Clive Hannay visits a minuscule village in the Purbeck water-meadows
Published in December ’11
‘The world is not enough’ is the motto of the Bond family of Holme Priory, round which clusters the tiny village of East Holme. By coincidence, it is also that of the fictional James Bond, secret agent 007, and the title of the nineteenth Bond film. Or is it coincidence? Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming, was a boarder at Durnford School in Langton Matravers from the age of seven in 1915. There he kept company with the Dorset gentry and borrowed several of their names – Strangways for an MI6 operative in the Caribbean, and Drax for the villain in Moonraker, for example. Fleming said that his chief hero’s name was copied from that of an ornithologist who wrote Birds of the West Indies, but the shared motto suggests that there may be at least an echo of the Dorset family.
The real-life present-day owner of Holme Priory, William Bond, has a diary of an ancestor, Denis Bond, which refers to a John Bond who worked in Queen Elizabeth’s secret service and helped Sir Francis Drake in numerous Flemingesque escapades. In 1572 he escaped from the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre in France by taking hostage a woman and her children and threatening to kill them. It seems to have been this John Bond who hijacked the royal motto of King Philip of Spain (in Latin, ‘Non sufficit orbis’), perhaps to cock a snook at England’s arch-enemy.
It was Denis Bond who extended Holme Priory in the late 18th century. It passed to his nephew, who was the first of four Nathaniel Bonds to live there, some of them on their way to taking over the main seat of their branch of the family, the house now known as Creech Grange but formerly as just Grange. One of these Nathaniels was a distinguished KC, although remembered today mainly for having defended Jane Austen’s aunt against a charge of shoplifting! Later, Holme Priory was let for almost a hundred years but in the 1950s it was taken on by Martin Bond, a grandson of the fourth of those successive Nathaniels. William Bond succeeded and he himself has a son called Nathaniel.
The house is beside the site of a Cluniac monastery, a cell of Montacute Priory. The monastery survived the Dissolution and was granted to Edward, Duke of Somerset. In 1554, from which time the oldest parts of the present house date, the estate passed to William Hanham, whose descendants sold it to the Bonds in 1690. The priory church survived until 1746, when the site was cleared to create parkland. Its most prominent feature, a Norman chancel arch, was removed to the little chapel in the grounds of Creech Grange.
The villagers worshipped in the church of the neighbouring parish of East Stoke until 1865, in which year the then Nathaniel paid John Hicks of Dorchester, the architect to whom Thomas Hardy had been apprenticed, to build a new parish church dedicated to St John the Evangelist. The interior was decorated by Nathaniel’s wife, Lady Selina Bond, daughter of the Earl of Eldon, whose seat was at Encombe. Their daughter, Louise, was the second child to be christened in the new church and later served it as organist for 70 years and churchwarden for 46 years.
The church is built of local heathstone, quarried at nearby Holme Mount, with a Purbeck stone roof and pillars inside of Purbeck marble. The west end is surmounted by a bell-cote with a single bell. The colourful interior, including some good stained glass and Lady Selina’s murals, could not be anything other than Victorian, and post-Oxford Movement Victorian at that. The five villagers who died in World War 1 and the one who died in World War 2 are remembered on a simple plaque. Some memorials, though, were brought here from the church in the neighbouring parish of East Stoke, which was converted into dwellings some twenty years ago. They include a tablet to Leonora Buller, wife of the priest at East Stoke and daughter of John Bond of Grange, who died at the age of 28, only four months into her marriage. Apparently she was ‘of modest and engaging beauty both in person and mind and pre-eminently meek and lowly in heart’. Set into the west wall are tablets to the two sons of the then rector of East Stoke, both killed in World War 1. The other item of note within the church is a cross of wood inlaid with mother-of-pearl, made in the Solomon Islands.
East Holme parish comprises a thousand acres of flood-plain and heathland a couple of miles south-west of Wareham, with a population of a couple of dozen. While the River Frome forms its northern border, to the south it extends into Battle Plain, part of the depopulated Lulworth and East Holme Ranges that were expanded for training Sherman tank crews six days before Christmas in 1943. Earlier in the war, on 25 August 1940, a Me110 crashed at Priory Farm after being shot down, and its crew were taken prisoner. The other military fixture is East Holme rifle range, the busiest in Dorset, which was established in Edwardian times with firing points from 100 to 800 yards.
To the east, Three Lords Barrow is so called because three manors meet here. So do four parishes: Arne, Church Knowle, Steeple and East Holme. A piece of window from Holme Priory is set in the top of the barrow as a marker stone. About half a mile to the south-west is Holme Mount, a bracken-covered knoll with a pair of Bronze Age burial mounds. Running across the parish is Holme Lane; its series of watersplashes is now by-passed but one remains in the centre of the village itself.
For the walker, a dearth of public rights of way is a drawback; if you want a circular route, you have to venture onto roads which are dangerous when there is traffic about and dull when there is not. The solution is an ‘out and back’ walk which takes in the village, Holme Priory, the church and some of the surrounding landscape.
Park and start in the centre of the village, by the bench which celebrates the Silver Jubilee and the pump restored to mark the Golden Jubilee. One’s eye also falls on a red telephone box, a wall-mounted post box, a barn door used as the village notice-board and ivy-overgrown staddle stones. Walk down towards the watersplash but before reaching it, fork left onto a path that crosses the stream on a bridge. Reaching a drive, turn right and then left at the road. Almost immediately, turn left into the drive to Holme Priory, walk across the front of the house and fork right to a gate, beyond which is the path to the church; the key is kept at Holme Priory.
After enjoying the church, walk back along the drive and turn left on the road. Walk down to Holme Lane and go straight across. Walk down this lane until turned back by the Army’s warning notices and closed gates. Turn round and retrace your steps back along the lane, across Holme Lane and through the village to your car.