The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Dorset Villages: Chetnole

Ken Ayres captures this north-west Dorset village on camera

Chetnole House

Chetnole might appear to be a typical Dorset village – which, if such a thing exists, it is, but it is also where an early and important step took place to eradicating a disease responsible for 500 million deaths in the 20th century alone. For it was at a farm in Chetnole, in 1774 that Benjamin Jesty, living nearby at Yetminster, first introduced cowpox serum into scratches that he had made on the arms of his wife and two sons, thereby inoculating them against smallpox.

The carved eagle which stands guard over Chetnole House

Just under a century after Jesty’s ground-breaking work (for which he was presented with a pair of mounted gold lancets – Edward Jenner, for similar work carried out twenty years later, received £30,000), John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Chetnole as: ‘a chapelry in Yetminster parish, Dorset; on the Dorchester and Yeovil railway, near the Roman road from Dorchester, 2¾ miles N of Evershot r. station, and 6½ SSW of Sherborne. It has a post office under Sherborne. Acres, 877. Real property, £2,137. Pop., 269. Houses, 48. The living is a curacy, annexed to the vicarage of Yetminster, in the diocese of Salisbury. The church is not good.’

The unfairly maligned church of St Peter, with its barrel-vaulted ceiling

One of the impressive gargoyles

One could argue with a number of things in Wilson’s rather telegraph-like delivery, not the least of which is his characterisation of St Peter’s church, parts of which date back to the thirteenth century. The nave is the oldest part of the present building and was built or rebuilt in this period as were the south doorway and narrow lancet window. The barrel form roof is 15th-century – and has moulded ribs with foliage bosses at the intersections – as is the West Tower, which was rebuilt in 1580 with an embattled parapet with pinnacles and grotesque gargoyles at the four corners. Another curious feature is the way in which the angle buttresses on the east side rest on large head-corbels, which are clearly visible from inside the nave. The first and second of St Peter’s three bells are among the oldest in Dorset. Cast by London founder, William Chamberlain, in about 1500 they are inscribed: ‘wox augustinae sonet in aure de’ – the voice of Augustine speaks in the ear of God, and ‘sante laurenti ora pro nobis’ – St. Lawrence pray for us.

The church clock, which was made by Robert Adam of Sherborne in 1878


The water level indicator shows how much the Wriggle has risen in previous flood years, making the ford impassable

Aside from a collection of attractive houses, the other thing which Chetnole has going for it is that most charming of railway accessories, a request stop; a small platform and shelter on the single-line ‘Heart of Wessex’ route, it is surrounded by fields, flora and fauna.

The former mill

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