Dorset Ancestors Rotating Header Image


St. Edwold’s, Stockwood – Dorset’s Smallest Church

Tucked away below the northwest slopes of Bubb Down between Chetnole and Melbury Osmond is the tiny hamlet of Stockwood, home to the smallest church in Dorset.

The church, unseen from the road, is not difficult to miss. First you must find the farm track that leads without announcement to Church Farm. The church is huddled together with the farmhouse and easily mistaken for an outbuilding, even from the track. A footpath thankfully sign posted leads across a field to a brick footbridge and once over that you may have the uncomfortable feeling that you are trespassing in the farmer’s front garden. Directly ahead of you is the church and to your left, just four gravestones.

These lonely memorials to past inhabitants reinforce the feeling that life and time has passed this place by. Even Pevsner when he visited tarried only long enough to scribble half a dozen lines about the place.

As well as being the smallest of Dorset’s churches it is alone in being dedicated to St. Edwold. According to the Salisbury Cathedral calendar St. Edwold is remembered on August 12th a fact that will probably pass un-remarked in Stockwood.

Edwold was the younger brother of Edmund; the East Anglian king who in 870 during the late Saxon period was brutally murdered by or on the orders of the Dane Ivarr the Boneless. Edwold, perhaps wisely in the circumstances, declined the throne choosing instead the hermit life. He spent the last year of his life in Dorset.

Edwold, according to legend, was told in a vision to go to Silver Well. When he arrived in Cerne he paid a shepherd for bread and water with silver pennies and in thanks the man showed Edwold the well and he established a hermitage nearby. It is assumed he also had a cell at Stockwood, because this place was earlier known as Stoke St. Edwold. The holyman was ‘a heremite of high perfection’ and in 987 when the monastery at Cerne was rebuilt Edwold’s remains were reburied in the Abbey.

The present building dates from the early 15th century although its dedication to St. Edwold suggests it was built on an earlier Saxon foundation. The single cell construction, in which the Chancel and Nave are structurally undivided, measures just 30ft by 12ft. The early to mid 15th century east window is of three trefoiled lights with tracery in a two- centred head with a label and returned stops. In the north wall is a window with two trefoiled lights; while on the south wall are two windows, the eastern of early 15th century date and of two trefoiled lights in a square head. The western window is of 16th century date and of three four-centred lights in a square head with a label. The west porch was added towards the middle of the 17th century around the same time as the delightfully pillared and domed bell turret, which is topped off with ball terminal and pinnacles. The present bell was purchased in 1877 and was re-hung in a new framework in 1988.

“Neatly pewed” is how the church was described in 1870 so it seems that during some later restoration probably carried out towards the end of the 19th century much of the original church furniture was removed. The remaining altar rails and pews date from the later part of the 19th century, as does the font.

The four headstones beside the church mark the graves of 10 people. The small upright stone commemorates the short life of a beloved daughter, Mabel Christopher; she died in March 1884 aged just 6 years and 9months. A large upright stone is a memorial to John Bird (1812-1867). Another large upright stone tells us that Jonathan Wilton is buried here, he died three days before Christmas 1873 aged 72 years. The fourth monument, an upright stone with a cross on top, remembers the Wilton family: William (1770-1840), his wife Elizabeth (1775-1805), William Jeans (1790-1825), three children who died in infancy, and Samuel Wilton Jeans (1820-1826) are all buried here.

For hundreds of years this was a separate living, with its own parish priest but in 1888 it was united with the rectories of Melbury Sampford and Melbury Osmond. St. Edwold’s Church is now in the care of The Churches Conservation Trust.

Services are rarely held here now but the church remains consecrated and through its simplicity and tranquillity continues to minister to anyone persistent enough to find it.

Stockwood – St.Edwold’s Church – Churchyard

Four lonely memorials reinforce the feeling that life has passed this place by.

Four lonely memorials reinforce the feeling that life has passed this place by.

Stockwood – St. Edwold’s Church, Bell Turret

The pillared and doomed bell turrent of St. Edwold's Church, Stockwood.

The pillared and doomed bell turret of St. Edwold's Church, Stockwood.

Stockwood – St Edwold’s Church – Interior

Photographed from entrance.

Photographed from entrance.

Stockwood – Dorset’s Smallest Church

Interior from Chancel of St. Edwold's Church, Stockwood.

Interior from Chancel of St. Edwold's Church, Stockwood.

Stockwood – St.Edwold’s Church and Church Farm

St. Edwold's the parish church at Stockwood. From a distance easily mistaken for a farm outbuilding.

St. Edwold's the parish church at Stockwood. From a distance easily mistaken for a farm outbuilding.