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Theme for the Week – Ruined Churches in Dorset Part 5

22 Apr

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

Just one final ruined Dorset church for this week and this is one to which the term ‘ruined’ can very definitely be applied! It has had quite a past and there has been some determination shown by the community to keep it going but eventually the battle was lost. This is St Andrew’s Church on the Isle of Portland.

St Andrew’s Church, Portland

St Andrew's Church

The Ruins of St Andrew’s Church, Portland

St Andrew’s Church stands, or rather stood, on the headland above Church Ope Cove. It was built in 1100 by the Benedictine Monks of St Swithin of Winchester who had had the whole of Portland bestowed on them by Edward the Confessor, and it was built on what was believed to be the site of a rather grand Saxon church.

The first damage to the ‘new’ church occurred in the 13th century when a fire broke out. It was rebuilt. Then twice, in 1340 and 1404, French raiders tried to destroy the church by setting fire to it, and twice again it was rebuilt. This was only the start of its problems however!

The doorway to nowhere!

The Old Doorway

Over the years, a detached tower was added and after a landslip caused damage in the 17th century, efforts were made to shore up the hillside on which it was built. Forty years later, there was a further large landslip which caused yet more damage. This was like fighting a losing battle and after yet another landslip in 1735, known as the Great Southwell Landslip and the second largest in Britain, half the graveyard slid down the hillside.

Some 20 years later, the decision was finally taken to close the church and to build a new one in the centre of Portland, part of it being demolished to provide stone for houses. However, this still wasn’t the end for this church as yet more damage was caused by bombing during WW2.

The smuggler's grave

The ‘Pirate’ Graves

One of the interesting features that remain are the so called pirates graves. Popular belief has it that these are graves of pirates because they bear the skull and crossbones but this is in fact not necessarily the case since it was fairly common practice to carve these emblems simply as a sign of death.

That’s not to say that there was no involvement with bad things along this coast as undoubtedly smuggling was an activity that would have taken place here, and the church was always under threat from foreign pirates.

Light of the world

The Light of the World

St Andrew’s Church stood on a beautifully rugged part of the Dorset coast and did its best to withstand attacks from above and below but ultimately the fight against erosion was one it couldn’t win. It is interesting that Portland is comprised of some of the best limestone rock that features in many of the UK’s major structures such as The Cenotaph in London, St Paul’s Cathedral, and Buckingham Palace. In fact, Portland is synonymous with the quarrying of solid, good quality rock. So maybe this church was just built in the wrong place!

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.

Theme for the Week – Ruined Churches in Dorset Part 4

21 Apr

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

Today we are looking at another ruined Dorset church, but this is one that doesn’t appear ruined until you look at its history. This just looks like a small village church but in reality, it is only half of a church standing in a village that now has two. But what happened to the rest of it and why is there now two? This is Fleet Church.

Fleet Church

Moonfleet Church

Fleet Church

Fleet is a small straggling village that sits near the banks of the brackish lagoon that shares its name. Across the other side of the water is the famous 18 mile long Chesil Beach, a long and narrow tract of shingle, and beyond that, the open sea. This was once the village’s sole church and it was built around the 15th century. Life went on as normal until one day in 1824 when everything changed!

Fleet Church

Fleet Church with its Small Cemetery

In November 1824, a huge storm blew up at sea, creating massive waves. The waves crashed onto Chesil Beach with such ferocity that despite the shingle bank being some 50 feet high, they breached the defences and swept inland, hitting the villages of Fleet, Chiswell, and other places farther along the coast. The devastation was huge with numerous cottages being destroyed or damaged, and Fleet Church itself being all but destroyed. A local boy who witnessed the scene wrote some 73 years later:

“At six o’-clock on the morning of the 23rd I was standing with other boys by the gate near the cattle pound when I saw, rushing up the valley, the tidal wave, driven by a hurricane and bearing upon its crest a whole haystack and other debris from the fields below. We ran for our lives to Chickerell, and when we returned found that five houses had been swept away and the church was in ruins.”

What was left of the nave had to be demolished and what you see today is just the chancel which was renovated. This no longer acts as a church, having been deconsecrated, although it still contains several monuments to the Mohun family who lived in Fleet Manor in the 16th to the 18th century.

Fleet Church

Fleet Church Interior

As was common in those days, collections were held in churches up and down the country to raise funds to help the devastated community and a new church was completed in 1829. This stands farther inland in order to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy.

The Fleet and Chessil Beach

Looking Across Fleet Lagoon to Chesil Beach

The village of Fleet, its manor house, and its old church have been immortalised in J Meade Faulkner’s book Moonfleet which was published in 1898. Perhaps because of this, it is always intriguing to visit the ‘half’ church. As you stand there in that peaceful churchyard with just the gentlest of breezes and the cry of gulls, it is really hard to imagine the devastation of that fateful day in 1824. It never happened before and it has never happened since but this now tiny church stands as a monument to a day that changed many lives!

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.

Theme for the Week – Ruined Churches in Dorset Part 3

20 Apr

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

Continuing our theme of ruined Dorset churches, and by that I mean churches that no longer fulfil their original purpose, we pay a visit today to a very beautiful little chapel in the Lyscombe Valley.

Lyscombe Chapel

Lyscombe Chapel

Lyscombe Chapel

This chapel stands in a broad and beautiful bowl of a valley which is surrounded by chalk downs. It is known as Lyscombe Bottom, the name Lyscombe coming from ‘lisc’ which is Saxon for reeds, and ‘coombe’ meaning valley. Running down through this valley is a small stream, a tributary of the River Piddle, and in front of the chapel, this stream broadens out to a sheep wash pool.

Lyscombe Chapel and Cottage

Lyscombe Chapel and Priest’s House from the Sheep Wash

Lyscombe is a tiny hamlet comprising very few buildings, including the chapel and beside it the ruined priest’s house. The chapel itself dates originally from the 12th century although it has been restored and rebuilt over the years. It was an out-chapel owned by Milton Abbey which is some 5 miles away, and was probably on a monastic route since it is half way between Milton Abbey and Cerne Abbey. This would once have been a stopover place for pilgrims. With the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Milton Abbey grounds were taken over by Henry VIII who passed them to Sir John Tregonwell, who in fact was heavily involved with the Dissolution on the king’s behalf.

The Priest's House, Lyscombe

The Ruined Priest’s House at Lyscombe

At some point, probably during the 17th century, the chapel was converted to a cottage and bake house, probably for farm workers. It was still in use in 1950 although it subsequently had to be protected by a Dutch Barn type building that was erected over it. It ultimately failed completely in the 1990’s when the roof collapsed. In the latter half of the 20th century, the cottage also became derelict.

Lyscome Chapel Interior

Lyscombe Chapel Interior

This was not the end of the story for this tiny chapel though because in 2005 funding was obtained by the then land owner for its restoration, with walls being renovated and a new thatched roof being fitted. Such was the quality of this restoration that it has been recognised with several awards. Sadly, the priests house was beyond repair so this was just made safe.

The Lyscombe Valley

The Lyscombe Valley from the Downs

Lyscombe is a magical place! The chapel retains much of its original charm and perhaps unusually has remained small and simple when most churches have been extended and enlarged over centuries. With the ruined Priest’s House standing beside it, this place has a real sense of history that conveys something of its purpose and heritage. It stands in the most beautiful surroundings, remote, with no roads running through, and just the gentle rippling of the stream and bleating of sheep for company.

It’s purpose has still not ended since Lyscombe Chapel now forms a community space and doubles as bunk house type accommodation for walkers. It seems to me that this is an appropriate use for it, restoring it to a stop over place, albeit for modern day ‘pilgrims’. It is just the loveliest place to spend some time and any walk is made richer for visiting this diminutive chapel in its idyllic setting.

Oh yes, and one more interesting fact – apparently the rent originally paid for this site was 12 fish per year!

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.

Theme for the Week – Ruined Churches in Dorset Part 2

17 Apr

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

So, today we continue our theme of Dorset’s ruined churches, or at least, a selection of them. These are places that have impacted peoples’ lives for centuries but now for one reason or another are not able to extend that legacy. And today we are considering a strange, mysterious, and somewhat melancholy church, a church that some say is just the last of many that were built on the same site but disappeared overnight! Today we are looking at Knowlton Church.

Knowlton Church

Knowlton

Knowlton Church

The reason for my description above is not so much down to the church itself but rather its position, for this church was built in the centre of a Neolithic ritual henge earthwork. This has become known as Church Henge, a one time pagan worship centre complete with its circle of standing stones.

The church is of unknown dedication and so is a ‘church with no name’. It was built in the 12th century and is of flint and stone construction, with some of the stone said to come from the broken up standing stones. These days, it is very isolated but in its earlier days, it was the centre of a thriving community known as Knowlton Village. The village itself was decimated by the Black Death in the 15th century when all the villagers either died or left for pastures new. Even so, the church continued to be used for several hundred years until the roof collapsed in the 18th century.

Knowlton Church and earthworks

Knowlton Church and the Earthworks

 The area surrounding Knowlton Church is part of Cranborne Chase and is rife with ancient remains. Church Henge itself is just one of four earthworks in this immediate vicinity and surrounding these is one of the greatest clusters of round barrows in Dorset. This includes Great Barrow, which is the single largest round barrow in the county. In addition, the mysterious and largely unexplained Dorset Cursus, a 6 mile long ceremonial ‘road’, runs nearby. Plus of course there is the old village itself. Sadly, much of this history has been destroyed over the centuries to all but the expert eye by people looking for grave artefacts and by farming. However, if you take to the skies during a dry spell in summer when some of the grass is yellowing, many of these features reveal themselves again.

Of course, as with most places like this, it is said to be haunted! In fact, it is said to be the most haunted place in Dorset with people describing a horse and rider galloping right through the church, a nun kneeling and weeping, and faces appearing in the windows of the tower.

Knowlton Church

The Church Tower

However you look at Knowlton Church, it has an air of mystery and intrigue as well as a presence about it that nudges your curiosity to know more. It served the local community for centuries and certainly witnesses to the transition in this country from Paganism to Christianity. And it continues to do that. For me, this is a beautiful place, being isolated and surrounded by open countryside with birds and wild flowers in season.

Knowlton Church and earthworks

Wild Flowers at Knowlton

One small part of the church continues to serve in any event as the font stands inside a nearby Victorian chapel. In addition, a ‘Wishing Tree’ has somehow been created on the edge of the earthwork simply by word of mouth. This has all manner of objects such as ribbons, notes, scarves, prayers and so on hanging on it. This site still proves to be a draw to local people as well as those farther afield!

Thanks for stopping by.

Until tomorrow,
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.

Theme for the Week – Ruined Churches in Dorset Part 1

16 Apr

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

Its that time again; time to start a new theme for the coming week, and our theme this week is Ruined Churches in Dorset. These are all remote and damaged in some way, some more so than others. But all have a magnificent heritage and have contributed to peoples’ lives down through the years. Its this impact on people’s lives that I like to celebrate even if the buildings are no longer used, because life is about people. Our first church stands on a high hill top like a beacon for all around – this is St Catherine’s Chapel.

St Catherine’s Chapel

The sun sets on St Catherine's Chapel

St Catherine’s at Sunset

St Catherine’s stands on a hilltop above Abbotsbury village. There are no records of its construction but it has been dated by experts to be from the 14th century, and it was built as a place of retreat and pilgrimage for monks from the Benedictine Abbotsbury Abbey that sat in the valley below. The hill on which it stands is some 260 feet high and there are fantastic views across Chesil Beach and Portland. Because of its prominent position, it was used as a navigation aid by seamen and it may be that this is why it still exists today because it was saved whilst the abbey itself was destroyed at the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century.

St Catherine's Chapel

St Catherine’s Chapel

The chapel is not unique but is one of very few that were built by monks outside of the main abbey grounds. It is constructed of this lovely golden coloured ashlar limestone and although it was renovated in both the 18th and 20th century, it is largely unchanged apart from the missing stained glass and interior furniture. This is a truly magnificent building with heavily buttressed walls that are 4 feet thick. Even the roof is constructed of stone. Both of these things have enabled it to stand up to the elements down through the centuries. It really does have a solid feel to it!

Peace

The East Window Minus Stained Glass

The chapel is dedicated to St Catherine which is a rare dedication. She was, though, a very popular figure in medieval times and she was the patron saint of spinsters, especially those seeking a husband (the Catherine Wheel firework was named after her because of the nature of her execution). Traditionally, young women would come to this chapel to pray to her for a husband and there are niches carved in the east jamb of the south doorway for the knees and hands especially for this purpose. These are known as ‘wishing holes’. One of the specific prayers goes:

“A husband St Catherine, a handsome one St Catherine, a rich one St Catherine, a nice one St Catherine, and soon St Catherine.” 

Often the prayer would end with, “Arn-a-one’s better than narn-a-one” which in Dorset dialect meant, ‘any one is better than never a one’.

On Chapel Hill

St Catherine’s on its Hilltop

St Catherine’s has a long heritage but it has still not been completely retired as some informal services are still held there on occasion. It also provides a good home for doves as you can see in the picture above and it is an amazing place to spend a few hours just drinking in the fabulous views.

It was built on its hilltop site to be impressive and some 700 years later, although semi derelict, it is still as impressive as ever!

Thanks for stopping by.

Until tomorrow,
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.

Theme for the Week – Quirky Dorset Part 10

15 Apr

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

Our final entry for the week spent exploring ‘Quirky Dorset’ earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the smallest public house in England, although that accolade no longer applies as we shall see. This is The Smith’s Arms.

The Smith’s Arms, Godmanstone

This diminutive one-time pub stands in the village of Godmanstone in the lovely Cerne Valley with its rippling stream that flows behind the pub. It is a flint and thatch building with a single bar just 15 feet by 11 foot 9 inches and a ceiling that is barely 6 feet high.

The Smith's Arms

The Smith’s Arms, Godmanstone

What is even more quirky than its size, is the way it is said to have become a pub! The building actually dates originally from 1420 and was as you have probably guessed, a Smithy. The story goes that King Charles II stopped here to have his horse shod, and asked for a drink of porter while he waited. The Smithy duly replied that he was unable to serve him because had no licence, whereupon the king immediately granted him one under Royal Charter. Thus it became a hostelry as well as a smithy.

It was run as a pub for many years by a brewery and was then sold, becoming a free house. This continued until just a few years ago when the last owner, a top jockey, became too ill to run it and it closed its doors for the last time.

I’m happy to say that I have had a drink in the bar here some years ago whilst it was still open. It was an interesting experience 🙂 ! In fact I only discovered that it had closed down when I was walking the valley a few years ago and decided that I would call in for lunch……..only to find that it was no longer open!

Thanks for stopping by.

Until tomorrow,
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.

Theme for the Week – Quirky Dorset Part 8

12 Apr

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

Continuing on the theme of ‘Quirky Dorset’, today we feature something rude 🙂 ! This is ancient graffiti, a hillside carved up, and X-rated to boot! This is the world famous Cerne Abbas Giant.

The Cerne Abbas Giant

The Cerne Giant

The Cerne Abbas Giant

This figure carved in the hillside above Cerne Abbas is shrouded in mystery……actually, maybe he should be shrouded in a cloak 🙂 ! There is considerable divergence of opinion on where he came from and how old he is, as well as why he is pictured thus!

Some say he is ancient with opinions varying between Saxon, Roman, Celtic and so on but in fact the first mention of him dates from the 17th century. That doesn’t mean he is not older, just that there is no documentary evidence. He stands 55 meters (180 feet) tall and almost as wide and he wields a club which itself is 37 meters (121 feet) long. His…….um, how shall I put it…….’manhood’ is 11 meters (36 feet) long. Studies over the years have shown that he once had a cloak draped over his left arm and that he possibly held or stood over a severed head but these features, if they were ever there, have been lost to erosion.

Again, there is much divergence of opinion on who he represents. Some say he is the Roman god Hercules, some say he is a Celtic god since a similar picture was found on a skillet handle at a nearby hill fort, others say that he could be a parody of Oliver Cromwell and that he was carved during the English Civil War. In truth, we shall probably never know and perhaps that is a good thing because maybe the mystery that surrounds him just adds to the intrigue.

On Giant Hill

The View from Giant Hill

Naturally, there is always a bit of folklore around such things 🙂 ! It has been said that he marks the outline of a real giant, possibly from Denmark, who was beheaded by brave locals as he slept on the hillside. And of course there is folklore around fertility, such as the belief that making love whilst laying on one particular part of his anatomy can cure infertility……….the mind boggles! Oh, and of course, he gets up now and then and walks to the stream at the bottom of the valley for a drink. Well, its thirsty work laying on a hillside 🙂 !

Now, to be contentious for a moment! If this were modern and was carved anywhere, or if a piece of graffiti was drawn like this, there would be a public outcry and undoubtedly the local authority would obscure the offending image quicker than you could say, ‘The young people of today’! So how come this one is perfectly acceptable? One wonders what would happen if a graffiti artist was up in court for producing lewd images and pleaded the acceptance of the Cerne Abbas Giant as a defence 🙂 ! In fact, in 1921 someone raised this issue, possibly a bit tongue in cheek, and his suggestion that part should be covered with a giant leaf gained some support, ultimately going all the way to the Home Office. Their reaction was that since the giant is an ancient monument, it could not be interfered with!

So that is the Cerne Abbas Giant, which I think fits the description of quirky 🙂 ! All things aside though, this is real Dorset history and the giant resides on a beautiful Dorset hillside where you will find some great walking and some fabulous views. Always worth a visit……..but probably don’t try the so called fertility cure, you might get arrested 🙂 !

Thanks for stopping by.

Until tomorrow,
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.