The village of Hinton Martell lies in the foothills of Cranborne Chase, between Cranborne and Wimborne, where mixed loamy soils indicate a transition from clay to chalk. The woodlands between the heath and the downs are noted for their game. A chase is a Royal forest.
However, “Martell” is only one of three names this Chase community has acquired throughout its long history. The second name derives from the Norman Lords of the Manor, but later acquired the Latinised version of “Magna” meaning great. This fell out of general use in favour of “Great Hinton” in order to end confusion with nearby Hinton Parva. “Great Hinton” in turn has now been abandoned, so that on modern maps the village is marked H Martell. Confusion with other names was compounded when the Revd. William Barnard and his parishioners campaigned for the restoration of the medieval spelling of Martel (without the second ‘L’.) The Martells were followed by John of Gaunt, a son of Edward lll, who for a time owned a hunting lodge nearby. Another Lord of the Manor was the Earl of Shaftesbury.
Today the village retains something of its old core, but has a disproportionately high number of modern council houses. Despite appearances to the contrary, more ancient buildings are scarce. Brick, timber and thatched cottages occupy the centre including some with timber framing dating from the 18th century. Single-track roads and lanes are common, but around the periphery Hinton is blighted by several power transmission lines and sub-stations.
The singularly most unique and outstanding feature of the village’s centre however, is an ornamental fountain in a circular basin which lends itself well to the layout and perspective of the surrounding buildings. In the earlier days of Hinton as a sheep-rearing centre this had been the village pond, though the present formality is due to an imaginative restoration undertaken to mark the Coronation in 1953, followed by a more recent re-construction in 1965. The Parish Church is dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, but little of the medieval fabric remained after a fire destroyed the building in 1868.
In 1847 the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church built the National School in the village. This was provided with an adjoining house for two mistresses and intended for 80 children from a population of 290 (by 1881 attendance had declined to just 21, even though the population of Hinton rose to 381 in the same period.) The Schoolmistress was then Ann Reekes, who was succeeded by Elizabeth Sims, then Catherine Douglas.