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St Edwold’s Church – Dorset’s Smallest

8 Jun

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

So we are on the trail of a bit more ‘Quirky Dorset’ and today we visit another church. Tiny, insignificant, remote, and with an unusual dedication. This is St Edwold’s Church in the tiny hamlet of Stockwood.

St Edwold’s Church, Stockwood

The smallest church

St Edwold’s Church, Stockwood

There are two curious things about St Edwold’s, and the first is its dedication. St Edwold was the brother of Edmund, King of East Anglia who was brutally murdered in 870 AD by a Dane with the somewhat unusual name of Ivarr the Boneless. Edwold declined to take his brother’s crown, preferring to adopt a hermit lifestyle which eventually led him to Cerne Abbas in Dorset where he settled until his death. It is thought that Edwold, in addition to Cerne, had a cell at Stockwood, hence the church’s dedication. It is unusual in that it is the only church in Dorset, or indeed in the country, to be dedicated to him.

The second curious thing is the size of the church which is just 30 feet by 12 feet making it the smallest in Dorset and the second smallest in England.

The smallest church

The Simple Interior

St Edwold’s is a simple, single cell church which dates mainly from the 15th century with some later additions. Because of its dedication however, experts believe that it was built on much older foundations going back to Saxon times. The porch was added in the 17th century as was the delightful pillared bell turret. Internally, the font, altar rails, and pews all date from the 19th century. The church is now in the hands of the Churches Conservation Trust.

The Bell

The Beautiful Pillared Bell Turret

Stockwood itself is a tiny hamlet in North Dorset comprising just a few cottages and a farm. In fact, the church is situated right beside the farmhouse and when you visit it, you almost feel like you are trespassing on private land. Despite its centuries long heritage, the graveyard beside the church has just 10 graves and only four headstones.

The Church Door

The View from the 17th Century Porch

St Edwold’s Church was a delightful find which I came across whilst on a walk in the area. Its remote location makes it a peaceful place to visit, and because there are so few houses in the area, you cannot help but wonder at its past and about the people who worshipped here. It is another of those wonderful, mysterious Dorset places which I love.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

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

St Aldhelm’s Chapel…….or is it?

6 Jun

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

So, having looked at some Dorset places through the ‘lens of blur’ last week in order to get an alternative view, this week I thought we would go back to our series on ‘Quirky Dorset’ by visiting some slightly oddball or out of the ordinary places. This is Part 21 and we are starting off this set with a very old chapel…….or is it?? Well actually, no one seems to be certain! This is St Aldhelm’s Chapel that sits on the headland that bears the same name.

St Aldhelm’s Chapel, St Aldhelm’s Head

St Aldhelm's Chapel

St Aldhelm’s Chapel

St Aldhelm’s, also known as St Alban’s, Chapel sits atop a remote Dorset headland some 108 meters above sea level, a couple of miles from the nearest village. It is tiny, just 30 feet square, with thick walls, and a solid stone roof that is supported by a heavy internal rib-vaulted ceiling that radiates out from an overly stout central pillar. With just a single door and single window, this building is built like a fortress, set to withstand the elements that beat upon it in its exposed position. Externally, the chapel stands in the centre of a low circular earthwork which is thought to be pre-Conquest Christian. It is a chapel, and occasional services are still held there, but was it always?

Well that is a difficult question to answer even for the experts! There are a number of unusual features about this building, namely, it is square, it is not built to the traditional east/west orientation, and it has a huge central pillar which makes it less than ideal for gatherings of people. In addition, there is no evidence of a place for an altar or a piscina. All these suggest that it wasn’t originally intended to be a church. However, there is definite evidence to show that there was a chaplain here in the 13th century!

The age of the building is somewhat uncertain. Indications are that it dates from Norman times, but some say that the doorway is actually Saxon. The site itself is even older than that as it is in fact thought to have been built on the site of an earlier, possibly wooden, building.

St Aldhelm's Chapel interior

The Central Column and Rib Vaulting

That isn’t all that is strange about this chapel because, although it has a cross on top now, this only dates from 1873 and there is evidence that prior to that, there was a beacon at the apex of the roof. This could lead to the supposition that the building might have originally been some kind of coastal lookout, and this thought could possibly be supported by the fact that the construction is similar to parts of Corfe Castle which is several miles inland. Add to this the fact that the headland is on the ‘blind side’ of the castle and you have even more weight to its argument for being a lookout to aid and protect the castle. You could add to that again, that the parish is described in 1428 as having no inhabitants so arguably would not need a church, plus its description in 1625 as being a ‘sea mark’ – an aid to navigation used by seamen.

However, a very strong argument against the lookout theory, aside from the fact that there was a chaplain, is that there is only one tiny window, which is hardly the normal way to design a lookout! How can you look out if there is nothing from which to look out!

On the altar!

One Tiny Window

One suggestion put forward is that this building was erected as a Chantry, a small chapel where an incumbent priest would pray for the souls of deceased benefactors to aid them through purgatory, or perhaps for the safety of those at sea. This was a common practice until the Reformation; until then, many small Chantry Chapels were built. Of course, none of the uses described here are necessarily mutually exclusive and it is possible that this was built as a chapel that doubled as a lookout/beacon.

The historical time line indicates that this was a chapel with a chaplain, at least from the 13th century but that by the 17th/18th century it had fallen into disuse and was in a ruinous condition. It was restored and re-opened in 1874 and was used for a considerable time by the coastguards who had a lookout and a row of cottages on the headland. They held weekly services here. Again, however, it fell into disrepair, and again it was restored in the 1960’s.

We still haven’t exhausted the strange and unexplained features of this site! In 1957, a 13th century grave was found on the headland as well as the foundations of a small building which might have been a tiny dwelling. Little is known about the person interred except that she was aged between 30 and 40 years. It is thought that she might have been an Anchoress, basically a Christian recluse, who moved there to be near the chapel. A second grave was also discovered near the chapel itself.

Oh, and for some unknown reason, the chapel was once known as The Devil’s Chapel! It has also been known as a Wishing Chapel, a place where girls could go to in order to pray for a husband, posting personal items such as hair clips into a hole in the central pillar!

St Aldhelm's Chapel

St Aldhelm’s Chapel and Earthworks

There seems no end to the mystery that is St Aldhelm’s Chapel. Despite the theories, no one really knows for definite when it was built, who built it, or what its original purpose was. However, as with most of these mysteries, there are some traditional explanations! One such story has it that a new bride and groom were sailing around the headland watched by the bride’s father when a huge storm blew up and both were drowned. It seems that the father built the chapel in their memory and had a beacon installed on the top in order to warn all sailors of the dangers of that part of the coast. Come to think of it, that story seems to be very similar to one relating to another such church about which I blogged recently!

Whatever the truth, this is a beautiful chapel, in a wonderfully exposed and wild position along the Dorset coast. It gives off an air of strength and dependability. Simple, and some would say functional, but with mystery and intrigue enough to keep you wondering. And we will have to wonder on, because this landmark still hides most of its secrets and it appears to have no intention of releasing them any time soon!

But isn’t that a part of its magnetic charm?

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.com – 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.

 

St Augustine’s Well……or is it!

25 May

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

We are continuing with our theme of ‘Quirky Dorset’ still and I think this is Part 19, and it is another well. It seems that a lot of wells have a lot of folklore written about them as legends and ‘Chinese whispers’ are passed down through the generations, and this one is no exception! So whose well is it? Lets look at the evidence 🙂 !

St Augustine’s Well

St Augustine's Well

St Augustine’s Well

St Augustine’s Well, as it is known, is in the lovely Dorset village of Cerne Abbas, of ‘Giant’ fame, and tradition has it that it owes its existence to St Augustine of Canterbury, hence the name. It seems that in the 7th century, St Augustine visited Dorset and he was travelling through the Cerne Valley before the current village existed and he met some shepherds. They were thirsty so the saint asked them if they would prefer water or ale to drink, and they, probably realising he was a saintly man, replied that they would prefer the former. The saint duly did what anyone would do and struck the ground with his staff, crying out Cerno El which apparently means ‘I perceive God’, whereupon water flowed from the spot.

Now this may be a correct and true story but the cynical in me thinks that might just be an invented tale, since there are others! I say ‘invented’ because people did do that sort of thing simply to attract visitors 🙂 !

St Augustine's Well

Ribbons Adorn the Tress

The second story in fact doesn’t credit it to St Augustine at all but rather another gentleman known as St Edwold. He was actually royalty, but became a hermit and settled in the area back in the 9th century, and he had a vision where he saw a silver well. He was walking through the Cerne Valley one day and being hungry, he bought bread and water from a shepherd, paying him with silver. The shepherd handed over the bread and brought him to this well to draw water, whereupon the saint immediately recognised the well he had seen in his vision.

Taking this as a sign, he built a hermitage on the site and stayed there until he died. Thus, perhaps this should be called St Edwold’s Well! Or maybe Silver Well, as it seems it was once known. Then again, some say that St Edwold’s Well is in fact a different well all together as there are a number in the area. These things are so confusing…..but that just adds to the intrigue 🙂 !

Fallen and Floating

Autumn Leaves in the Well

We will never know the truth, but we do know that this was recognised as a sacred place and that there was once a chapel built over the top of the well. This was lost in 1539 with the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The well was until comparatively recent times used as drinking water by the villagers, although looking at my picture above, you probably wouldn’t want to try it in autumn with those rotting leaves 🙂 ! Oh, and apparently a 3 feet long eel was found in it not long ago 🙂 !

As with most wells, the water is said the have curative properties and also to aid fertility……which of course is also something that is said about the famous Giant on the hillside about which I blogged recently. It was said too to be beneficial to dip new born babies into the water! It wasn’t only fertility either, as young girls were often encouraged to come here and pray to St Catherine for a husband, turning round three times as they did so.

Oh, and there is another local legend that says if you look into the water over Easter, you will see reflected the faces of those who will die that year.

Path to the Well

The Quiet Tree Lined Path to the Well

Clearly, this is a mysterious and somewhat quirky place, and one that has been regarded for centuries as a holy place. To this day, people still tie written prayers on the surrounding trees. In fact there are 12 lime trees around the well and these are known locally as the twelve apostles.

St Augustine’s Well is a delightful place. It nestles in a hollow beside the graveyard and not far from the old abbey ruins. Peace and tranquility are words that spring to mind as you stroll down the tree lined path that leads to the well itself. This is a well that is perfect for a pilgrimage, or just to sit and meditate beside.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.com – 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.

 

Quirky Dorset – Part 15

16 May

– – – 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

Stanton St Gabriel

Stanton St Gabriel on its Hillside

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!

Stanton St Gabriel

The Ruined Chapel of St Gabriel’s

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.

Stanton St Gabriel

The Manor House, now Four Holiday Lets

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!

A Dorset Cottage

A Tiny Cottage at Stanton St Gabriel

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

If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.com – 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.

Curious Dorset Churches – Part 5

6 May

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

Not so much a curious church today but rather something extremely curious inside a Dorset church. And curious in more ways than one too! In fact, is it inside or outside? Well actually, this is neither……it is the ‘man in the wall’!

The Man in the Wall

Not in and not out!

The Tomb of Anthony Ettricke, the Man in the Wall

Anthony Ettricke was a 17th century barrister who was born at Holt, not far from Wimborne. He served as recorder and magistrate for the Wimborne area and his main claim to fame is that it was he who sent the Duke of Monmouth to trial and eventual execution after the Battle of Sedgemoor. The Duke was captured near Horton, fleeing for his life.

Ettricke was regarded as a pillar of the community but he was somewhat eccentric and although he did a lot of good work, he managed to fall out with the church authorities at Wimborne. In a fit of pique, he swore that he would not be buried within the church, nor in its graveyard, not above ground, nor below it!

Of course, eventually, things settled down and he made peace with the church but being a lawyer, he felt he had to honour his rashly spoken vow despite his wish to buried at the church. So he sought permission to be buried in the wall of the Minster, partly below and partly above the ground. Thus he is neither inside nor outside, and neither above nor below ground 🙂 !

Date Change

The Clumsily Altered Date

The other somewhat curious thing was that Ettricke was convinced that he would die in 1693 and his coffin was prepared in advance for this. In fact, he lived 10 years longer so the date on his tomb had to be altered to 1703……and very clumsily was it done too!

Wimborne Minster

Wimborne Minster

The church which Ettricke is buried in….or out….is Wimborne Minster which is dedicated to St Cuthburga and dates from Saxon times. It is a magnificent and substantial church with twin towers and it would need a full blog post on its own to do it justice. However, I thought I would just post a couple of pictures to give a flavour of the wonderful building, within……or without……which the tomb stands.

Wimborne Minster

The Magnificent Interior

I guess the moral of this curious tale is……..think before you speak 🙂 !

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.com – 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.

Curious Dorset Churches – Part 4

4 May

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

Today, we are going to look at a tiny chapel that is totally different to anything I have featured here before and yet one which has connections with the church at Moreton, about which I posted yesterday. But what is the connection?

St Catherine by the Sea, Holworth

St Catherine by the Sea, Holworth

St Catherine by the Sea, Holworth

This is St Catherine by the Sea and it stands in a tiny coastal hamlet known as Holworth which is half way up the western flank of the White Nothe headland – or half way down of course, depending on how you look at it 🙂 ! This is not an old church in the normal sense since it was built less than a hundred years ago in 1926, but since then it has been extended and refurbished.

Holworth Church

The Beautiful Interior

It may resemble a garden shed from the outside, but inside it is a delight! With the light pouring in, the timber just comes alive, and there is a wonderfully peaceful atmosphere about this place. There is something else that sets this lovely chapel apart from other churches though, and that is its position right on the Dorset Coast Path overlooking the sea. Surely this church has as good a view as any in the country.

Holworth Church

The View from the Graveyard with the Cross that Once Stood on the Cliff Edge

Outside of the tiny church is an equally tiny grave yard. Only a few rest here and they are either local residents or those who died at sea nearby. In fact, in terms of residents, there are few remaining in what has always been the smallest of hamlets since some of the cottages are now holiday homes. Some of the homes that remain, sit perilously close to the crumbling cliff edge and one wonders how long they will last.

St Catherine by the Sea, Holworth

Tiny Church, Tiny Graveyard

So what is it that connects this minuscule, hidden away gem with yesterday’s world renowned church at Moreton? Well the answer lies in that east window. These three panes were etched by Simon Whistler, an engraver and musician, son of Sir Lawrence Whistler who engraved the windows at the more famous church. The style is similar and of course there are only three panes but they are certainly equally beautiful. The window is in fact a memorial to a local farmer and to the victim of a notorious murder on Wimbledon Common.

The East Window

The East Window

The Church

The Church Etched in its Own Window

I walk this part of the Dorset coast all the time, and I regularly stop off at this delightful chapel to sit and pray or meditate, perhaps to eat lunch, or maybe to just sit and soak up that amazing view across White Nothe and out to sea. Surely there can be nothing better.

This church may not have the ancient history of some of those in my other posts, but for its position, the fact that it is still an active place of worship, its wonderful ambience, and its sheer quirkiness, it surely deserves a place in my list of curious Dorset churches.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.com – 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.

Curious Dorset Churches – Part 3

3 May

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

Today we are visiting another of those Dorset churches with a tragic past, one that was all but destroyed, but that was saved and is all the better for it. Today we are visiting St Nicholas’ Church at Moreton. Mind you, it wasn’t always called that!

St Nicholas’ Church, Moreton

St Nicholas Church

St Nicholas’ Church, Moreton

This church isn’t so much about its ancient past because it has had to be rebuilt at least three times. It is thought that the first rebuild was in the 15th century, followed by another in the 18th century but the third rebuild was much more recent. In fact as recent as the 1940’s! The church was actually hit by German bomb during WW2 and was virtually destroyed. But it arose like Phoenix out of the ashes to become the beautiful church it is today.

But there is one aspect of that last rebuild that stands out – this church is all about its windows! But it wasn’t originally meant to be that way!

Engraved Window

An Engraved Window

Engraved Window

The Galaxy Window

When the rebuilding was completed in the 1940’s, plain green windows were installed in place of the previous stained glass. The parishioners, however, didn’t like this so the poet and artist Sir Lawrence Whistler was commissioned to produce the engraved windows that adorn the church today. These etchings represent various themes and are truly beautiful. With the glass being etched on both sides, they seem to be ever changing with changes in the light.

Whistler made 12 windows and then offered to donate a 13th on the theme of Forgiveness which was initially declined. He went ahead and made it anyway and it was displayed in a local museum for some time. However, eventually, in 2013, this was installed in the church.

The interesting thing about this window is that it is only viewable from outside the church, which was Whistler’s intention as it features Judas Iscariot! Judas was the betrayer of Christ who ultimately hung himself in shame after throwing away the thirty pieces of silver he had been paid for his act of treachery! In this picture though, those pieces of silver turn into flowers as they hit the ground, suggesting forgiveness.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness – The Judas Window, Visible from Outside Only

Apart from the windows, St Nicholas’ other claim to fame is that it is the burial place of T E Lawrence, also known as Lawrence of Arabia. He lived at the nearby Clouds Hill cottage and was stationed at Bovingtom Camp, riding his Brough Superior motorbike between the two. At the age of 46 and just two months after leaving military service he had an accident when he swerved to avoid two young boys on their bikes, and he never recovered from his injuries.

He died on the 19th May 1935 and his grave lies in a detached part of St Nicholas’ cemetery.

Lawrence of Arabia

The Grave of T E Lawrence

So what about that name? Well, originally this church was dedicated to St Magnus Martyr, the dedication being changed to St Nicholas in 1490 on the orders of the Bishop of Salisbury. The reason for the change has probably been lost in the mists of time but it was not an unusual practice, especially if a church had to be rebuilt.

Moreton Church

Light Floods the Interior

St Nicholas’ Church is magnificent and well worth a visit just for its windows and its famous grave. In fact, these two features make this place world renowned and visitors come from all around just to look at this beautiful Dorset church in this little Dorset village. And well they might!

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.com – 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.