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Poxwell

A Rich History Revealed through Excavation

Five miles south-east of Dorchester lies the parish of Poxwell, an L-shaped area occupying the south-facing slope of a spur of chalk downland on the 4oo-foot contour. This slope forms the north side of a valley that denotes the line of the Poxwell fault, a dislocation of the strata that brings the Chalk on its north side against part of the Purbeck Beds to the south. Since the Dorset Ridgeway, a major line of communication for trade in prehistoric times, runs close to the parish boundary, the area is rich in the remains of associated settlement and cultivation in the form of strip-lynchets, enclosures, burials, and “Celtic” fields. (see the feature Dorset Ancient Fields published 10th of April 2011 in the General Category.)

An early survey by the RCHM found both Celtic field and Medieval strip-lynchet systems to be present within the parish. In 1967 trial excavations were carried out by Mr H C Bowen at the behest of the owner of Poxwell Manor Farm, Mr J H C Lane, when the latter decided to level a system of lynchets in the vicinity of the manor grounds. This excavation revealed occupation debris and stone features which necessitated a larger-scale excavation being conducted. This was undertaken by J S Wacher in 1968.

The excavation further revealed fragments of probable Kimmeridge shale, used for ornamentation in prehistoric times, and some fibrous calcite (calcium carbonate) similar to the satin spar variety of Gypsum (calcium sulphate). As the dig progressed it became clear that a composite stratigraphy representing five periods was emerging. The layers and features were placed with regard, not only to their stratigraphic position, but also to the date of the associated pottery and any dateable attributes of the features. These periods were – (1) ?LATE NEOLITHIC – EARLY BRONZE AGE; (2) IRON AGE (c 400-c 150  BCE); (3) ROMANO-BRITISH (earlier phase c 200 CE/later phase 275-300 CE;  (4) c 300 CE (1st HALF of 4th CENTURY; (5) SECOND HALF OF 4TH CENTURY & LATER.

Of these five periods the Romano-British (3) was by far the richest and most complex regarding evidence of occupation remains. It is by a fortuitous fluke of nature the site has been well preserved. The terracing of the slope played a part in this, but ironically it was Medieval ploughing that contributed towards further protection. The north-south orientated Celtic field lynchet just west of the site was drawn across it when the east-west trending lynchets were established. Later hill-wash also contributed to this effect, but beyond the lynchet system features, including a burial, have been disturbed.
    
Beginning with Period 1, NEOLITHIC TO EARLY BRONZE AGE, this is based mainly on the position and posture of a skeleton in a shallow grave near the corner of what appeared to be a Celtic field, though this is now much obscured by later strip lynchets. The position of this grave and the crouched attitude of the     burial suggests that it may originally have been covered by a barrow or tumulus of earth. Barrows are commonly sited in association with such field-systems, though it is often difficult to establish which came first. The grave contained a layer of silt at the bottom, a feature suggesting that the pit may have been  open for some time before the dead person was laid out and the grave back-filled. Subsequent Romano-British terracing of the slope may explain the absence of any associated ring-ditch around the grave; no other contemporary features or finds were noted, except possibly some flint chippings.
   
Evidence of remains datable to the IRON AGE (400-150 BCE) were also sparse, again probably due to later terracing on the slope, and only one large pit could be assigned to the period with any certainty. On the floor of the pit a layer of silt was overlain by a layer of chalk rubble, possibly derived from the rim and sides of the pit. The presence of charcoal pointed to the pit having originally had a wickerwork lining. Clay was also present, and these provisions suggest that that the feature had been dug for use as a grain silo  (similar material has been found in known storage pits of the period). The clay was explained as the remains of seals to the pit. Above this the next later was of stone rubble, a feature that may have been purposely added to raise the level enough for a corn-drier to be constructed. Carbonised grain and   fragments of charcoal were identified from a layer within the corn-dryer and above was a layer of brown clay with largish stones, which may have been part of the oven wall before it collapsed. Besides this pit there was one other, smaller pit to the north of the first which also featured a layer of carbonised material but which, unlike Pit 1, yielded no sherds of Iron Age pottery, suggesting that it should be assigned to Periods 1 or 3 in its dating.

   Period 3: ROMANO-BRITISH

This period involved two recognised phases: (earlier; 200 AD & later: 275-300 AD) Pottery sherds are notably more common during these two phases, perhaps as the result of hill-wash or material being re-deposited by mechanical disturbance. As regards features, the period was one that amounted to   considerable industrial activity, to judge by the remains of ovens, walling, plinths, paved floors, and a drainage gulley. Furthermore, interments are represented on the site by a twin burial of an adult woman and a child, a grave that indicates by its shallowness that it dates from before the later terracing operation and indeed the accompanying pottery indicates a date of around c150 AD. Consequently, it is thought that the grave does not belong to the main period of activity on the site. Another burial close by produced no evidence which could date it with any certainty, though its similar alignment to the woman-child interment suggests that it is contemporary with the latter. Stratigraphic evidence does not contradict this, but equally it cannot be used to confirm it.
   
It is clear that activities of an industrial nature were planned for the site, though there is some doubt as to whether they were ever of continuous duration. The evidence of the pottery and stratigraphy seem to point to a process of unsuccessful experimentation having been undertaken, and so it is likely the site was occupied only for a short time. The complex of ovens and other features were set out against a sheltered corner formed by the base of two slopes, one running north-south, the other east-west, meeting at right-  angles. Occupying the south-west corner of this shelter was an oven containing a residue of charcoal and ash, but as to its exact purpose this remains unexplained.

Situated further north, and positioned just behind the first burial, was a horseshoe-shaped oven lined with regular rectangular stones and opened towards the east across a shallow oval depression. A closer examination showed that this was not in fact a single structure but two layers of walling, suggesting that two ovens were present, a later one comprising finer stonework being superimposed upon the earlier outer layer. From the design it was thought that this had been a smelting or roasting furnace of a type found on a  contemporaneous site at Broadmayne. The earlier oven was built into a pit excavated in the chalk and was approximately three feet in diameter with four surviving courses of stone. A number of loose blocks lay on the floor of the structure, having evidently collapsed into it from higher up, suggesting that the oven may have originally stood about three feet above the present ground level. Against the back of the oven there was a heaped deposit of unburnt greensand with only a few burnt patches. Behind this deposit the back of  the oven showed no sign of burning, which showed why the oven space was reduced by the introduction of another layer of walling, partially overlying the earlier firing up of the oven. It has been presumed that this modification was intended to overcome the problem of insufficient heat being generated in the earlier furnace; reducing the inner diameter by 25% overcame this, but it appears that success still eluded the workshop as shown by the complete absence of any industrial slag.
   
Greensand, however, contains a silicate of iron called glauconite, which thus enables it to be used as a low grade iron ore. There is therefore some possibility that iron was being smelted by roasting greensand in the oven, in which case, the absence of nodular slag would be explained. Yet even if roasting was being undertaken the shortage of residues from the process leads one to the conclusion that the workshop must have been in use only for a brief period.

The greensand deposit on the floor of the inner oven was overlain by a layer of charcoal with much greensand mixed in with it, particularly near the sides. Similar material was found filling the stokehole. That  temperatures of the order required were attained in the new smaller oven is shown by the existence of vitrified clay, a probability that is further supported by the cracked and fractured condition of the limestone walling. A better distribution of heat was therefore obtained after the original oven had been reduced in  size. Conveniently it was this damage which rendered the stone blocks worthless as robber-material after the site had been abandoned, so enabling them to survive while the rest of the site was pillaged for stone after the end of period 3. A greensand dump lay close by the ovens directly upon the native chalk. This  was certainly an indication that terracing had occurred, and further, that the outer oven at least is contemporaneous with the earliest use of the freshly terraced site. The pottery associated with the construction of this oven is critical to the chronological framework of the entire site. The upper fillings of the stokehole and furnace of the inner oven yielded datable pottery indicating the latter phase of Period 3.

A fourth oven was found in the north-west corner of the terraced platform, abutting against the exposed bank of the chalk. This position would likely have had the effect of insulating it against heat loss, but the oven’s walling had been so extensively robbed-out that very little remained, these being portions of the northern and western base walls, and two large slabs. These slabs may have been floor-stones, and their thickness would have suited them to this purpose, as it would have meant that the grain would only have been exposed to a gentle amount of heat. Yet there was a burnt layer of considerable thickness, with carbonised grain and charcoal at the base of this furnace, pointing to the occurrence of a conflagration of some description centred on this corn drier. The chalk forming the back wall of the drier above the line of the stone walls also displayed burn marks. Possibly there was a timber cover to the oven that caught fire, carbonising what was inside.
   
A few yards to the east of this oven and abutting onto the south-facing slope of the lynchet a fifth oven had been constructed. In its plan this structure showed that an attempt may have been made to improve on earlier efforts. But from a stratigraphic point of view it is equally likely that these two corn-drying kilns are contemporary. This oven was slotted neatly into a square-ended recess at the base of the lynchet at the north end of the site. But in this instance the pattern of the flues could easily be made out, these being in the form of a tuning-fork or perhaps an H shape. The flues consisted of limestone and chalk with chalk rubble filling in the space around them. Nothing of the floor remained, nor were there any signs of burning or carbonisation. From this it was concluded that this corn dryer was hardly, if ever, used. A short way to the south of the dryer a small portion of walling no more than two-thirds of a metre in length was excavated, though whether this was a very small remnant of another part of the oven which had survived  robbing, or an entirely unrelated feature, was not determined with certainty.

What then, were the industrial activities formerly carried on across this site established to serve? Clearly the five corn-drying kilns and their associated structures or features constituted a workshop that became derelict around the end of the third century, yet it is highly unlikely that it could have functioned independently as a unit unattached to any parent organisation or market outlet. Rather, the site is best interpreted as a workshop or shelter for workers employed on an associated Romano-British villa estate who’s remains have not yet been found. If this is the case, then the short period of occupation so evident in the remains suggests that the workshop formerly occupied marginal land at the edge of an estate it served, so indicating a peak of prosperity for the villa, a time when the land was used to its maximum  agricultural potential. In this respect the location of the industry could not have been more ideal, for it was situated on well-drained chalk above the spring-line, providing the workers with a source of water supply which is even marked by two wells to this day. Further, it was tucked away into the corner of a right-angled  turn in a positive Celtic lynchet and, incidently, faced east, affording the structures protection in the lee of the south-westerly winds regularly sweeping up from Lyme Bay.

Only one coin was ever recovered from this site, which dated the activity to the late third century. The brief occupation of this period (3) is attested to by the virtual absence of pottery and by the fact that no occupation layer was associated with the structures. As described earlier,the alteration of the composite (double-walled)oven and the absence of slag and hammer-scale points to little success in carrying out the industrial processes. Further, there seem to have been considerable problems with the corn-dryers; one may have burned down and the other seem to have been barely used before it was abandoned. As a result of the difficulties encountered the site was abandoned after a short time, though it has been thought that the desertion could equally have taken place because because the peak of prosperity had  passed and it became no longer economic to cultivate the marginal land of the estate. After dereliction most of the stonework was robbed out.

  Period 4

Corresponding to 300 AD to around 360 AD, by contrast with the preceding period, produced significantly more small finds and pottery sherds. It evidently followed on from Period 3 without any noticeable hiatus or break, since no turf line separates the two layers. Period 4 is represented by a thick layer radiating from the oven near the right-angle turn of the lynchet in the north-west corner of the site. This layer was seen to thin out towards the south and east, it source being apparently domestic, since quern fragments, appropriate pottery and plentiful food waste were present in the deposit. It has been thought that this waste material may have come from a midden associated with a nearby farmstead or villa that could have occupied the site of the present village of Poxwell. The small find seem to support the idea of a domestic source, as small structural fittings and domestic  artefacts are also present. To judge by the amount and nature of the finds it may also be inferred that the site became a midden – ie a dump for domestic waste. The waste not unnaturally contained animal bones of sheep, oxen, horses, pigs and geese; furthermore, shells of winkles, oysters and limpets show that seafood was also a part of the diet. Other than the burials of two infants, no graves of adults were observed; the skeletons were largely intact and had not suffered from the attention of scavengers. In choosing this area to use as a midden, the  intention may have been to reclaim it for agriculture in the future. More likely though, the intention was to way-lay the collapse or subsidence of nearby lynchets into the disused cavity.

  Period 5 

The second half of the fourth century and later, which is covered by this period, was represented by a layer of variable thickness that extended over the whole site. This layer was a chalky loam which contained some flints and appeared to be a secondary deposit as the result of hillwash, since the inclusions were erratics (fragments derived from another area).

  The POTTERY

As stated previously, there were no finds of ceramics made from the layer corresponding to PERIOD 1, though collectively from PERIOD 2 onwards some pottery was in evidence. Later Romano-British terracing operations however had effaced almost all artefacts dating from this period, so that little that did remain was likely only a fraction of what once existed. Three distinct types of fabric were identified.

A small quantity of pottery was associated with PERIOD 3, which covered all Romano-British activity until the site became a waste dump in Period 4. One of the burials of the period contained a high amount of Iron Age pottery in the backfill, together with a grooved rim bowl of a type found at Dorchester dated to 150 AD. Pottery associated with the later Romano-British features and connected with the use of the site was indeed singularly lacking.

Following the robbing of the site at the end of Period 3, there is a notable increase in the volume of pottery and other artefacts from the Period 4 layers. There is also a notable increase in the size of the sherds, which had once belonged to jars with rims having a greater diameter than the body. Flanged bowls make their appearance, several of which were coated in a white slip. The period further saw the  introduction of some New Forest wares, which began to be produced around 300 AD.

The pottery from Period 5 differs little from the nature of the wares encountered in Period 4. There were similar wide, overturned-rim jars, unadorned bowls bearing flanges dropped well below the rim and  plain,rimmed dishes. Besides these however, there were more unusual forms present. For example, one of the bead-rimmed jars seems to be reminiscent of an Iron Age type; another, although a similar form, was made in a coarse fabric more usually characteristic of Iron Age pottery. Other elements in the ceramic assemblage were storage jars of the New Forest industry type, as well as NF bowls, beakers and parchment wares, with just a very small amount of Oxford ware. This means that the same pottery industries as were found in the Period 4 finds were also found here, though as with the former they do not appear to represent any later developments.

  OTHER  ARTEFACTS

Besides the pottery, some iron, copper and lead objects were recovered from the site. Period 4 was also notable for fragments of prismatic mould-blown glass bottles of a type that are very common on Romano-British sites of between the 1st and 3rd centuries, and for half a bracelet with incised decoration. A stone axehead and a bronze coin of Tetricus 1 (270-3 AD) were also found in the Period 4 layer.  

  A NOTE ABOUT THE TOPSOIL

This produced a small amount of Medieval pottery, confirming that there was some settlement of this period in the area and complimenting the presence of the strip lynchets.

  Beyond the borders of the site, prehistoric (Bronze Age) occupation in the parish is represented by the presence of a cairn circle (probably the internal sepulchre of an earthen round barrow since eroded away)
half-a-mile south-east of Poxwell Church.

Bettiscombe Manor and the Pinney Family

At the western extremes of the county near the border with Devon in countryside tumbling with steep hills and deep combes lies Bettiscombe, a tiny hamlet on the north side of the Marshwood Vale. Its Manor House is known as the home of a Screaming Skull that, apparently, screams when it is removed from the house. This artefact has been inspected, tested and reported on by experts who have attested to various theories about its origin, though none of them have provided any authenticity for the legend so we will say no more about it.

The building of the Manor House was completed by Nathaniel Pinney early in the 18th century. His father was John Pinney, who had a farm at Bettiscombe in the time of Charles II and succeeded Thomas Fuller as rector of Broadwindsor; John Pinney died in 1705.  It comprises a straight-forward two-storey front with two short side wings at the rear. The entrance is dignified with a hood formed of a Doric entablature and pediment resting on carved and scrolled brackets; the front of the hood is supported by posts that were added later. Standing under the Pilsdon Hill, this unpretentious country house has a view across the Marshwood Vale to the line of hills that run down to Lyme Regis.

About a quarter-of-a-mile from the Manor House near the middle of the parish is the church of St. Stephen. The Dorchester architect John Hicks undertook the rebuilding of this church in 1862 and incorporated three windows partly of the 14th century from the earlier church.

There are memorials to members of the Pinney family who have been associated with Bettiscombe for over three hundred and fifty years. Nathaniel Pinney’s son, Azariah, inherited the house in 1724. Two members of another branch of the Pinney family who supported the Duke of Monmouth in his 1685 attempt to seize the throne were transported to the West Indies after paying a ransom to have their death sentences commuted to penal transportation.  John Frederick Pinney, the son of one of these men, returned to join his cousin Azariah Pinney at Bettiscombe; he later became Member of Parliament for Bridport. Azariah Pinney had no children and John Frederick Pinney never married.

A cousin, John Pretor, inherited the estate.  He was appointed High Sheriff of the county at the young age of twenty-four. He changed his name to John Pretor Pinney and set about managing the family estates in the West Indies, eventually disposing of the estates.  In 1780 he returned to England and lived at Bristol. His home has been restored and decorated to its original state and is now a museum known as The Georgian House at 7, Great George Street, Bristol.

Note: Changes were made to this article on 12th April 2013.

Wraxall

In picturesque countryside north-east of Cattistock and about six miles east of the town of Beaminster lies the parish of Wraxall, comprising the hamlets of Lower and Higher Wraxall. The name is thought to mean “a nook of land frequented by buzzards”. There are similarly named parishes in Somerset and Wiltshire.

The small Parish Church of St. Mary is in the east of the parish at Lower Wraxall.  The church is surrounded by farm buildings and the entrance to the churchyard is through a wrought iron gate. The nave dates from the 12th century; the chancel, originally 12th century, was rebuilt in the 13th century. It is thought a chapel was added to the north side of the nave during the 14th century but this was destroyed later. During restoration works carried out in the 19th century a wall was built outside the arch to the former chapel and a south porch and bell-turret were added to the structure. The windows date from the 13th and 15th century except for the chancel east window, which is modern.

The one bell that hangs in the turret is said to be inscribed ‘Thomas Hey maked,’ c. 1350-60.  The medieval font has an octagonal bowl with chamfered under edge; the stem and base are modern. There are references and monuments to the Lawrence family dating from the 17th century when the family was lord of the manor. The church has a silver chalice, its design unusual among the altar plate of Dorset churches as it is engraved with overlapping bands and was made in the 17th century.

Higher Wraxall is set in a valley of its own up in the hills; there are a few cottages, a farm and Wraxall Manor House. This fine house was built in the early 17th century, probably by William Lawrence. The regular stone-built front has four gables, large mullioned windows and a centre projecting porch that has a smaller and lower gable. William Lawrence was an eminent lawyer during the Civil War and later, after a disagreement with his wife whom he thought had been dishonest towards him, he wrote a book: A Vindication of Marriage by the Moral Law of God; in the same volume he argued the case for the Duke of Monmouth’s claim to the succession. Stewart Boyd of Wraxall comments: “although it is true that John Aubrey (1621-1597) says it was written on disaffection from his wife, Martha Sydenham of Wynford Eagle, the book appeared several years after her death. Aubrey’s story may be true, but seems unlikely.”

Changes were made to this article on the 17th of March 2013, following further information from Stewart Boyd of Wraxall.

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.

Poole: Then and Now

BOOK REVIEW

Poole: Then & Now in Colour

“A poor fisher village” was how the ancient borough of Poole was described in bygone days. Doubtless so it once was, but today it is considered a place of beauty in which to live, work, play and, crucially, as a resort and vibrant cross-channel port. Its harbour lacked the depth to allow Poole ever to develop as a commercial container port like Southampton, yet it is a breath-taking statistical fact that only Sydney Harbour is larger among the natural harbours of the world. So we can be thankful that Poole has escaped the fate of those other ports and is instead noted for its absence of oppressive over-development and the attraction of its heathland and wildlife across the water.

Of course, over the decades there have been great changes. Now, for the first time, archive photographs and modern colour plates have been wedded to illustrate these changes in Poole’s development in a new hardback publication: Poole – Then & Now. It is the work of local historians Frank Henson and Ian Andrews who, cleverly juxtaposing the old and the new, have presented time-comparisons for 46 locations around the town. Each consecutive double-page spread features one of these locations. Each of the sites as it was is reproduced as a sepia print to preserve the period atmosphere, with the modern view inset or set alongside for comparison. Around each pair of illustrations a brief summary explanation of the history of the location has been set. In many instances common landmarks have disappeared (or become obscured) as old buildings have been demolished, others built. Other views, however, show little change or at least are still recognisable. For instance, it is interesting to compare the degree of change noticeable in the photos of Ashley Cross (pages 48/49) with those of Flag Farm on pages 56&57.  

But behind this publication a wealth of meticulous detective work has been undertaken. For it, Henson and Andrews explored Poole’s changing face, rediscovering monuments, landmarks and buildings thought to have been lost forever. Ian Andrews drew on his experience as a Town Clerk and Chief Executive Officer of the town’s Borough Council – besides serving as Poole’s Borough Archivist and founding several organisations. He is currently President of the Society of Poole Men. For many years a resident of Poole, Frank Henson’s interest is as a member of the Society of Poole Men; he too is a former Borough Councillor and also gives illustrated talks on the history of the area.

The book is 17cm by 24cm and about 1cm thick. There are 95 pages of pictures and text with magenta headings and sub-headings. After brief notes about the acknowledgements and authors a one page introduction leads into the main section of the book.

Poole Then & Now is published by the History Press (www.thehistorypress.co.uk) as part of its Then & Now series aiming to create pictorial records for local people with a passion for delving into and re-discovering their local history.

It is £12.99. There is a photo of the book cover in the gallery area.

Cranborne Chase: Deer-stealers, Poachers and Gamekeepers

The Cranborne Chase we know today is a small remnant of its ancient splendour. When the Chase belonged to the Crown it was an immense tract of woodland with rides made through the woods, planted on each side with evergreens to provide food for the deer. The Chase had for a long period belonged to the Earls of Gloucester, but in King John’s reign and from Edward IV’s time to the reign of James I it belonged to the Crown. Records from the reign of Elizabeth I state that the office of Warden and Ranger of the Chase was granted to Henry, Earl of Pembrokeshire, for life. However, in James I’s reign, the free Chase and Warren was granted to William, Earl of Salisbury, and his heirs, and all the rights and privileges of the Chase were transferred to the Lord of the Manor at Cranborne, as was the custom; he was also the Lord of the Chase.

North of the main Blandford to Salisbury road it still has some fine avenues of trees and the boundary line between Dorset and Wiltshire runs through it. Between Tollard Royal and Ashmore Down there is some of the finest scenery in the north of Dorset. A series of long narrow valleys lie between very steep ridges while the valleys are called Bottoms; there is Rotherley Bottom right in the Chase, Malacombe Bottom between Rotherley Down and Berwick Down; Ashmore Bottom on the other side of Berwick Down, and Quarry Bottom near Ashmore Down. In ancient times they might all have been river valleys, as the gravel in the bottoms indicates died-up watercourses. On Berwick Down there are numerous low banks and shallow ditches which were probably cultivation banks in prehistoric times.

William Chafin wrote Anecdotes respecting Cranborne Chase in September 1816. About gamekeepers he says:  “In the grant of the Chase, it is not the feed of the deer only that is granted, but the inclusive property of all undergame of every denomination”. He tells of a time when there was no such person as a game-keeper throughout the whole chase and relates that the first person to appoint a gamekeeper was Mr Doddington, later Lord Melcombe.

At the time George Chafin was the Head Ranger of the whole Chase, he died in 1766. One day he met Doddington’s game-keeper, who had a gun and dogs with him. After some argument Chafin ordered the game-keeper to go home and tell the person who sent him that, if he ever came again to this or into any part of the Chase with gun and dogs, the dogs would be shot and he himself prosecuted.

A few days later the Ranger met the same man near the same place and, having a gun in his hand, put his threat into action, shooting three dogs with one shot as their heads were close together drinking in a small puddle of water.

Mr Doddington was far from pleased. He set off for London the next day and sent a Challenge to Chafin to meet him in London and give him satisfaction for the affront. George Chafin, a Member of Parliament for the County of Dorset as well as Ranger of the Chase, went to the expense of buying a sword, which was never used and to this day has never seen blood.
 
It seems that when Chafin and his friend, Jacob Bankes Esq, at that time Member of Parliament for Shaftesbury went to see Mr Doddington to fix a time and a place for their duel they found him peacefully inclined and happy to acknowledge his error. Mr Doddington invited them both to dine with him and instead of fighting a duel they became good friends to the end of their days.

On the night of 10th of December 1780 there was a fight between the keepers and deer-stealers on Chettle Common in Bursye-Stool Walk. A gang of deer stealers met at Pimperne, headed by a Sergeant of Dragoons named Blandford who was stationed in the town of that name.

They came to the Chase in the night, in disguise and armed with swindgels, an offensive weapon resembling flails to thresh corn. They attacked the keepers, breaking the knee-cap of the stoutest man in the Chase and they broke three ribs of another keeper. The keepers re-grouped and moved on their opponents and one of Sergeant Blandford’s hands was severed from his arm and fell to the ground. The Dragoon was carried to the Lodge and Peter Beckford, who at the time was Ranger for the Walk, brought Mr Dansey, an eminent surgeon, to dress the wound. As soon as Sergeant Blandford was well enough to be moved he was committed to Dorchester gaol, where he joined his companions; his hand was buried in Pimperne Churchyard. Several of the offenders were employees of Mr Beckford. All were found guilty and sentenced to be transported for seven years but this was commuted to confinement in gaol for an indefinite term.

In his book William Chafin mentions hawking and says it was: “the most predominant amusement and was followed by all the gentry at a great expense”. He says of cock-fighting: “…it was a favourite diversion at this time and cocks were bred at different Lodges in the Chase. But in our days of refinement, this amusement of cock-fighting hath been exploded, and in a great measure abandoned, being deemed to be barbaric and cruel”.

No more game-keepers were heard of in the Chase until Lord Rivers, then Mr Pitt, was called upon to represent the County of Dorset in Parliament. Some saw this as an opportunity to install game-keepers in the Chase, something Mr Pitt found convenient to over-look. Very soon there were numerous game-keepers at work in the Chase. Records show that in 1828 there were as many as twelve thousand head of deer roaming across the Chase and these were the charge of keepers who worked for the Rangers.

Hutchins included a print of a noted deer-hunter in his costume, from a portrait by Byng in 1720, with the comment: “The deer-hunter of 200 years-ago was on-all-fours with the poacher of his day, no better and no worse. He was not ashamed of his occupation, nor was it considered a disgraceful one in any sense, and the result was the disappearance of the deer. The only point of contrast discoverable is that old-time poachers were the gentry and modern-time poachers are not”.

 

Mr Russell’s Weymouth Holiday – 1840

In the summer of 1840 Mr T.P. Russell decided to spend a month at the seaside resort of Weymouth. He brought with him from Gloucester, where he was a banker, his wife, two daughters, brother-in-law and a maid. Mr Russell was 65 and suffered from rheumatism; his wife was 56 and his two daughters were in their early thirties. He kept a diary of their month-long holiday at the seaside resort made popular by George III.

They departed from Gloucester in their own carriage. Along the way a small repair to the carriage was necessary and they spent a night at Bath, after sending their maid on separately with luggage. In the morning the family was on the road again, stopping at Frome to change horses, then onto Bruton and Sherborne, passing through many cloth manufacturing villages on the way. Mr Russell thought Sherborne “large but ill-built.” By 5 o’clock the family group had arrived at Luce’s Hotel in Augusta Place, Weymouth, having passed through Dorchester, which Mr Russell decided was “better constructed” than Sherborne.

The family had dinner at the Hotel at a cost of one guinea, including tip. Then followed a stroll along the Esplanade to the Alexandra Gardens where they listened to a band of fourteen Fusiliers.

Lodgings for their stay were found at 6 York Buildings; “clean and sufficient Commodious but dear at fifty shillings a week” thought Mr Russell. The family spent the morning buying supplies with help from Mr Thomas, who kept a library on the Esplanade. He had been recommended to Mr Russell and “proved most helpful”. Mr Russell commented “We found the town larger than we expected, with very good shops and a good market, fish plentiful and at a low price. The baths, however, were a disappointment, being poor.”

The next day Mr Russell took his first warm sea bath. The rest of the family walked along the beach and watched the yachts in the bay. The weather was showery and blustery but this did not deter the family taking a trip in a rowing boat followed by a walk to Radipole Spa where they could smell the Sulphur Spring. The family made an expedition to Wyke, “a pretty rural village with a handsome church”. It was mid-August and corn was being cut.

The family expressed satisfaction with their lodgings and the “cheerful” situation but there was some disappointment as Mr Russell commented: “the place does not fill as much as we expected, the fashion of it has partly gone”.

Mr Russell was suffering from rheumatic pain and did not accompany the family to church on Sunday. The weather was stormy and Mr Russell chose instead to write letters and visit Mr Thomas’ library. The next day the family could have gone to the local races but decided to sail out to Portland, where they saw a large ship bound for Sydney and a brig en route for America.

A few days later they again set off for Portland and found that no work was being done in the quarries as the men were on strike for higher wages. Mr Russell thought the sheep on Portland were “poor”. He was very interested in the modern castle, probably Pennsylvannia, but he found the island generally desolate: “a few miserable villages, scattered on sterile land”, was how he summed up Portland.

Mr Russell continued to take warm sea baths but they did nothing to improve the rheumatic pain. One of his daughters swam in the sea and the family visited Osmington about which Mr Russell said: “a very beautiful retired village very neat, rural and clean, with roses in full bloom”. The church (which one of his daughters sketched) was “remarkably clean and neat”. The family saw the hillside chalk image of King George on his horse. On another trip to Osmington Mills, prawns and lobsters were sampled. At dinner one evening they tried a fish called “pipers, ugly with a large head”; it was eaten baked and stuffed.

The maid joined them on their next boat trip and they all watched men unloading stone for an extension to the pier. Other days passed with them taking walks but because of his rheumatism Mr Russell had to travel by bath chair, which cost him one shilling and sixpence a time; his baths cost three shillings.

The family returned home to Gloucester on the 8th of September by way of Sherborne, Castle Cary and Clifton. On the whole they had enjoyed their stay by the sea and left with some regret.

Mr Russell’s diary concludes with a breakdown of costs; after all he was a banker. The journey to Weymouth cost fourteen pounds, eight shillings and ten pence, the return journey seventeen pounds, one shilling and sixpence. The subscription to the rooms for the month was ten shillings; the boatmen charged four shillings a trip. Four weeks lodgings with linen came to twenty-two pounds and a piano was hired at a cost of thirteen shillings and nine shillings was spent on wine. The total cost for the month was almost eighty three pounds and the diary makes clear this includes the maid, although how much of a holiday the trip was for her, we can only speculate about.

Three Little Books

Liz Chater has recently self-published three little books that will be of interest to anyone engaged in family history research or looking for relatives in the parishes of Symondsbury or Eype.  The books include photographs of all the Memorials with Inscriptions in the Symondsbury and Eype Churchyards as well as the Symondsbury Cemetery and include references to the entries in the burial register. The indices are particularly useful. The vast majority of our ancestors are not remembered in stone; furthermore the books would have benefited from the inclusion of a transcription of the full burial registers.

They are nicely presented with full colour covers but more importantly they are packed with information. For more about the books, the author and how to order use the following links.

http://www.blurb.co.uk/my/book/detail/3702644 http://www.blurb.co.uk/my/book/detail/3702588 http://www.blurb.co.uk/my/book/detail/3702552

Gussage St. Andrew in the Parish of Sixpenny Handley

The small and interesting church of Gussage St. Andrew sits in a field behind Chapel Farm in the parish of Sixpenny Handley. Nowadays it is a chapelry of the Parish Church of St. Mary’s but in Hutchins time it belonged to the parish of Gussage St. Michael about two miles away and has also been a Chapel of Ease to the church at Iwerne Minster.

The walls are of flint with ashlar dressings and in part have been rendered; the roof is tiled. St. Andrew’s comprises just a nave, chancel and a small bell-turret. The nave dates from the 12th century and the chancel from the late 13th century.

The gabled east wall of the chancel has two restored 13th century lancet windows and at the other end of the cell in the west wall there is a 12th century window. The nave has windows from the 12th, 13th, and 17th century as well as one probably installed in 1857 when a little restoration work was carried out. The church is entered through a 14th century doorway in the north wall of the nave.The Purbeck stone font dates from the 12th century and there is a late 17th century oak pulpit. The Royal Arms of George III are displayed but have been crudely painted.

There are two floor slab memorials: one in the chancel to William Williams who passed away on the 17th November 1725 aged 100 years, the other is in the nave and commemorates John Lush and his wife Mary, dated 1722.

By far the most interesting things about this little church are the wall paintings that were only uncovered in 1951. They depict the Betrayal of Christ and the Scourging, the Crucifixion, the Deposition and also the Suicide of Judas.

We have included in the gallery photos of the exterior and interior of St. Andrews.

Sixpenny Handley – the Fire of 1892

Four miles from the border with Wiltshire in the north east of the county is the curiously named village of Sixpenny Handley. It is probably the largest village in Cranborne Chase and sometimes signposted “6d Handley”, a reference to a pre-decimalisation coin. In his book Highways and Byways in Dorset Frederick Treves bestows on the village the accolade: “.the ugliest village in Dorset.”

During the spring of 1892 there had been remarkably little rain; the thatch roofing on the cottages was very dry. As the 20th of May dawned people awoke and set about their labours. The village blacksmith and wheelwright was busy bonding wheels, a process that required the rim to be heated to a very high temperature before being lifted and secured on the wheel.
 
Just before noon it seems a spark, or piece of burning material, was caught-up by the wind and carried some 150 yards from the smithy, alighting on the thatched roof of a cottage and setting it alight. Before it was noticed, sparks and embers had been lifted by the wind and carried along and across the main street; it was not long before the greater part of the village was ablaze, including the oil and tallow store.

Residents grabbed all the possessions they could and took them out of reach of the inferno but later, as the fire spread and there was much commotion and confusion, the flames greedily swallowed up even these meagre possessions. By the time the residents realised the scale of the battle they had on their hands the fire was unstoppable.

It was noon. Most of the men and lads were at work in the fields, this being a mainly agricultural community. The village is not near a river and had no direct water supply from any source above ground. It proved an impossible struggle, as even the wood framed wells surrendered to the intense heat. Some villagers put ladders to the walls of their homes and attempted to remove the burning thatch, but were defeated when the wooden ladders caught fire.

The inability of the villagers to get control of the fire in the early stages allowed it to rage fiercely and defy all attempts to halt the destruction it was determined to wreak; it burnt for three days. There was little left of the village after over 50 buildings were gutted, leaving 186 people homeless and destitute with little more than the clothes they stood up in. This was the third fire to break out in the village in 35 years and by far the most devastating.

The cost of rebuilding the village was expensive and a daunting task. Other communities rallied around with donations of money and clothes. The government sent bell tents and the army soldiers to put them up. Local farmers sent shepherds’ huts to house victims.

Treves was writing about the village a decade after the fire, when rebuilding would have been largely completed. We know the work had to be done quickly; it was not to the highest standard and this is clearly reflected in Treves scathing review of this unfortunate village.

There are photos of the village and the fire damage in the photo section.

 (See our story Sixpenny Handley published 26th of November 2012 in the Sixpenny Handley category.)
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