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Damory of Blandford

Stuart Booth explores the origin and history of a name which frequently crops up in Blandford.

John Bastard’s 1747 drawing (and plan) of the Damory Oak, which was big enough to have housed two homeless families after the great fire of 1731

Blandford is described at the town’s approaches by road as ‘A Unique Georgian Town’. However, another feature that soon becomes apparent is the high incidence of the name ‘Damory’ around the town – Damory Street, Damory Court Street, the Damory Oak pub, Damory Coaches, Damory Veterinary Practice, etc. As you enter Blandford from the north, after the by-pass roundabout and on the left (just before the filling station and still with its magnificent copper beech trees close to the road) stands what was until a few years ago the Damory Arms Hotel. Today it looks like a large house with its extensions and conversion to flats. Soon after that, descending the hill and following the one-way system and by turning left at the traffic lights, you will drive down Damory Street in order to turn right into East Street, a junction that is within a stone’s throw of the Damory Oak pub in Damory Court Street.

So the name is conspicuous enough around the town, but what of its origins and history? Popularly, there is a long-standing assertion that the name derives from ‘Dame Mary’ Bankes, of the famous local family of the Kingston Lacy and Corfe Castle estates. However, this is an extremely unlikely source of the name’s origin, simply because it was in use centuries before she came to Blandford in 1646. That being the case, we then have two rival explanations for the origin of ‘Damory’ of Blandford.

The name ‘Damory’ certainly goes as far back as the Norman Conquest, when one of the followers of William the Conqueror was William D’amory. The D’amory coat of arms was created in 1154, for his grandson, Gilbert, and the shield element of the design survived all manner of social and other upheavals and was even a major part of the inn sign of the former Damory Arms.

The older wall of the Damory Oak pub contains stones from the ruins of nearby St Leonard’s chapel

Although few today may have heard of him, one of Gilbert’s descendants, Roger Damory, was a major influence at the English court between about 1315 and 1320, despite having set out as a rather obscure knight of Oxfordshire. He was about the same age as Edward II and his elder brother, Sir Richard Damory, was Sheriff of Oxfordshire and Berkshire and, from 1322 to 1325, the Steward of Edward II’s household. Roger Damory was probably knighted at the great ceremony of May 1306, when almost 300 young men were awarded the honour alongside the future Edward II.

Edward became infatuated with Damory, a fact that is clear from the extensive list of gifts, grants, wardships, lands etc that still survives. These days, such a situation would be one of financial and moral (even sexual) scandal, and undoubtedly it caused many a rumour even in those days. Nevertheless, by 1317, Roger Damory was the most important man at court and was married to the King’s niece, Elizabeth de Clare, in that year as a mark of Edward’s great favour. After the Queen, Elizabeth was probably the richest woman in England, being one of the inheritors of a vast fortune from her brother, the Earl of Gloucester. She also held many dower and jointure lands from her first two husbands, John de Burgh and Theobald de Verdon. So just by the simple fact of being her husband, Roger Damory controlled all these lands until he died on 12 March 1322 at Tutbury, Staffordshire. It is possible that he had illegitimate sons, as another ‘Roger Damory’ shows up in the 1330 household records of the widowed Elizabeth, with one of her household officials named as Nicholas Damory.

So was that Damory family the one whose name seems so prominent in Blandford? It seems unlikely, since there is no record of the family holding land in Dorset. There is one other, more plausible, origin.


St Leonard’s Chapel was restored in 1994 and nestles contentedly among the residents of Chapel Gardens

In the reign of King John, when lands to the north and east of Blandford were held by Robert, Earl of Leicester, they made up some of the King’s favourite hunting-grounds. These ranged across Cranborne Chase to his hunting lodge at Tollard Royal – hence the village’s regal suffix and the King John pub, not to mention the royal huntsmen’s rallying point at the famous Larmer Tree, where three counties once met. Around the year 1200, King John granted the revenue of the land to the French Order of St Marie and the abbess of the Order became Lord of the Manor, which assumed the name of the ‘Manor of Dame Marie’. This is very close to being ‘Damemarie’ and, after the Order was expelled from England in the 15th century, the manor became known as ‘Damariscourt’ and passed to Henry VIII in 1546 in a part-exchange deal with the Church. The following year, after Henry’s death, Edward VI gave the manor, farm and ‘Damory courte’ to the Duke of Somerset. He in turn sold it to one Robert Ryves in 1549.

The house, Damory Court, was located roughly amongst the houses where Blandford’s former railway station used to be, across the road from the still-thriving Railway Hotel (the name of which must baffle quite a number of first-time customers or newer residents of Blandford, unaware of this local victim of the 1963 Beeching Report). It was owned by the Ryves family until the 18th century. George Ryves, who built the Salisbury Street almshouses, lived there, and Dr Bruno Ryves, chaplain to King Charles I, was born there.

The Ryves family displayed a degree of paternalistic philanthropy and were involved in setting up Blandford’s original almshouses – whose occupants were ‘forbidden to have children to live with them, could not take lodgers, marry, be whoremongers or fornicators and always obey the orders of the steward and constables at all times’. Whilst it is always a misery to be poor, such impositions seem downright inhuman to our modern view. In fact, these original almshouses, like so much of Blandford were destroyed in the 1731 fire, but not before George Ryves (by then living at Ranston) had funded the foundation of another group of almshouses to be erected in Salisbury Street in 1682 for the elderly of Blandford and Pimperne.

After occupancy by the Ryves family, Damory Court lay empty during the Civil War, although the heroine of Corfe Castle, Lady Mary Bankes, stayed there in the war’s aftermath before Kingston Lacy House was built. The house itself was destroyed by fire in 1845 and its environs were gradually absorbed by the expanding town and by the railway’s arrival in 1860.

The only solid relic of Damory Court is nowadays the small ruin of St Leonard’s Chapel, whose walls remain as a memorial amid the creeping bricks and concrete of the 20th and 21st centuries. Yet the Damory name was commemorated in the names of two inns in the town.

The Damory Arms in Salisbury Road opened in 1954 on land that had once been Damory Court Farmhouse and, until its closure in 2001 and subsequent conversion to housing, bore for its sign the Damory family coat of arms – a blue hand on a red and white background. In the building itself, when it was still a pub-cum-hotel, there also hung a colourful pedigree of the Damory family, tracing the blood line to modern times and indicating that the arms of the Damory family were confirmed to one Ruscombe-Emery in 1955.

Nowadays, if you are following the town’s one-way traffic system but turn left at the bottom of Damory Street, towards Wimborne, the Damory Oak public house can be seen to your left by the next set of traffic lights, at the lower end of Damory Court Street itself. Again extended and refurbished, but with the old building still at its core, its older wall even contains a few obvious stones from the nearby ruins of St Leonard’s Chapel. It takes its name from the original ‘Damory oak’. Located a little to the north of the old house at Damory Court, this venerable giant of a tree in its old age was said to be 75 feet high and about the same in diameter. The trunk at ground level had a circumference of 23 feet and had a cavity which would hold ‘near 20 men’. Tradition has it that it was so big that it was even run as an ale shop by an old man during the Civil War. Sadly, it eventually became moribund and was broken up for firewood in 1755. Nevertheless, in its heyday and after the Great Fire of Blandford in 1731, the Damory oak was reputed to have housed two homeless families in its hollow trunk – a tale given some visual credence by the scene depicted on the pub’s painted sign to this very day.

Part of the map of Blandford which John and William Bastard produced after the 1731 fire, showing the great oak tree in the field north of Damary House. The Pimperne Stream, now mostly culverted, flows into the Stour in the bottom left.

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