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The Mark of the Blandford Architects

“A pretty neate Country town”, was how Celia Fiennes described Blandford around 1680 and a few years later Defoe said of the town: “…a handsome well built Town, chiefly famous for making the finest Bone lace in England”, but that was before the great fire of 1731, which reduced most of the town to ashes. Its resurrection was assured, for here lived a family of architects and masons: the Bastards.

The rebuilding of the town was largely the work of two men, John and William Bastard, the sons of Thomas Bastard, whom is remembered on a memorial in the church as “eminent for his Skill in Architecture”. Thomas Bastard must have been responsible in his day for a lot of building work in and around Blandford; It is thought the classic church at Charlton Marshall (1713) and the rectory at Spetisbury (1716) are his work. By the time of his death in 1720 Thomas Bastard had built up a considerable business for his sons to carry on.  After the fire in 1731 ‘A List of Sufferers’  was drawn up; it included the losses of the firm Bastard & Co, estimated at £3,709, the largest individual loss recorded in the town.
Thomas Bastard’s eldest son, also a Thomas, was a joiner and architect. He died a few weeks after the fire, probably a victim of the small-pox epidemic that was raging in the town at the time.  Then came John (1687-1770) and William (1689-1766); the fourth son, Samuel, was a ship-modeller in the royal dockyard at Gosport and the fifth son Benjamin (1698-1772) set up in business at Sherborne. The youngest son, Joseph, described as a ‘builder and surveyor’ moved to Hampshire.

There is a curious form of capital that acts like a trade mark and helps us identify some of the buildings the Bastard firm designed and built. Instead of the volutes carving outwards in the usual way, they curve inwards and give a distinctive effect.  Two house fronts in the market-place in Blandford have the “Bastard capital”: The Red Lion Inn and The Grape, which is said to have been John Bastard’s own house.

However, there exists an earlier use of this peculiar design of capital on a building unlikely to have seen the involvement of the Dorset architects: Marlow Court in Buckinghamshire built about 1720 for the then Prince of Wales. This stately edifice displays another unusual design of capital and other similarities, which it shares with Chettle House in north-east Dorset. It is most unlikely that the Bastards had any involvement with the Marlow house but they might have been involved with the building of Chettle House about which the RCHM says: “…the architect in all probability being Thomas Archer.”

Arthur Oswald suggests the Bastards acquired their signature capital from the designer of Chettle House “whom they may actually have assisted as builders”. They went on to reproduce it for a further thirty years.

Another house of interest is Creech Grange, owned by Dennis Bond, where there is a further example of the Bastard capital. In the accounts for the alterations made between 1738 and 1741 the name of Cartwright is frequently used to identify the responsible mason and builder, but his place of origin is not given. However, the glazier on these works was a Blandford man, so perhaps Mr Cartwright also came from the town. To add weight to this speculation, in Blandford St. Mary Church we find a memorial: “In Memory of Mr Fran. Cartwright and Ann his beloved wife.” Below this is carved an architect’s set-square, dividers and ruler and a drawing of a Palladium House, which is undoubtedly a representation of Came House near Dorchester, built in 1754 by Francis Cartwright. This would have been one of his last works, for he passed away in 1758.
Cartwright does not appear in the list of people who suffered from the Blandford fire. He is described elsewhere as a provincial master builder so it is likely he was a rival rather than a pupil, employee or sub-contractor of the Bastards; nevertheless he incorporates an example of the Bastard capital in Came House.


In the north-east of the county at the head of a valley in the Cranborne Chase lies the parish of Chettle. The village lies at the bottom of the valley and was, until the 16th century, surrounded by open fields and some enclosed pasture, according to Hutchins. Recorded as Ceotel in Domesday Book, the name is from the Old English and means kettle, a reference to the location of the village in a deep valley surrounded by hills. The two Long Barrows in the parish provide cover for the remains of earlier guardians of this place from the Neolithic age, testifying to the manor’s ancient past.

This peaceful retreat has several thatched roofed cottages dating from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, a pretty church and Chettle House, attributed to Thomas Archer and commissioned by George Chafin MP in 1710. This Queen Anne house is in the English Baroque style and sits in five acres of gardens.

The first Chafin came to Chettle in the 17th century. The family possibly seeing its secluded location as shelter from the momentous events of those times were not shy of doing battle. Thomas Chaffin (1650-1691) left from Chettle to oppose the Duke of Monmouth at the battle of Sedgemoor, where he was Commander of a troop of Dorset Horse. He saw his share of conflict in those exciting days but he died in 1691 of natural causes at the age of 41. Thomas Chafin and his wife, the daughter of Colonel Penruddock, who was “beheaded for his loyalty” during the Civil War are commemorated in the parish church.

The Chafin family enjoyed field sports and enthusiastically enforced their rights in the Chase and this led to altercations with neighbours: in one dispute George Chaffin (1689-1766, ) MP and Ranger of Cranborne Chase, was challenged to a duel by Bubb Doddington , a fellow Member of Parliament and neighbour. William Chaffin (1733-1818) was the author of Anecdotes and History of Cranborne Chase a volume of tales about the gamekeepers enduring battle with poachers. William was said to have been an unruly man but later he became Rector of Chettle Parish. He accidentally shot a woman the first time he handled a gun.

In 1914 another William Chafin came to live at Chettle and like his ancestor he was writing a book, Anecdotes of the Cranborne Chase, when he was struck by lightning: he survived and finished his book.

Chettle House became the home of the Revd John West. He was born in Farnham, Surrey in 1778 and ordained at Winchester Cathedral in 1806. In February 1820 he arrived to take up his duties at Chettle but quickly returned to Aldershot, his previous parish. On the 27th of May 1820 he sailed from Gravesend on board the Hudson Bay Company’s ship Eddystone and landed in Red River Settlement, British North America. He joined a group of displaced Scottish crofters who had been settled there by the Earl of Selkirk.

John West set-up schools for the Indians and he was the first Englishman to preach to Eskimos, this was at a gathering at Churchill on the Hudson Bay in 1823. He made two later visits to other parts of North America, going to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in 1825 and 1826. His Red River school and settlement later became St. John’s Cathedral, Winnipeg.

In 1828 he returned to England and settled in Chettle. He was fascinated by wanderers both in North America and at home in Dorset and worked tirelessly for them. In Dorset with help from Lord Ashley he set up the ‘Orphan Gipsy Assylum and Industrial School.’ He died on the 31st of December 1845. The 150th anniversary of his arrival at Red River was celebrated In 1970, with special commemorative services at Chettle and Winnipeg.

All that remains of St, Mary’s church from John West’s day is the 16th century tower. The chancel, nave, vestry and organ chamber were built in 1849, replacing demolished medieval buildings. There is a memorial to John West in the chancel and in the church there are memorials commemorating members of the Chafin family.

In 1846 banker William Castleman and his son Charles, a solicitor, purchased Chettle House and the parish. This Wareham family had made its money in the railway business and  they sponsored the first railway line into Dorset in 1845. The line opened from Southampton to Dorchester on the 1st of June 1847 and soon became known as Castleman’s Corkscrew because of its route. The Castleman family can trace their roots back to Isaac Gulliver, the master smuggler.

Chettle house is the principal monument and main attraction in the village. Pevsner says it is: “the plum among Dorset Houses… and even nationally outstanding as a specimen of English Baroque.” This elegant oval structure built of red brick with dressings of Chilmark stone stands in five acres of delightful gardens. In the grounds is the dower house now The Castleman a hotel and restaurant.

Footnote: Tim Edwards writes: It was Edward Castleman, who bought this house; he was the only son interested in country life. Also they had no part in the Railway, other than working for the owners as solicitors and both acted for the Company, until after the line was purchased by LSWR.


Chettle: Chafin Family

Chafin family memorial in St. Mary's Church, Chettle. Photo by Mike Searle, for more about the photographer please click on image.

Chafin family memorial in St. Mary's Church, Chettle. Photo by Mike Searle, for more about the photographer please click on image.

Chettle House

This photograph of Chettle House was taken by Mike Searle. For more about the photographer click on the image.

This photograph of Chettle House was taken by Mike Searle. For more about the photographer click on the image.

Chettle – St. Mary’s Church

St. Mary's Church at Chettle. Photo by Trish Steel, for more about the photographer click on the image.

St. Mary's Church at Chettle. Photo by Trish Steel, for more about the photographer click on the image.

Chettle – St. Mary’s Church

St. Mary's Church, Chettle. Photo by Trish Steel, for more about the photohrapher click on the image.

St. Mary's Church, Chettle. Photo by Trish Steel, for more about the photohrapher click on the image.

After the Rebellion

During the summer of 1685 the West Country was in turmoil. The Duke of Monmouth’s short lived campaign to seize the throne failed, leaving many mothers without husbands and sons. Those of Monmouth’s supporters who survived the fight faced a journey to Dorchester and the rough justice dispensed by Judge Jefferies at what was to become known as the Bloody Assizes. (See our article: the Monmouth Rebellion, published 18th October 2012 in the General Category).

The 800 or so who were sentenced to be transported were the fortunate ones; nearly three hundred were sentenced to death and for many of those the journey out of this world was to be a cruel and barbaric one. A few saved themselves by testifying against their fellows, while some wealthy individuals were able to buy themselves a pardon and a lucky few managed to escape and blend back into their communities when the hue and cry had died down. (See our article: Prideaux Family at Forde Abbey published 20th July 2012 in Real Lives Category).

Supporters of Monmouth continued to be sought out until the announcement of a General Pardon in March 1686. One was James Daniel, a lawyer, who lived in Beaminster. Following the defeat at Sedgemoor he fled to his home town and hid in a closet in his house. Hearing that soldiers were heading towards Beaminster looking for him he hurried west out of town to Knowle Farm, where he hid in a barn and covered himself with straw.

The soldiers arrived at the farm and charged into the barn, stabbing at the straw with their bayonets; amazingly they missed him. Eventually, the soldiers abandoned their search, leaving the fugitive to wonder about his miraculous escape. He was sure God had saved his life.

Four years passed before things improved for the better and James Daniel’s life could return to something resembling normal. The first thing he did was to buy the barn and the land around it, establishing a private burial ground so he and his descendants would lie where he believed God had saved him. James Daniel lived a further three score years reaching the age of 100 before it was time for this former Rebel to return to Knowle Farm one last time.  The burial ground remains to this day. Just 40 ft by 24 ft it is surrounded by a hedge of holly and a low stone ivy-covered wall, being entered through two large iron gates.

Those who fought on the side of the king returned to their homes and occupations, while some of the landed gentry who had supported the royal cause were received and thanked for their loyalty and service personally by the king in London.
In the thick of the battle commanding a troop of Dorset Horse was Thomas Chafin from Chettle. He was a devoted family man who frequently sent letters home to his wife; some of these have survived and provide us with first hand accounts of life on the field of battle, as well as giving us a glimpse into his relationship with his wife and his pride at being presented to James II.
In an early letter home Thomas Chafin tells of how his cousin was killed “barbarously” and goes on to say that one of his friends saved himself by hiding in a plot of kidney beans and how another escaped by running into a garret: “he was running as fast as he could thither and he and Thomas Clements and his gardener with him, well armed.” In another letter home he says: “after being fallen upon by rebels there was an hour’s fighting and away they ran”. He goes on to claim they took and killed a thousand of the rebels and captured three loads of arms.

In a further despatch to his wife who he addresses as: “My Dearest Creature” and  closes with “… and blessings to the brats and let Nancy take true love from her Deare Tossey,” Chafin tells her they “had totally routed the enemies of God and the king and could not hear of 50 men together of the rebel army. Every hour they picked up rebels in fields, hedges, and ditches including the Duke of Monmouth’s valet; the duke’s last words to him were that he was undone”.

The Duke of Monmouth was captured hiding under a tree near Cranborne Chase, at a spot still referred to as Monmouth’s Ash. He was running from the battlefield, trying to get to Poole, where he hoped to secure a passage back to Holland. Instead he was taken to London under a guard of soldiers from 1st King’s Dragoon Guards and executed.

It is not clear if Chafin and his men were a part of that guard but certainly Chafin was in London for Monmouth’s execution, a fact he reports to his wife. He describes how he and Thomas Erle were presented to the king, who gave them his hand to kiss, so that the whole company gazed on them and wondered who they were.  “Pray let ten cock chickens and two hens be sent to Thomas Erle’s speedily” Chafin orders, his wife adding: “The Duke of Monmouth’s head was severed from his body yesterday morning on Tower Hill. Blessing to Brats. So farewell, my dearest deare Nancy, quoth Tossey”.

The outcome of the conflict impacted the lives and relationships of many Dorset people. Some were cruelly sent to their deaths, some were shipped-off to far-away shores with no hope of seeing their loved ones again, and some were royally rewarded.