The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Kington Magna

Clive Hannay illustrates what Rodney Legg claims as the best church view in the county

The best ecclesiastical view in Dorset, at ground level, is that from All Saints at Kington Magna. This small parish of 1891 acres is dominated by a limestone ridge overlooking the Blackmore Vale at Nyland from the northern side of the A30. Stalbridge and Henstridge straddle the other side of the valley. What makes its situation unusual is that the church has been built on high and the panorama is intimate rather than far-reaching. Its closest gem, which reflects the sunset, is a pond with ducks and mace-head reeds which stretches along the spring-line.

This was a medieval fishpond. Re-digging in recent years has produced shards of ancient pottery. The Kington name, first recorded in 1203, signifies the King’s manor – probably part of an Anglo-Saxon royal estate – with Magna (Latin for large) having been added to distinguish it from Little Kington in West Stour parish.

All Saint’s Church, which had a Norman chancel arch, was described as ‘a small and antique structure’ before it was restored and extended by Rev. William Dugdale in 1862. He employed the Southampton architect, Charles Turner. It is a cruciform building in the Early English style, with a clock and four bells. Rev. John Smith was the next rector in 1875.

Kington Manor Farm, immediately above the church, is a 17th-century building with original fireplaces and widows. Prospect Cottage and its barn, below the churchyard, are of a similar date but were much altered in the 18th century.

The parish population in 1851 was 616 but by 1861 it had fallen to 552, and in 1871 was 516. There was a chapel for the Primitive Methodists, built by mason Thomas Tanner in 1851, with most of the congregation being cottagers employed in gloving and the brick kilns. The village still marks its religious divide between church and chapel by having a Church Hill which runs parallel to Chapel Hill. Both share the same scenery. There is enough space for a future Mosque Hill.

Farmers in 1851 included Abadiah Case, John Hillier, Jeremiah Hunt, James Jennings, Uriah Parsons, William Raymond and Thomas Roberts. Thomas Lovell was the local cattle dealer and Job Lanning combined pig-keeping with beer-retailing. The grocers were Mrs Mary Cox, George Hayter and John Mead. The latter was also the village tailor. Robert Hayter was the cobbler.

By 1865 the village had its own blacksmith, James Ralph, and William Tanswell had opened the Crown Inn. Walter Herridge was its next landlord. John Hallett, the village carpenter, found a lucrative sideline in constructing church organs. John Mead, in Prospect Cottage, was the postmaster. From then on, however, businesses in little Kington Magna were closing rather than opening.

The former National School in Church Street dates from 1854 and was established by the National Society for Promoting the Education of Poor in the Principles of the Established Church, to give its snappy title in full. Average attendance, of boys and girls, was 55 in the time of Victorian schoolmistress Mrs Susan Thomas. George Lanning taught the senior boys. The last pupils were transferred to Gillingham in 1968.

Most of the parish comprises loam and clay. George Harris dug pits at Bye Farm and established the Pottery in 1860 which manufactured a wide range of bright red bricks, chimney pots, drain pipes, floor paving, flower pots and tiles. Although the works were at Kington Magna, the address was always given as Buckhorn Weston and became even more confusing as its letters came and went via Wincanton in Somerset.

Rev. Thomas Hyne Edwards became rector in 1881. By 1908, and the arrival of Rev. Frank Llewellyn Edwards, who stayed in post for 48 years, much of the 68 acres of parish glebe-land had been turned into allotments and let ‘to the deserving poor’.

The war memorial, unveiled by General Sir Arthur Holbrook in 1920, commemorates those who answered their country’s call. The names of those who laid down their lives are headed by Lieutenant Harold Ethelstan Edwards of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, who fell at the Battle of Loos.

In the Second World War, Eric Gigg of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry was killed at Dunkirk on 1 June 1940 and William Holland of the Wiltshire Regiment lost his life on 24 November 1944 when the Allied offensive in the other direction became bogged down in Holland.

The village hit the headlines in 1952, when Rev. Frank Llewellyn Edwards appealed for mousetraps to combat a plague of biblical proportions. Since then it has settled back into quietness as a place of retreat and retirement. Returnees would still recognise their old homes and the relaxed setting, despite a degree of infilling with bungalows and houses, although there would be puzzlement that a community can thrive these days without any sign of local businesses. Villager John Bastable penned a tribute in verse:
‘A pretty picture, it makes to me
So quiet, calm and still,
The dear old village where we live
Just underneath the hill.’
It is a picture we can all share. Kington Magna is blessed with as many public paths as any village in Dorset. An undemanding walk of less than two miles brings in the best of them.

Park and start towards the top of Church Hill, in a lay-by between All Saints and the entrance to Kington Manor Farm (OS ref ST768232). Set off downhill for 75 yards via the churchyard and its two roadside gates. Having gone down the steps from the second gate, back to the road opposite Prospect Cottage, turn left for just 15 yards and then turn left up more steps into the hillside pasture. Keep the pond to your right and head south-west down to the cottages in 300 yards.

Exit through the kissing gate beside Gillyflower into Juan’s Lane. Turn right, passing Pleck, into the grass track beside its garden hedge in 50 yards. In 150 yards this delightful double-hedged path emerges on West Street. Turn right, uphill for 50 yards, and then right at Willow Cottage, around the bend into Church Street. Pass the Village Hall and the former National School with its Old School House, complete with bell, in 100 yards.

Turn left here, beside the war memorial, and then immediately left at the gate to Cross Cottage. This path, behind the village hall and Willow Cottage, continues for 100 yards to a crossroads of paths. Keep going straight ahead for another 100 yards. Cross the play area and then turn right, westwards to the right-hand bungalow in 150 yards. Follow its fence for 30 yards to Back Lane. Turn left, passing Broad Close, and then left at the corner in 250 yards. Pass the old Coach House and the graceful Georgian glimpse of the Old Rectory. Continue south-east to New Town in 350 yards.

Turn left towards Gillingham, now heading eastwards, from Corner Cottage and Two Ways Cottage, beside Puggs Meadow. In 250 yards come to the next junction. Turn right and then immediately left, beside Corner House, and climb Chapel Hill. The former Primitive Methodist Chapel is on the left. Pass Pax Cottage, Thyme Cottage, Horseshoe Cottage, Beggars Roost and Primrose Cottage. In 500 yards the lane kinks right and then left around Broad Orchard Cottage.

On the summit, in 150 yards, turn left through a kissing gate opposite Hilltop Cottage. Follow the hedge straight ahead along the left-hand side of the arable field, heading north with the view stretching out to the west. Cross into the next field through the beech clump in 250 yards. In a further 250 yards, hidden behind the farmyard buildings of Kington Manor Farm, there is a gate down onto the road. The lay-by is to the left, downhill in 25 yards, and the modern cemetery is on the right.

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