In the Footsteps of Treves – The North-East Outpost…
Steve White and Clive Hannay travel to Boveridge, Cranborne and Edmondsham
Published in May ’11
Travelling to Cranborne via Boveridge, Sir Frederick Treves describes the roads before the advent of tarmacadam; he would have found them particularly difficult to travel as he used a pedal cycle to tour the county while researching his book at the turn of the last century. It appears they were especially poor around this part of Dorset: ‘Those who are indifferent to rough roads may now make their way to Cranborne by way of Boveridge, where is an ancient almshouse with thatched roof and verandah and fine brick chimneys. So out of the world is this dim retreat that it may be commended to any who seek such peace and seclusion as even the cloisters of a convent may lack.’
Boveridge is as it was then; that is to say there isn’t much to see and one could still find peace and seclusion aplenty! The ancient almshouse, originally founded for three people by the Hooper family (more of them later) still stands, its thatched roof, brick chimneys and verandah intact. It is now a private house. Treves continues on to Cranborne: ‘Cranborne is a townlet filling a dip in a somewhat bare country. A straggling, absent-minded little place, it has apparently small purpose in life. There still runs through it that “fleting bek” which Leland admired, and which he says “passid down thorrogh the streat self on the right hand”. It is the River Crane….Its houses are now mostly modern and of red brick. There are some ancient cottages existing, among the more picturesque of which is one declared to be the birthplace of the Stillingfleets. The most famous member of that family was Edward, Bishop of Worcester, who was born here in 1635. He was so handsome a man that he was nicknamed “the beauty of holiness”.’
John Leland was charged by Henry VIII with documenting important places and buildings, particularly ecclesiastical, during the 16th century; clearly Cranborne was of some importance in those days. Ancient cottages remain, though fewer than in Treves’s time. The picturesque birthplace of Bishop Edward Stillingfleet remains, and two more ancient cottages can be found on the banks of the River Crane, the ‘fleting bek’; one of them dated 1712 and also linked to the Stillingfleet family. The river is culverted in the centre of Cranborne now but would have flowed openly through the high street when Leland and Treves saw it. The Crane does flow openly in the aptly named Water Lane. Treves’s modern red-brick houses have mellowed down and sit well in the ‘townlet’ – he may have been surprised; he had an intense dislike of ‘red brick villas’ something he often mentions in Highways and Byways.
Moving on to the two main buildings in Cranborne, Treves resumes: ‘Cranborne can still boast of two great possessions—its church and its manor house. The church is one of the largest in the county. It was built in 1252, on the site of a Norman church, one door of which still exists. The ancient font is another relic of the thirteenth-century building. The heavy, solid, square tower has Perpendicular Gothic windows, while the escutcheons of Richard, Duke of York, and Cecilia his duchess are displayed on either side of the entry. In spite of the fact that the building was irretrievably mutilated by a disastrous “restoration” in 1855, it still possesses considerable charm. There are fine monuments in the church to Hoopers and Stillingfleets, as well as a marble tablet to an Eliot who is represented by a very depressed-looking lad, huddled in a chair, with one elbow resting on a human skull, while in the other hand he holds some flowers aimlessly.’
As well as ‘red brick villas’, Treves often expressed his dislike of church restorations carried out wholesale during the Victorian era. Although many churches were probably saved from ruin by the Victorians, they did have a somewhat over-zealous attitude to their restoration. The Eliot tablet of the ‘depressed lad’ commemorates John Eliot, who ‘died suddenly whilst at school in this town’. John was seven years old when he died on 2 February 1641. One of the monuments to the Hooper family (mentioned earlier) is to the Edward Hooper who was knighted by an inebriated King Charles II in the cellar of the manor at Wimborne St Giles, where a group had assembled in the cellar, at the suggestion of the King, to drink wine from the casks stored therein (see Dorset Life, May 2010). The 13th-century font is made from Purbeck Marble. Still in the church, Treves notes: ‘One of the most interesting objects in the church is a carved oak pulpit belonging to the fifteenth century, and bearing the initials of Thomas Parker, Abbot of Tewkesbury, who died in 1421.’
The magnificent carved-oak pulpit must be among the oldest in Dorset and is one of the highlights of Cranborne’s impressive ecclesiastical collection. Thomas Parker was the Abbot of Tewkesbury, and its dependent cell of Cranborne, from 1389 to 1421. ‘The manor house of Cranborne is as admirable a building of its kind as any in England,’ says Treves, ‘the body of the mansion is supposed to date from the time of Henry VIII, but the present charming and characteristic features of the place are due to the Cecils, who became lords of the manor during the reign of James I. The first Earl of Salisbury added the exquisite Jacobean porches, and the figures of Justice and Mercy which stand above the door to bear witness to the time when the courts of Cranborne Chase were held in the Great Hall, and when burly rangers and rugged deer hunters hung about the gateway.’
The Cecils still own the manor and it is exactly as Treves saw it. The archivist for the Cranborne Estate has records which show the house was built around 1207 (and often used by King John as a hunting lodge), over 300 years before Treves’s supposition – this means that it is one of the oldest examples of domestic architecture in England. The house is beautiful, as Clive’s picture testifies, and in wonderful condition; it retains its Jacobean porches, its brick chimneys and the figures of Justice and Mercy above the front door. Unseen in Pennell’s original picture from Highways and Byways and likewise in Clive’s painting, are the magnificent brick gatehouses, built around 1610.
‘The structure has been put in order within recent times,’ writes Treves, ‘for when Hutchins wrote of it the hall was the only good room in the house, while the bailiff was its only inhabitant. This lonely man may well have been haunted by the spectres of those kings and nobles who had once idled through the empty rooms.’
John Hutchins, a vicar from Wareham, would have visited Cranborne around 1770; his book, The History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset, was first published in 1774. By this time, the house was indeed being lived in by the bailiff. The fifth earl had died in 1728 and the house ceased to be the family home until the 1860s. That there was only one good room in the house, as Hutchins states, seems unlikely, however it would have become more of a grandiose farmhouse than a manor for around 130 years.
Treves leaves Cranborne and heads south: ‘The traveller would do well to return from Cranborne by Edmonsham [which has, since Treves’s time, gained an extra ‘d’ to become Edmondsham] and the Gussage hamlets. At the former village is a very fine old manor house, built in 1589 and for many generations the seat of the Hussey family. It is grey with age, and, seen through a gap in the dark trees which surround it, this relic of the reign of Elizabeth, with its wizened gables and pale walls, looks like a mist in the wood.’
Descendants of the Hussey family continue to live at Edmondsham manor. Building of the house, on the site of an older manor, began in the 1560s, work being completed in 1589. The Georgian wings were added in 1740. A Victorian extension was removed sometime after World War 2, the house having been requisitioned during the war by the armed forces.
• Cranborne Manor gardens (www.cranborne.co.uk) are open every Wednesday, from 1 March to 30 September; entry is via the Cranborne Manor Garden Centre and, whilst the house is private, the building’s exterior can be viewed from the gardens. Edmondsham Manor’s gardens are open regularly, the house is also occasionally open to the public.