Clive Hannay illustrates and Rodney Legg story- tells in the thatched heart of the Piddle Valley
Published in June ’08
Piddlehinton was originally known as Hyne-Pydel – ‘Marsh of the Monks’ – which became delightfully corrupted into Honeypuddle, a name resurrected by the Lovelace family for their 1970s bungalow on Rectory Hill. In 1417, after the Battle of Agincourt, this French-owned monastic manor was confiscated by Henry V and granted to the Augustinian Priory at Christchurch. Then, in 1442, Henry VI handed it to the newly established Eton College, which held the estate until 1966 when it was sold to Ingram Spencer of Hanford Farms, Child Okeford.
Until relatively recent times, there were open arable fields and great expanses of sheep-leazes and cow-downs across the chalklands. The Piddlehinton Inclosure Act of 1830 created the great grain fields we see today. There were three original settlements – Combe Deveral, Muston and Piddlehinton itself – which straddled the river. They made for a medium-sized parish, of 2321 acres, now with an additional 600 acres at Little Piddle and North Louvard which were transferred from Puddletown in 1885.
The parish church of St Mary the Virgin, dating back to 1299, retains an original pointed arch below the south tower. Time stands still, literally, for its turret clock. Made by Lawrence Boyce of Puddletown in 1730, it is now displayed as a museum piece. Even when it was in use, it is said to have been checked against ‘Sun time’ on the sun-dial on the south wall.
All down the Piddle Valley – through all the Piddles and the Puddles – water-meadows became the key to post-medieval husbandry. Precisely engineered, through networks of ditches, dikes and sluices, these were designed for inundation rather than irrigation. A sheet of winter water kept the frost off the grass, this not only preventing it from being freeze-dried but encouraged lush spring growth. In the meadows the grass-cycle beat nature with double cuts of early hay.
The village was also well-watered in terms of public houses. In 1889, George Benger was outside the civil parish but inside the parochial parish in the European Inn (still extant) at White Lackington. Frank Cozens was at the Five Bells; David Drake at the Green Dragon; Mrs Caroline Proles at the New Inn (now the Thimble Inn); and John Treviss at The Sun.
Piddlehinton Mill, on the north side of the village, was supplied by a 300-yard leat which ran beside the road from the back of the Thimble Inn. On arrival at the mill the water went through a 90-degree bend into a high channel that dropped into a gravity-powered breast-wheel. The mill ceased to grind corn in the 1920s and was later converted into a sawmill.
Beside the Forge, there is a long range of early 19th-century cottages, just a step away from the High Street. Though most of the cottages are now rendered, a central one retains visible bands of flint and brick. The families living in the terrace when Jack Chute came to the village were Drake, Gregory, Read, Hawkins and Dyke (north to south).
The Victorian village celebrity was Mrs Ann Winzer (1791-1873), born in Dorchester and married to James Winzer, who was given a biographical headstone: ‘She was a Waterloo heroine who assisted at that famous battle AD 1815 by aiding and assisting the sick and wounded. She endured many hardships having followed the British Army from Brussels to Paris. From Paris to Duney. Returned to England and from thence to the Rock of Gibraltar.’
Teaching at the village school in 1875 were headmistress Mary Hardy and trainee Kate Hardy – sisters of author Thomas Hardy. It was a National School, operated by the Anglican-inspired National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church. Founded in 1833, and re-built in 1861, it continued in use until 1981. It is now the Village Hall.
Of the 56 men from Piddlehinton who served in the armed forces during the First World War, seventeen were killed. Four villagers were killed in the Second World War, two of them in the RAF, but there were also enormous losses to American troops who passed through Piddlehinton Camp from 1942 to 1945. The camp’s great tragedy happened on Christmas Eve in 1944. The Leopoldville, a Belgian passenger liner operating as a troopship and carrying troops from Piddlehinton, sailed from Southampton to Cherbourg. The men were tasked to clear Germans from Brittany. The ship was torpedoed within sight of France and sunk by submarine U-486. The United States 262nd Infantry Division and the 66th Infantry Division lost a total of 802 troops.
Another war casualty was Miss Joan Davis of the Women’s Land Army, who was killed in the Lower Ground at Muston Farm during the 1943 harvest. The 20-year-old Londoner was thrown from a trailer after a tractor driven by Wilfred Vincent had skidded on wet grass. Irene Cordier, another Land Girl, jumped clear.
The village has suffered numerous fires. A blaze destroyed Albert Harding’s house on 30 April 1887. Sparks from a passing traction engine set alight the thatched home of postman Jack Groves in 1925. Former locations of the Post Office have been doubly unlucky, on the corner of Folly Lane and the High Street in December 1933, and then at picturesque Lantern Cottage, gutted in 2006. The inferno long remembered as the ‘Great Fire’ was that of 1933, which lasted for nine hours and left three families homeless. Well-placed modern thatch has filled most of these and other gaps. Piddlehinton can be explored by a gentle four mile circuit, walking stream-side on the lower side of the village, and by roads and tracks on higher ground.
Park and start in Piddletrenthide and begin the walk from St Mary’s parish church (Ordnance Survey map reference SY716972). Set off up the path through the churchyard (E) to the main road in 40 yards. Then turn right, opposite 5 Church Hill, and follow the road towards Dorchester (SE). Walk on the right-hand verge. Pass the Beeches and the Laurels to pass Bourne Drove in 450 yards. Continue around Dale’s Corner into the dip in 325 yards. Here we turn right (SW), along a farm road, beside the earthworks of Little Piddle medieval lost village.
Cross the River Piddle and follow the track around to the right (NW) in 325 yards. Approach the buildings in 225 yards, pass between them, and continue to the bridleway gate just behind them. Turn right in the field after the thatched cottage and follow the right-hand side of the next field for 225 yards. Continue straight ahead at the junction of paths (N), with arable fields on one side and meadows to the right, as you approach the paddocks of Honeypuddle in 550 yards. Pass between the stables and the bungalow and follow the drive down to the road in 50 yards.
Turn right, down Rectory Hill (E), for 200 yards. Pass both Payne’s Close and Payne’s Cottage, as well as the terrace which ends with West Lane Cottage. Turn left here (N). This used to be called West Water Road. Bear left and then right in 325 yards, beside the Millennium Green, into delightful West Lane droveway. In 550 yards, after passing East Farm which is across to the right, we come to a junction of tracks. This track used to be called Heave Farm Road. Turn right (NW), down to a gate, in 50 yards. Here we turn left, into the field, and follow its right-hand edge (N). Go through the gate in 275 yards and enter the hamlet of White Lackington in another 275 yards.
Turn right, beside Lambert Cottage (SE), and then pass the front wall of Burden’s Cottage in 50 yards. Proceed straight ahead at this junction, passing Mill Bank and Waters Edge, to the ford and footbridge across the River Piddle in 225 yards. Follow the lane on the other side (E), up to the main road and the European Inn, in 175 yards. The sign features a helmet of a soldier of the 39th Regiment of Foot from the Peninsular Wars.
Turn right along the main road (S). Walk towards oncoming traffic and be particularly careful on the corner. In 400 yards we re-enter Piddlehinton, at 24 High Street, and turn left immediately opposite the entrance to West Lodge. Follow the cart track uphill (NE). This is Beck’s Bushes Road, which becomes a double-hedged green lane, otherwise known as Mullett’s Drove. On the plateau, in 1100 yards, we turn right (S) at a junction of farm tracks This is Hunting Road, which passes Carter’s Barn Farm.
In 550 yards we turn right (SW) and pass factory-sized Hanford Farms. Proceed over the brow of the hill to begin the descent in 400 yards. This used to be a carriage road and was known as Milborne Road or Blandford Road. It also led to London, as we are reminded on passing thatched London Row, to return to the war memorial, at the centre of the village, in 650 yards.