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Winterbourne Steepleton

About four miles west of Dorchester is the parish of Winterbourne Steepleton, its 1,800 acres laid out in a rectangular plan across the wooded valley of South Winterborne. The village is the original and only settlement in the parish and is found beside the River Winterbourne, which starts its journey in the neighbouring parish of Winterbourne Abbas.  The several thatched cottages in the village date from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries; throughout the parish there are prehistoric burial barrows, not uncommon in this area west of the county town.

The walls of the parish church, dedicated to St. Michael, are built mostly from Portland rubble with some Ham Hill dressings; the roofs are slate covered. The quoins at three corners of the nave have survived from the church that was here in Saxon times. The nave was rebuilt in the 12th century and there are fragments of wall paintings on the north wall. There is a blocked-up Norman doorway and a Norman west window that now looks into the tower; this was added in the 14th century and houses one late medieval bell. The south porch is also of the 14th century. Although the chancel was rebuilt during the 15th century, the chancel arch was not rebuilt until the 18th century and Hutchins tells us of a 15th century North Chapel that was demolished in 1688. There is a west gallery that bears the date 1708.

The Altar in the chancel is of the 12th or 13th century and has five consecration crosses. The font has a circular Bath Stone bowl with cable ornament at top, moulded arcade of segmental arches below; springing, alternately, from shafted pilasters and corbels of the late 12th century with a stem of Purbeck marble, cylindrical with four shafts and moulded base on square plinth of the 13th century. The modern pulpit has Jacobean panelling.

Of special interest and the churches greatest treasure is a sculpture of an archangel having his waist bound with chains and looking back at his flowing garments; his feet are raised as he flies along and he appears to be holding a skull in his hands. This is an ancient figure of the Archangel Michael and is similar to the angel in the Saxon church at Bradford-on-Avon. Pevsner dates this to the 10th century and says it would have been one of a pair but the RCHM has it from the first half of the 11th century.

The Mill and Millhouse are close to the church and are of the 17th century, though rebuilt and extended in the 18th century. The Manor House is not as old as it appears. It was built about 1870 on the site of a former house that belonged to the Lawrence family and nearby is Manor Cottage. This charming thatched property was built in the 16th century.

In the autumn of 2007 scaffolding went up around the medieval spire of St. Michael’s church; an inspection of the spire found the top seven courses of stonework would have to be removed and re-laid.  The cost was a heavy burden on a small parish but with some grant aid including £6,000 from the Dorset Historic Churches Trust the money needed for the repairs was raised and the work completed in 2008.

Ansty Brewery – the Early Days

Until the late 18th century Ansty was much as it is today, a quiet hamlet within the parish of Hilton but from then until the early years of the 20th century it was a place of industry. In 1777 Charles Hall, a young man just a quarter century in years, started brewing here on a commercial scale. The business continues to this day.

Charles Hall was baptised at Hilton on the 20th of December 1752, the son of William and Deborah Hall. He was a farmer’s son and he learnt about brewing from his father, who was known to do a little brewing to meet the needs of his family, his labourers and other villagers but Charles was a shrewd business man and saw the opportunity to put the family brewing on to a business footing while at the same time keeping an interest in farming.
Because he used the best equipment available the business flourished. Substantial government contracts were secured for the supply of beer to the military. This was a time when there were large numbers of troops stationed along the Dorset coast to allay fears of an invasion by the French during the Napoleonic wars.
On the death of Charles Hall the business was continued by his son Robert, who never married. However, he did adopt a grand-daughter of his father and this girl married George Edward Illingworth Woodhouse who had been Robert’s head brewer and who later became a partner in the business, which became known as Hall and Woodhouse. In 1875 George Woodhouse passed the business on to his two sons, George Edward Woodhouse and Alfred Charles Woodhouse. The business grew rapidly under their leadership and in 1882 they purchased the business of John Hector and Company of Blandford, who owned several licensed public houses. From this point the breweries at Ansty and Blandford were run as one business.

The beers were produced from barleys grown locally at Cheselbourne and Piddletrenthide; the hops came from Kent and water was taken from a spring on Melcombe Horsey Hill, supplemented by water pumped from the Devils Brook that ran through the brewery site.

At Ansty there was a large brew house, the first floor being used as a mashing room and copper-house. At one end, fixed on a gallery, was the malt hopper and mill, over which was the reservoir for storing the brewing water. On the side of this building back-heated by copper steam coils, was a hot-liquor tank. The mashing machine was the best available at the time. On the floor were two oak mash tuns both fitted with slotted gun-metal draining plates. A large copper holding fifty barrels stood near the mash-tuns; it was heated by fire to which the wort was delivered by a three –throw pump. Also in this room was an iron hop-back fitted with slotted iron draining plates and from here, by means of a two-throw pump, the wort was delivered to the open cooler. Under an adjoining room was a vertical refrigerator, cooling at the rate of thirty barrels an hour.

The hop store was located behind the malting house and held 600 pockets. Off the brew house was a fermenting room where there were eight fermenting tuns fitted with attemporators and chutes. Each of these held sixty barrels.
In 1856 a large vat house was built onto the fermenting house and this contained six vats made of oak, each holding 260 barrels and all used to store and mature old beers.   Adjoining this was another vat cellar holding eleven vats and in front of this was the goods outwards stage. There was another vat cellar containing a further eight vats each containing 116 barrels and there was also a cask drying cellar with a cask-washing department, cooperage etc.
Brewing ceased at Ansty in the early 20th century, when brewing was transferred to the Blandford Brewery and Ansty became a distribution centre for the company. The malt houses remained in use until about 1940.

The company provided a lot of jobs locally: there were clerks, maltsters, coopers, barrel washers, an engine driver who doubled as a rat catcher, an Excise Officer, carters, pony boys, a mason, and a wheelwright; also on the payroll were stockmen and a shepherd. At one time the company employed twenty horses and had a number of carts, drays and other vehicles including a ‘tilted’ van and the brewery had its own fire engine.

Ansty has returned to being a peaceful hamlet where some of the old brewery buildings have been converted into houses, flats and a village hall, while the business, still family owned, continues and thrives at Blandford.

Jack Counter V.C.

There was something very special about the presentation Peter Collins of St Helier Galleries made to Advocate Richard Falle of La Societe Jersiase at St Helier Museum in March 1989. It was a bar of military medals including a conspicuous Victoria Cross which Mr Collins, acting on behalf of Mr Falle, had just bid £12,000 for at a London auction house. The VC had returned to the home of the remarkable and courageous serviceman who had won it 71 years before.

But Jack Thomas Counter, the original holder of the decorations, was no native to the Channel Islands. In fact he was born in Blandford Forum on the 3rd of November, 1898 to Frank and Rosina Counter. After leaving school in his teens, Jack found a job at International Stores, a retailing business in the town. When war broke out in 1914 Counter, possibly too young then to serve, joined the action after the introduction of conscription as a private in the 1st Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment in February, 1917. Posted to France, he served with his battalion, which had become engaged with the Germans at Boisleux St Marc.

On 16th April, 1918 Counter’s company faced an enemy breakout, making it critical for a reconnaissance detachment to be sent across the line to gather intelligence. A detail of five other men went out, but all were killed in full view of Jack Counter, who then volunteered to go alone after the decision was made that a lone runner would stand a better chance of surviving to report back. Thus facing almost certain death under enemy fire Counter achieved the objective of returning with the information, enabling his commanding officer to launch a new offensive to recover the regiment’s lost ground.

This alone was an outstanding act of selfless courage, but Jack Counter went on to carry no fewer than five other messages to company HQ across the battlefield under heavy artillery fire. It was following the last of these assignments that he was awarded the Victoria Cross, an occasion reported in the London Gazette of May 23rd, 1918. On the 28th of June, following his investiture by King George V, he returned home to a hero’s welcome at Blandford station, being met by the town’s Mayor, its Corporation and, it seemed, almost the entire population as a tumultuous crowd. Blandford’s Band led Counter and the welcoming party to the market square in an open landau, where Counter was made the very first Freeman of the Borough and presented with a magnanimous War savings certificate and a gold watch, a gift from his employers at International Stores.

While still in the army Counter was promoted to Corporal, a rank, friends were told, he only accepted to avoid the indignity of spud-bashing. Certainly he never contemplated making the army his profession. On being demobbed in the Channel Islands in 1922 he decided to settle and make his home there, soon finding a job as an auxiliary postman at St Ouen, Jersey.

Three years later however, he was seconded to the Post Office at Sudbury Common, Middlesex, remaining there until 1929, when he returned to St. Helier to fill the position of the town’s postman. This work continued throughout the occupation of the Channel Islands by the Germans in World War 2, by which time Jack had met and married a local Jersey woman and by her had a daughter. While still working as a postman, Counter was further awarded the Imperial Service Medal. He would remain in Jersey for the rest of his working life.

The war over, Counter retired from the postal service on April 11, 1959, although he worked for some years more for two local businesses, G.D. Laurens and R Le Ball & Co. During the years of his retirement he returned to visit the family home in Blandford’s Dorset Street several times.

Of course as an ex-serviceman it was natural that Jack Counter should join the Jersey branch of the British Legion, in his case as member 499 in 1930. Yet it was typical of this war hero that he would not be content with a mere passive supporting role out of respect for fallen comrades. He took an active part in the British Legion’s administration as a general committee member, during which time he often joined in games of tombola and housey-housey at social evenings organised at the Hotel de L’Europe.

But to the Jersey public he was a proud soldier who bore the Kings, later Queens. Standard at Armistice Day and other Legion parades. Counter also relished being in the colour-party, carrying the Sovereign’s colour in the presentation of the Festival of Remembrance. For this involvement, Counter even became known as Jersey’s VC.

Throughout his life Jack Counter was by nature a person of ever-cheery demeanour and kindly words. Former Blandford Town Clerk and Freeman Charles Lavington recalls Jack as shy and unassuming – possibly the most unlikely character credentials for a future VC holder. The many friends he made in St. Helier could attest that he was modest and jovial, a leading light in the Jersey British Legion.

But despite his valiant early years the happiness of his twilight ones were shattered by two dreadful blows. The first came in 1964 when his much-loved daughter – his only child – died before reaching middle age. Then only six years later his wife died, leaving him sole survivor of the family he created, and isolated by sea on an offshore state miles from his native county. Now alone, Jack’s nearest kin were a sister-in-law in Blandford and a sister (Mrs Gertrude Weeks) and niece living in Bristol, with whom he maintained contact through occasional visits.

Jack Counter was making one such holiday visit to his sister and niece in Bristol in September 1970, only months after the death of his wife earlier that year. After a few days together brother and sister made a day-trip to visit Jack’s sister-in-law in Blandford. Later that afternoon, when one or both women were out of the room making tea, Jack suddenly collapsed – within an hour of being about to leave to catch the return coach to Bristol. A doctor was called to the Dorset Street home, but found the 71-year-old war veteran-hero to be dead.

For the two towns of Blandford and St Helier the emerging news was devastating. Jack Counter was taken to Bournemouth for cremation, his ashes then being taken back to St. Helier, where a memorial service was held in St. Andrews Church, First Tower. A plaque put to his memory near the church war memorial reads:

To the Glorious Memory of Jack Counter VC, from his Friends and Comrades in the British Legion, 1970″

Nor were these the only tributes. Within a year of his death Counter was even portrayed on a postage stamp: to commemorate its half-centenary in 1971 the British Legion was honoured with a special issue of four from the Jersey Post Office, including one depicting the veteran with his VC. Just five years later in 1976, when the site of the former Seaview and St. Helier Cottages at First Tower were rebuilt as 15 flats for the elderly, the town council named the new development “Jack Counter Close”. Blandford honoured him with a wreath from the British Legion, and a cushioned wreath presented by his family, which were placed at the base of the war memorial in the cemetery.

In  February 1989 Blandford Museum Curator Benjamin Cox, who already held an archive of material on Jack Counter, admitted he would welcome the medal back, but could not ensure the money or security for it. The Kings Liverpool Regimental Secretary, Major Bob Baker, also considered whether to bid for the VC after it was learnt that a Canadian, who had had Counter’s VC and other medals in his collection for some years, was putting them up for auction at Glendinings in London. The Jersey branch of the British Legion were also thought to be likely bidders, but in the end it fell to Richard Falle of La Societe, through his agent, Peter Collins, to make the bid that bought back for Jersey Jack Counter’s medals. Collins, in fact, had only to bid against one other (unknown) person, who stopped bidding at £11,500.

Besides the VC and the Imperial Service Medal, the Bar also carried a British War Medal., Victory Medal, a George VI Coronation Medal (1937) and an Elizabeth II Coronation Medal (1953). No one could or would deny that Jack Counter deserved his VC. He accepted his decoration with alacrity and pride, although there nevertheless remained at the back of his mind the conviction, perhaps even guilt that it should also have been awarded posthumously to five courageous men who didn’t make it – ghost runners now – cut down on the battlefield at Boisleux St Mare that death and glory day in 1918.

We have posted a photograph of Jack Counter V.C. in the photo section.

Dorset’s Mysterious Stone Circles

Around 1800 BC invaders from the Rhineland settled Britain, bringing with them a pagan tradition that emphasised the importance of stone sanctuaries rather than mere earthworks as foci of old religion ceremonial or ritual. The Beaker Folk as these people were called (after the style of their pottery) left behind many standing stones arranged in rows, avenues, circles, and in isolation, in the highland and lowland regions of the UK. Stonehenge is only the most sophisticated and large-scale of these ceremonial centres, but many far more minor stone circles were constructed.

The Beaker and later Bronze Age people of Dorset left a legacy of about six stone circles, mainly in the south of the county. Some have virtually disappeared while others have been damaged, either through natural erosion or subsidence, or by man’s actions.

About halfway along the B3351 between Corfe and Studland and in the north shadow of the Purbeck Ridge below Nine Barrow Down lies Rempstone. This is the site of a hitherto unknown and ignored stone circle, as it is not shown either on the first OS map of the 1890’s, or even the present Internet Megalith Map. Yet the circle must once have been a complex and impressive one, and Cope mentions it in ‘The Modern Antiquarian’ as being lost in undergrowth, neglected, obscured, and cut by ditches and embankments. The site remained in this condition until 1966 when the enclosing woodland was felled to open it up to the view from the road, and new saplings planted nearby.

Ten stones have been relocated at Rempstone: a few standing, some nearly complete, with others lop-sided or sunk through subsidence. Surveying has found that some of the stones would have stood almost 6 feet high while others would have been less than knee height. Another recorder has noted four stones 4 feet high, and another four large stones fallen. These form a half circle 80 feet across, later sliced in two by a bank and ditch.

To the south the area has largely been cleared, with rocks piled together a short distance to the east. This pile comprises eight identical stones, and it has been suggested this feature could represent the remains of a large outlier subsequently collapsed. The stone nearest to the road is speckled with holes and cracks, which were found to have a number of coins wedged into them. Other stones related to the circle are scattered throughout the present wood.

In 1957 a local farmer ploughing his field half a mile to the west of the main site uncovered 26 stones arranged in two rows to form an avenue three yards wide. This avenue was found to be aligned directly with the circle, and is thought to indicate that the Rempstone Circle has – or had – alignments to mark the autumn and summer equinoxes. Another 23 stones about 2 feet 6 inches long were found in the field immediately south of the B3351, and west of the track from Rempstone Farm. Were these once part of a ceremonial way or a line of sighting to the circle?

Besides being impressive, the Rempstone Circle is also unusual. It was sited along the foot, rather than the summit of a ridge or downland favoured in most other cases, including other sites in Dorset. But it has been pointed out that it would have been in easier reach of the Bronze Age populations both on Nine Barrow Down and living in the Purbeck heath area. Another mystery is that one researcher found unexplained light effects on a photograph of one of the stones which resembled fairies or elemental spirits.

Other Circles. There is a stone circle at a focus of paths on a downland knoll about 1 km south east of Lower Kingston Russell (OS SY577877; Landranger Sheet 194.) This has been described as an unimpressive ring of slabs (assumed to be fallen, as recumbent stone circles are not otherwise known in southern England.) The circle is a scheduled ancient monument, but is not mentioned by Burl in his impressive treatise ‘Stone Circles of Brittany, Ireland and Britain.’ This monument is more impressive from the air, but any further information about it is clearly needed.

Just over 4 km to the NE of the Kingston Circle however, stands the much better known and protected Nine Stones near Winterborne Abbas (SY 661904;LR194.) Owing to its good preservation and situation directly on the south side of the A35, this monument, in the eastern corner of a block of woodland, has been fenced off and gated, though with access to the enclosure.

This circle has very large and very small stones ranging from 90 cm to 3.4 metres, which Burl has suggested may represent sex symbols. Some have also noted some influence of the Caledonian or northern highland circles in the Nine Stones, and small clay objects like elongated dice inscribed with symbols have been found on some of the stones following the summer solstice. This monument, which is in the care of English Heritage and has an information board, is difficult to park nearby. Another location (given as OS SY600900) half a kilometre south of the Nine Stones has been recorded as the site of another small circle since destroyed.

A feature described as a cluster of stones has been recorded under some trees in the corner of a field at Little Mayne (SY 723871;LR194.) This was certainly part of the remains of a once larger feature, as another stone lies in a field to the east (SY 724870.) The stones occur mainly on the north side of the road, with a few on a hedge-line on the south side. Minor stone rows also occur nearby. The Little Mayne stones are described by Peter Knight in Ancient Stones of Dorset.

Considerable megalithic activity seems to have been centred around Portesham, with a stone circle surviving on a spur of the coastal ridgeway only 1 km NW of the village. This circle (SY 596864;LR194) also lies just 2.5 km south east of the Kingston Russell circle, while immediately to the north is the area known as the Valley of Stones. The valley is recorded on the Dorset Monuments Record as a possible prehistoric site with a circle of sarsens, of which one sarsen found a few feet north of the circle had been used to grind axes. However, Jeremy Harte of Dorset Archaeology Unit couldn’t find the stone being mentioned in any literature, so with a colleague he checked it out. While certainly unusual it cannot be stated with certainty if the stone is genuinely prehistoric-placed or not. But it is not thought the Valley of Stones has ever been systematically excavated.

Though actually the exposed cairn of a round barrow, the Hellstone, 1 km north of Portesham, broadly resembles a stone circle (ST 606867;LR194.) On Moynes Down near Upton (SY745836;LR194) there is a cairn of stones less than a metre in height set in a circle about 6 feet across. Another circle is said by Charles Warne in Ancient Dorset (1872) to have stood: “..within living memory between East Lulworth and Povington, but not a vestige remains of it remains.” The story goes that the stones were removed by a farmer to build a stream-bridge and two gateposts!

Pimperne – A Village Fit for a Queen

A village fit for a Queen; so thought Henry VIII. He granted the Manor of Pimperne to his fifth wife Catherine Howard but only for the duration of her life. Henry had a clever head on his shoulders, for after he saw to it that Catherine lost hers, he granted the Manor in 1543 to her successor Catherine Parr, who had the good fortune to survive her husband.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries villagers could still recall handed down memories of the Queen’s Walk, which apparently wound round the village but by then had long disappeared as had a maze that was famous in its day. Made from banks of earth about a foot high it was said: “It was the delight of the rustics on certain days of the year to thread this labyrinth, which was of a very complex pattern.” John Hutchins tells us the maze was ploughed into the ground in 1730.
We often acknowledge our indebtedness to Dorset’s greatest historian, John Hutchins, overlooking that it was his wife Anne, the daughter of the Revd. Thomas Stephens, a rector of Pimperne, who, at considerable risk to her own life, saved her husband’s manuscripts when fire struck at Wareham. (See our story John Hutchins in the Biography Category 13th of January 2010.)
Sheltering under an ancient spreading chestnut tree about fifty yards from the church and just outside its gates is the village preaching cross. All that remains of the cross is the lower part of an octagonal shaft set in a square pedestal on a plinth of three steps, the lower step being well worn. All such crosses were ordered by Cromwell to be cut down to the height of a man, though this one is unusually tall. Some sources date the cross to the 14th century but the RCHM says it is: “probably late 15th century.” A soldier of the New Model Army was buried in the churchyard on the 16th of January 1645.

The churchyard is entered through a lynch-gate erected by the Woodhouse family as a memorial commemorating the life of Lieutenant Edward John Woodhouse of the family brewing firm and the Central India Horse, Major Oliver George Woodhouse of the West Kent Regiment who was killed at Dunkirk in 1940 and Colonel Harold Woodhouse, who collapsed and died during an air raid at Blandford Camp in 1943 while serving as Camp Commandant. (See our article Ansty Brewery: The Early Years, in the Hilton Category.)

There has been a church on this site since Saxon times. The present church is dedicated to St. Peter and was rebuilt in 1873-4 at the expense of Viscount Portman of Bryanstone; it incorporates evidence of the earlier building. The 12th century chancel arch has been reset at the north side of the chancel and the Norman south doorway was moved to the west end of the south aisle. In the vestry is a Norman font with beautifully carved flowers and twining stems on its bowl. The date of the conical stone cover is unknown but certainly came later and we are told was found buried in the churchyard. Hutchins records four bells, the oldest dated 1694; a further bell has been added.

Whether or not Henry’s wives spent any time at Pimperne is difficult to say but in view of the distance from London it is unlikely they visited often. The existence of a Queen’s Walk and the arms of Henry VIII in the Rectory suggest that they did visit Pimperne, in which case they would have worshipped at St. Peter’s Church.

The Rectory is a two storey house with tiled roofs and attics built from brick banded with flint. The present building dates from 1712 but incorporates parts of an earlier building of 1530. On a shield within the building is Henry VIII arms with crown, garter, dragon and greyhound supporters and with a rose and portcullis.
In a list of rectors since 1299 some noteworthy names appear including: Christopher Pitt who gained some recognition in the 18th century for his translation of the Aeneid; George Bingham, who followed him as rector, who ministered here for 52 years and the Victorian author the Reverend Charles Kingsley, who was curate here in the early 1840’s.  Robert Frampton was born here in 1622 and went on to be Bishop of Gloucester between 1681 and 1691.

The village has been known as Pimperne since 1271, the name is thought to be from the Celtic words pimp and prenn meaning “Five trees”.  Domesday Book tells us of forty families living here in 1086 when the village was surveyed together with Charlton Marshall and Hutchins records 80 families when he surveyed Pimperne.  In more recent times the size of the parish has been increased by boundary changes: the Domesday settlement of Nutsford joined the parish in 1886; land in the south including the manor of Damory Court, mentioned in 1363, was transferred to Pimperne in 1894 and in 1933 small areas of Tarrant Hinton, Launceston and Monkton were taken into Pimperne. The census for 2001 records the population of the parish as being 995 occupying 447 dwellings.

Judging by the size of the Pimperne Long Barrow (330 feet in length and 140 feet wide), there would have been a sizable population here in Neolithic times. From the air a series of crop and soil-marks reveal an area of Iron Age dykes and enclosures. The barrow lies on the Tarrant Hinton side of the parish boundary.

Even after much chopping and changing Henry VIII never did find the right wife. John Williams of Pimperne faired better with his choice of wife and left in the church vestry a brass memorial to her.  It reads: “Near this place lies the body of Mrs Dorothy Williams who deceased Nov. ye 24th Ano Dom 1694. Erected by her husband John Williams Cler. in memory of the best of wives.”

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.)

James R. Zelley 1877-1910

The day of January 15, 1910 was just another day for the crew of the pilot cutter “Spirit” and the Master T. Bennett in the Weymouth Harbour. As time ticked away, the day would end in tragedy for James Richard Zelley.

He was lost when the Danish steamer “St.Jans” crashed into the cutter. The Master T. Bennett and crew members J. Bennett and W. Tizzard survived the crash, but Zelley was lost and never recovered.

James was born in Weymouth, Dorset in 1877 to Thomas Richard Zelley and Mary Symes. He married Mary Emily Longman in 1904. He is also a grandson to Weymouth’s Richard Zelley – Mary Ann White.

Ten years earlier, James lost his Uncle William John Simpson Zelley in the Nanaimo, BC, Canada area on Sunday, February 11, 1900. Zelley the Weymouth born mariner and two friends former Nanaimo council member Richard Kenyon and John Cordell were duck hunting in Zelley’s sailboat when they were caught in a storm. Of interest, the name of one of the search party members that helped recover the remains from the Nanaimo River tide flats was a Harry Bennett.

There is a photograph of James R. Zelley in the gallery.


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.

Solved! – the Sherborne Horse-Bone Mystery

Philip Grove and Arnoldo Cortesi came from very different backgrounds and had very different destinies. Cortesi would one day become Rome correspondent of the New York Times; Grove however, put on a uniform for the First World War and was killed in action during the Battle of Arras in 1917. Yet as boys in 1911 these two men found themselves fellow pupils and friends at Sherborne School. They also shared a passion for the ancient merely because it was old, including fossils that they discovered they could collect from a disused quarry to the north of the town out of school hours.

One day the boys returned from one of their explorations in the quarry with a fragment of bone they claimed to have found on a pile of rubble at the entrance to a cave since quarried away. Cortesi first showed the bone to some other boys who were not interested, but when he attempted to discard the bone in the dayroom fire an older boy called Ross Jefferson intervened and advised Cortesi to show it to the school’s science master, Robert Elliot Steel, first. Steel, who had himself collected mammoth and woolly rhinoceros bones from the quarry for the school’s geological collection, could see that the ancient looking bone bore the crude engraving of a horses head, and asked Cortesi to supply a statement about how the bone was found.

The school bursar then passed this certificate on to Joseph Fowler, a master, who in turn donated all his papers about the bone to the Smith Woodward Archives at the Natural History Museum in London. The bone itself was sent to the museum’s curator of geology, Arthur Smith Woodward, for examination. In a paper prepared for the Geological Society in 1914 Smith Woodward described the find as “an apparent Palaeolithic engraving of a hog-maned Mongolian horse”, and at a subsequent meeting his opinion remained unchallenged by members.

The next development in the saga came in 1924 when William Sollas, Professor of Geology at Oxford, wrote a paper in which he expressed the opinion that, to date, finds from known Palaeolithic sites in England lacked evidence of early artwork. Woodward considered that the semi-fossilised condition of the bone proved its Palaeolithic authenticity because such a condition would have been impossible for a modern forger to replicate. Any attempt to do so, he thought, would have resulted in flaking.

Woodward contacted Arnoldo Cortesi, by then writing for the New York Times
in Rome, for an assurance that the find was genuine, since he thought that Sollas suspected that Cortesi had forged the artefact. However, after Grove had been killed at Arras, his mother and brother affirmed that Phillip was adamant the Sherborne “Palaeolithic” horse was genuine.
In 1926 Sollas said that his assistant, C J Bayzand, would confirm that the etching on the bone had been copied from the drawing of a horse on a bone found in a cave at Cresswell in Derbyshire without Sollas ever having seen the Sherborne specimen.
A group of boys working on the school’s museum collection told Bayzand that the bone was a fake, even claiming that it came from a rubbish tip on the Bristol road.

Woodward did not reply to his charge of forgery, but in a letter to Nature in 1926 Elliot Steel apologised to Bayzand for the hoax the boys in the museum had played on him! He described how the bone had been found and that a group of older boys, jealous of the discovery, concocted and disseminated the forgery story. Sollas never replied to Steel’s letter, but Professor Boyd-Dawkins effectively demolished Sollas’ evidence.

From the 1950’s onwards however, the bone came under much more intense scientific scrutiny and examination. In 1957 Dr Kenneth Oakley conducted a fluorine test, which gave the bone an upper Palaeolithic age. But when was the image of the horse’s head carved onto it?

In 1978 Professor Douglas, who had succeeded Sollas, accused him of neglecting
to notify Woodward that the Sherborne bone was really a fake before Woodward presented his paper to the Geological Society in 1914, in order to discredit him.

Further tests by Dr Anne Sieveking and Dr M Newcomer demonstrated it was possible for the bone to be engraved with a flint, a finding at odds with Smith Woodward’s opinion that it wouldn’t have been possible to inscribe bone without flaking it. In addition, high magnification showed that the image’s etched lines disappeared into fine cracks. This indicated the bone was already degraded before the etching was done. But were the cracks the result of heat or frost? – and when were they formed? Could an artistic Palaeolithic hunter have used an already degraded bone?

It was pointed out that the odds against two boys only ten days at school finding in a large quarry a bone from a horse species long extinct in this country, then engraving a representation of its head on it were so remote as not to merit consideration. DNA analysis however, was considered but thought to be too hit and miss.

If the bone could be identified as coming from the species of horse apparently portrayed on it, then this would be evidence pointing towards a prehistoric age, though this could not prove anything about the age of the image. As this was not possible and as there was some distinction between the muzzle detail of the Sherborne and Cresswell horses, a conclusion of probable forgery was arrived at.

Furthermore, in 1994 high magnification examination of the bone at Cambridge revealed the grooves of the etch-marks to be so fresh that, unless they had been scrubbed clean, they must have been cut in modern times. Radiocarbon dating and chemical analysis did prove the bone to be a mammalian rib – and no older than the 14th century, thus conflicting with the Palaeolithic result from Oakley’s 1957 fluorine test. Evidently the etching was carried out by a modern person using a modern tool.

The probable reconstruction of events is as follows. It was true that Cortesi was a skilled draughtsman who had won a prize for drawing at the school. It was believed therefore, that, with no intent to deceive, he had copied the Cresswell horse onto the bone in the school’s museum, his talent in this regard contributing to its acceptance as genuine. The idea of hoaxing Elliot Steel may have been Ross Jefferson’s, who suggested that the boys should show the bone to Steel. After learning the bone had been sent to the British Museum, the boys decided to confess to Bayzand, but he failed to pass the information on.

Sollas and Bayzand thus dismissed the engraved rib upon the word of two schoolboys without seeing or inspecting the find. So the overall conclusion is that the horse bone was indeed a forgery, and one fooling many scholars and scientists for almost a century.

Incidentally, the school’s museum, around which so much of this drama unfolded, was bombed and gutted during an as yet incomprehensible air raid on Sherborne in 1940, despite being a small country abbey town having no munitions factories, ordnance depots or obvious strategic significance.

Melbury Bubb

The small parish of Melbury Bubb sits on the eastern slope of the wooded Bubb Down in the north west corner of the county, several miles south of Sherborne and  close to the border with Somerset. “Very extensive and beautiful view” is how the Imperial Gazetteer of 1872 describes the area.

 Melbury comes from the Old English ‘maele’ and ‘burh,’ translated this means ‘many coloured fortified place.’ Where the suffix “Bubb” comes from is uncertain; perhaps it is no coincidence that a Saxon named Bubba resided here before the Norman Conquest.

Melbury Bubb Manor House was rebuilt during the 17th century and includes remains from an earlier building; it stands close to the Parish Church of St. Mary in the north-west of the parish.
The church is built from local rubble with freestone dressings. The roofs are slate covered. The south tower forms the main entrance to the church and dates from the 15th century. The initials ‘W B’ appear on the tower suggesting a date of 1470-1480 when Walter Bokeler was rector. The rest of the church seems to have been rebuilt about the same time and was rebuilt again in 1854 under the supervision of Withers, the Sherborne architect. Several of the older windows are incorporated; these traces of 15th century glass depict scenes from the life of St. Mary, the parable of the foolish virgins, symbols of the evangelists and the coats of arms of the Maltravers and Warre families.

The Font is remarkable, being a pre-Conquest stone from the 10th or early 11th century. A cylindrical tapering bowl, formerly part of a circular shaft reversed, the face is carved with a continuous design depicting beasts and interlacement. Beasts include a stag (frequent on Celtic crosses), biting a serpent whose coils interlace the feet of the other animals; a tall horse with paws not hooves; a lion with a mane, biting a small dog with its tail between its legs; and a large animal with a mane (probably a wolf) facing the horse. There are two small legged dragons between the larger animals. This whole scene is presented upside-down and suggests there was a standing cross here in Saxon times.

Among the monuments in the churchyard is a stone to Thomas Baker (alias Williams) “Murdered 1694.” Thomas Baker was a farmer who was murdered on 10th of November 1694. Some will have us believe that on the anniversary of this horrible event the ghost of Thomas Baker and his horse and cart can be seen in the village travelling along Murderer’s Lane.