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In the footsteps of Treves — Trent

Trent, Sandford Orcas and Yetminster. Steve White and Clive Hannay follow Sir Frederick to the county’s far north-west.

Trent, once in Somerset, was established as a Dorset village by the time of Sir Frederick Treves’s visit in around 1904 or 1905, writing his book, Highways and Byways in Dorset. Trent had been incorporated into Dorset in the county boundary changes of 1896, along with the parishes of Goathill, Poyntington, Sandford Orcas and Seaborough, near Beaminster.

Treves wrote that ‘Trent is a straggling, most picturesque village, lying in a valley of orchards. A worn pathway of flagstones leads through the rambling street.’ Trent is still very picturesque. The orchards have gone, but much of the paving along the side of the road is made up of old flagstones.

Treves continues: ‘It is a village of old stone houses, of thatched cottages, and of many gardens, with no hint of modernness about it. Any inhabitant of a century ago who could revisit the place would find it but little changed.’ Whilst there has been some development in Trent since Treves cycled this way, it seems to have been minimal; it must be one of the most unspoiled villages in Dorset. This is largely because 1121 acres of Trent, with a number of farms, cottages and buildings, were purchased by Ernest Cook, grandson of Thomas Cook, the famous travel agent, in 1935. In 1952 the organisation became known as the Ernest Cook Trust and has gone on to buy 2100 acres around Trent. The Trust currently owns and manages landed estates in five English counties.

Treves, moving on to Trent Manor, tells the story of how the future King Charles II, fleeing defeat at the battle of Worcester in September 1651, hid for a total of sixteen days in Lady Ann Wyndham’s bedroom. During his stay the King had access to a hiding-place with a double floor under the roof. ‘The manor house at Trent stands near the church, in a gracious garden. The building has been much modernised, but the King’s hiding-place and the rooms he occupied have been carefully preserved. By the kindness of the lady of the house I was able to see them. Lady Anne Wyndham’s room is beautifully panelled with black oak, has massive ceiling beams, quaint window recesses, and secret cupboards for hiding valuables. The King’s hiding-place is in a small projecting wing, and is over an ancient brewhouse, which has been allowed to remain unchanged. The entrance to the very narrow cell is through a triangular opening, which is really at the base of a blocked-up stone doorway. The double floor appears to be due to the building of the wing at a different level from that of the house.’

The ‘much modernised’ manor seen by Treves has to a certain extent been ‘de-modernised’ since. The previously mentioned Ernest Cook bought the house in 1935 and proceeded to knock down most of the Victorian additions. His death in 1955 meant that he never completed the job, but soon afterwards the present owners purchased the house from the Trust and completed the work. Interestingly, it was not until they had purchased the property that the present owners discovered that their family had lived there in the 1500s.

The house now has a new front, most of the remainder being pre-Victorian. Like Treves, by the kindness of the lady of the house I was able to see the King’s room and the hiding-place. The room used by the King and the hiding-place are still preserved as Treves saw them, the only exception being the removal of a stairway in the entrance to the ‘very narrow cell’, which eliminates the triangular opening mentioned by Treves.

Visiting Trent church, Treves notes: ‘The church of Trent is a very gracious building, standing in one of the most beautiful churchyards in the county, where are the shaft and steps of an ancient cross, as well as a venerable chantry house, built in the reign of Henry VI.’

The 15th-century steps and shaft of the ancient cross are still to be seen. The shaft, damaged, as most were, by Cromwell’s men, was restored as a memorial to the Great War. The chantry house, built in the mid-15th century, is a splendid building, and is situated in what still is ‘one of the most beautiful churchyards in the county.’

Treves, inside the church notes: ‘The curious and wonderfully carved bench-ends in the church are brown with age, the rood screen is older still; on the walls over the manorial pew hang rusted helmets and gauntlets…’

The ‘bench ends’ or pew ends are believed to be from the early 16th century and, like the pews themselves, have unusually escaped the Victorian ‘restorers’ responsible for the ruin of many a church. The screen must be one of the finest examples of its type and is indeed older than the pew ends; it dates from the 15th century, although it has been restored over the centuries. I searched but could find no sign of the helmets and gauntlets; unfortunately, items like these are often stolen from churches and these may have met the same fate. The church and village are unquestionably worth a trip to see – there is even an excellent public house nearby, originally built as a hostelry for the builders of the spire.

Cycling just over a mile to the north-east, Treves came to Sandford Orcas: ‘In the pretty village of Sandford Orcas, near Trent, is a most excellent grey-stone manor house, very tenderly restored. It has a rare gatehouse with chambers over, a porch brave with heraldic carvings and heraldic beasts on gables, and, above all, an old fashioned garden, with a bowling-green suggestive of leisured ease, cakes and ale.’

The manor house itself could hardly have altered at all since Treves’ visit. Built in the mid-16th century from local Ham stone, it appears to have more of a mellow honeyed colour than the ‘grey’ Treves states. The current owner’s family has been here for more than 250 years and do not seem to have changed the ‘old fashioned garden.’ The bowling-green, or at least the site of it, is still evident – whether Treves thought it a bowling-green or saw it being used as such is unknown. The present owner informed me that he can recall his grandparents using the large lawn area as a croquet lawn but has no knowledge of its use as a bowling-green.

Calling at Yetminster, Treves enthuses: ‘Yetminster, the chief place near Sherborne, is a picturesque townlet, full of quaint old houses and venerable thatched cottages. The dates on the buildings belong mostly to the early part of the seventeenth century. In the main street is an old thatched-roofed inn, as well as many houses in ancient stone with stone-mullioned windows and fine gables. Most of the dwellings are covered by creepers, and none seems to lack a garden or an orchard. Yetminster is probably the most consistent old-world village or townlet in the county, for of modern buildings it has but few examples. The church has a seventeenth century clock, which plays the National Anthem every three hours.’

Yetminster has suffered an expansion that would not have pleased Sir Frederick Treves and has probably trebled in size. Fortuitously, the older part of the village retains its old buildings and with it a certain charm, as can be seen in Clive Hannay’s painting. Likewise, the inn near the church still has its thatched roof and the clock still chimes the national anthem every three hours. Whilst the clock is indeed 17th-century, it only gained its unique chime upon its restoration for Queen Victoria’s jubilee in 1897.

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