The best of Dorset in words and pictures

In the footsteps of Treves: the Winterbornes

Steve White and Clive Hannay follow Treves to Winterbornes Clenston, Anderson, Zelston and Tomson.

The Highways and Byways series of books, covering a number of notable counties in England, were written by various authors during the early 1900s. Sir Frederick Treves was asked to write the Dorset edition. The artist, Joseph Pennell, was responsible for the drawings in the Treves book as well as certain others in the Highways and Byways series.
Chapter VII finds Treves visiting some of the villages straddling the River Winterborne south of Blandford: ‘Between Blandford and Milton Abbas runs the Winterborne, a little stream which owes its title to the fact that it runs only in the winter time. There is a rivulet of like name and habits in the South of the county. Both brooks issue from chalk hills, flow as clear, gushing rivulets all the winter, and then, about June, suddenly dry up. All the villages along these rivers take the cognomen of Winterborne, and thus it comes about that there are no fewer than fourteen Winterbornes in Dorset’.
Treves begins by looking at the manor houses: ‘At Winterborne Clenston and at Anderson are ancient manor houses. The house at the latter place is a remarkably fine and stately building. It is of faded red brick faced with stone, has high gables and towering chimneys, handsome stone mullioned windows, and a general bearing of great dignity and charm. The village has vanished, so that the manor house and the church are left alone, one on either side of the faithless stream’.
Anderson manor is a beautiful example of its type. Grade I listed, it is ‘officially’ a Jacobean manor house; due to the completion date of 1622. However, it seems the house was begun in the 1590s by Sir John Moreton and purchased in 1613 by John Tregonwell, who finished the job. It is clearly partly Elizabethan – many features of the house confirm this; for example, it appears to be planned on the ‘E’ principle.
Whilst the house has remained almost unchanged, much has happened at Anderson manor since Treves came by. Owned by the Tregonwell family until 1902, it was purchased by a Mrs Gratrix and upon her death the house contents were sold by auction (the current owners have the particulars and prices paid). Unfortunately all the bespoke furniture and Tregonwell artefacts were taken from the house.
Other owners were the Tabors and the Cholmondeleys; in 1975 the manor was bought by the current incumbents.
Most notable of all events over the last hundred years is the use the building was put to in World War 2. The house was requisitioned, initially, as the headquarters of the ‘Small Scale Raiding Force’ (SSRF) attached to 62 Commando. Many missions against the German forces were planned from here as part of operation ‘Pinprick’, which was designed to make the enemy employ valuable manpower defending against attacks on their defences. In 1943 the SSRF were disbanded and the house was used by the Special Operations Executive. Many stories accompany the war years and the current owners have had occasion to meet with some of the veterans, been told their stories and given photographs. Evidence of their occupation can still be found; in the attic is an enchanting, diminutive, mural of cliffs and hills believed to have been painted by one of the men stationed here. Many of these men didn’t return from their missions, due to the extremely high-risk nature of their work.
The medieval parish church became redundant in 1968 and is now part of the manor estate. Originally 12th-century, it was restored in 1889. Its most notable feature is its twin bell turret.
Now looking at one of the older man-made features of Dorset, Treves notes: ‘On the downs above Clenston is the earthwork known as Comb’s Ditch. It is composed merely of a rampart and a ditch – with the fosse ever on the northern side –which can be followed across the country for miles. Although much grown over by grass and weeds and riddled by the rabbits, it is still an impressive relic of the once great line of defence’.
Many drive daily along the A354 to Blandford, completely unaware that they are passing Comb’s Ditch. Claire Pinder, Senior Archaeologist at the Environment Directorate of Dorset County Council, kindly provides the following information: ‘Comb’s Ditch was probably longer when originally constructed but now extends from Whatcombe Down in the North West to Great Coll Wood at Sturminster Marshall in the South East. This is a distance of around 2¾ miles. It appears that Comb’s Ditch is prehistoric in origin, but of a late Roman or later period in its final form. The scale of the earliest structure suggests that the bank and ditch was originally no more than a boundary; by the end of the Roman period, however, it had become a formidable defensive earthwork.’
Treves now comes across Winterborne Zelston: ‘It is worth while to turn aside to visit the hamlet of Winterborne Zelstone, for it is as rustic and picturesque a spot as will be found anywhere in Dorset. It is composed of a few old thatched
cottages, a little inn, a little shop, a little bridge, all fitfully disposed along a grey road by the side of the fickle stream. In the early summer the water of the brook is almost hidden by forget-me-nots and extravagant weeds, while the meadows around are at their greenest’.


Winterborne Zelston (the additional ‘e’ used by Treves was often used a century ago), has seen a number of changes; the little inn, which was apparently called, rather unimaginatively; ‘The Beer House’, closed in the 1930s and is now a residence, the little shop closed in the 1960s but the little bridge is still there. In fact there are two little bridges in the village – both old and both crossing the Winterborne. It seems that Treves may have neglected to visit all of Zelston, as he missed, aside from the bridge, an ancient thatched cottage and the church. Clive’s painting of the ‘missed’ bridge hopefully corrects this omission!
Treves didn’t have to go far to find the next Winterborne: ‘Next to it [Winterborne Zelstone] is Winterborne Tomson. The village of this place has long ago departed, leaving behind only the manor house, some farm buildings, and a lowly church. It is among the outhouses that the church is to be found, for it is merely an appendage of the farmyard. It is a wizen old building, curiously small, with no more architectural pretence than a barn. Its east end indeed so fails in distinction as to present only a blind, round wall. Were it not for certain Gothic windows of a hesitating type and a squat bell gable, there would be small excuse for claiming that the building was a church at all. The poor little sanctuary has long been deserted; the windows are broken, and birds roost on the pews or under the cove roof. The churchyard is knee-deep in grass and weeds, while its one surviving tomb is hidden by wild undergrowth.’
Winterborne Tomson’s manor house is roughly of the same age as Anderson’s and likewise has a very small church nearby. This unusual church (it is one of only four single-cell Norman churches in England), was originally built in the 12th century. When Treves saw it, the church was an extension of the farmyard; disused for worship since 1896 and used to house pigs and fowl, it was near dereliction. It still looks to be a part of the farm, the buildings being very close by, although of a more modern type. Happily, the church is in much better a condition. Apparently Hardy was among the church’s admirers and it was the sale of some of his manuscripts which helped meet the cost of repairs. The work was overseen by architect A R Powys (1881-1936), sibling of the famous literary brothers Llewelyn, John Cowper and Theodore, who was laid to rest, as was his wife, in the churchyard. Repairs were completed and the church rededicated on 8 May 1932 by Dr G B Allen, Bishop of Sherborne. When I called there in early March 2012, the whole structure was enveloped in scaffolding and sheeting and completely inaccessible; contacting the Churches Conservation Trust got me the following answer: ‘We are repairing the roof structure and re-tiling the roof, with some minor masonry repairs. The medieval roof was repaired in the late 1920s by A R Powys who did an incredible job of strengthening the medieval timbers whilst leaving them in-situ. One of the timbers from the 1920s is inscribed to Thomas Hardy. The 1920s timber structure is being strengthened along with the wallplates, and the bellcote is being re-boarded. The slate roof will be put back with minimal replacement tiles.’ Thomas Hardy and A R Powys would undoubtedly be pleased.

• We would like to thank the owners of Anderson manor, Carol Bower, Steve Chapman, Claire Pinder at DCC and the Churches Conservation Trust for their invaluable help in the preparation of this article.

Dorset Directory