Booton Foot Trails – Peter Booton in Owermoigne
Peter Booton visits a parish with two museums, a host of market gardens, a smuggling heritage and Dorset's oldest inhabited house
Published in August ’12
The ancient parish of Owermoigne spans the A352, midway between Dorchester and Wool. Within the parish boundary are the village of Owermoigne and the hamlets of Galton, Southdown and Holworth, which is on the cliffs above Ringstead Bay. Owermoigne is a conjunction of two words: ‘oweres’, which evolved from Saxon ‘ogre’, meaning ‘wind-gap’, and referring to a gap in the chalk hills through which winds off the sea are channelled, and ‘moigne’ (Old French moine – ‘monk’) relating to the Le Moigne family from Normandy who held the manor for 300 years from the early 13th century.
The manor house, Moignes Court, dates from around 1270 and is the oldest inhabited house in Dorset. When the Le Moigne heiress, Elizabeth, married Sir William Stourton in 1398, the manor passed to the Stourton family. In 1557 the then owner of the Owermoigne estate, Charles, 7th Lord Stourton, was hanged in Salisbury market square for the murder in Wiltshire of two men with whom he had been involved in a long-standing quarrel. Before his execution Lord Charles had pleaded with the reigning monarch, Queen Mary, for ‘some indulgence’ because he was a nobleman and a catholic. Honouring his request, the queen gave orders for him to be hanged with a ‘halter of silk in respect of his quality’.
During the early part of the 18th century the manor was owned by French-born Sir Theodore Janssen, an extremely wealthy man who lost most of the fortune he had gained from being a director of the South Sea Company when the ‘Bubble’ burst in 1720.
The present owner of the Moignes Court estate is Mr Martin Cree, whose grandfather, Cecil Cree, gave the land on which Owermoigne Village Hall and Cricket Club were built. The Estate has been owned by the Cree family since 1826 when it was purchased by John Cree with the proceeds from the sale of the Thornhill House Estate, near Stalbridge, which he had inherited in 1815 from his uncle who was an East India merchant. One of John Cree’s sons, John Robert Cree, was both rector of St Michael’s church (1836-1881) and squire of Owermoigne, bearing the title ‘Squarson’. Rev. John Cree built the village school in 1873 and bequeathed funds for an extensive restoration of the church in 1883. Rev. John Cree’s brother, Rev. James Cree, lived in the 16th-century rectory at Owermoigne while he was rector of St Nicholas church, Chaldon Herring. The former rectory in Church Lane contains wooden beams salvaged from a Spanish galleon that ended up in Ringstead Bay after the Armada and was plundered by local people.
Owermoigne is renowned for its involvement with the local 18th-century smuggling trade. When barrels of brandy were brought ashore at Ringstead Bay, three miles south of the village, they were carried inland and stored in the tower of St Michael’s church. Thomas Hardy penned an amusing short story, The Distracted Preacher, about a young minister at Nether Moynton, Mr Stockland, who unwittingly becomes involved with the contraband spirits trade when he is attracted to local smuggler Lizzie Newberry. Hardy’s Nether Moynton is Owermoigne and the kegs of spirits are said to have ‘accidentally floated over in the dark from France’. A number of Hardy’s relatives lived in Owermoigne between 1664 and 1793, as the record of baptisms in the Church Registers shows.
Sir Frederick Treves visited ‘Ower Moigne’ during his travels and described the village as, ‘a shy old-fashioned hamlet, “highly suspicioned” of smuggling in the days when Free Traders hid their “stuff” in church towers, of which fact the vicar was rendered only obscurely conscious by the appearance of a mystic keg of excellent brandy in the vicarage porch’. For a village once so embroiled in the contraband spirits trade, it is perhaps surprising (or perhaps not) that Owermoigne has never possessed a public house.
There is, however, a Cider Museum (www.millhousecider.com) displaying restored 18th- and 19th-century cider-making equipment at Mill House, little more than a mile north of the village centre, where there is also a spring nursery (open January to July) and the fascinating ‘A Dorset Collection of Clocks’ which is open throughout the year. Mill House, which Hardy mentions in The Distracted Preacher, is owned today by Derek and Mary Whatmoor who started the Cider Museum in the mid-1980s. They also exhibit their large collection of clocks, because, Mary says, ‘We had just too many clocks in the house.’
• The author would like to thank Martin Cree and Ida Thomas for kindly supplying additional historical information. Keen horticulturalists please note: Owermoigne abounds in nurseries and small market gardens.
1 Park near St Michael’s church and, from Pollards Lane opposite, follow the public footpath signed ‘Village Hall’ to Charity Cottage (on left) where go right, up the steps, onto an unsigned path leading to a field. Go straight ahead to the far side and through the gap in the hedge. Keep to the right side of the next two fields and just before the end of the second field take the path on the right and cross the wooden bridge over the stream onto a woodland path.
2 Continue to the end where cross stile into a field. Keep to the left side and at the end go through a metal farm gate into the field. Head towards the projecting woodland on the left side and after this
go through the metal farm gate and then immediately through a second gate on the right into the sheep pasture. Head in the direction of a way-mark and cross the stile at the far side, towards a kissing gate alongside a private drive where go left to reach the B3390.
3 Go right and walk warily along the road (no footpath) to Holy Trinity Church, Warmwell. The churchyard contains the graves of 24 airmen from former RAF Warmwell who were killed during World War 2. After visiting Holy Trinity return to the road and carefully follow the narrow footpath to the left-hand bend in the road where the path ends. Again, walk warily along the road for 100 yards to a drive on the right, signed public footpath, and follow it uphill, through a metal farm gate, and then to the second gate on the left where enter the parkland.
4 Keep to the right side and at the end of the woodland with a bank of rhododendrons, go through a metal gate on the right and keep to the right side of the field to reach two metal farm gates at the end. Enter the next field, and keeping to the right-hand side, continue past a private lake and the neat grounds of Misery Farm, noting the old red telephone box and various agricultural implements from bygone days displayed on the side of the large outbuilding. Go through the metal farm gate and left onto a metalled private drive (public footpath) to the B3390 after 1200 yards.
5 Turn right and walk carefully beside the road to the ‘Crossways’ sign where just after go right onto the Jubilee Trail. The former RAF Warmwell aerodrome was just behind the trees due west of this point. Follow the path through woodland to a farm gate, cross the stile and go left onto a gravelled track. At the fork, go right following the signed Jubilee Trail to eventually reach a woodland path ending at Moreton Road.
6 To visit Mill House nursery, the Cider Museum (fee) or ‘A Dorset Collection of Clocks’ (fee), turn right onto the road for 300 yards. After visiting Mill House retrace your steps. Alternatively, to continue the walk from point 5, go left onto Moreton Road and after 50 yards rejoin Jubilee Trail on your right. Where the track forks, go right and follow the path through two metal gates. Continue ahead across a field, pass through a single metal gate and then a wooden farm gate into the next field. Keep to the right-hand side and at the end go through two single metal gates into a field where proceed on the well-trodden path to the end near the left side.
7 On reaching a wooden gate on left, don’t go through it, but head SSW towards an (open) farm gate on the far side of the field. Enter the next field and follow a gravelled farm track past the small lake to reach a wooden bridge over the stream. Just after, go through a metal farm gate and head diagonally right (SW) towards a flat-roofed stone building.
8 Keeping just left of this, proceed to cross the wooden bridge and stile into the next field where head SSW towards the farm buildings just visible behind trees. Pass between the raised mounds to reach a bridge and cross the stile over the stream. Head south and cross the stile at the far side of the field, heading for the farm buildings where go through a gate on the right and follow the farm drive to the end at the A352. This is the hamlet of Galton.
9 Turn right onto a grass verge alongside the main road. 150 yards after Galton Garden Centre go right onto a signed, but easily missed, footpath leading to Church Lane.
10. The former rectory is on your left before St Michael’s church.
Distance: 6.5 miles (including 600 yard diversion for Mill House)
Terrain: Easy going. Mostly grass fields, farm tracks and gravelled paths.
Start: St Michael’s Church, Church Lane.
How to get there: Turn north off the A352 midway between Dorchester and Wool onto B3390 signed Owermoigne. OS grid reference SY769 853. Postcode DT2 8HS.
Map: OS Explorer OL15 Purbeck and South Dorset. OS Landranger 194 Dorchester, Weymouth & surrounding area.
Refreshments: None in Owermoigne village but cold drinks and ice creams are available at Mill House nursery in Moreton Road. Opening hours vary.
Public transport: Damory Coaches operate service 102, Dorchester to Lulworth Cove, calling at Owermoigne (main road) Mon-Sat. Moreton railway station at Crossways is 2½ miles north of Owermoigne village centre.
Moignes Court is only open by appointment. Contact: Mr M Cree, Moignes Court, Owermoigne, Dorchester, Dorset DT2 8HY. Tel: 01305 853300.