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.