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The Tolpuddle Martyrs

There is a surprising number of similarities between the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, from the 1830’s and that of the Monmouth Rebellion 150 years earlier. Both are partly set in the Dorset county town of Dorchester, where the heavy hand of the law came down; in both cases the ruling classes were desperate to keep their hold on the lower orders; and there was a strong religious element in both risings.

West Country peasantry was involved in both clashes; and transportation – sending the convicted to the other side of the earth – was still seen as a good way of dealing with malefactors.

There, however, the similarities end, for the Tolpuddle Martyrs were just six in number. They were all sentenced to be transported, as it transpired to Australia and Tasmania, for seven years. In one stroke the farms in the Piddle Valley, which meanders picturesquely towards the English Channel, lost much valuable labour. Early one freezing February morning the men were asked by the local constable to accompany him to Dorchester, walking the whole six miles – and they did not return.

Their crime was simply taking part in an illegal oath administration ceremony in one of the cottages. There had been rick burnings in England’s Southwest a few years earlier and the ‘Captain Swing’ riots were notorious across the country. The farmers themselves were in a fix: if they were forced to pay higher wages they could not pay higher rents to landowners.

The Tolpuddle labourers were faced with having to take home only 6s. a week to keep their families and homes, and this was putting them in a rebellious mood. However, the leading County magistrate, James Frampton of Moreton had been in Paris during the French Revolution and colluded with the Home Secretary, Lord Melbourne, about the problem in neighbouring Tolpuddle.

The heaviest punishment possible for mutiny involving an oath (actually a Royal Navy offence) was transportation. Of the six ‘mutineers’ George Loveless, the leader, went to Tasmania and the others to New South Wales.

The tiny Methodist chapel at Tolpuddle (succeeded by another Methodist church further out of the village) was denuded of keen members, for five of the six martyrs belonged there

If you go to Tolpuddle, perhaps during the great annual trades’ union-supported rally held each July, look at the Thomas Standfield cottage on the main road, with its plaque. Think of him in his fifties in the Aussie bush, sleeping out in a ‘watch-box’ and looking after sheep – a few months after leaving his Dorset farm. It sounds almost idyllic.

But his son John, who was later to become a mayor in the London area of Ontario, Canada, to which five of the martyrs eventually emigrated, described his condition: covered in sores, his home a ‘shed’ six feet by 18 inches, and having to walk four miles by night for his rations.

The Tolpuddle men, described as ‘politicals’, got extra harsh treatment from their masters. Yet it has been said they helped shape Australia. However, whether they had any offspring there is open to doubt. All the martyrs except George Loveless, who was sick at the time, had sailed from Plymouth, in the next county west from Dorset, on April 11, 1834 after living aboard prison hulks at Portsmouth. On arrival at Sydney they were marched through the streets to the barracks where they were assigned to their masters. Some masters were kinder than others. Some were brutal.

James Loveless had to walk for 14 days to reach his station, or farm, near the Victoria State border. George Loveless worked on a chained road gang, slept on a stone floor and for a week was in irons, purely for what he was supposed to have done in England. Stories were rife about the martyrs’ supposed yet purely fictitious misdemeanours 12,000 miles away.

The men were pardoned in March 1838, after pressure by unionists, the general public and Parliamentarians in the old country. Only one, James Hammett, returned to live in Tolpuddle as a master builder, and he is buried in the Church of England graveyard, under a finely carved headstone. The references to Christianity are important, for the Loveless brothers have been described by a historian as “Methodist trade union pioneers”, although there is no evidence that they ‘spoke politics’ from the pulpit.

On return to Britain, the men were given tenant farms in Essex. The farms were provided and stocked by the Dorchester Labourers’ Farm Tribute and the London Dorchester Committee. Some of the men got involved in causes such as the Chartist movement and the lot of the agricultural workers. However, encountering a hostile attitude, they all, except James Hammett, booked tickets for New York in the mid-1840’s, travelling by sea, train, lake ferry and ox-cart to their new land which they were to help found. London, Ontario today is a growing industrial city.

George Loveless held Bible classes in the home he built for himself and his wife (their daughter died on the Atlantic crossing). He helped to build the first church in the London district of Siloam (the Pool of Siloam is mentioned in the Gospel of John). Brother James became caretaker of the church. On the gravestone of George and wife Elisabeth is this inscription: “ These are they who came out of great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb”.

James Brine, who married a Standfield, farmed on the shores of Lake Huron and at St.Mary’s. These men, supported heroically by their womenfolk, were not founders but true pioneers of the trade unions, for they were a powerful incentive and that remains true today. The working man and those who lead the Labour movement owe them much.

In Canada a memorial park was opened in London, Ontario in 1969. The sycamore tree where the martyrs met on Tolpuddle Green is growing strongly, the museum tells the story in banners and hi-tech videos, the fine row of cottages built by the trade union movement houses six tenantsIt is all a far cry from when, after a visit from two delegates of the Grand National Consolidated Trades Unions, an organisation led by Robert Owen, the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers was formed in Tolpuddle. Trade unionism had come to a quiet Dorset village in October 1833, but the society foundered because a spy who had taken the oath witnessed against the six. It meant that at the Dorchester Assizes, in March 1834, when the sensational sentence was announced, Dorset had new martyrs. These days, the Old Crown Court of the Shire Hall, where the trial took place, is open to visitors in the summer.

After his conviction, George Loveless threw to the crowd outside as he was leaving the court, a paper with two verses, beginning “God is our Guide!” and ending “We will, we will, we will overcome!”


Lying as if bracketed by two rivers, The Piddle (Trent) on the north and the Frome on the south, Wareham’s strategic importance was realised from very early times. Finds recovered from excavations under the town’s walls proved there had been some settlement on the site during the Iron Age and Romano-British periods, though it is the Saxons we have to thank for the foundation of Wareham as a planned town (burh). Even so, it was s stronghold resisting the Saxon incursions for two and a half centuries after the Romans left.

Sometime in the 8th century victorious Saxons claimed the site and fortified it with an earthen wall on the north, west and east sides. Christianised, they made their burh a centre of the British faith, having links with the church in Gaul. St. Aldhelm, later to become Bishop of  Sherborne visited Wareham to unify the Roman and Celtic traditions.

It is Aldhelm who is believed responsible for the founding, near the north gate in about 698, of St. Martin’’ Church. The original building is supposed to be the burial place of the West Saxon King Beorthric in 802, but the earliest fabric of the present building dates from about 1020. The church is worth a visit to see the remains of Norman and later paintings on its walls, and the characteristically Saxon high and narrow proportions of the building. After 1736 the church was only in use for baptisms and marriages, and was restored in 1935. A miracle legend holds that after the Danes destroyed the roof in a raid, shepherds could still shelter within the walls without getting wet. St. Martins is also famous for a recumbent effigy of Lawrence of Arabia by Eric Kennington.

By reason of its strategic importance the Dane Guthrum captured Wareham in 876, but in the following year King Alfred routed the Danes in a sea battle off Swanage and strengthened the town’s defences. Alfred’s daughter Ethelfleda is said to have restored the Priory after Guthrum had sacked it in 876. Later King Athelstan founded a mint and granted Wareham a market, ruling that all trade must take place within the burh. Towards the end of the 10th century Wareham was assailed by the Danes Sweyn and Cnut (Canute).

Following their own conquest the Normans made the Priory a Benedictine cell of Lire Abbey, and undertook extensive rebuilding in stone around 1100, including strengthening the town’s walls and building a motte and bailey castle. The castle was raided by the army of King Stephen, an event which caused Wareham to be caught in the cross-fire between the king and Matilda, whom the town supported. Stephen soon lost the stronghold to Robert of Gloucester, who installed Prince Henry there until he left for France in 1146, but the conflict pushed Wareham into economic recession from what had been a position of growing prosperity. The slump was further compounded by progressive silting up of the harbour, on which the town’s prosperity depended.

Holy Trinity Church, where historian John Hutchins was Rector from 1743, stands near the South Bridge over the Piddle. Today it is the Purbeck Information & Heritage Centre, but before the Norman Conquest there was a chapel to St. Andrew on the site.

Wareham’s parish church of Lady St.Mary features St. Edward’s Chapel of about 1100, said to have been his resting place before removal of his body to Shaftesbury. In the north aisle reposes a Nordic-style stone sarcophagus hinting at the presence of a church on this site as early as 700. The broad, windowed chancel and the Becket Chapel however, are early 14th century, and the tower was added about 1500. Lady St. Mary was once attached to the Priory.

The Priory was built on the east side of Frome Quay (later Wareham’s trading heart) and may have succeeded a convent on the site. It certainly became a Benedictine house in Norman times. In 1414 the Priory was taken over by a cell of Carthusian Monks of Sheen, who held it until the dissolution in 1536. Today the oldest part of the Priory is Elizabethan, and lies between St. Mary’s and the Frome.

The growing economic importance of Wareham during the medieval period is reflected especially in the north west quarter, where there is a Cow Lane, Roper’s Lane, Tinker’s Lane and Mill Lane, which runs up to the north wall above the Mill House. The Mill was powered by the Piddle, upon which sluices were also constructed to control the irrigation of the water meadows. Comfortable town houses and inns were built on the main streets, intermixed with many poorer dwellings. Butchers shambles and charnal houses were crowded on the wider streets near the Cross.

John Streche founded the Almshouses, now private residences, in 1418. In 1461 John Haynes leased the grounds of the castle for cultivation, by which time the keep had fallen into ruin. Today the line the bailey once followed is marked by Trinity Lane and an archway set into the Rectory wall in Pound Lane may be all that remains above ground.

During the Civil War the town’s fortunes fluctuated widely. The Parliamentarian commander, Sir Anthony Ashley-Cooper, wanted Wareham raised to the ground to prevent it falling into the hands of the Cavaliers. The town was a Royalist stronghold at the outset of the war, but then was captured by Cromwell twice and re-captured by the Royalists twice. Parliament ordered the town walls to be slighted (lowered) to half their original height. Following the Duke of Monmouth’s Rebellion in 1685, some of his followers were hung, drawn and quartered on the part of the wall known as the Bloody Bank.

In 1703 Queen Anne conferred a charter upon Wareham, heralding a new-found Regency prosperity won through the Purbeck Marble and stone trades, servicing Corfe Castle, and the wealth of the merchants. One merchant in particular, Thomas Perkins, found Bestwall outside the town wall an ideal location for the concealment of contraband from his smuggling operations. But smuggling was a popular if illicit occupation; in time it was said that for every Wareham man in business there was one of independent means.

But fire selectively destroyed some of the older buildings three times through the 18th century: in 1704, 1742 and in 1762 when 133 buildings were reduced to ashes. To tackle this last blaze turf ash was thrown onto a dunghill at the Bull’s Head (now Lloyds Bank). The Rectory of the Dorset historian John Hutchings was the third building to be lost in the fire. But for a courageous act of salvage by his devoted wife, the manuscript of Hutchins’ History & Antiquities of the County of Dorset would have been lost. But it was the timber and thatch houses of the artisans and traders which suffered most. The Kings Arms survived but the Red Lion had to be rebuilt. After the last fire the roads were widened and the houses rebuilt in brick and tile, although a few thatched buildings still mark the limit of the disaster.

The Town Hall stands on the site of a church once dedicated to St. Peter, built in 1321 but destroyed in the 1762 fire. Six years later this was rebuilt as the Town Hall and Jail, and rebuilt again in 1870. It is now the town’s museum and Tourist Information Centre.

Although the 20th century saw output from the Purbeck quarries contract, the extraction of ball clay and oil has increased over the same period. English China Clays (Ball Clays Ltd.) have established an office in the town, showing the continued vigour of Wareham’s commercial life. There is also a thriving horticultural sector, with the dark peaty soil well suited to the cultivation of vegetables and fruit. There is a market for the farm produce on Thursdays, and an annual cattle market in East Street. A new shopping precinct now stands on a site off St. John’s Hill, making money on the site of the old mint of Athelstan and Edward the Confessor.



West Parley

The parish of West Parley was once larger than its present 1,000 acres, for until the mid 20th century it included parts of Hampreston and all of West Moors and was comprised mainly of heathland. It lies on the north bank of the River Stour and is on the boundary with Hampshire; its name is Saxon for Pear Tree Field.

Within its boundaries is Dudsbury, an Iron Age hill-fort, and several Round Barrows. On Parley Common are the remains of turf-cutting allotments formed in 1633 when the heath land was divided between the freeholders and the manor.

The Parish Church of All Saints stands in a pretty and tranquil spot at the end of a road beside the River Stour, probably the site of an earlier Saxon church. Parts of the present church, the nave, and the doorway, date from the 12th century; the chancel was probably built in the 14th century then enlarged in 1896. The walls are of Heath stone rubble, partly rendered with ashlar dressings; the roof is covered with tiles and stone slates. Late in the 15th century or early in the 16th century the north porch was added and later in that century the west wall was rebuilt and the western part of the roof altered to facilitate the construction of a wooden bell turret that houses a bell dated 1792 made by T Pyke of Bridgewater. The Font is ahead of you as you enter the church – parts of it date from the 12th century but the bowl is probably late medieval. The pulpit dates from the early 17th century and features a huge hexagonal sounding board added in the 18th century. The silver cup and cover-paten with the inscription 1574 are the work of Lawrence Stratfield of Dorchester. They were returned to the church during the incumbency of the Revd. Tower, who was Rector here for many years, having been installed in 1537.

Apparently, the church is not aligned exactly east-west and points to where the sun would rise on All Saints Day before 1752, the time of the change from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar.  Entrance to the churchyard is through a wicket gate and as you progress to the church porch and door you pass an aging wooden post that bears a sundial. This post was once part of the gallows that stood on Gibbet Firs at East Parley. Just inside the gate on your left is a gravestone in memory of two sisters who drowned in the River Stour on the 24th of January 1908, their mother was the school mistress at East Parley.

When the chancel of the church was enlarged in 1896 a burial urn was found at a depth of three feet and at a distance of five feet beyond the old east wall. Eight skulls, one with coins in the eye sockets, surrounded the urn, which can now be found in a glazed and barred recess in the east wall of the church. The inscription over the urn reads: “Until 1896, when the chancel was restored, the urn, said to have held the heart of the Lady of Lydlinch, who endowed this church, lay under the stone on which it now stands.”  Tradition has it that the foundress and patroness of the church was a Norman lady, who rebuilt a former Saxon church, and gave for an endowment its glebe and certain tithes. She is said to have loved this place but her husband compelled her to go and live at Lydlinch in the Vale of Blackmoor.  She asked that on her death her heart should be buried in the churchyard at West Parley.

On the 5th of December 1803 at Christchurch Priory the body of William Harbin, a farmer of Parley Green, was buried. His wife believed her husband was going to change his Will and was determined to stop this happening. She persuaded their son and his friend, John Guppy, to murder William. Found guilty after a trial at Winchester, the pair were brought to Gibbet Firs for execution, their bodies left to hang for some time. It is said the distressed mother became insane, spending days and nights scaring away birds and even attempting to feed the corpses by throwing potatoes into their mouths. The land owner eventually cut down the gibbet and presented part of the post to the Rector of West Parley, who used it as a support for the sundial in the churchyard.

The Domesday Book records West Parley as follows: “ Ralph of Cranborne holds West Parley. Brictnoth held it before 1066. It paid tax for 2 hides. Land for 2 ploughs, which are there. 5 villagers, 4 smallholders and 2 slaves. Meadow, 25 acres; pasture 1 league long and 7 furlongs wide; woodland 4 furlongs long and 1 furlong wide.”  Nowadays West Parley is a busier place as you might expect, given its proximity to Poole and Bournemouth.

The Gallows at Dorchester

In Speed’s plan of Dorchester published in 1610, the gallows prominently illustrated as two uprights with a connecting crossbeam, was marked at the junction of what today is Icen Way and South Walks. In an earlier time, Icen Way was known as Gaol Lane and started at the Gaol then on the corner of High East Street; the final section leading to the gallows was known as Gallows Hill and for many men, women and children the journey along Gaol Lane was their last.

This final journey along the narrow lane from jail to gallows was for some, heretics and traitors, even more of an ordeal. Dragged by their heels by horses frightened by the crowd to be strung up and disembowelled while still alive, their quartered remains boiled before being despatched to outlying villages as a warning to others.

Dorchester the county town was host to the Assizes, sentences handed down were quickly executed, and in those days the theft of a few shillings would merit a death sentence. Following the Assizes there was a barbaric spectacle thought by government to improve the morals of the people. Actually, the opposite was true, the crowds often numbering thousands drank too much and degenerated into a drunken rabble shouting, cursing and jeering at those unfortunate beings who, to use the term of the times, were to be “turned-off.”

Nearly a century later the Dorchester gallows was moved to the Roman amphitheatre then as now known as Maumbury Rings. The young Mary Channing was brought here in 1703 and burned alive in front of a crowd said to number thousands. (See ‘Mary Channing – a path to the gallows’ in our Archived Articles section-Ed.) Females found guilty of crimes that are more serious were frequently burned alive presumably this was considered more humane than hanging, drawing and quartering, the fate endured by men.

Death by hanging was in practice death by slow strangulation; not until the early years of the 19th century was the longer drop allowed.

The Lent Assizes at Dorchester in 1801 tried 48 cases mostly for theft. Several people found guilty of minor offences were ordered to be transported. (See ‘Transported to such place beyond the seas’ in Archived Articles – Ed.) Ten were sentenced to death including one woman, Lydia Hiskins; she had stolen a bank note.

By the mid 19th century the long drop had been in use for nearly fifty years and the gallows had been arranged at the entrance to the prison in North Square and later moved inside the prison to a spot with views overlooking the meadows by the river.

One of the last public executions at the prison entrance was that of Martha Brown, which was witnessed by a young Thomas Hardy and is said to have haunted him all his life. (See Elizabeth Martha Clarke – “a most kind and inoffensive woman.” Published 24th December 2009 in Real Lives category.)

“Hang Fairs” held below the jail would attract people to Dorchester from all over the county. By daybreak all the best vantage points were taken and the spectators occupied their time drinking, fiddling and dancing. Two centuries on and the public was still attracted to these dreadful spectacles, viewed by many as a free entertainment.

The Royal Mail coach from London pulled in to the King’s Arms at about 9.30 a.m. after a 13-hour journey from London and its arrival determined the time of execution, usually stayed in case there was a last minute reprieve from London.

The last public execution at Dorchester was in 1863. Two men, Preedy and Fooks, were to die on the same day. The Vicar of Fordington, The Rev. Henry Moule, was concerned about Preedy and frequently visited the man in jail. Following the executions The Rev, Moule published a book entitled ‘Hope against Hope,’ an account of Preedy’s life and his repentance. (See ‘The Prisoner a Padre Befriended’ published 9th February 2010 in the Real Lives category.)

This double execution drew thousands from far and wide. It was reported that two brothers erected a grandstand on the meadows and charged for seats. Their enterprise was so well supported that the stand collapsed under the weight of the spectators who all subsided into the mud below.

For year’s the saddler’s shop now long closed but then in High East Street supplied the new rope needed for the gallows. This was always the best quality hemp and probably supplied from Bridport.

In the Dorchester Gallery at the CountyMuseum there are on display two lead weights each about the size of a brick, engraved with the word “Mercy.” Silvester Wilkins was a very light man and even with the benefit of the long drop he faced a lingering death, the weights were a humane gesture from the Governor of the jail. Wilkins was executed in 1833.

Six Roman Catholics were executed on a charge of high treason during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and then there were the 13 prisoners condemned by Judge Jeffreys, who suffered on the old Gallows Hill. The thirteen were hung in succession one after the other, their bodies treated in the manner reserved for traitors. The quarters of 12 men were distributed in Dorchester and the body of one man handed to his friends by order of the Judge.

There is reference in the Weymouth and Melcombe Regis records to a bill of costs in connection with a gallows erected at Greenhill. It reads: “Disbursements for the gallows, burning and boiling the rebels executed per order of this town – £15 14s. 3d.” It is reported that the horrible preparations for the final disposal of the bodies went on in the sight of the victims. These horrors would have been repeated at Dorchester, Lyme Regis and other towns in the county.

The last execution at Dorchester was of David Jennings who had murdered a night watchman. Jennings was 21 years old when he was executed in 1941.



The Manor of Owermoigne

When the Saxon Harold Goodwinson (King Harold II) was defeated at Senlec Ridge near Hastings in 1066, it was the beginning of William of Normandy’s conquest. Battles raged around the country before the population was fully brought under Norman rule. One such battle took place in 1067 on an area we now call the Moigne Downs, near Dorchester.

Domesday Book records land here about, including the manor of Owers, was owned by Matthew Moretania and like most of the Saxon landowners he was soon to be dispossessed of his lands including the Manor of Owers, which was granted to the Norman general le Moigne who with his troops had attacked and defeated the town of Dorchester.

The Moigne family built and settled in the Manor House of Moignes Court during the reign of King Henry III, when they were the owners of the Manor until the reign of Henry V; it is believed that originally tea nor House was thatched like Woodsford Castle. The manor passed down through Ralph, William, Henry, Joyhn, Henry and Sir John Moigne, the latter having no male issue resulting in parts of the estate being sold off; the rest passed to the Stourton family through one of the heiresses of t he Moignes.

Records from the time of the reign of Edward I (1272-1307) state that “Ralph Moyne has the Manor of Owers of the Lord the King, by sergeantry of the Royal Kitchen. His ancestors held these tenements from the time of King Henry the First by the aforesaid service.”

At an investigation held before Justices at Sherborne in 1278 William Moignes stated that the family had held the lands from the time of Henry I, in recognition of the service to the Monarch. William Moignes also claimed the right to impound anything washed up by the sea; to inflict fines for breaches of the statutory price of bread and beer, and to hold pleas of wrongful distress and to keep gallows at Winfrith and Owermoigne. This record adds that all the ancestry from time immemorial had enjoyed these privileges. The gallows stood on the way to the sea on a hill still known today as Gallows Hill; William Moigne was master of life and death in the Hundred of Winfrith.

Henry le Moigne, along with many other Knights from Dorset, was called to arms on several occasions to fight the Scots; these Knights were paid for their service by gifts of land and this added greatly to the wealth of the Moigne family.

The last of the Moignes was Sir John, who was Sheriff of Dorset in 1389. He married Joan, a daughter and heir of the Mandeviles of Marsh wood – they had two daughters but no sons.  The younger daughter, Hester, married Sir William Bonvil of Somerset. In 1408 part of the Manor was purchased by John Herring Esq., Thomas Hody and Henry Gouys, but a large part passed to the Stourton family on the marriage of Sir John’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth, to Sir William Stourton.

During the reign of Henry VIII the Manor of Owers was owned by William Baron Stourton. His son Sir Charles, Lord Stourton, brought disgrace on the family while Sir Charles was involved in a lawsuit with a Mr Hartgill and his son who he lured to Stourton Castle ostensibly for a meal and to express his regrets and forgiveness. This was on the 12th of January 1557; father and son were never seen again.

Their bodies were later found buried under the floor of a cellar in the castle. During the trial of Sir Charles it was revealed that while at the table the guests were clubbed by servants and their throats cut.

Sir Charles was sentenced to hang. He appealed to Queen Mary I to make a change to the sentence, on the grounds of his quality and that he and all his family were Roman Catholics.  In view of his noble birth the Queen ordered that he be hanged by a silken halter. He and four of his servants were hanged and he was buried in St Mary’s Chapel in Salisbury Cathedral.

The Stourton family owned the Manor of Owermoigne until 1703 when it was purchased by William Wake, who was later to become Archbishop of Canterbury. He sold the Manor in 1732 to Sir Theodore Janssen a wealthy man of Dutch descent who came to England in 1680.  He was knighted by King William III and at the special request of George II, at the time Prince of Wales, he was made a Baronet in 1714. His son Sir Stephen was Lord Mayor of London in 1755.

William Janssen’s heiress married the Hon. Lionel Damer, third son of the Earl of Dorchester, but she died childless and in the 19th century the manor was sold to John Cree Esq. Subsequently the Cree family restored Moignes Court, a substantial part of which had been damaged by fire in the late 19th century; they re-built the church and provided a school.



This small village five miles south east of Dorchester has a Manor House, Mill and Mill House, a few thatched cottages and a Church to remind us of its place in history. Furthermore, for a period during World War II airmen of the Royal Air Force flew missions from a hastily built aerodrome here on an area that is now a quarry.

After the conquest the manor was granted to a Norman, Geoffrey de Warmwell; it later passed to the Newburghs and in the early 17th century came into the possession of the Trenchhard family. Sir Thomas Trenchard was the first in the family to hold it. Sir George Trenchard settled the manor on his son John and it passed to John Sadler through marriage to Jane, Sir John Trenchard’s daughter. The Richards family took possession of the Manor and Warmwell House in 1687, then held it for three generations until in 1806 William Richards sold the Warmwell property and the new owner’s daughter married Capt. Augustus Foster. The estate remained in the hands of the Foster family until 1935.

A Commercial Day Book and a Diary belonging to John Richards have survived from the 18th century and shine a light on business and social life at the time; we will be taking a closer look at these in another article.

John Sadler was a prominent London lawyer who held several offices during the Commonwealth period and for a time was Oliver Cromwell’s personal secretary. He was elected Town Clerk of London on 3rd of July 1649, an office he held until the 18th of September 1660, when he was declared incapable of office. He was nominated as MP for Cambridgeshire in 1653 and in 1659 he was MP for Yarmouth in the Isle of Wight. He was fluent in several Oriental languages.

On the Restoration he lost most of his properties and retired to Warmwell in 1662 in poor mental and physical health. On his deathbed, where he was attended by his wife, a local church minister and his servant, he foretold three major future events: the Plague, The Great Fire of London and the Monmouth Rebellion.

The Parish of Warmwell consists of almost 1,700 acres in a rectangular plan, with the village near the well-wooded middle area. Nearby is the source of a small brook which flows northwards to join a tributary of the River Frome.

The Parish Church of The Holy Trinity stands at the south end of the village. The Nave was built in the 13th century and the West Tower was built (or possibly rebuilt) in the 17th century. The church was restored in 1851 and in 1881 a new chancel was built.  Inside the church are monuments to members of the Richards family: William Richards 1833; William Richards 1803 and Margaret (Clavell) his wife 1817; Susanna and Edward, children of William and Margaret Richards 1803. In the churchyard a table-tomb to Henry Vie 1691 and there is an area looked after by the War Graves Commission, where there are memorials to those lost during World War II, mostly airmen but there are some to prisoners of war.

The present Warmwell House was built in the early 17th century, probably by Sir John Trenchard, who inherited the manor in 1618. The south-east side of the house is thought to include the remains of an earlier building.

Warmwell Mill dates from the late 18th century or early 19th century. In the mid-19th century the miller’s house was added. There are other listed buildings in the village: The Stables and the Lodge House which belong to the estate and Rose Cottages, a pair of estate cottages standing by the side of the road through the small village, which gets its name from a well of tepid water that is the source of the brook..



The  parish of Owermoigne amounts to a little over four thousand acres in a strip of land stretching from the sea at Ringstead Bay, where the cliffs tower up to 200ft. To the north of the coast the land rises to over 400ft above sea level and then drops into the valley of the Upton Brook, before rising again on Moigne Down and then slopes down to areas of heathland. Originally the area comprised a number of small settlements but the greater part of the parish north of Moigne Down was divided between Owermoigne and Galton, both at the edge of the heathland and today north of the main Dorchester to Wareham road.

Early in the 20th century Sir Frederick Treves in his book Highways and Byways in Dorset described Owermoigne as a “shy, old fashioned hamlet” and goes on to say it is “one of those hamlets that has no apparent object in life.” The hamlet that Treves saw is still here, hidden behind a camouflage of modern local authority housing. In earlier times the village was on the smugglers route and many a keg of the finest brandy would have been hidden away here.  In the 18th century William Wake sold the manor of Owermoigne to Sir Theodore Janssen. His son Sir Stephen Janssen was a Member of Parliament and Lord Mayor of London in 1755. Possibly drawing on his local knowledge of the Dorset coast Sir Stephen published a pamphlet entitled Smuggling Laid Open.

The Rectory is mostly from the 16th century and it is thought the beams in the drawing room came from a Spanish galleon which was lured to the coast and wrecked. In the front wall of the older wing is a trap door through which brandy casks were pushed (reputedly the Rector was one of the smuggler’s best customers!). When the Enclosure Act became law in 1829 the Rector was granted the right to cut fifteen hundred furze faggots a year and as many turfs as a man could cut in a day with three spades! He was allowed to keep two cows in a field known as  Cowleaze and two horses in a field called Skidmore. The Rectory passed into private ownership during the early part of the 20th century.

A short distance from the Church heading towards Crossways is Castle Lane, which leads to the ancient Manor House of Moignes Court, built in the 13th century and which had its own chapel before the present church was built.

Standing in the middle of the village is the church dedicated to St. Michael. Built from local rubble its 15th century west tower houses three bells that date from the reign of Queen Elizabeth I; the rest  was rebuilt in 1883 to the designs of S. Jackson of Weymouth.

The Parish Registers record events from 1569, but the most interesting entries are to be found between 1624 and 1800 when events in the lives of many of Thomas Hardy’s ancestors are recorded.

William Knapp 1698-1768

William Knapp was born in 1698 at Wareham and died at Poole, where he was buried on September 26th 1768. He was a shoemaker and for 39 years he was the Parish Clerk for Poole, where he is known to have played an instrument and been a member of the Church Choir. In 1753 he published a book of hymn and psalm tunes titled Church Melody, that included the tune “Wareham“, which has been included in many hymn books over the years and is his most recognisable work.

Church Melody was reprinted several times and included a reprinting of An Imploration to the King of Kings, written by Charles I while a prisoner in Carisbrooke Castle in 1648. The book is beautifully engraved.   He also published another book containing a set of new psalms and anthems for church occasions, including one that commemorates the fire that engulfed Blandford in 1731. This book is dedicated to John Saintloe Esq., of Little Fontmill who is addressed as one who appreciated and practised divine music.  In this second book Knapp includes the tune ‘Langton’, which he claims as his own work but which was written some 180 years earlier by Tallis, who contributed it to Archbishop Parker’s Psalmster.

In the index we find that our Dorset-bred composer dedicated almost all his hymn and psalm tunes to the towns and villages of his native county.


Weymouth – Sandsfoot Castle

This Tudor fort was completed around 1541 and is part of Henry VIII’s network of coastal defences to protect against attacks from Roman Catholic enemies, both French and Spanish, following the change in the established religion in England. Sandsfoot Castle stands opposite Portland Castle and between them their artillery protected shipping in Portland Harbour from foreign attack.

A century later the country was moving toward civil war and from 1642 the castle was held for King Charles I until 1644-45 when Colonel Ashburnham, governor for the king, surrendered it to Parliamentary forces.

From 1642 the Parliamentary authorities had full control of the Royal Mint within the Tower of London, which was able to supply all the currency demands of its new masters. Interestingly, the king’s opponents continued to use King Charles’ portrait and titles on their coins until 1649, when he was executed.

Charles I issued currency of equal intrinsic value mainly from his headquarters in Oxford, the mint there being in New Inn Hall, but also from various places throughout the country including Sandsfoot Castle, where the dungeons were used as a mint. Its use as a place for striking coinage gave the castle more importance than it had as a strategic military asset. After the Royalist surrender of the castle it was held for the government by Humphrey Weld but as its condition deteriorated it appears to have been abandoned until a use for it was found as a storehouse and this continued until 1691. The castle was in a ruinous state by the end of the 18th century and in 1837 parts of it fell into the sea.

The castle had suffered damage from coastal erosion quite soon after its completion, repairs being undertaken in 1584; further repairs were necessary in 1610 and 1623. A Grade II listed building since the mid 20th century, it has in more recent times benefited from Heritage and Lottery grants that have facilitated restoration works, making it safe for free access to the public.


Archbishop William Wake

Cardinal John Morton was not the only clerical figure with Dorset connections to have become Archbishop of Canterbury; the position of Protestant Primate of England was also attained by another man of the county. But William Wake, born 348 years ago this January (2005) probably had the more distinguished pedigree of the two men.

Wake was born on January 26th 1657 in the village of Shapwick near Badbury Rings, the only child of a family of five children to survive to adulthood. His father was Colonel William Wake senior, a distant descendant of the Saxon warlord Hereward the Wake, who led an insurrection against William 1 in 1070 (not, as is widely believed, that he came over with the Norman conqueror).

William senior (the Colonel) had joined a Cavalier regiment when still young and had suffered much for the Royalist cause during the Civil War. This included being imprisoned more than twenty times and even being condemned at Exeter to be hung, drawn and quartered for complicity in the western insurrection, but was later pardoned. Colonel Wake married Amy Cutler, daughter of Edward Cutler, a prosperous Stourpaine farmer. Said to have been strong and hard-working, Amy brought he husband considerable wealth, but was nevertheless to die of tuberculosis when young William was only 16.

When he was six William attended his first school in Blandford. At 16, by then a gifted scholar, his father sent him to Oxford where he matriculated as a Commoner in 1673. Two years later he became a student, going on to gain a BA in 1676 and then an MA in 1679. Colonel Wake, keen to see his son follow a clerical career, advised him to take holy orders when he reached Canonical age, and consequently in September1681 William was made a Deacon. The following year he was ordained as a Priest, then becoming Chaplain to Louis X1V court in 1682. Wake remained at the French court until 1685.

In 1688 Wake married Ethelreda, daughter of Sir William Howell of Norfolk, and by her raised a family of 13 children. Their father became Canon of Christchurch, Oxford, also being presented to the Rectory of St James, Westminster. As a reward for his support of the Accession of William and Mary, the King and Queen appointed Wake Canon of Exeter Cathedral in 1701. Following a brief period at the Bishopric of Lincoln (where he was made Clerk of the Closet) William was installed as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1715.

But by this time the Archbishop had been pursuing a parallel career as a Parliamentarian for 10 years. Wake had taken his seat in the House of Lords in 1705, but found its demanding workload too much for his somewhat frail constitution to endure. The additional demands upon him left William with almost no time to indulge his other intellectual interests of researching, translating and collecting.

In his latter years he was able to take up work again, but a decline in his mental faculties and other health problems hampered his efforts. His many friends rallied to help him produce several valuable manuscripts which he bequeathed to Christchurch College, together with his expansive collection of books, coins and medals. As a writer he gained a reputation for outspoken-ness and many of his theological works became controversial. At one time a concern over what he regarded as bad language and moral laxity caused him to attempt to force a blasphemy bill through Parliament to punish offenders.

Like so many other Dorset men Wake had the greatest affection for his native county. On one occasion members of the Society of Dorset Men even invited him to preach at Mary Le Bow Church, a proposition which brought him much delight and satisfaction. Whenever he was staying at the family home in Shapwick Wake would preach at St Andrews in Winterborne Tomson. This 12th century church was the Archbishop’s favourite and would be visited repeatedly whenever Wake was on his native patch of soil. He generously covered the cost for providing St Andrews with ten more box pews. He said he found the calm atmosphere refreshing after the great cathedrals.

The Archbishop was also a great champion of free education, considering that every child, regardless of status, should have an equal opportunity to learn. In his day this generated opposition, but in his will, Wake made provision for £1,000 to be paid to the Corporation of Blandford for the schooling of 12 pauper boys. This paid for a schoolmaster, who would supply books,writing materials and accommodation for the boys. The trustees were required to supply the boys with a blue gown, breeches, yellow stockings, shoes, cap, belt and bib at Whitsun.

Thus Blandford’s Blue Coat School was born. The boy’s education was conducted under strict rules to prepare them for work in the trades and industries of the town – and to follow Protestantism. Under the Education Act of 1944 and 1946 the charity was wound up, and in 1974 a new Primary school in Blandford was dedicated as “The Archbishop Wake Junior School” by the Bishop of Sherborne.

Finally, one might think that an Archbishop of Canterbury born in Dorset, would have been buried either in that Cathedral or Dorset, but this was not the posthumous fate of Archbishop William Wake. When he died, on his 80th birthday in 1736, he was laid to rest in the parish church in Croydon.