When I am out walking, I like nothing better than to stop off at one of Dorset’s country churches, partly for a time of quiet reflection and prayer, partly because I have always been interested in church architecture, partly because of the amazing heritage these places have over many centuries, partly because I enjoy the wildlife that often frequents churchyards, and sometimes because there is invariably a bench or two in the churchyard to sit on and enjoy lunch. All Saints, Chalbury, fulfils all these things. It is a place of peace, tranquility and holiness, a place with a legacy, and with great views too.
If I was to compose a list of my favourite churches, this one would definitely be on it as I love visiting it.
Chalbury is a small village that sits on top of Chalbury Hill. It is not a lofty hill, being only 335 feet high, but despite that, it still has some amazing views. In fact, the well known broadcaster, Ralph Wightman, wrote of it:
“Here there is a hill which is only three hundred feet high but which manages to give a wonderful view over woodland, heath, fertile chalk and the distant Isle of Wight. This feeling of immense space seen from relatively small hills is a blessed peculiarity of Dorset.”
Interestingly, the hill was once the site of a ‘Telegraph’, one of a long line of semaphore posts used to transmit messages from Plymouth to London during the Napoleonic War. Such is its prominence over the surrounding land.
The church itself is said to date originally from the 13th century, Early English, period when it was simply nave and chancel. As with most churches, it has been altered down through the centuries with parts being rebuilt in the 16th century, the addition of a north vestry and the south porch in the 18th century, and the interior being extensively refitted during the same period. In fact, the church has very much an 18th century, Georgian, look.
It is inside that this Georgian look is most obvious as this is one of few Dorset churches with a complete set of Georgian box pews still in situ. These highlight the hierarchical nature of life in the 18th century church, since they are of varying sizes and prominence. The three box pews to the right in the top picture above for example were specifically reserved for the occupier of Chalbury Farm (the largest, brightest pew, nearest the front), the occupier of Didlington Farm (the middle pew), and the occupier of Uppington Farm (the smallest pew at the back).
It can be seen from the second picture above that those three pews are higher than the remainder. This is in fact nothing to do with hierarchy since at one time all the pews would have been at the same level but at some point, most were reduced in height, maybe to make it easier to see……or perhaps be seen 🙂 !
Even more select than those, was the pew beyond the pulpit which was a rather splendid raised and canopied seat reserved for the Earl of Pembroke and his family, although how often they used it is not known. The Pembrokes lived at Wilton House some 20 miles away and their connection to the church came thanks to Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries as St Mary’s Abbey in Wilton once owned Chalbury Church.
One feature that could perhaps be seen as somewhat ‘over the top’ is the triple decker pulpit which takes up quite a lot of space in this small church. These were often added after the Reformation to provide space for the preaching of the word (the top deck), the reading (middle tier), and a desk for the parish clerk (the lowest level).
At the rear of the church, there is a ‘musicians’ gallery’ that now houses the organ and some extra seating. This is approached by a narrow, spiral staircase. The small skylight window has always intrigued me since it seems somewhat incongruous. It appears that this is a Georgian addition that perhaps unusually remains since they were branded as ‘unecclesiastical’ in Victorian times.
All Saints, Chalbury has been described as one of those ‘special places……beautiful, quiet and deeply spiritual’, and that just about sums it up for me. Evidence has shown that Chalbury Hill has been a revered spiritual site since pre-Christian times and it has a wonderful sense of peace, tranquility and holiness. I have a regular walking route that passes right through the churchyard so this delightful church often becomes a place of pilgrimage for me.
Stay safe, stay active, stay spiritual, and thanks for stopping by.
Until next time,
The Dorset Rambler
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