Chideock and Seatown
Clive Hannay visits a West Dorset village with a strong Catholic tradition and goes down to the sea
Published in July ’13
Chideock can boast as many pretty corners and as interesting a history as most Dorset villages, but is dominated by the A35 trunk road, which slices through its centre. Several Transport Ministers have tried to solve the problem, most recently in the 1990s with a proposal for a Chideock and Morcombelake bypass. The Chideock section might have worked, but then there was nowhere to go except through the Golden Cap Estate whose owners, the National Trust, opposed the proposal strongly and ultimately successfully. So Chideock continues to live with the heavy goods lorries and the holiday traffic scurrying down to the West Country, although sporadic protests break out when it becomes too much to bear; from time to time, exasperated villagers spend a day crossing and re-crossing the road and bring traffic to a standstill.
Some villages take their names from the families who owned them. In Chideock it worked the other way round, John de Bridport changing his name to John de Chideocke when he inherited the manor in the 13th century.
It was his descendant, another John, who fortified the manor house following a French raid on Weymouth in 1380. It hardly qualified as a castle, but was known as Chideock Castle and stood until the Civil War, when it was largely destroyed by Parliamentary troops. The gatehouse survived until the 18th century but was gradually cannibalised for other building. Today, only bumps and hollows show where the grand house once stood.
In the middle of the site of the castle stands a large but simple wooden cross in a stone base, erected in 1951 by Lt-Col Humphrey Weld. It is there because of Chideock’s strong Catholic connections. By the time of the Reformation, the manor was owned by the Arundell family, who held staunchly to their traditional faith. Elizabeth I made it an act of treason to be a Roman Catholic priest in England and no fewer than three of the Arundells’ chaplains were arrested and were executed or died in prison, as were five others with connections to Chideock. It is they whom the cross commemorates.
Thomas Weld of Lulworth Castle was a cousin to the Arundells and bought Chideock from them in 1802. He gave it to his sixth son, Humphrey, who built the present manor house to the north of the village; the house achieved modest fame in the 1980s when it was rented by the Duke and Duchess of York while the former was stationed as a helicopter pilot at HMS Osprey on Portland.
Humphrey also converted the nearby barn, where clandestine Catholic worship had continued, into a chapel. His son, Charles, went further and replaced the chapel with the Romanesque church of Our Lady of the Martyrs and St Ignatius.
Charles also built a charming memorial chapel to his parents and decorated the interior with some remarkable wall paintings, including one by Fra Newbery. It is next to the parish church of St Giles, whose importance can be overlooked in the face of all the Catholic history in the village.
The parish church’s most prominent feature is a black marble effigy, which may be of the Sir John Chideock who built the castle, or of Sir John Arundell, the first of the Arundells to own the manor. The latter seems more likely as it is in the Arundell Chapel. The greatest oddity at St Giles’s, which most visitors do not see, is the oldest of its five bells; when it was cast in 1602, two of its mottoes’ letters were transposed in the inscription, which is therefore the exhortation, ‘LOVE DOG’.
Chideock runs down to the sea at Seatown, which is dominated to the west by Golden Cap, the highest point on England’s south coast. ‘Town’ is a misnomer, but it was once a more populous settlement than it is now, the residents making their livings through a mixture of fishing and farming – spiced, no doubt, by a little smuggling on the side.
Although Lyme is quoted as the landing-place for the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685, an advance party actually landed at Seatown, including the Duke’s cavalry commander, Colonel Venner, who was to be wounded at the battle of Bridport, the first skirmish of the uprising.
Park for this 2½ mile walk on North Road, beyond the double yellow lines. North Road runs up the western side of the parish church. Walk back to the main road past the Weld memorial chapel, turn left and then first right into Duck Street, signed to Seatown. The road soon forks – take the right fork. At the next fork, take the right-hand option into Pettycrate Lane. Walk up this as it becomes an enclosed track. At the top of the hill, turn sharp left onto another track and follow it down to a lane, where turn right.
Walk down into Seatown to enjoy the beach and the view of the slopes of Golden Cap. Retrace your steps and about 120 yards past the Anchor Inn, bear right then right again on a paved track with the Golden Cap Holiday Park on the left. Continue on the paved track, ignoring all turns to left and right. The track bends to the left (ignore the path ahead), passes another static caravan park on the right and becomes a narrow lane. Where it swings to the left again, this time continue straight ahead on a path which runs alongside the garden of Brook Cottage. Cross a bridge, walk between a small football field and a playground, cross another bridge and walk up to the main road.
Cross carefully, turn right, then after 20 yards left into Ruins Lane. Go through the gate at the top of the lane into the field where are both the remains of Chideock Castle and the Martyrs’ Cross. Return through the gate and down Ruins Lane. Turn right to walk up the main road to the church and North Road.