The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Puncknowle – a photographic essay

Ken Ayres captures a village described by the often-unforgiving Treves as ‘picturesque’

Just inland from the coast, midway between Burton Bradstock and Abbotsbury lies the attractive village of Puncknowle, about which the two most common facts recounted are that its name is pronounced ‘punnel’ and that its manor house was once occupied by Colonel Shrapnel, the inventor of the shell designed to shatter with devastating effect on those around it. It is a village long associated with the Napier (or Napper) family – endowers of the Napper’s Mite almshouse in Dorchester.
At the time of the Domesday Book, Puncknowle was held (presumably quite tightly) by ‘Hugh, the son of Grip’; on Church Street alone, there are seventeen listed buildings and monuments.

Opposite the church lies the village pub of the Crown Inn, beyond which, with the tiles roof, is the old bakery. Roland Gant, in his book, Dorset Villages, describes the baker there as having been ‘a compact man with a white crewcut, built like Jean Gabin, rarely seen without a pipe in his mouth and rejoicing in the name of Fonso Bartlett. When I walked into his bakehouse from out of the bright sunshine or the sleety murk, depending on the season, he would say “I got two roughs foe ‘ee young maan,” handing me the aromatic wholemeal loaves.’



Described by Treves as ‘curious and interesting', St Mary’s church is predominantly Norman, with a north aisle added in 1891 and contains much in the way of Napier family memorials, including one of about 1700 to Sir Robert Napier, who was High Sheriff of Dorset, which in an almost flamboyantly modest way proclaims: ‘Reader, when as thou hast done all thou canst, thou art but an unprofitable servant. Therefore this marble affords no roome for fulsome flattery or vaine praise, Sr R.N.’


The chancel of St Mary’s is almost shaker-like in its simplicity, with decoration being restricted to helmets and memorials to the Napier family


Sir Frederick Treves was unusually positive about the village in general, but spared special mention for the manor house: ‘Hidden in a garden behind the church is one of the daintiest and most beautiful of manor houses in the county, a marvel of ancient dignity and peace. It is trim, symmetrical and very old… any who follow the coast road should turn aside to see it, so as to learn what the English home was like before the days when the small house mimicked the mansion and when the flaunting villa was not.’



The Old Rectory is listed as being an early 19th-century construction, yet has a rear wing with a 1702 date stone


The old schoolhouse, now a private residence, has a trim slate roof and lies on one of the five roads which leave Puncknowle


Left Signs of the Napier family abound: this door bears the initials of the previously mentioned (for modesty) Robert Napier


Manor Cottage – which is larger than some manor houses – used to be four separate cottages and the earlier parts of it date from the late 18th century, with early 19th-century alterations


Officially listed as a two-and-a-half storey house, Greystones dates from the late 18th century

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