Chettle: a photo essay
Ken Ayres takes his camera to one of Dorset's prettiest villages
Published in January ’13
Derived from the Old English ceotel (kettle) owing to its position in a bowl at the foot of Cranborne Chase, Chettle is a compact village with a suitably compact main home: Chettle House. The house was designed by Thomas Archer (a student of Vanbrugh) and built between 1710 and 1720 by the Bastard brothers of Blandford; two rounded ends in perfectly matching brick and stone were added 101 years ago.
The house was originally commissioned by George Chafin – who was then the Ranger of Cranborne Chase. The last of the Chafins was Rev. William Chafin (d1818), who wrote Anecdotes and History of Cranbourn Chase and while in the process of doing so one evening, was struck by lightning under the cupola of his house – the cupola was removed a couple of decades later.
He describes a pitched battle between those whom he describes as ‘keepers and deer-stealers’ on the night of 16 December 1780. A gang headed by a Sergeant of Dragoons (named Blandford) and including several employees of the then Ranger, Peter Beckford, and armed with swindgels (long flays used to dress flax), they attacked the keepers, who were armed with sticks and short, cutlass-like swords. It was a bloody battle: ‘the first blow was struck by the leader of the gang, which broke the kneecap of the stoutest man on the Chase,’ who was lame ever-after. Another keeper had three ribs broken with a swindgel and later died of his wounds. The bloodshed was far from one-way, though. The gang’s leader, Blandford, had one of his hands severed; it was later buried at Pimperne ‘with the honours of war’.
All members of the gang were arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to be transported for seven years. The judge at the Dorchester assizes, mindful of their suffering from their wounds, ‘commuted’ this sentence to one of ‘confinement in gaol for an indefinite term’.
Another Chettle rector, this time from the 19th century, was John West, who went on to become the chaplain to the Hudson’s Bay company, founded a church (which is now Winnepeg Cathedral), was the first Englishman to preach to the Inuit and, when he returned to Dorset, founded a school for Gypsies at Farnham whose building was later used by Pitt-Rivers as his original museum, and which is now a public house of that name.
The village was described by the idiosyncratic Sir Frederick Treves as having ‘great trees, charming cottages and noisy rooks’.