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West Morden

Clive Hannay draws and Rodney Legg writes about the other Morden, a mile from the main village

West Morden

West Morden is in a dry hollow where the chalk meets the Reading Beds at the 200-feet contour, with wells rather than a stream, and has grown into what historians describe as a ‘dispersed nucleated settlement’. There were two Dorset Mordens listed in the Domesday Book of 1087, so it is a reasonable assumption that one was East Morden (including present-day Morden) and the other a mile away at West Morden. This started with the lost village site below the medieval beacon mound on Beacon Hill.

One lane from West Morden heads for Morden village, which it enters by crossing Paradise Lane. The other makes for East Morden hamlet, to a staggered cross-roads facing the ‘Blandford 9, Wareham 5’ milestone and the 1877-built Board School, with the road to the right leading to the smithy, followed by the Cock and Bottle Inn. Winterborne Lane is now a bridleway. These multiple lanes have led to a necklace of place-names based on their junctions, such as King’s Corner and Hector’s Corner.

West Morden Farm is the oldest building in the hamlet, with Tudor footings to a three-room plan and a shared chimney-stack between the two northern rooms. As with all the older vernacular buildings, its beginnings were in cob – laid as a muddy mix of clay, sand and horse-hair – which was re-faced in brick during the long period of peace and prosperity in the 18th century. Traditionally all were thatched.

Before the enclosures there was much common land in the parish, as is shown by Pound Wood, behind West Morden Farm. Pounds were used to impound staying or unauthorised stock pending release on payment of a fine. Behind it, over the boundary in Bloxworth parish, is Common Chalk Pit Wood. Parliament did away with medieval agriculture in 1781 with ‘An Act for dividing and inclosing the several Commons, Common Heaths, and Waste Grounds in the Manor of Morden in the County of Dorset’.

Dating back to 1600 or earlier, thatched Paddock Cottage is an L-plan house, originally in cob with 18th-century facings, including brick ‘heads and labels’ to the south-facing windows. The brick has the characteristic red and purple texture of those being made on the other side of the parish at Brickyards Farm, East Morden, until the World War 2. Inside there are original ceiling beams and fireplaces in what was originally a three-room plan to the ground floor.

Mavis and Rafael Caver were living there the late 1960s. He was a Polish exile championing human rights before Solidarnosc and she co-authored a book on animal welfare with Church Knowle campaigner Monica Hutchings. They were succeeded by the actress Jane Asher and cartoonist husband Gerald Scarfe.

Local names through the last century, of farmers and woodmen, included the Gillingham and Hannam families. Farming characters of particular note were William and George Crocker, James Holloway, William Masters, Walter Meeking, Tom Nichols, Robert Gale Richards and Henry Wakeley. The last blacksmith at West Morden, from Victorian times, was Edwin Baker.

West Morden

An adjunct to the hamlet, spread through roadside clearings in the woods to the south, is Whitefield, though clearances of surplus houses through the last century have left it looking sparse. The community began below Cold Barrow where the 1873-dated former Wesleyan Chapel (with a spot-height benchmark for 113 feet above sea level) faces Chapel Wood.

This landscape is a world away from that at West Morden, being damp and lush, and the altitude soon drops to 80 feet at Whitefield Farm. There are several springs in the little pastures. The backdrop to the valley is wooded, with West Morden Bog and Longcutters’ Coppice, plus Brimland Wood extending towards chalklands to the north.

On the far side of Whitefield, two impenetrable tongues of woodland, Mill Bog and the Hang – trees on a slope – extend to Morden Mill, which is beside the A35. Snailsbreach Farm is on firmer ground to the west, between Heron Wood and the main road. Joseph Ansty was the farmer when his brother Robert held a tenancy in West Morden. Fry’s Wood is on the opposite side of the valley.

A suitably rustic three-mile walk brings in the central parts both of West Morden and Whitefield. It has an abundance of spring bulbs, from snowdrops through daffodil time, to a carpet of bluebells. There are distant views of the iconic symbol of the Drax Estate, Charborough Tower, which was built in 1790 and re-built taller after a lightning strike in 1838. It provided the structure (though not the setting) for Thomas Hardy’s romance Two on a Tower when he was living in Wimborne in 1882.

Park and start in the vicinity of West Morden Farm (OS map reference SY901955 in postcode BH20 7EA). Set off up the valley, into untarred Winterborne Lane, from the corner beside the farmhouse. Turn left at the junction of bridleways and keep Pound Wood to the left. Then follow the grass strip beside the left-hand fence in the arable field. Exit through a bridleway gate and continue straight ahead beside the hedgerow for the length of the second field.

Head towards the tower of Bloxworth church on the skyline. After passing Common Chalk Pit Wood – across to the right – the right of way becomes a double-hedged sandy way. Join a tarred road between the oak trees in half a mile. Turn left, down the road, to the cottages in the valley. Turn left in half a mile, through a gate, as you approach East Bloxworth. Walk straight across an arable field to the stile in the fence to the right of Brimland Wood.

Bear right in the next field, keeping the double line of power cables up to the left and a scrubby stream down to the right. At the end of the field there is a stile into the bracken. Follow the power lines, with Longcutters’ Coppice to the right, and then go up to the left as the cables cross West Morden Bog. The path goes over a stile into a pasture and passes between paddocks to a gate and stile to the right of the house. The drive emerges on the road beside Whitefield Farm.

West Morden

Turn left, uphill, beside Whitewell Cottage and Hillside. Fork left after Chapel Cottage. Walk up the slope to the four houses at Cold Barrow and turn left at the junction beside them. Proceed for 150 yards. Turn left through the field gate opposite the farmyard, and climb the slope to a stile, into a leafy corridor between the wood and the field. Turn left and then right to cross a track, through narrow metal gates, in 350 yards. Enter a deep sandy hollow – its sides perforated by badger setts – which returns to West Morden.

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