The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Pimperne

Clive Hannay draws and Rodney Legg walks and writes around ‘Five Trees’ between the Neolithic and the 21st century

Pimperne Long Barrow, justifying its capital letters as one of the best-preserved Neolithic burial mounds on the Wessex downlands, actually lies on the Tarrant Hinton side of the parish boundary. Of monumental scale, it was raised over a timber-built communal mortuary 5500 years ago. The grassy barrow is 330 feet long and 140 feet wide, including parallel side ditches, and looks more like a disused railway embankment. Other prehistoric earthworks have largely disappeared, although they can be traced from the air through an extensive series of crop and soil-marks which have been mapped to show a complex of Iron Age dykes and enclosures.

St Peter’s Church has a 12th-century chancel arch and matching south doorway. Both were removed and re-set a few feet away from their original positions when the building was re-built in 1870. The great treasure is an elaborate Norman font, complete with matching carved stone cover, though the latter spent a few hundred years lying under the grass in the churchyard. Viscount Portman sponsored the re-building and delegated design and draughtsmanship to his own estate office at Bryanston. The tower, which dates from the 15th century, survived intact, as did the bottom parts of an octagonal 14th-century preaching cross on a square plinth of three steps, which is constructed in Tisbury greensand. This stands under a great spreading conker tree, pollarded with eight side-trunks, which gives its name to Chestnut Farm. Cromwell’s men knocked the top off the cross and a soldier of the New Model Army was buried in the churchyard on 16 January 1645.

Pimperne was a village of 40 families in 1086 with a name which has been in its present form since 1271. ‘Pimp’ is the Old Welsh for ‘five’ and the second element also seems to be Celtic, perhaps a corruption of ‘prenn’ for ‘tree’, to give us ‘Five trees’. It became a royal manor, being granted by Henry VIII to fifth wife Catherine Howard, and was then re-cycled on her execution to successor Katharine Parr in 1543.

Rev. Robert Frampton was born in Pimperne in 1622. He has the distinction of a glowing mention from Samuel Pepys in 1667: ‘The truth is he preaches the most like an apostle that I ever heard man, and it was much the best time that I ever spent in my life at church.’ The most famous clergyman hereabouts, though, as a curate in 1844, was young Charles Kingsley. He was an unknown at that time. Nervously restless, he was suffering intense bouts of depression and possibly the frustration of repressed paedophilia, which were turned in 1863 into a classic, The Water Babies.

Military names abound across the churchyard. The lych-gate commemorates Lieutenant Edward John Woodhouse of the family brewing firm and the Central India Horse. He fell at Cambrai in 1917. Major Oliver George Woodhouse of the West Kent Regiment was killed at Dunkirk in 1940. Colonel Harold Woodhouse, Commandant of Blandford Camp, collapsed and died during an air raid there in 1943.

Born in 1903, Jack Thorne was the last blacksmith at Pimperne. He followed his father, Reginald, who died in 1929, in the 300-year-old forge beside the Blandford-Salisbury road until retirement in 1972. This was followed by the first holiday of his life. Jack recalled that they had two forges before the Great War, when there were more than a hundred carthorses in the vicinity of the village plus numerous driving cobs and hunters, and regular work in wheel-bonding and repairs to agricultural machinery. Two wheelwrights helped the father and son team. In the 1930s much local land temporarily reverted from grain to grazing and the blacksmiths found part-time alternative work at Ash Farm, Stourpaine, and in Winterborne Whitechurch, where they shoed and plated racehorses and steeplechasers which until World War 2 were running on Race Down, Blandford. Jack Thorne could make and fit up over forty shoes in a day.

The forge lives on in name at least with the thatched Anvil Inn in Anvil lane. Eustace Northcote established the Cosy Nook tea gardens. Pimperne had become a staging post of the motoring age. Its petrol filling station was established by the Newberry family in the 1930s and was taken over in the 1980s by a champion racing driver, trading as Nigel Mansell Sports Car Ltd, but is now no more.

A complete circuit of the village, around it and into the gentle hills is four miles along well-marked paths which go both back to the Neolithic and ahead to the main base of the Royal Corps of Signals. Park and start in the vicinity of Chestnut Farm (OS reference ST904094 in postcode DT11 8UB). Set off along Church Road (N) beside the old Village Hall and the Brown House. Pass former Manor Farm. Turn right in 200 yards up Arlecks Lane (NE). Continue straight ahead in 200 yards with Franwill Industrial Estate to the left and Boyte Road to the right. Down Road becomes a public bridleway at the ‘Private’ sign above Frampton Road in 350 yards.

In 250 yards pass a line of former military buildings and the modern machinery and grain store. Proceed straight ahead, to the other end of the great cereal field, in 1100 yards. Here continue ahead at the corner, beside remnants of wartime concrete, and follow the hedgerow on to the skyline in 450 yards. Admire the famous Pimperne Long Barrow as you turn right beside it (S). This grassy track reaches the main road in 450 yards, to the right of a Bronze Age round barrow. Cross the A354 to Collingwood Corner and its memorial to Collingwood Battalion of the Royal Naval Division from Blandford Camp which was practically wiped out at Gallipoli on 4 June 1918. Follow the wide grassy verge beside Swainson Road to the barrier beside the back entrance to Blandford Camp in 800 yards.

Turn right (SW) across stile S03, and follow the security fence for 800 yards. Here turn right (W), away from the fence, through a gap in the undergrowth. Cross stile S01. Follow the hedgerow straight ahead, keeping it to the right, and head towards the left-hand end of Pimperne village. Proceed straight ahead from the corner in 900 yards, down to double stiles in the bushes in a further 25 yards. Now follow the hedge down to the next stile in 80 yards. Walk down the garden path to the road between Bridge View and the Farquharson Arms in 50 yards.

Cross the A354 to the pavement to the left of the bridge. Bear right and then left into Chapel Lane in 50 yards. Follow it up to Priory Gardens, thatched Woodbury and the chapel to the top end of the lane in 150 yards. Bear left (SW) for 20 yards and then take the right-hand option (NW). Cross the stile and follow the hedgerow to the end of the third field, after the power cables, in 550 yards. Go through the first kissing gate and immediately right through the second. Follow the hedge (N) to the top end of this arable field in 450 yards. Do not join the road. Instead turn right (E) and follow the power cables down to the trees in 450 yards. Bear left towards the churchyard yews. Walk down between the graves to return to the cross and Chestnut Farm in 160 yards.

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