(i) EARTHWORKS ETC., PREHISTORIC AND LATER
The tracts of coastal downland and interior woodland, heath or parkland which comprise
the county of Dorset can claim a measure of unity in pre-mediæval times, and may indeed be
equated approximately with a pre-Roman tribal area. They are in any case sufficiently extensive to lend themselves to unitary treatment by the student of prehistoric and Roman antiquity.
But no such claim can be made for the arbitrary segment of the county to which, for convenience
of publication, the present volume is restricted. No attempt is therefore made here to assess
the county's material contribution to our picture of Roman and pre-Roman Britain: that
attempt must await the completion of the inventory in the last of the three Dorset volumes, when
the evidence will be reviewed as a whole. Meanwhile, it may be convenient to indicate without
comment the general range of the prehistoric and Roman sites described in the following pages.
Within the area covered by the present volume the earliest prehistoric monuments are the
collective tombs of the Neolithic period (with a central date of c. 2000 B.C.). "The Grey
Mare and Her Colts" at Long Bredy is a megalithic chambered tomb in a long cairn, with
shallow forecourt, having analogies on the West British seaboard, while the more common
type of long barrow, represented also at Long Bredy and at Bradford Peverell, belongs to the
Wessex "unchambered" group in which stone burial-chambers are absent. "Bank-barrows"
comparable with that excavated at Maiden Castle exist in the same two parishes and at Kingston
The Bronze Age is represented by notable groups of round barrows, such as those at Abbotsbury, Askerswell, Bradford Peverell, Little and Long Bredy, Cerne Abbas, Frampton, Kingston
Russell, Stratton, and Sydling St. Nicholas, and by many isolated examples elsewhere. The
chronological range is from c. 1800 to 800 B.C., but the specialised types of bell, disc and pond
barrows have a distribution almost entirely restricted to Dorset and Wiltshire and are characteristic products of the brilliant Wessex Culture of the Middle Bronze Age, c. 1550–1300 B.C.,
having strong links with the Continent. Stone circles, such as that at Kingston Russell, also
probably belong to the earlier part of the Bronze Age.
With the Early Iron Age (from c. 350 B.C. to the Roman Conquest) appear the first hillforts, the simpler forms with single rampart-and-ditch construction probably in the main dating
from the early part of the period (3rd-2nd centuries B.C.). In the first century B.C. changes in
war-technique introduced by immigrants from West France produced multiple-rampart defences
in depth, frequently added to earlier forts, as at Abbotsbury and Pilsdon.
Undefended settlement-sites, with earthwork-enclosures and storage-pits, often associated
with cultivation-areas, are common and are most probably largely of Early Iron Age date,
though many may well extend into the Roman period. The field-systems are normally of
oblong fields distinguishable from the narrow strips of mediæval type. Examples exist at
Cerne Abbas, Little Bredy, Cattistock, Up Cerne, Compton Abbas, Compton Valence,
Frampton, Maiden Newton, Sydling St. Nicholas, Stratton and Wynford Eagle.
Some Enclosures and Other Minor Earthworks
The turf-cutting, the Cerne Giant, is probably of the Romano-British period and with
it may well be associated the small rectangular enclosure above the head of the figure.
Reference should also be made to the very slight hill-top earthwork of oval form called
the Old Warren, Little Bredy (4). This has some claims to represent the Burgh at "Brydian"
of Alfred's time, recorded hereabouts in the Burghal Hidage.
The later mediæval earthworks are not of outstanding importance. The castle-site at Sherborne (Castleton) is of oval form defended where necessary by a ditch. There are furthermore
two, perhaps successive, mount and bailey earthworks at East Chelborough and a mount and
rectangular bailey at Marshwood. The somewhat enigmatic earthworks just E. of the abbeysite at Cerne are presumably post-Reformation.
The mediæval open-field system involving the allocation of fields by narrow strips has
left traces on hill-slopes in the form of strip-lynchets, which may be of any age up to the
Enclosure Acts, and are visible at Abbotsbury, Beaminster, Bothenhampton, Long Bredy,
Burton Bradstock, Compton Abbas, Compton Valence, Corscombe, Frampton, Kingston
Russell, Loders, Maiden Newton, Netherbury, Powerstock, Sydling St. Nicholas, and elsewhere.
(ii) ROMAN REMAINS
The area surveyed in the present volume excludes the Roman sites at Dorchester, but
includes recorded buildings at Bradford Abbas, Castleton, Halstock, Maiden Newton (the
"Frampton villa" with Chi-Rho monogram), Rampisham, Sherborne and Thornford. The
Bradford Abbas site included kilns. In no case has any extensive exploration of a scientific
kind been carried out. It is probable that the turf-cut "Cerne Giant" should be equated with
Hercules and be regarded as Romano-British work.
(iii) ECCLESIASTICAL AND SECULAR ARCHITECTURE
The building materials in W. Dorset are almost exclusively local. The building stone comes
from three main strata: (a) Ham Hill stone (over the border in Somersetshire) of the Upper
Lias, (b) Calne, Marnhull and Todbere stones of the Corallian and (c) Portland stone. Of these
the Ham Hill stone is used in all the better class work in the N.W. part of the county while
Portland stone is sparingly used in the S. part of the district in work of the later periods. Other
local materials are the Forest marble of the N. and the Purbeck marble of the S.E. Both these
are used for decorative shafting, effigies, etc. In the chalk district round Dorchester considerable use is made of flint for rubble-walling. The lias is also employed for rubble-work and
paving. Brick hardly makes its appearance before the 17th century and is very sparingly used
until the 18th century.
Timber-framing is an occasional method of building, most usual in the towns such as
Sherborne and Cerne Abbas; this use dates back to the 15th century but no instances have been
found of earlier date. Cob is scarcely used except in the S.W. corner of the area, and, even
there, Symondsbury and Wootton Fitzpaine are exceptional in having so high a proportion as
four in ten cottages cob-built. The normal roofing of the district is thatch and a high proportion of rural buildings are still covered with this material. An examination of the secular
monuments scheduled in such parishes as Powerstock and Thorncombe shows that 54% and
67% respectively are still thatched. In the towns and for the larger houses stone slates were
no doubt the early roofing material.
The only structural remains of the pre-Conquest period are to be found in the present W.
wall and possibly in the central crossing of the abbey-church of Sherborne; they include the
existing N.W. doorway and an uncertain amount of the rubble walling of the front and perhaps
the core of the cylindrical piers of the crossing. The doorway has a strip-framework cut away
at the head and may be assigned to the 10th century. The form of the early church at Sherborne
is considered in a separate section of the preface, see p. xlvii. Of the isolated remains of the
same period by far the most important is the cylinder carved with beasts which, now reversed,
serves as the font at Melbury Bubb; it seems probable that it was originally a section of a
cross-shaft. The neighbouring church at Melbury Osmond has a slab with carved interlacing
decoration including a frog-like beast which can be paralleled on the shaft from Closeburn,
Dumfriesshire. At Yetminster is part of a cross-shaft of unusual form and with nimbed busts
under arches on the two surviving faces; the workmanship is inferior. There is a fragment
with interlacement built into a buttress at Batcombe. These four may perhaps be dated to
the 10th century. To the first half of the 11th century probably belong the fragments at
Toller Fratrum and Cattistock. The former is part of a figure-subject of the Magdalen washing
the feet of Christ; the head of the Magdalen and the feet of Christ survive and form a strongly
characterised example of late Anglo-Saxon sculpture. The fragment at Cattistock is part of
the head of a cross with foliage, interlacement and rosettes. At Whitchurch Canonicorum is a
stone with two circular designs of doubtful date and purpose but used as material in a late
12th-century wall. Finally mention may be made of the monolithic Cross and Hand, Batcombe,
a cylindrical shaft with a capital of crude cubical form, which may be related to the pre-Conquest
series with tapering capitals.
The Romanesque period is not well represented in W. Dorset save in parts of the Abbey
and the old Castle at Sherborne. The abbey was rebuilt at the time, and probably under the
impulse, of Bishop Roger of Salisbury who rebuilt the Castle. It had a square-ended presbytery
probably extending one bay beyond the aisles. Parts of the central tower, transepts, side
chapels and the reconstructed S. porch survive of this period.
Remains were found of an apsidal chancel at Cattistock when the church was largely rebuilt.
Lyme Regis and Maiden Newton have towers, in part of the 12th century, which were formerly
central in an aisleless church. The best surviving example of 12th-century work in the district
is, however, the rather elaborate and distorted chancel-arch at Powerstock; the responds of
a chancel-arch of the same period remain at Godmanstone. The S. arcade at Whitchurch
Canonicorum and the S. arcade at Broadwindsor are 12th-century work, as are the chancel-arch
at Puncknowle and the N. doorway at Poyntington. The chapter-house at Forde and the
chancel at Loders have both the curious feature that the vaulting-responds are set back in a
recess in the wall. Mention should be made of the rich carved detail of this period built into the
walls at Abbotsbury Abbey House and Maiden Newton church.
The 13th century is best represented by the remains of the Lady Chapel at Sherborne, the
N. arcade and transepts at Whitchurch Canonicorum, the transepts at Bridport and the chancel
at Long Bredy. Bridport, South Perrott and Wootton Fitzpaine are 13th-century cruciform
churches with central towers though the tower and crossing at Bridport were rebuilt c. 1400;
14th and 15th-century examples of the cruciform series may be found at Symondsbury, Burton
Bradstock and Melbury Sampford.
The work of the first half of the 14th century is neither extensive nor important but the
tower and spire at Trent should be mentioned. To the second half of the century belongs the
remarkable stone-vaulted chapel of St. Catherine at Abbotsbury. With the later part of the
14th century begins a long series of works largely produced to standard pattern over a period
of a century and a half and consequently very difficult to date except with the assistance of
documentary evidence. This standard production is probably due to the predominance of the
Ham Hill quarries during the period. The finest work of the age is the rebuilding of the abbey
of Sherborne which was undertaken in two main campaigns; the richly-coloured stone is
from Ham Hill and the elaborate stone vaulting extends through most of the church. The
parish churches provide a series of towers, of which those at Beaminster, Cerne Abbas, Whit-church Canonicorum and Bradford Abbas are the most remarkable. The S. chapel at Bradford
Abbas and the S. chapel and aisle at Loders should also be noticed.
Post-Reformation church building in W. Dorset is not of great importance though it
includes two complete buildings of considerable interest, the parish church at Folke, 1628, and
the chapel at Leweston, 1616; both these are buildings of Tudor Gothic character, Folke
having a N. arcade of curious detail. The N. chapel at Minterne Magna (c. 1610–20) is of
similar character. The tower at W. Chelborough was built in 1638 and that at Frampton in
1695; the latter is highly unusual, the place of buttresses being taken by superimposed and
engaged Tuscan columns, the tower being finished with an embattled parapet and pinnacles.
The church at Castleton (Sherborne) was rebuilt by William, 5th Lord Digby, and consecrated
in 1715; it is referred to by Pope as a "neat little chapel" which Lord Digby told him "was
of his own architecture". Later 18th-century work is best represented by the N. chapel at
Seaborough (1729) with a Gothic window and Melbury Osmond which was largely rebuilt
in 1745 and is a simple Renaissance structure. The later additions to Over Compton and the
tower at Minterne Magna (c. 1800) may also be noted.
The 19th-century churches are of interest and show a wide choice of styles. Fleet (1827–9)
is in Gothic deriving from the 18th-century Revival, and the treatment of the interior of the
chancel has considerable delicacy and decorative effect. Allington (1827), a neo-Greek building,
has a robust Doric portico. At Compton Valence (1839) the use of Gothic is largely traditional
whereas at Monckton Wyld, in Wootton Fitzpaine, (1848) and Bradford Peverell (1850) it is a
conscious revival of 13th and 14th-century styles. Melplash, in Netherbury, (1846) is entirely
in 12th-century style and is a remarkable example of studied antiquarianism.
Nonconformist churches are represented by the "Friends" Meeting House at Bridport, a
17th-century building, and by three later buildings of some distinction; the first is the mid
18th-century Congregational Chapel at Lyme Regis (1755), the second the Unitarian Chapel at
Bridport (1794) and the third the Methodist Chapel at Bridport, a neo-Greek design of 1839
with symmetrical wings.
Monastic and Collegiate Buildings
The district covered by this volume includes three great Benedictine abbeys and a Cistercian
abbey. The three Benedictine houses are Sherborne, Abbotsbury and Cerne. Of the first the
abbey-church survives almost intact and there are some remains of the monastic buildings.
The abbey-church at Abbotsbury has been destroyed except for a small part of the base of the
N. wall of the nave; the great barn, some subsidiary buildings and parts of two gatehouses are
still standing. The abbey of Cerne has been even more completely demolished and the remains
are now reduced to the porch of the abbot's house, a subsidiary building and a barn. The
church and part of the cloister of the Cistercian abbey of Forde have been destroyed but much
of the monastic buildings and the abbot's house are still standing. Large parts of these including
the N. walk of the cloister and the great hall of the abbot's lodging were rebuilt by the last
abbot, Thomas Chard, on an extensive and elaborate scale; the decoration includes much
carving of early French Renaissance character. Of the minor monastic houses the parish
church of Loders formerly served the alien priory there and there are some small remains of
the hospital of St. John the Baptist at Bridport.
The Almshouses at Sherborne are an interesting survival of a 15th-century hospital planned
on two storeys with a chapel the full height of the building. There is a small almshouse at
Beaminster founded by Sir John Strode in 1630, and the 19th-century almshouses at Trent
(1846), formally planned on two sides of a small courtyard and built in traditional style, are of
The school at Sherborne retains its old School-house rebuilt in 1670; the original headmaster's house was contrived in the eastern chapels of the abbey-church. Trent has the school-house of John Young's school, founded in 1678, and Yetminster that of the Hon. Robert Boyle,
founded in 1691.
Sherborne Old Castle (Castleton) is alike the most important military and early domestic
building in W. Dorset. It was built by Roger, Bishop of Salisbury, in the 12th century and
the main central building with its inner courtyard, four ranges and a keep is amongst the most
important examples of 12th-century military-domestic work in this country. There are some
remains of a tower on the motte of the Mandeville castle at Marshwood and the shell of a
defensive tower at Holditch Court, Thorncombe. The only other building with some claims
to be defensive is the 14th or 15th-century house called the Chantry at Bridport. It is a square
structure of the isolated tower-house type.
Pickett Farm South Perrott
The Queen's Arms ~ Charmouth
Higher Abbotts Wootton Farm Whitchurch Canonicorum
Toller Whelme Manor House Corscombe
With the exception of a 12th-century doorway at Hummer Farm, Trent, which may well
have come from elsewhere, the earliest domestic buildings of the district date from the latter
part of the 14th and the early part of the 15th century. Of these Church Farm, Trent, and the
Court House at Poyntington may be mentioned; the former retains the three original doorways at the back of the screens. The 15th century provides three examples of a somewhat
unusual type of house comprised in a long rectangle of two storeys with diagonal buttresses
at one end. These houses are Toller Whelme Manor House, Corscombe, Pickett Farm, South
Perrott, and Higher Abbots Wootton, Whitchurch Canonicorum. There is no great certainty
about the original internal arrangement of these three buildings but the third seems to have
had three rooms on the ground floor of which the western perhaps represented the solar; the
original entrance doorway gives access to the middle room. A far more complete building
of the same type is the Queen's Arms Hotel at Charmouth, which retains all the evidence of the
original internal arrangement; it had a hall with a withdrawing-room at one end and screens,
buttery, pantry and kitchen at the other end. Work of the 15th century is represented by the
well-preserved porch and the adjoining wing at Childhay, Broadwindsor, by the hall-block at
Upbury Farm, Yetminster, and by the Chantry at Trent and Poyntington Manor House, both of
c. 1500; Berwick, Swyre, has been much altered but the hall and screens arrangement survives,
and the screens-passage retains work of the early years of the following century. To the
first half or middle of the 16th century belong a series of important houses with late Gothic
details; most of these have the distinctive feature of octagonal or circular shafts at the
main angles of the building carried up as pinnacles above the parapets. Perhaps the earliest
is the courtyard house at Melbury, with its remarkable tower, built by Sir Giles Strangways
before Leland's visit about 1540. Of the same type is the once splendid house at Clifton Maybank, the original wing at Mapperton and Little Toller Farm, Toller Fratrum. To the same
period belongs the very complete house at Sandford Orcas with its gatehouse and the large but
much altered house at Parnham, Beaminster. Timber building of the same age is represented
by the long range of buildings on the W. side of Church Street, Cerne Abbas, now partly
demolished. The new castle at Sherborne (Castleton) was built by Sir Walter Raleigh c. 1595
on a rectangular plan with turrets at the angles; the addition of the four wings in 1625 has
produced a somewhat remarkable plan, but the house has been much altered and restored. A
number of important houses were built or largely rebuilt in the first half of the 17th century;
these include Mapperton, Chantmarle (Cattistock), Melplash (Netherbury) and Up Cerne
Manor House; amongst the smaller manor houses Hooke Court, Mappercombe, Powerstock,
Rampisham, Wraxall, Wynford Eagle, Folke, West Hall (Folke), Melbury Bubb and Wyke
(Castleton) may be mentioned. To the middle of the century belong the important alterations
at Forde Abbey with their elaborate plaster ceilings. Good examples of the last quarter of
the century can be seen in the later work at Melbury House, at Mapperton Stables and Rectory,
and Look Farm, Puncknowle. Kingston Russell House was rebuilt late in the 17th century
but its façade is a reconstruction of the first quarter of the 18th century. The simple but effective
façade of Lord Digby's School at Sherborne is a work of about 1720. This building, containing paintings attributed to Thornhill, is of some importance, for the rest of the 18th-century
Renaissance is not very well represented in the district. Of the work of this century the town-hall at Bridport (1786) is the only civic building of note; William Tyler, R.A., was the architect.
Bridport is an attractive market-town with a broad main street and a general appearance of
the later part of the century; many Palladian windows survive and the feature was evidently
a popular one in the vicinity. Bettiscombe Manor (c. 1710) remains remarkably little altered
and, with the Red House, Sherborne (17th century and c. 1730), exemplifies country building
of quality. The slate-hung front and the interior plasterwork of Wootton House in Wootton
Fitzpaine (c. 1765) have affinities with West country work, which may be explained by the
building owner's family connection with Devon. At Sadborow in Thorncombe (1773–5)
professional advice must have been obtained, for the house is in the latest fashion of the time;
the building accounts include the cost of sending letters to Bath and London. The front of
the Greenhouse (1779) at Sherborne Castle (Castleton) is perhaps the most important classical
elevation in the area surveyed. Among the buildings of the later 18th century are Downe
Hall in Bridport (1789), much altered, East House, Sydling St. Nicholas, and the remarkable
house, Belmont, in Lyme Regis (c. 1785) built for Miss Coade and crusted with Coade stone
ornament from her artificial-stone works at Lambeth. The porch at Frome House (1782) is
urbane and finely wrought.
Three examples of 18th-century Gothic are included in the Inventory; these are the Turret
in the gardens of Melbury House mentioned by Walpole in the account of his visit there in
1762, the library at Sherborne Castle (Castleton) and, of less importance, the front of the Dairy
at the same place.
Among the secular works of the 19th century the additions to Parnham in Beaminster
(c. 1810) by John Nash are a notable example of his designing in romantic style. In Bridport,
Charmouth and Lyme Regis are numbers of stucco-fronted villas of considerable charm, many
retaining their original treillages; at the Cedars, a house of similar type in Sherborne, there is
much refinement in the classical decorative features of the street-front.
Several shop-fronts are worthy of notice, one in Bridport, opposite the town-hall, of the
end of the 18th century, and others of the early 19th century in Cerne Abbas, Beaminster,
Sherborne and an unusual one in Lyme Regis.
The large stone barn forms an important architectural feature of the district. The
largest is the great structure of twenty-three bays and 272 ft. long at Abbotsbury Abbey; it
was built about 1400 and may be compared with the great Cistercian barns at St. Leonard's near
Beaulieu (Hants) 216 ft. long and at Great Coxwell (Berks). The corresponding barn at Cerne
Abbas has been reduced to nine bays and partly converted into a house. Another large barn
at Wyke, Castleton, is 230 ft. long and the seven-bay building at Oborne may also be mentioned.
The earlier bridges of the district are mostly featureless. There are two bridges under the
same road at Lyme Regis; the main one is a ribbed structure of the 14th century but the arch
further E., now enclosed in buildings, is probably of early 13th-century date. The late 18th-century bridges at Frampton and at Pinford (Castleton) are notable.
Altars: There are mediæval altar-slabs with consecration-crosses at Frome St. Quintin
and Whitchurch Canonicorum and a few slabs have been noted elsewhere which may have
served the same purpose.
Bells: West Dorset has retained as many as forty mediæval bells. Of these, eight bear
dedications to Christ, fourteen to St. Mary, one to Christ, St. Mary and St. John, three to St.
Gabriel, two to St. Augustine, two to St. Michael and one each to St. Mary Magdalene,
St. Anne, St. Elizabeth, St. Margaret, St. Andrew and St. Lawrence. The earliest are the 14th-century 2nd at Trent, probably from a London foundry, the sanctus at Sherborne from the
Bristol foundry and the bell at Wraxall cast by Thomas Hey, c. 1350–60, with his signature.
Of the end of the century are the 1st at Trent, the 1st at Batcombe, the 1st and 2nd at Chetnole
(London foundry) and the 5th at Little Bredy by John Barber of Salisbury. To the Salisbury
foundry may be ascribed a dozen later mediæval bells, while the Exeter, Bristol, London and
Reading foundries also contributed to a less degree. Of the later 16th century there is a bell
dated 1563 at Hooke, with the initials W.P.; others come in all probability from the foundry
of William Purdue of Closeworth. A local founder, William Warre of Yetminster, is responsible
for a number in the late 16th and early 17th century. To the same period belongs the work
of Robert Wiseman of Montacute and his sons, John Walter of Salisbury (1581–1624), John
Danton of Salisbury (1624–40) and John Lott of Warminster. By far the greatest number of
the 17th-century bells come however from the foundries of the various later members of the
Purdue family: Roger Purdue I (1601–40), Roger Purdue II (1649–88), George Purdue of
Taunton (1599–1633), William Purdue II (1637–69) and Thomas Purdue (1647–1704). Later
foundries represented in the district include Lewis Cockey of Bristol and Frome, William
Knight and Thomas Roskelly and the Bilbies of Chewstoke and Cullompton.
Brasses: The brasses of W. Dorset are few in number and comparatively unimportant.
The best is the large figure in civilian costume of Sir Thomas Brook, 1419–20, and his wife, at
Thorncombe. The figure of Sir Giles Strangways, 1562, at Melbury Sampford, is represented
in armour with a tabard. There are early 16th-century figures at Rampisham and Yetminster.
Figures of priests survive at Compton Valence and Evershot. Two of the inscriptions at
Litton Cheney are palimpsest, the reverse bearing an earlier inscription, and part of the 18th-century inscription (4) at Cerne Abbas is in black-letter. There is the indent of a highly
remarkable brass now cut in two and mutilated, the two parts being preserved at Askerswell
and Whitchurch Canonicorum; it was formerly at Abbotsbury Abbey and commemorates
Thomas de Luda, c. 1320, and his wife; it had two foliated crosses side by side and an inscription
in separate capitals.
Candelabra: Five churches in the area contain candelabra. The earliest, in Sherborne
Abbey, was given in 1657 and probably came from the Netherlands, another was given in 1714
to Castleton and may well be of English make. The remainder are of later date; one at Abbotsbury of c. 1760 has a vase-shaped body and is unusual in having repoussé decoration on the
grease-pans; another undated example, at Cerne Abbas, has a flame finial issuing from a classical
vase and probably dates from the third quarter of the century; Wynford Eagle contains a pair.
Chests: The chests of the district are of no great interest but there is a dug-out chest at
Bradford Abbas and a heavy chest of hutch-type at Sydling St. Nicholas. Amongst the later
chests the example at Trent is dated 1629.
Clocks: The works of four old clocks have been noted; that at Sydling St. Nicholas is
dated 1593 and that at Yetminster nearly a century later in 1682. The third clock at Long
Burton is of the 16th or 17th century and the fourth in Sherborne Abbey is probably of the
Communion Tables and Rails: The best table is the early 17th-century example with carved
and bulbous legs at Thorncombe; there is an enriched example with ordinary turned legs and
dated 1638 at Cerne Abbas. The best communion rails are those at Folke, Burton Bradstock
and Litton Cheney; those at Burton Bradstock are dated 1686.
Consecration Crosses: Seven churches in the area have series of consecration crosses; they
are all probably of the 15th century and consist of formy crosses in circles cut in stone. Holnest
and Thornford retain fourteen crosses each, Beer Hackett thirteen, Yetminster ten, Nether
Compton nine, Minterne Magna six and Lillington five. Many of these crosses are not in situ.
Crosses, Churchyard and Wayside: The crosses of this type are fairly numerous in W. Dorset
and include several with the weathered remains of figures cut in relief on one or more faces of
the shaft. Among these are the cross in the main street at Maiden Newton (3), at Leigh (2), at
Rampisham (3) and the churchyard cross at Bradford Abbas. The churchyard cross at Rampisham has an elaborately carved and inscribed base but unfortunately several of the carvings are
not certainly identifiable and the inscription is not altogether legible; a cross-base of similar
design is preserved in the museum at Sherborne Castle (Castleton). All the above crosses date
presumably from the 15th or early 16th century, but there are a number of simpler and earlier
examples, including the unusual cylindrical shaft called Cross and Hand at Batcombe (2).
Doors: Few of the doors in the district are of any particular interest; there are however
doors with traceried heads at Trent church and at Church Farm, Trent, of late 14th or early
15th-century date and a panelled early 16th-century door at Parnham, Beaminster. The late
17th-century door in the tower at Puncknowle has the initials of Robert Napper in nail-heads.
Three houses have panelled internal enclosures or lobbies with doors of the first half of the 17th
century; they are Sherborne Castle (Castleton), Sandford Orcas and Chantmarle (Cattistock).
Fireplaces and Overmantels: The ordinary fireplaces of the district follow a form which did
not greatly alter for two centuries. From the 15th to well on in the 17th century and perhaps
later, the stone fireplaces have flat four-centred heads set in a square outer order with or without decoration in the spandrels. A few late mediaeval fireplaces of more decorative character
survive; these may be seen at Abbey Farm, Cerne Abbas, the Chantry, Trent, and Hooke Court
and have a frieze of quatre-foiled panelling above the opening with carvings including the
initials of Abbot John Vanne at Cerne and the arms of Paulet at Hooke Court. There is a
17th-century stone fireplace with diminishing pilasters and a heavy entablature at Sherborne
At Mapperton are two overmantels with enriched plasterwork of mid 16th-century date,
and in the same house is a third plaster overmantel with the Paulet arms with pantheon supporters brought from Melplash (Netherbury) and dated 1604. The overmantels with the
Digby arms at Sherborne Castle (Castleton) have been painted and restored but presumably
date from early in the 17th century. Other carved overmantels of the same period are to be
seen at Parnham (Beaminster), Up Cerne Manor House, Manor Farm (Wynford Eagle), Stratton
Manor House, and the Conservative Club (13) and the Priory (41) at Sherborne; the first has
a figure-subject of Joseph and Potiphar's wife and the second has figures of Adam and Eve
and the serpent. There are late 17th-century fireplaces and overmantels at Forde Abbey and
early 18th-century ones at Melbury House. Simply panelled overmantels at Bettiscombe
Manor House may also be mentioned.
The remaining 18th-century fireplace-surrounds in the area are not of particular importance
excepting perhaps one in the Manor House, Beaminster, carved with scenes from the Siege of
Troy; there are two of marble with coloured inlays at 74 East Street, Bridport, and Sadborow
in Thorncombe. Others of c. 1760 with carved rococo decoration are at Farrs, Beaminster,
and in Wootton House, Wootton Fitzpaine; one at Wootton is unusual in the combination of
carving in wood mounted upon polished touch.
Fonts: The most remarkable font of any period in W. Dorset is undoubtedly the carved
cylinder at Melbury Bubb; there is little doubt that it formed a section of a late pre-Conquest
cross-shaft which was converted into a font at some subsequent period; why the carved animals,
forming the decoration, were reversed when this adaptation took place it is impossible to say,
but perhaps the whole cylinder was plastered to a fair face and painted. To the post-Conquest
period belong, firstly a series of plain or crudely ornamented tub-shaped bowls such as those
at Burstock, Goathill and Poyntington and circular bowls of equally primitive character at
Sydling St. Nicholas and Puncknowle. Of less determinate character are the fonts at Toller
Porcorum and Batcombe; the former is reminiscent of a debased Roman capital with a ram's
head at one angle and volutes at the other three; the Batcombe font has an equally unusual
volute capital to the stem and a bowl in the form of a mortar with lugs and cable ornament at
the angles. Of more normal 12th-century type are the carved fonts at Toller Fratrum and
Stoke Abbott; the former has a series of crude figures under a broad band of interlacement
and the latter has a richly diapered surface with a series of heads under arches at the top. Square
or octagonal Purbeck marble bowls of rather later date survive at Loders, Netherbury, Up Cerne,
Broadwindsor and Shipton Gorge. There are round arcaded bowls at Askerswell and Whit-church Canonicorum and a crudely but elaborately ornamented tub at West Chelborough.
Simple 13th-century fonts survive at Powerstock, Leweston and South Perrott. The finest of
the later mediaeval fonts is the carved and panelled example with figures at Bradford Abbas;
the others of this period are of no great distinction. At Folke there is an enriched Jacobean
font and at Castleton an early 18th-century font with a baluster-stem.
Glass: The earliest glass in the district is the series of 14th-century shields-of-arms at Cerne
Abbas and there is much heraldic glass of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries at Beer Hackett,
Sherborne, Melbury Sampford, Mapperton and Parnham (Beaminster). Figures of the 15th
century are represented at Sherborne Hospital and Melbury Bubb; at the hospital one window
has figures of the Virgin and Child, St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. The
Melbury Bubb glass is of more iconographical interest; the N.W. window of the nave has part
of a figure of Christ showing the five wounds from which rays were carried to panels of the
seven sacraments; one only of these, Orders, survives; in the tracery are unusual figures of
the wise and foolish virgins. In the W. window are the Apostles, symbols of the Evangelists,
the Persons of the Trinity, etc.; elsewhere in the Church is an Annunciation and some heraldry.
At Loders a window in the S. chapel has figures in the tracery of St. Barbara, St. Dorothy, two
ecclesiastics, etc. Some glass at Bradford Peverell, including a 16th-century shield of William
of Wykeham, is said to have come from New College, Oxford. There is a large collection of
foreign glass at Trent church and vicarage and smaller collections at Sandford Orcas, Parnham
(Beaminster) and elsewhere.
Many churches in the area contain 19th-century glass. There are windows at Lyme Regis
and Netherbury by Wailes, and an extensive scheme of reglazing carried through at Trent
between 1842 and 1849 is perhaps also by Wailes. T. Willement in 1839 designed three lights
for the E. window at Melbury Sampford and they are probably the ones incorporating older
material now in the south window of the S. transept. The great Te Deum window in Sherborne
Abbey was designed by A.W. Pugin for the 2nd Earl Digby and erected shortly after the middle
of the century.
Helmets and Armour: The great tilting-helm at Melbury Sampford of the second half of
the 15th century is by far the most important example of armour in W. Dorset and one of the
most important in the country ; with it is a sword of the same age. In the same church are
also a late 16th-century close-helmet, a 17th-century "pot" head-piece and two 17th-century
swords. At Puncknowle is an early 17th-century helmet with gauntlets and a spur and at
Forde Abbey, Thorncombe, is a late 16th-century helmet of a type associated with the Greenwich workshops with 17th-century gorget-plates. The late 16th-century close-helmet at
Trent has traces of etched decoration on the ventail and the edges of the plates are invected.
Images: The churches of W. Dorset possess a considerable amount of architectural imagery
dating almost entirely from the 15th century. The most extensive display is on the tower of
Beaminster church and work of the same character survives on the towers of Cerne Abbas and
Bradford Abbas. Small carved subjects, mostly Crucifixions, are to be found at Abbotsbury,
Askerswell, Bridport, Frampton, Loders and Sherborne Abbey.
Monuments: The monuments of the district include thirteen mediaeval effigies. Of these
the earliest is the upper part of the figure of Abbot Clement at Sherborne which can be nearly
dated to c. 1160; a crudely carved figure of an abbot at Abbotsbury may be assigned to c. 1200.
There are 13th-century figures of another abbot and a priest at Sherborne and a figure of an
abbot of Cerne of the same period is now in the Farnham Museum. Effigies of cross-legged
men in mail armour of the 13th century are to be found at Bridport (considerably restored) and
at Seaborough (well under life-size). There are three 14th-century effigies at Trent, one a
priest, one a man in civil costume and one a man in armour of c. 1380; at Poyntington is another
figure in armour of about the same period but badly mutilated. The two canopied 15th-century
tombs at Melbury Sampford both have well-preserved armed effigies of members of the Brouning
family, though one tomb has been later appropriated by Sir Giles Strangways, 1547; at Netherbury is a canopied tomb with an effigy to a member of the More family, of c. 1480, in armour
with the SS collar. One other mediaeval memorial, of the highest interest, is the 13th-century
shrine of St. Wite at Whitchurch Canonicorum; the solid base has three recesses in which
the pilgrims inserted the afflicted parts of their bodies.
To the later Tudor period belong the fine canopied monument with effigies of Sir John
Horsey, father and son, c. 1565, at Sherborne Abbey, the tomb and effigy ascribed to Sir John
Arundel, c. 1550, at Chideock and the canopied monument with effigies to John Leweston,
1584, at Sherborne Abbey. The finest monuments of the early Stuart period are those of Sir
John Jefferey, 1611, at Whitchurch Canonicorum, to Thomas Winston, 1609–10, and Sir John
Fitzjames, 1625, at Long Burton and to Sir John Browne, 1627, at Frampton, all with recumbent
effigies. Amongst the smaller monuments of the period may be mentioned those to John
Whetcombe, 1635, at Maiden Newton, a figure in a shroud to Joane Coker, 1653, at Frampton,
to William Knoyle, 1607–8, at Sandford Orcas, to a member of the Keymer family at West
Chelborough and to George Tilly at Poyntington. The monument to Ann Gerard, 1633, at
Trent, is unusual in including an elaborate painted family-tree on the arch above. The later
Stuart period is represented by a number of handsome monuments and many smaller memorials
and tablets. The finest is the elaborate memorial to John, Lord Bristol, 1698, at Sherborne;
this monument is signed by John Nost, a sculptor who worked at Hampton Court; possibly to
the same sculptor belongs the monument to Thomas Strode, 1698–9, at Beaminster. Another
handsome monument, by Robert Taylor, at Minterne Magna, commemorates Sir Nathaniel
Napier, 1708, and the same church contains a number of good tablets of the same period. The
monument to Sir Robert Napper, 1700, at Puncknowle, is signed John Hamilton.
The monument to Richard Brodrepp, 1737, at Mapperton is by P. Scheemakers and the
later Strode monument, 1753, at Beaminster is undoubtedly by him. Other good 18th-century
works are at Bradford Abbas and Over Compton and at Frampton where the memorial to Ann
Browne, 1714, has a portrait-bust of great charm. A series of tablets to the Strangways family
at Melbury Sampford may also be mentioned. The large Mildmay wall-monument, 1784, in
Sherborne Abbey is by T. Carter.
The fine figure of Robert Goodden at Over Compton, executed in 1825, is by far the most
important of the 19th-century memorials in the area. Another whole-length figure sculpture
is at Melbury Sampford and is by Chantrey, 1821. Amongst the monuments of neo-classical
design examples at Over Compton, Frampton and Fleet are worthy of remark, and at Sydling
St. Nicholas are some small wall-tablets by Lancashire and Son of Bath which are unusual.
A hatchment, of the unusually early date of 1658, survives at Folke and there are two others
of 1693 (?) and 1703–4 at Forde Abbey and one at Sherborne Abbey of 1708–9. Painted achievements on wood panels, of a similar character, are used as memorials at Poyntington and elsewhere.
Paintings: Mediaeval ecclesiastical wall-paintings are very uncommon in the district and
only the examples at Cerne Abbas are of importance. These date from the 14th century and
represent scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist. There have been paintings of some importance over the chancel-arch at Puncknowle but these are not now identifiable. The paintings
at Netherbury, discovered about 1850, have again been covered and the painting of the Mass of
St. Gregory, formerly at Abbotsbury, has also disappeared. Remains of early painted decoration on the N.W. doorway at Sherborne Abbey are worth mention. There are 17th-century
figures of Death and Time in Loders church and texts etc., dated 1679 at Cerne Abbas. Painted
roofs are few; fragments at Bradford Abbas and Yetminster are of the 15th century.
Various houses have fragments of painted wall-decoration, as at the Queen's Arms Hotel,
Charmouth. Melbury House has an elaborate painted decoration to the main staircase, of which
one of the minor panels is signed and dated G. Lanscroon, 1701; the N.E. room has a ceiling
of c. 1700 painted with birds, fruit and flowers. Lord Digby's School at Sherborne has an
early 18th-century staircase with important paintings by Thornhill of the Calydonian boarhunt etc., and at the Manor House, Beaminster, is a ceiling-panel by Andrea Casali of the
Feast of the Gods, brought from Fonthill.
Panelling: The district is not particularly rich in panelling but most of the larger houses
retain a certain amount, often reset. Linen-fold panelling is to be seen at Parnham (Beaminster),
Melbury House, Melplash (Netherbury) and Sandford Orcas Manor House. At the last house
there is also panelling of the end of the 16th and the early part of the 17th century. Trent
Manor House and Wynford Eagle Manor Farm both have rooms lined with 17th-century
panelling with enriched friezes and there is enriched panelling of importance of the same date
at Forde Abbey (Thorncombe); other 17th-century panelling may be mentioned at Sherborne
Castle (Castleton), Parnham and Folke Manor House. There is a considerable amount of
early 18th-century panelling in the district; the best is perhaps at Melbury where there are
also carved festoons ascribed to Grinling Gibbons. Kingston Russell House, Bettiscombe
Manor House, Puncknowle Manor House, Lord Digby's School (Sherborne), Forde Abbey
and Ilcombe Farm (Netherbury) have panelling of the same period. The 18th-century Gothic
fittings of the library at Sherborne Castle have been applied to the 17th-century panelling on
Piscinae: Very few fittings of this class in the district are of any great importance. There
is, however, a 12th-century pillar-piscina at Batcombe, 13th-century piscinae, worth mention,
at Little Bredy and Maiden Newton and 14th-century examples at Cerne Abbas and Pilsdon.
The best 15th-century piscina is at Burton Bradstock.
Plasterwork: West Dorset contains numerous and important examples of decorative
plasterwork of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. There are handsome late 16th-century ribbed
and enriched ceilings at Melbury House and Mapperton and a ceiling dated 1601 at Lyme
Regis (7). A series of early 17th-century ceilings survive at Sherborne Castle (Castleton) and
others of the same period at Burton Bradstock (2), Folke (4) and elsewhere. The enriched
barrel-ceiling of the chancel at Abbotsbury church was put up in 1638 and has numerous shields
of Strangways heraldry. Forde Abbey has a remarkably fine series of plaster ceilings of the
second half of the 17th century and there are early 18th-century ceilings at Melbury House and
Kingston Russell. Later 18th-century plasterwork is at Mapperton Manor House, c. 1760,
Wootton House in Wootton Fitzpaine, c. 1765, and in the dome at Sadborow, Thorncombe,
Plate: The churches of W. Dorset possess no examples of pre-Reformation plate, the
series beginning with the Elizabethan period. Of this age there survive thirty-six cups and
numerous cover-patens; six of the cups date from 1570, six from 1571, one from 1572, five
from 1573, four from 1574, two from 1575, one from 1576 and one from 1578. Most of these
are of the normal form but the example at Shipton Gorge is of unusual wine-glass shape. The
cups, such as those at Lyme Regis and South Perrott, of the immediately succeeding period, are
still of Elizabethan character but there is an unusual cup with laminated decoration at Wraxall.
Other 17th-century plate of note includes a cup at Melbury Sampford of 1607 with a crucifix,
cups and cover-patens at Mapperton and Hillfield and cups at Sherborne Abbey. Mosterton
possesses an enriched cup and cover-paten given in 1714. There is a certain amount of secular
plate now belonging to the Church and of this the fine cup of 1683 at Melbury Sampford, the
repoussé beaker of 1676 at Maiden Newton, the bowl of 1710 at Mapperton and the taster of
c. 1700 at Litton Cheney may be mentioned in addition to the cups with baluster-stems at
Beaminster, 1611, Poyntington, 1634, and Whitchurch Canonicorum, 1662, and a later cup, of
1797, also at Beaminster. A flagon of 1722 at Thorncombe and a plainer one of 1664 at Poyntington are worthy of note. Of the later 18th-century plate the set of 1733 at Bradford Abbas,
formerly at Clifton Maybank, the set of 1737 at Trent and the examples of the work of Paul
Lamerie (1747–8) at Abbotsbury, Melbury Sampford and Melbury Osmond may be mentioned.
These last three churches have breadknives given by Mrs. Strangways Horner, c. 1755.
Pulpits: At Frampton there is a much restored stone pulpit, with carved figures in the
panels, dating from the 15th century. The earliest oak pulpits are those at Broadwindsor,
Hillfield and Thorncombe; all are of the first half of the 16th century and the two last have
linen-fold panels; the pulpit at Broadwindsor has buttressed angles and panels with conventional foliage. There are a number of handsome early 17th-century pulpits of which five still
retain their sounding-boards in position; the finest are the elaborately enriched pulpit at
Abbotsbury and the example at Lyme Regis dated 1613; the pulpits at Cerne Abbas, Holnest
and Leweston possess sounding-boards and at the last-named place the clerk's desk has been
retained. The pulpit at Bradford Abbas is dated 1632; its sounding-board now forms a
table. Of the same period there is a very handsome pulpit at Netherbury and others of note
at Beaminster, Whitchurch Canonicorum and Oborne. Of early 18th-century work the pulpit
at Forde Abbey may be mentioned. The sounding-board and standard of the mid 18th-century
pulpit in the Congregational chapel at Lyme Regis survive though separated, and the pulpit
in the Unitarian chapel at Bridport is an example of good cabinet work of the end of the century.
The pulpit at Trent has carved figure-subjects and is of foreign, probably Dutch, origin.
Reredoses: The most remarkable reredos in the district is the late 15th-century painted
triptych, probably of the Cologne school, in the hospital at Sherborne. In the abbey are preserved sculptures and decorative fragments of stonework which no doubt formed part of
former reredoses, destroyed at the Reformation. There is a 17th-century reredos at Leweston,
forming part of the panelling of the chancel. The wooden reredos at Castleton church dates
from c. 1714 and there is a handsome reredos at Abbotsbury erected in 1751.
Royal Arms: There is a stone-carving of the Stuart Royal Arms in the Town Hall at Lyme
Regis. Post-Restoration painted Royal Arms occur at Long Burton, 1682, Castleton church,
(Sherborne), 1671, Puncknowle, 1673, etc. A Prince of Wales feathers with the initials of Prince
Henry and the date 1611 is preserved at Sherborne Abbey.
Screens: There are five examples in W. Dorset of churches with stone screens between
the chancel and nave; they are all of the 15th century and have been more or less restored;
these churches are Batcombe, Bradford Abbas, Cerne Abbas, Nether Compton and Thornford.
There are remains of a stone screen also under the W. arch of St. Mary le Bow Chapel in Sherborne Abbey. The finest timber screen is the 15th-century structure, retaining its vaulted loft,
at Trent; the screen under the tower at Sandford Orcas may also be mentioned. There is a
good early 17th-century screen at Folke and screens of the 17th century at Long Burton and in
the chapel at Forde Abbey. In the larger houses of the district there are a number of hallscreens of which that at Melplash (Netherbury) dates from the 16th century. Others, of the
following century, may be noted at Parnham (Beaminster), Mapperton and Sandford Orcas
Staircases: The most unusual staircase in the district is the early 16th-century tower-staircase in Stratton church; it is a circular timber structure with a central post and linen-fold
panelling. The only other church-staircase which need be mentioned is the 17th-century
example reset at Castleton (Sherborne). Melbury House has an early 16th-century stone staircase in the tower-building, with barrel-vaults of four-centred form. Sandford Orcas Manor
House has two spiral staircases, and an early 17th-century stone staircase at Sherborne Castle
has some balusters of the same material. Folke Manor House and West Hall in the same
parish have early 17th-century staircases of interest, both have continuous newel-posts. The
staircase at Parnham (Beaminster) has pierced terminals to the newels, and the staircase of the
same period at Clifton Maybank may also be mentioned. Perhaps the finest staircase in the
district is the richly ornamented example of the middle of the 17th century at Forde Abbey;
the same house has also a secondary staircase of interest. Two staircases of the turn of the
century set back to back are at Melbury House; one of these has a painting on the soffit dated
1701 and an unusually early example of the bracketed string. Other early 18th-century staircases may be mentioned at Kingston Russell House, Lord Digby's School (Sherborne) and
Bettiscombe Manor House. At Mapperton Manor House the staircase introduced into the N.
wing in the third quarter of the 18th century is contained within the S. half of the stair-hall
and, seen from the N., the ascending tiers of balusters in considerable numbers make a striking
display. The stone semicircular staircase at Sadborow (Thorncombe), 1775, has wrought-iron
Stalls and Seating: The only surviving stalls with misericordes in the district are at Sherborne Abbey. Here there are five on each side, partly made up with modern work, but mainly
of the 15th century; the carvings include a Last Judgment. The best pews are those at Bradford Abbas and Trent; both have elaborately carved bench-ends with figures, foliage, etc., and
date from early in the 16th century. There is good early 17th-century seating at Leweston.
Weather-vanes: An unusual example of a weathercock with the date and maker's name
upon it is on the spire at Trent.
The Early Church at Sherborne
The position and form of the later pre-Conquest Cathedral of Sherborne, though a matter
of considerable interest and importance, could not suitably be dealt with in the body of the
Inventory which should obviously confine itself to visual facts. It has been thought desirable
however to deal with the matter more fully in this section, where theory and perhaps even
surmise may be indulged in with greater propriety.
The only pre-Conquest cathedral of this age, the actual form and structure of which is
known, is that at North Elmham, Norfolk, and this building, situated in a distant province
and erected under different local conditions need have no bearing on the form of such churches
in Wessex. It will be a safer guide to bear in mind the extensive structural remains at Deerhurst, Breamore and elsewhere, which may more nearly represent a Wessex cathedral, though
on a smaller scale. At Sherborne the Benedictine rule was introduced by Bishop Wulfsige in
998 and it may be that the cathedral was rebuilt at or before that time as the surviving doorway would appear to be of the second half of the 10th century. This doorway, at the W. end
of the N. aisle of the nave, with the surrounding rubble walling is now the only certain surviving
portion of the pre-Conquest church. The rubble walling however at the W. end of the S.
aisle is of precisely similar character and is perhaps also of the same date. This equation is
strengthened by the projection from this same wall of the top stones of a moulded stone plinth
belonging to a wall which projected some 21 ft. westwards. This plinth was uncovered about
1875 by R. H. Carpenter, architect to the church, who surmised with much acumen that it
belonged to a pre-Conquest porch or tower; he further discovered a massive foundation some
20 ft. W. of the W. front, which he thought might well have formed the west side of such a tower.
The plinth-moulding, though weathered, is still in part recoverable and is assignable with some
degree of probability to the 10th century as it departs widely from the standard mouldings
used by the Anglo-Norman builders. The accuracy of Mr. Carpenter's observations have now
been firmly established by the excavation undertaken by the Commission in April 1949. This
excavation revealed the massive S.W. angle of the tower and a portion of the outer edge of
the foundation of the W. wall near the axial line. It is remarkable that both the S. and W.
walls seem to have had no inner face and the tower must thus have stood on a solid platform.
A portion of an added wall was also uncovered projecting to the south of the S. wall, with a
straight joint between the two. The mortar in both cases was whitish and showed no marked
difference the one from the other. The date of the destruction of this tower can be arrived at
within certain limits. The parish church of All Hallows was erected late in the 14th century
immediately to the west of the existing nave and its erection would have compelled the
destruction of the earlier tower if indeed it still existed at that date. Thatit did so exist
is perhaps supported by the curious recessed frontage of the existing nave which seems
almost certainly to represent the internal wall-face of the destroyed tower, the thickness of
the earlier wall being represented by the existing wall and the bench against its internal face.
Mr. Carpenter records that when the great W. window was extended down to its present sill-level, thus adding the two lowest tiers of lights, the operation involved the destruction of
certain arches cut through the wall. The height of these arches above the floor-level might
perhaps indicate that they resembled the twin arches with triangular heads still surviving in
the E. wall of the tower at Deerhurst at about the same height.
The position of the surviving pre-Conquest doorway at the end of the N. aisle argues,
very strongly, that the church of that age had aisles, into one of which the door opened, as it
is difficult to suggest what other purpose might have been served by such a doorway in the
There remains only to be considered what evidence, if any, exists for the form of the pre-Conquest church to the E. of the nave. It can be shown from existing remains and documentary evidence that most of the major churches of late 10th and early 11th-century date
were cruciform on plan and had a well-defined crossing supporting either a masonry tower or
a timber lantern. The distinguishing feature of those crossings is that they were wider than
the chancel and transepts, and perhaps than the nave also, thus forming salient angles between
those parts of the structure. This feature appears, markedly, in the crossings at Stow, Lincs.
(early 11th century), at St. Mary, Dover, Breamore and elsewhere; it is largely confined to
churches of this period, indeed so much so, that its presence is presumptive evidence of this
It is a curious fact that in two surviving major Dorset churches, Sherborne and Wimborne,
this same feature is observable, though in fact both crossings are translated into what is now
avowedly 12th-century work. Both churches were Anglo-Saxon minsters of some importance
and it seems not improbable that in each case the older lay-out of the crossing was preserved
when the crossings were rebuilt or perhaps only refaced in the 12th century; this appears the
more probable in that salient angles to the crossing were an unknown feature elsewhere in AngloNorman building.
If this be granted as a hypothesis, the unusually short naves of both churches receives a
fresh significance, that at Sherborne being only five bays long while the 12th-century nave at
Wimborne was shorter still and only of four bays. This might well represent the restricted
dimensions of the pre-Conquest nave in both cases and is quite at variance with the normally
prolonged naves of the Anglo-Norman builders.
This brings us to the extremely difficult problem of why the baying of the existing nave
at Sherborne is so pronouncedly irregular. This irregularity is in no way assignable to the
15th-century builders, who recased or rebuilt the two arcades, as it bears no relationship to
the setting out of the clearstorey or of the stone vault, which are both avowedly of this period
alone. It must therefore have been conditioned by the pre-existing structure whether this
structure were of 12th-century or earlier date. Now there survive at the E. end of both arcades
parts of the semi-cylindrical 12th-century responds and higher up both walls are the impost
mouldings representing the height of the capitals of the responds and also, on the N. wall, the
enriched string-course at the base of the triforium. Setting this out on paper it would appear
that the width of the 12th-century bay, as proposed if not actually executed, could not have
been more than about 14 ft. allowing for the semi-circular arch below the triforium string-course. Furthermore the lines of both responds, towards the nave, show that any resulting
12th-century arcade could not have been included in the existing piers as they would have
extended beyond their limits.
Setting this dimension out on the plan it becomes clear that the regularly spaced bays of
a 12th-century nave could not have been responsible for the erratic lay-out of the existing
arcades and the six bays of the nave are not extensive enough to allow of two if not three successive campaigns of building to explain this irregularity, particularly as so great a builder as
Bishop Roger of Salisbury was directly concerned in the matter.
Sherborne Abbey Anglo-Saxon and Norman Lay-Out
One explanation alone would seem to fit the facts, and that is that work on the church had
only reached the crossing and the E. responds of the nave when Bishop Roger fell from power
in 1139 and that the rest of the pre-Conquest nave was then still standing. Pre-Conquest
building, as is well-known, was not distinguished by any degree of exactitude in the settingout of the structure or of precision in the symmetry of the piers, and furthermore, the structural
history of the early nave is entirely unknown. It is thus perhaps remotely possible that the
irregularity of the existing nave is due to unknown factors of this nature the character of which
it is idle to surmise.
One other feature of the existing central crossing remains to be touched upon; this is the
remarkable quadrant projections set within the southern and northern angles, respectively, of
the N. and S. transepts. It may perhaps be assumed that similar projections formerly existed
in the corresponding angles of the presbytery and nave and that these have not survived owing
to the absence of responds to the E. and W. tower-arches, to allow the choir-stalls of the 12th-century choir to be set flat against the side walls. If we may thus assume that the four piers
of the pre-Conquest crossing were symmetrical it becomes necessary to suggest some motive
for the quadrant projections, which certainly serve no obvious purpose in the 12th-century
building; indeed they are not carried up above the vault or ceiling of either transept and are
completely absent at the 12th-century lantern-level of the central tower. A glance at the plan
of the pre-Conquest crossings at Stow and elsewhere shows that the tower-arches are butted
against the salient angles of the crossing which represent a continuation of the outer face of
these arches in each case. We should thus assume that at Sherborne the quadrant projections
represent, in their lower portions, the responds of the earlier tower-arches, forming when
complete, more than a semi-circle on plan and equating exactly with those of the surviving E.
arch of the former central tower at Deerhurst. If this be accepted, it carries with it the corollary
that, when the 12th-century builders came to recast the crossing, they set their own arches
within the lines of the pre-Conquest ones, thus reducing the width of the tower on all four
sides and setting their own responds within the lines of the pre-Conquest crossing. A precisely similar step and for a precisely similar purpose was taken, in the 14th century, in the
crossing at Stow. By this action the 12th-century builders left only part of the semi-cylindrical
respond-shafts exposed and these they certainly refaced, thereby increasing their girth. They
were further carried up the full height of the transepts to finish ineffectively at the ceiling-level.
This explanation may, perhaps, seem somewhat laboured, but so unusual a feature may well
demand an unusual explanation and it may at least be worth while putting it on paper for lack
of a better.
To conclude, there exist impressions of an unusually early common-seal of the abbey
which is by general consent ascribed to the 11th century; four Cs, all of the early square form,
are used in the legend. The seal thus antedates the Anglo-Norman church, which in part
survives, by a generation or more. On the face of the seal is represented the side view of a
church (see fig. below) which differs markedly from the conventional representations so
common on mediaeval seals. So much is this the case that, though inevitably contracted in
length, the church would appear to be an honest attempt to represent the then existing building,
with its apse, turreted crossing, nave, west tower and a porch beyond it.
All the particulars dealt with above are illustrated on the accompanying plan of the 12th-century and earlier building.