Clive Hannay – Trent
Clive Hannay heads north to a pretty village with a notable church
Published in April ’13
By Dorset standards, Trent is a comparative newcomer, having been part of Somerset until 1896. Somerset’s loss was Dorset’s gain, for it is still as Frederick Treves described it in Highways and Byways of Dorset: ‘…a straggling, most picturesque village, lying in a valley of orchards…a village of old stone houses, of thatched cottages, and of many gardens.’ One reason why Trent retains so much of its unspoilt charm is that it is part of a 2100-acre estate owned by the Ernest Cook Trust. The Trust is an educational charity that encourages children to learn from the land and promotes good practice in the conservation and management of the countryside. Ernest Cook was the grandson of Thomas Cook, the pioneering travel agent. Ernest did not travel but concerned himself with the financial side of the company. He was presumably rather good at it, since with his brother he sold the business in 1928 for £3.5 million – almost £200 million at today’s values. Ernest bought the manor and the estate in 1935 and the estate was transferred to the Trust in 1961, the manor being sold separately.
Trent Manor was a crucial hiding-place for Charles II as he fled after the Battle of Worcester in 1651. The owners, the Wyndhams, were fiercely Royalist and hid Charles for a total of nineteen days, either side of his frustrated attempt to get across to France from Lyme Regis. His actual hiding-place was off Lady Wyndham’s bedroom, and Frederick Treves described it as a ‘very narrow cell…over an ancient brewhouse’. It is still there.
The King eventually set off on his ultimately successful journey to Shoreham and thus to France, but he did not forget the help he had received: on the Restoration, Colonel Wyndham was made a baronet and given a lump sum of £1000 plus an annual pension of £600 for life. Even the maids at Trent Manor were not forgotten, each receiving £100.
‘There are few churches in Dorset with so much to enjoy,’ wrote Nikolaus Pevsner about St Andrew’s, Trent, and for once it is difficult to disagree with him. The church’s most striking feature is its spire, a feature shared with very few others in Dorset, and of those only three can lay claim to a medieval spire. Iwerne Minster and Winterborne Steepleton are the others, Bradford Peverell and Sutton Waldron being Victorian.
The church dates to the 14th century but has some interesting later features, including a rood screen from the 15th century, a 16th-century Flemish pulpit and pew-ends of the same period, and 17th-century stained glass in the east window. In the porch a notice reads: ‘All Persons are requested to take off Pattens and Clogs before entering the Church’. Until 2003 the church possessed two very fine George III mahogany benches, but they were sold to establish a trust for the preservation of the building. A 20th-century addition is a cope worn by Geoffrey Fisher, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1945 to 1961 and crowned our present Queen. As Lord Fisher of Lambeth he retired to Trent and took services in the church until his death in 1972. On the edge of the pretty churchyard is a 15th-century chantry.
The derivation of the village’s name is ‘trespasser’, probably referring to the frequently flooding stream, a tributary of the Yeo, that runs near to the village. A bridge over the railway to the north-west is logically, but to the delight of local cricket-lovers, called Trent Bridge. At Trent Barrow is ‘Bottomless Pit’, into which a coach and horses is said to have disappeared with all its passengers; inevitably, they are supposed still to haunt the spot.
The village’s first public house was built for men working on the construction of the spire of St Andrew’s and on its site today stands the Rose
After Lord Fisher, perhaps Trent’s most celebrated former residents are the acting sisters, Kristin and Serena Scott Thomas, who spent their childhood there and were educated at Leweston.
A walk of about 1½ miles gives a good impression of the village and the countryside in which it is set. Parking in Trent is not easy; the best place is the car park of the Rose & Crown, reached by turning right, if coming from the south, at the crossroads with St Andrew’s church on the left (OS reference ST590184; postcode DT9 4SL). If you are not planning to patronise the pub, continue up the road, take the next turning on the right and park on the left-hand side of the road.
From the pub car park go back to the crossroads and turn right. Take the next turning on the right and walk along the village street (the alternative parking place) for almost ½ mile. Just past ‘Langdales’ and before ‘The Harbour’, turn left up a drive that passes ‘Fairways’. As it bends to the left, bear right onto an enclosed path that leads to a stile. Walk along the right-hand edge of the field beyond to another stile, after which turn right to follow the right-hand edge. Soon after the first corner there are two stiles on the right. Cross the left-hand one and walk up the right-hand field-edge to another stile. Cross it and a small patch of grass to reach a lane on a T-junction.
Turn right, on the minor road, and at the next T-junction right again. Follow the road as it descends, swings to the left, leads back into the village and reaches a T-junction. Turn right, then in a few yards left into Mill Lane. Take the second public footpath on the right, on a slight left-hand curve in about 1/3 mile. Cross the open field diagonally to the furthest corner, heading to the left of the spire of St Andrew’s. Go through a gate onto the lane next to the Rose & Crown.