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Sir John and the House of Trenchard

In the parish church of Bloxworth near Bere Regis in east Dorset, visitors can see a memorial in white marble mounted high on the wall of a side chapel. The plaque is in memory of one of Stuart England’s most accomplished and controversial aristocratic statesmen or “principal secretary of state for life”; a figure as true to the soil of Dorset as Barnes or Hardy.

This colourful character was Sir John Trenchard. Trenchard was born in Lychett Matravers in March 1649, where his family had long held a manor, though from the late 15th century onwards the family seat was at Wolferton (or Wolveton) House. This house, near Charminster, had its foundations laid around 1480 by an earlier John Trenchard and his son Thomas, who in turn had inherited the estate through John’s marriage. Wolveton was originally conceived as a grand early Tudor mansion with Elizabethan additions, but was later largely demolished, and the present house is only the south west wing of the earlier one.

Thomas’s son, Sir George, had a daughter called Grace, who married into another of Dorset’s manorial families, the Strangways (Strangeways). Apart from his contribution to the building of Wolveton, Sir Thomas also embellished the 12th century church of St.Mary at Charminster by adding its imposing west tower. He also held office as Sheriff of Somerset and Dorset in 1509 and 1523, but is probably best known for hosting Archduke Phillip of Austria and his wife Juana (Joanna) at Wolveton after they were shipwrecked off the Dorset coast in the great storm of 1506. The story then follows that Thomas recruited a kinsman, John Russell, to act as his interpreter as he could not speak Spanish. James I in 1613 knighted Thomas.

Sir Thomas had a son – also called Thomas – born in 1615, who became the father of the later Sir John of Lytchett. The Trenchards were a family of longstanding puritan and parliamentary leanings. Two cousins, William Sydenham and John Sadler, were both soldiers and administrators in the service of Cromwell, and as he grew up John came to detest the unprincipled court life of Charles II. From the age of 15 to 18 John attended New College Oxford without obtaining a degree and went on to study law at the Middle Temple. Here he met up with Hugh Speke, a distant relative and son of Sir George Speke of White Lackington. (Sir George Trenchard’s wife was Ann Speke).

In association with his cousins John joined the Blue Riband Club, a society of agitators meeting at the King’s Head Tavern in Fleet Street. Although there was never any evidence of his being involved in Titus Oates’ famous popish plot, Trenchard would certainly have been an anti-papal sympathiser. When he was 30 in 1679, John entered Parliament to represent Taunton, and joined those who wished to bar the Duke of York from the throne. He attended meetings held by the dissidents, who were concerned that the Duke would attempt to restore Catholic prominence in England. In 1682 Trenchard married Hugh Speke’s sister Phillipa, then 18.

In 1683 some dissidents hatched a conspiracy to murder the King and his brother in Hertfordshire as they returned from the races at Newmarket. The Rye House Plot, as this conspiracy came to be known went wrong, casting suspicion on Trenchard and his cronies. Together with Lord Russell and Algernon Sydney he was arrested and sent to the Tower. (Interestingly, he was later able to recover his own arrest warrant, now in the archive of the Dorset County Record Office in Dorchester). Russell and Sydney were subsequently executed, but Trenchard appears to have turned his coat with sufficient alacrity to escape the same fate by possibly agreeing to pose as a double agent supplying the government with intelligence about anti-Stuart sedition in the west country!

As no concrete evidence could be levelled against him, Trenchard was released. While John was staying with his father-in-law at Illminster in 1685, the Duke of Monmouth landed in Lyme Bay to raise his notorious rebellion against the King in support of his claim to the English crown. With the suspected assistance of George Speke, John was compelled to escape back to the manor at Lytchett while it was still under surveillance by law officers. His servants then made arrangements to get him aboard a ship berthed at Weymouth. Trenchard then spent two years of exile in Holland; George Speke also fled the country. (Visit Archived Articles Section and click on ‘The Monmouth Rebellion’ Pub.August 2002. Ed.)

Meanwhile Hugh Speke, by then John’s brother-in-law, had been jailed for writing anti-Stuart pamphlets. Officers of the King also raided the Speke home and arrested Hugh’s brother Charles, who was summarily executed by hanging from a tree in Illminster market place. The King’s officers were in no doubt about where the family’s loyalties lay. During a tour by Monmouth of the West Country in 1681, George Speke had entertained the Duke and pledged his support for any future claim to the throne the Duke may assert.

During his two years of exile in the Netherlands Trenchard had made the acquaintance of William of Orange, the Protestant son-in-law of James II. It is believed that on his release from prison, Hugh also fled to Holland. However, in 1686 a general amnesty was issued for the exiles, largely brought about by the intervention of the Quaker William Penn, though Trenchard himself was not pardoned. Yet by the end of 1687 he was back in Dorset, probably as a consequence of offering service to the King in return for his liberty.

With the immediate danger over, Trenchard was able by 1688 to resume his parliamentary career. That year he was elected to represent Dorchester as the leading Whig (i.e. the gentry-party opposed to the Tories of the Court). In this capacity he made an unsuccessful bid to persuade King James II to tone-down his pro-catholic sympathies for the sake of the country’s peace. But the birth of a son to James that year threatened a papal succession once again. The Whigs and Tories united to invite William and Mary to claim the throne. Trenchard of course easily slipped into favour with the royal couple, although he took no active part in the revolution, which ousted James.

John Trenchard was knighted in 1689 and made Chief Justice of Chester. The following year he was elected member for Poole and appointed Secretary of State in 1692. In this capacity he adopted a distinctly draconian approach to the country’s security, setting up an elaborate spy network to oversee the exiled King James, then under the protection of Louis XIV. In the archives of the Bastille were letters revealing that Trenchard had very high level contacts in the French Court and that he had spies in the French channel ports who relayed information from French naval officers.

At home Trenchard was no less zealous in his anti-papal purges. He courted great unpopularity by persecuting those he thought to hold Jacobite sympathies and freely issued search warrants for their homes. Once, when on the trail of a bogus plot perpetuated by one Francis Taffe, Trenchard was much reviled for his gullibility, though he was a man impervious to criticism.

By spring 1695 Sir John Trenchard was in poor-health, and by the end of April he was dead. He was just 46 years old. Phillipa however was not widowed for long, marrying soon after a merchant named Daniel Sadler and living for almost another 50 years. By Phillipa, Trenchard had seven children. His three daughters, Elizabeth, Mary and Anne all married well, though only one of his four sons survived to adulthood.

It should be noted that there were John and Thomas Trenchards in two other possible branches of the family, which could lead to considerable confusion about who is meant. For example there was also a John Trenchard of Warmwell (1586-1662), and a literary John Trenchard (1662-1723), the author of ‘A Short History of Standing Arms in England’ (1698 & 1731) and ‘The Natural History of Superstition’ (1709).

Thomas Gerard in his book Coker’s Survey of Dorestshire (1732) wrote: “Bradford Peverll. The Seate for a longe time of the antient Familie of Peverells whose estate about Henry the Eighth’s time fell by a Female Heire to Nicholas Meggs and his Posteritie enjoy it. Neare Bradford the River dividing itself, making an Island of manie faire and fruitful Maedowes, and there joineth againe a little belowe Dorchester, the more northern branch, being the lesser, amongst these Maedoes runneth by Wolton, more trulie Wolvehampton, a fine and rich Seate which (by the daughter and Heire of John Jordan the antient owner of it) came to John Mohune. His only daughter and Heire Alice brought a faire Estate unto her husband Henry Trinchard of Hampshire whose Grandchilde Sir Thomas Trinchard, gracious with King Henry the Eighth was called chief Builder of the Habitation of Sir George Trinchard, a Man of Great Courage.” (See our article: ‘ Thomas Gerard of Trent’ Published 17th July 2011, in the Trent category.)


This photo of St. Andrew's Church was taken around 1895.

This photo of St. Andrew's Church was taken around 1895.


Early illustration of the hour glass at St. Andrew's Church, Bloxworth, Dorset

Early illustration of the hour glass at St. Andrew's Church, Bloxworth, Dorset


Bloxworth St. Andrew's Church. The Church Hour Glass. Photo by Chris Downer, for more about the photographer click on the image.

Bloxworth St. Andrew's Church. The Church Hour Glass. Photo by Chris Downer, for more about the photographer click on the image.


St. Andrew's Church, Bloxworth. Photo by Trish Steel, for more about the photographer click on the image.

St. Andrew's Church, Bloxworth. Photo by Trish Steel, for more about the photographer click on the image.


The Tower of St. Andrew's Church at Bloxworth. Photo by Trish Steel, for more about the photographer click on the image.

The Tower of St. Andrew's Church at Bloxworth. Photo by Trish Steel, for more about the photographer click on the image.


Nowadays there are only a few cottages in Bloxworth fighting to be seen amongst the modern housing developments that were causing controversy as long as forty years ago, when Nikolaus Pevsner speaking of Bloxworth complained: “Many of the red brick cottages are derelict, or have already been demolished, and new housing south and west of the church includes some unpleasing showy abodes of Bournemouth commuters.”  But it has not always been such. In 1939 Arthur Mee spoke of Bloxworth as being: “as pretty a village as an artist could wish to see, with its thatched cottages scattered among the trees…” and in 1906 Frederick Treves called it: “..the daintiest hamlet…”.

The parish covers a little over 2,800 acres in a narrow strip of land about five miles North, North West of Wareham; it is a wooded area stretching across the northern edge of the south Dorset Heath and bordered by Morden and Bere Regis.

The Church is dedicated to St. Andrew. The reset late 12th century south doorway to the nave and the early cross-head in the vestry suggest there has been a church on this site since before the end of the 12th century. The tower was built in the 14th century and the nave was partly or possibly wholly rebuilt around the same time, though the south wall was refaced and the north wall rebuilt in the late 17th century. The north chapel, known as the Savage Pew, is also of the late 17th century, dating before 1683. Also, the 17th century saw the south porch added, which was restored during the general restoration of 1870 when the vestry was added and the chancel rebuilt to the design of George Evans. It has been described as over-elaborate and is a good example of our Victorian forefathers getting over enthusiastic about their church restorations. The font is from the early 17th century and the tower houses two bells.

Inside the church there are some interesting memorials including some to the Trenchard and Pickering families and there are heraldic paintings of arms belonging to the Savage and Strode families. The Savages were lords of the manor here in the 17th century. Most unusually there remains the original hour glass with stand; after the reformation the length of sermons was limited to one hour (see photo in gallery.)

In the churchyard there is the tomb of Robert Welsteed, who was Rector here from 1597 until his death in November 1651. The inscription reads:

“Here lies that reverend orthodox divine

Grave Mr Weksteed, aged seventy-nine

He was the painful pastor of this place

Fifty-five years compleate, during which space

None justly could his conversation wound

Nor’s doctrine taint, ‘twas so sincere so sound

Thus having his long thread of life well spunne

Twas cutt, November tenth in fifty-one,


Another Rector of this parish, John Morton, went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury (see our article: ‘A Cardinal’s Progress – the Life of John Morton of Stileham’ in the Bloxworth Category.)
In 1868 The Reverend Octavius Pickard-Cambridge came to be Rector of Bloxworth in addition to his service to the parish of Winterbourne Tomson. He immediately set about planning the re-building of the chancel as a memorial to his father. He was an expert on spiders and is reputed to have identified in the county 800 species of these creatures and wrote a book about the Spiders of Dorset. After forty-nine years of ministry at Bloxworth he died in 1917.

Of interest also is Samuel Crane who was born at Bere Regis in 1746. (See our article: ‘Samuel Crane – Farmer Diarist of Bloxworth’ in the Bloxworth Category.)

Bloxworth House was home to the Strode family and is essentially a 17th century building of some note. It is occasionally open to the public. There is a story that says there were originally three bells hanging in the church tower but the tenor bell was damaged and the Squire and the Churchwardens had it removed for repair. However, it seems it was sold for sixteen shillings and converted into a large brewing copper, which was installed in Bloxworth House.

Hutchins says life in this parish was hard. Today, it seems that many who live here work elsewhere and possibly enjoy a less physically demanding life-style than that endured by their forefathers.

A Cardinal’s Progress – The Life of John Morton of Stileham

On Easter Sunday in April 1471 a small ship docked at Weymouth after a stormy crossing of the Channel from Brittany. Queen Margaret of Anjou was returning to England with her son Prince Edward of Lancaster on a mission to raise an army against the Yorkists at Tewkesbury. Their escort inland for this critical event in the Thirty Year’s War was a rising Dorset born clerical statesman soon to have an important influence on the course of England’s dynastic history – John Morton.

Morton was born in Stileham, Milton St. Andrew, Dorset, in 1420. On his mother’s side he was a descendant of the Turberville family of Bere Regis (the D’Urbervilles of Thomas Hardy’s Tess. Who are commemorated by a stained glass window in the Church.) His grandfather and other members of the family are also buried in the church.

Educated at Cerne Abbey and Balliol College, Oxford, young John graduated in law and went on to study for the priesthood. By 1446 he had become one of the University’s commissioners and was subsequently appointed Moderator of the Civil Law School, Master in Chancery and Chancellor of the Duchy of Cornwall by the time he was about 30. From here on Morton emerged as a most distinguished clerical lawyer, holding several preferment positions, including that of Vicar of Bloxworth. He was to have an important effect on the country’s affairs in the latter half of the 15th century.

This chiefly came about through Morton becoming committed to supporting the Lancastrians during the Wars of the Roses. He probably realised that the cause of the Lancastrian Henry VI was lost, but held office under him and lent his support nevertheless. But after the Yorkist victory at the battle of Towton in 1461, the Earl of Warwick deposed Henry and put Edward IV on the throne. The new king took Henry prisoner and Morton escaped to France wit Henry” other followers, spending several years in exile there with Queen Margaret.

It appears that sometime before 1470 Morton decided to seek the King’s pardon. This Edward granted, and Morton returned from France. But as the King was also aware of Morton’s ability and loyalty to a cause, Edward further appointed him Master of the Rolls, then Bishop of Ely (he plays a minor role as such in Act 3, scene 4 of Shakespeare’s Richard III.) After Edward had been on the throne for a few years he quarrelled with Warwick, who deposed him and restored Henry. But at the battle of Barnet in 1471 Warwick was killed and Henry died, presumed murdered, in prison soon after.

It was at this point that Queen Margaret and Prince Edward returned to England to be escorted by John Morton to Cerne Abbey en route to Tewkesbury. But at the Battle there later in 1471 Edward IV inflicted a defeat upon the Lancastrians and Queen Margaret was taken prisoner, but after paying a ransom was allowed to return broken hearted to France.

For Edward, Morton had been a valued advisor whose duties often took him abroad. When Edward died in 1483 his 12-year old son Edward, Duke of York briefly succeeded as Edward V. But his Uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester, imprisoned Edward and his younger brother in the Tower where, according to tradition, he had the princes murdered so as to claim the throne for himself as Richard III. The new king’s suspicions about Morton’s loyalty outweighed any regard he had for his abilities as a statesman. On the pretext of some cleverly contrived charge or excuse, Morton was committed to prison, first in the Tower, then later Brecknock Castle. For some months his life would hang by a slender thread, and he faced being murdered, had he not managed to escape.

After this timely breakout Morton joined and sided with Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond in Brittany, where he helped to plan the Earl’s invasion to oust Richard from the throne. The fatal engagement came at Bosworth, where Richard was killed and Henry came to the throne as Henry VII. As a reward for his loyalty Morton became the first Tudor’s most trusted advisor, being promoted from Commissioner to Chancellor of Oxford University.

Thus Morton helped to establish the Tudor dynasty, but his effect on the course of English history did not end there. He effectively brought the dynastic civil war to its end, ushering in a new age of peace and material progress by advocating in 1486 the marriage of Henry to Elizabeth of York – the future mother of Henry VIII – so symbolically uniting the two royal houses. That year also Morton was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. The following year he became Lord Chancellor and, in 1493, a Cardinal.

Morton helped Henry accumulate substantial reserves while becoming wealthy himself at the same time. The Cardinal was intensely dedicated to ambitious building and restoration projects, into which he poured much of his personal assets. He rebuilt the palaces of Wisbech and Hatfield, and funded those of Lambeth and Canterbury.

Another re-building venture close to his own heart was the re-ordering of Bere Regis Church, where he constructed the timber roof as a memorial to his parents and also left a legacy for the upkeep of the paintings. He is represented personally in the bosses, the central boss being specially carved to portray the unification of the York and Lancastrian houses. But one of Cardinal Morton’s greatest achievements was the excavation of a great leet or drainage ditch through the East Anglian fens between Peterborough and Wisbech and named Morton’s Dyke after him.

Another facet of the Cardinal’s character was his ingenuity in procuring “benevolences” from the poor and wealthy alike, a practice which gave rise to the expression “Morton’s Fork”. If he heard a nobleman was rich he would say “I hear you are a very rich man, and are surely able to spare some money for the King.” He would then “turn the prong” to the nobleman who lived frugally and say “you are a careful thrifty person who must have saved much money, and some you will be able to spare for the King.” Neither then escaped their obligations to the royal coffers. But Morton did restrain certain financial policies that Henry proposed.

The opinions of contemporary writers about the Cardinal vary considerably however. Many saw him as a strange character, one accusing him of acting “from base and sordid motives,” even of sorcery. As a young man the statesman and writer Sir Thomas More served in the Morton household. He later wrote that Morton was “a man not more venerated for his high rank than for his wisdom and virtue.”

Other writers said he was energetic, sometimes brusque with polished manners, exemplary as a lawyer, one possessed of a great mind and a phenomenal memory. Through discipline and hard study he improved the talents which nature had bestowed upon him. He was a wise man, according to Bacon, but “a harsh and haughty one.” Morton could also be summed up as being accepted by the King, envied by the nobility, but hated by the people.

Cardinal Morton died at Knole, Sevenoaks in Kent in 1500 in his 80th year, and was buried in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral.

Samuel Crane – Farmer Diarist of Bloxworth

Dorset farmers with a firm footing in the 18th century were not usually the kind of people known for their erudition. After all, for anyone running a farm this was an age of illiteracy and poverty; any schooling, where it existed at all, would have been very elementary. However, there were a few notable exceptions to this rule. One such person was Samuel Crane.

Crane was born near Bere Regis in 1746, one of eight children and the elder son of John and Elizabeth Crane. Of the younger son George, little is known but it is known that Sam was able to benefit from a well-rounded education, since it was noted that his handwriting was distinctly legible and precise. Probably from his father, he gained knowledge and instruction in practical husbandry and farm management. These attainments would serve him well in the years to come.

While Samuel was still a young man a wealthy landowner called Jocelyn Pickard came into the possession of Bloxworth House in the parish of Bloxworth near Bere. The house was the focus of an extensive estate of farmland which, with the exception of the northern part, was owned by the Lytchett Matravers branch of the manorial Trenchard family. Pickard had secured his tenure of the estate by marrying George and Mary Trenchard’s daughter Henrietta in 1751. At the time the best land on the estate lay to the north, where the bedrock was chalk, while to the south was a narrow belt of clay mostly suitable for pasture with some crops. Some yeoman farmers had smallholdings here.

Needing a farm/estate manager Pickard appointed Crane to the position soon after taking up residence at Bloxworth. But Samuel wasn’t just concerned with carrying out his duties. Possibly upon the instructions of his superior he began to keep what would eventually become at least two farm diaries: the first, covering the period from June 14th 1770 to August 10th 1771; the second, from February 1st 1781 to November 30th 1783. These records have proved to be of great value as sources of information about managing of the agricultural estate of an 18th century country house.

It is thought, therefore, that Crane probably arrived at Bloxworth House before beginning the first diary. Pickard was clearly eager to increase the estates’s value by ensuring that the farm was a success. However, entries in the 1781 to 1783 diary show obvious signs of some alterations being made in the style and content, suggesting Pickard was wielding some influence upon the content of what Crane wrote.

In 1771, the year the first diary was completed, Sam Crane married Jane Perrott at Hermitage, some 12 miles north of Dorchester. A faded, barely legible entry of a baptism on October 25th 1772 in on of the parish registers suggests that by this date the couple had a son, though no further or later records relating to him have ever been found. No less obscure has been the fate of Jane herself, who early disappears from the records, leaving behind her abiding mystery unresolved to this day.

While the Crane diaries furnish a wealth of detail about the day-to-day nuts and bolts of his managerial labours at Bloxworth, they are much less informative about personal details. For example, Sam did not record where he lodged at the time, though it is believed he lived in a large farmhouse in the part of the parish known as Newport. Otherwise, in these pages it is possible for the reader to compare changes in the organisation of the farm over a ten-year period – a time covering a recession when the estate workers experienced great hardship.

Samuel recorded the wages paid to the workers, though never his own. The wages include details of labour costs, staff numbers, and occupations, and it was a measure of Crane’s skill that the wage bill was brought down by almost 5% despite an increase in the size of the farm and in the amount of time worked. By March 1771, he wrote, he had increased the dairy heard, and during the writing of the first diary, the number of sheep increased to 1,100. Wheat and barley were sold for profit and cereals were also grown to supply the manor and to sell off to the farm workers. Details of wheat deliveries to the mill are also noted. In June 1771, Crane borrowed horses from two other yeoman farmers.

Also to emerge from the diaries is the fact that children were regularly employed as part of the workforce, though girls were not made to work until they were twelve. By 1782 ten men and four boys were employed on the Bloxworth farm. In that year too, five fields of hay were mown and by the 1780’s Crane had increased the size of the turnip crop. For a time, Sam had dealings with a man in Wolverton he called “my brother” selling turnip seeds and barley. Some buck wheat was bought in August 1782, but what it was used for is not recorded.

Domestic arrangements at the manor were largely in the hands of Henrietta Pickard, so that Sam had little involvement in the running of the house. His remit was limited to securing farm produce, furze, turf, hay, corn and coal. Routinely, Crane undertook journeys on horseback to make deliveries of corn.

Then soon after 1783 everything changed for Sam Crane. He left Bloxworth, his last diary entry being for November 30th that year. On August 28th, 1788 at Cerne Abbas, he married Elizabeth Davis and settled in that parish. The couple had four sons of which two, Samuel (born 1790) and James (born 1792) survived to adulthood. The eldest and youngest sons died in infancy.

In 1787 an uncle of Sam Crane – also named Samuel – had died at Alton Pancras in the Piddle valley, leaving his nephew a legacy of land called Mill Grounds at Buckland Newton and a residue of £1,700. Uncle Sam Crane, although twice married, had no surviving children so his nephew became the principal beneficiary.

Although his uncle’s will meant that Samuel was comfortably off, it is not certain whether he had any other sources of income. There is also no record of his salary as a farm manager at Bloxworth, and whether this included accommodation and food. Since by now his diary keeping had ceased, there are no details of how Sam earned a living after his move to Cerne.

Samuel Crane died in 1815, aged 69. Whatever income Elizabeth was able to provide, the time in which she could have applied it was very brief, as she followed her husband to the grave only three months later, leaving an estate worth £35,000. Today Samuel and Elizabeth lie together in Cerne Churchyard.

The following year Sam Jr and James married, at Compton Valence, women who may have been sisters. Samuel married Jane Davis and made his marital home at Godmanston; the couple’s only child died of tuberculosis at the age of 25. James married Charlotte Davis that June.