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Bradford Peverell

Illustrator Clive Hannay and writer Rodney Legg roam upstream from Poundbury

Bradford Peverell

The crowning glory at Bradford Peverell is the spire to St Mary’s Church. It had a renowned architect: Decimus Burton (1800-81), who built Marble Arch and has been ranked with Barry and Pugin. Architecturally, spires and metropolitan designers are both something of a rarity in the Dorset countryside.

This Bradford – a ‘broad ford’ – straddles chalk hills and grassy meadows and is the first parish upstream from Dorchester. The ford was on the site of a Roman bridge which carried the road northwards to Ilchester. Still visible from nearly 2000 years ago is an aqueduct which took water from the River Frome at Frampton to Roman Durnovaria, in a clay-lined channel that follows the contours around tongues of downland that fringe the valley with a succession of look-alike combes and spurs.

The current church dates from a design and faculty document dated 19 June 1849. The person associated with it – although he did not live to see the present building – was rector and county historian Rev. John Hutchins. He knew and described a very different St Mary’s, dating back to before 1130, which fell into ‘a state of general decay’ according to those paid to re-build it. Hutchins tells us: ‘The church is small and ancient fabric, dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. It stands on the south side of the parish, near the seat of the Meggs, and consists of a chancel tiled, a body and small south aisle, the burial place of the Meggs between both, covered with lead. In a wooden turret, covered also with lead, are three bells. It has a porch, to build which Robert Roberts, rector, by will, 1552, left 60 shillings.’

There is a painting of this church on the nave wall. Surviving inscriptions show that the most recent member of the old landed family, Harry Meggs, went under the church floor in 1732. As for the village’s specific name, to distinguish it from the many other Bradfords, this Bradford was granted by the Crown to Robert Peverell in 1200. His family’s name also survives on Peveril Point at Swanage.

Some fine stained glass from the old church has been re-used in the new one, notably panels telling the story of the Virgin Mary. The famous Winchester College motto ‘Manners makyth man’ belonged to Bishop William of Wykeham – depicted with a mitre and the Order of the Garter – whom Hutchins describes as the ‘church patron’. This would date it to before 1395, when Wykeham presented the Bradford Peverell tithes to his new College of St Mary in Winchester. Another window came from New College Chapel in Oxford.These relics from the old church and its graceful replacement came together in 1850 under the royal arms of Queen Victoria. Building costs were met by the lord of the manor, Nathaniel Hastings Middleton, from Bradford Peverell House. A curate took charge until Rev. Henry Blackstone Williams arrived as rector.

A memorial window commemorates a Captain Fitzroy, apparently the son of Admiral Robert Fitzroy (1805-65) who took Charles Darwin on the five-year research voyage in HMS Beagle, sailing from Portsmouth on 27 December 1831. Fitzroy made seminal contributions to the evolution of meteorology by inventing a practical barometer and plotting trends in air pressure to predict the weather, although general scepticism caused him to commit suicide.

The parish covers 2921 acres and its population stood at around 300 for many decades until the 1990s, when the Prince of Wales’s new town advanced across the chalk plateau from Dorchester. Bradford Peverell remains a village of two halves, with Poundbury-style new architecture for the incomers contrasting with rustic corners that remain defiantly agricultural.

It is a quiet place now but used to have plenty of young people with a National School being established in 1836 for 60 children. The village also attracted the aspiring middle-class, mainly from Dorchester, to a ladies’ finishing school run by Ann Greening. Retired officer George Flower was at Quatrebras, a small country house named for the victory at Waterloo, and was followed there by John Fraser Hussey who became a big landowner. For a time the village had its own railway station – Bradford Peverell and Stratton Halt – on the line across the meadows between Bradford and Stratton.

Open fields and their associated common land were abolished in 1798. Since then the chalklands have long been ploughed for barley and wheat, apart from an extensive block of woodland which hides signs of a United States Army camp and ammunition dump from the months before D-Day. The deeper history stretches back 5500 years to three Neolithic long barrows, with the subsequent Bronze Age being represented by numerous bowl barrows across the fields and through the plantations. You will pass several on this simple four-mile walk along well-marked paths and peaceful lanes.

Park and start in Church Lane, Bradford Peverell, beside St Mary’s Church (OS ref 658930, postcode DT2 9SB). Set off downhill to Beech Tree Cottage at the junction in 100 yards. Turn right to pass the Village Hall and the cottage with its pump, and then Yew Tree Lane. Proceed up the slope to London Cottage in 250 yards. Here turn right on a path beside a small allotment, which runs through a wood in 75 yards. Follow the fence straight ahead, and then a wall, to a tarred road in 250 yards.

Turn left, up through the farmyard towards Coux Plantation, which stretches along the hillside. In 350 yards turn right, along a lesser track that goes up the middle of Strap Bottom. On passing the far end of the plantation, in 600 yards, follow the hedgerow and fence straight ahead, up and over Penn Hill. To the left, under trees in 500 yards, is a cluster of Bronze Age burial mounds. Stratton village is down to the right. Descend the slope to a bridleway gate in the valley in a further 500 yards. This spot is known as Three Corners. Turn right down the track beside a scrubby copse, with the grassy hillside of Muckleford Nature Reserve to the left.

Cross the road in 900 yards, into the field on the other side, and cross it diagonally. Follow the Frome Valley Trail into a green lane to Muckleford hamlet in 500 yards. Here turn right down the tarred road and continue straight ahead at the cross-roads below Quatrebras in 300 yards. The River Frome and Stratton village are across to the left. The main terrace snaking along halfway up the right-hand hillsides marks the course of the Roman aqueduct. In rather over a mile, return to Bradford Peverell.

Bradford Peverell, Poundburys, DT11 0BP

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