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In the footsteps of Treves — Studland

Steve White and Clive Hannay look at how Studland and its heath have changed since Sir Frederick Treves wrote about it a hundred years ago

A Jsep
The Road to Studland’, one of Joseph Pennell’s drawings for the original edition of Highways and Byways in Dorset

Chapter 12 of Sir Frederick Treves’s book, Highways and Byways in Dorset, published in 1906, was entitled ‘The Isle of Purbeck’. Leaving Swanage and heading east, Treves made the steep climb up Ballard Down: ‘A very pleasant path across Ballard Down leads from Swanage to the beautiful village of Studland. This quiet little place lies on a flat where the chalk cliffs end and the sand dunes of the Poole inlet commence. It is a medley of country lanes, lost among trees, with a few thatched-roofed cottages dotted about in a wild garden of brambles, ferns and gorse. There is no definite hamlet, no village street, no centre, no beginning, and no end. It is merely a casual, unarranged sample of rural Dorset brought, in all its luxuriant greenness, to the very water’s edge.’

Studland has changed since Treves visited; the ‘casual, unarranged sample of rural Dorset’ has now been more formalised, as many houses now line either side of one of the main lanes in the village. It could be said that there is still no definite centre, as the village shop and adjacent village hall are vying with the lovely old church for this particular title.

Despite his obvious fondness for this part of Dorset, Treves cannot resist a chance to condemn both ‘trippers’ and building development in Studland: ‘A crowd of char-a-bancs and wagonettes will crowd its lanes in the summer, a thousand initials will be found carved upon its sandstone cape….The red brick epidemic, moreover, has seized upon it mercilessly’. Those of you who regularly read this series will by now be used to Treves’s intense dislike of holidaymakers or ‘trippers’ and more especially his aversion to the building of ‘red brick villas’ already appearing in many towns and villages around Dorset a hundred years ago. Today, of course, holidaymakers are still very much a feature of the area and nowadays most of us probably appreciate the vital role they play in the local economy.

Regarding Treves’s second dislike, there has been a good deal of additional building in Studland during the years since his visit, much of it in the early to middle part of the 20th century, with many more new houses built subsequently. Studland has been a victim of its own immense popularity but it is still a pleasant village; the area closest to the beach and around the church has retained much of its charm and would still be recognisable to Sir Frederick.

One of Treves’s much-loved subjects was always the local church. Studland appears to have been a favourite: ‘The beautiful Norman church is happily unspoiled, and is alone worth a visit to Dorset to see. It is a small, sturdy, wizened church, altered but slightly since the Normans left it. Built in or about 1150, it is dedicated, as may be imagined, to the patron saint of sailors. The archaic font, shaped like a bread-pan, is co-eval with the church….The church, with its quaint packsaddle roof and grotesque corbel heads, is one of the most interesting village sanctuaries in England, as well as one of the most perfect.’

Whilst the church of St Nicholas at Studland is predominantly Norman in appearance, it is in fact built upon the foundations of an earlier Saxon church. The original Saxon church was built up to four hundred years before Treves’s suggested date but is believed to have been largely destroyed by the Danes, enough remaining for the Normans to use as a foundation for their own church. It is a sublime example of its type and still ‘alone worth a visit to Dorset to see’. Major restoration work took place in the 1880s to prevent the impending collapse of the building; mercifully, however, the Victorians do not seem to have subjected St Nicholas’s to their usual ‘improvements’. The ‘archaic font’ is still there and the grotesque corbel heads are as Treves would have seen them, although at some time in the past they have been subject to considerable damage by iconoclasts.

Close to the church stands the modern Celtic cross, a very impressive piece of carving; first erected in 1975, it was dedicated by the Bishop of Salisbury before being taken away, carved and finally erected on 25 July 1976. It uses as its base the ancient foundation of the original Saxon cross.

Continuing on the subject of the church and its environs, Treves observes: ‘In the beautiful churchyard there sleeps at least one restless soul, for here was buried, in 1869, Sergeant William Lawrence, of the 40th Regiment of Foot. He served in the war in South America in 1805, as well as through the whole of the Peninsular War from 1808 to 1813.’

According to his autobiography, Sergeant William Lawrence was born in Briantspuddle (he refers to it as Briant’s Piddle, its name before the Victorians changed most of the ‘Piddles’ to ‘Puddles’). One of seven children, William enlisted into the army at the age of fourteen while running away from the rough treatment he had received serving as an apprentice in Studland. He served in the army from 1805 to 1821, retiring at the age of 30.

In around 1845 William Lawrence took over a public house in Studland then called the ‘New Inn’, changed its name to the ‘Wellington Inn’ and ran it until 1856. This was not unusual; many soldiers coming back from the Napoleonic wars used the money given to them by the army to run pubs, and many were named after Wellington. After Lawrence left as landlord of the Wellington, a new public house was built on the opposite side of the road and named the ‘New Inn’ until 1889, when it was re-named the Bankes Arms, as it still is today.

For such a small village, Studland has had more than its fair share of military involvement. In addition to the adventures of Sergeant William Lawrence, during World War 2 Studland became embroiled in events surrounding the D-Day landings. There now remains one of the largest and most important relics from this period: Fort Henry, which watches over Studland Bay. Fort Henry was built in 1943 by Canadian engineers into the cliff top at the bottom of the garden of what is now the Manor House Hotel. The building is some ninety feet long, the walls almost three feet thick and it has a recessed observation slit eighty feet in length. It was designed to act as a safe viewing point for the D-Day landing practices.

On 18 April 1944 King George VI, Dwight D Eisenhower, General Montgomery and Winston Churchill were among those watching the biggest full-scale invasion exercise using live ammunition from Fort Henry.

The final paragraph of this chapter sees Treves walking on Studland Heath: ‘About a mile to the west of Studland [is]….the Agglestone. This is a block of red heath or moor stone in form like an inverted cone, about 16 feet high and 90 feet in circumference at the top, raised on a mound. How this mass of stone, estimated to weigh over 300 tons, was placed in position, and what was the reason for its erection is one of those prehistoric mysteries which have yet to be unravelled.’

It appears that in Treves’s time the Agglestone was considered to have been intentionally placed where it stood by man. Research has shown it to be a natural occurrence. Unfortunately, the inverted cone of the Agglestone described by Treves has gone, as it fell onto its side in September 1970. Clive Hannay’s painting depicts it and its surrounding heathland as they are today.

Studland has changed a great deal in the hundred years since Treves researched the area for his book. That said, it has retained much of the appeal that made Treves so fond of it. Although the World War 2 left its mark on the village, time has been kinder. If Treves walked over Ballard Down into Studland today, he would find the same public house he would have known and visited, a new village hall, a couple of hotels and the area protected by the National Trust. He would not have wholly disapproved.

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