testament to the people who lived and worked in the village.
I will post more stories as they are uncovered so watch this space.
Thanks so much for stopping by and reading my ramblings, and I hope you enjoy exploring with me.
Until next time,
The Dorset Rambler
If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@– comments and feedback are always welcomed.
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