Fordington: a short walk
Teresa Ridout takes us on a tour of the village which is now a leafy suburb of Dorchester
Published in July ’13
At one time, Fordington was a village in its own right, which surrounded and indeed restricted the growth of the smaller community of Dorchester which was retained within the borders of the Roman Town. Fordington stretched to the south, east and west of Dorchester. Today it may be a suburb, but it remains an attractive village neighbourhood which has retained a relatively rural atmosphere.
At the heart of Fordington is St George’s Church. Its tower dates from the 15th century and is adorned with small spires or pinnacles. The first church on the site was built around AD 857, although there may have been a Roman temple on the site before this time. After the Conquest, William I gave Fordington to St Osmund, who added the porch which houses a tympanum depicting the Battle of Antioch.
To the north of the churchyard on a ledge above Holloway Road are the graves of German soldiers who were held prisoner here during the Great War. Initially the artillery barracks held eighteen German civilian internees and a small number of uniformed prisoners but by the end of August 1914 there were 1000 inmates and the barracks were grossly overcrowded. At its height the camp had held 4500 men.
One of the more notable residents of Fordington was Henry Moule who in 1829 became vicar of Fordington. He was chaplain to the troops in Dorchester Barracks for several years, and from the royalties of his 1845 book Barrack Sermons, he built a church at West Fordington. In 1854, Fordington experienced a particularly serious outbreak of cholera; laundresses in Fordington took in washing from Dorchester prison (in which a high number of convicts were brought from London, where prisons were badly affected by cholera) and their clothes hid the virulent disease which spread rapidly. Moule became convinced that the outbreak was caused by appalling sanitation when, while ministering to a dying man he saw sewage bubbling up through the floor of the property. Moule deplored the conditions causing the disease stating: ‘The cess-pool and privy vault are simply an unnatural abomination,’ he denounced, ‘the water-closet … has only increased those evils.’
In the summer of 1859 Moule decided to fill in his cess-pool as it was causing an unbearable odour. He discovered that, in three or four weeks: ‘not a trace of this matter could be discovered,’ so he put up a shed, sifted the dry earth beneath it, and mixed the contents of the night bucket with this dry earth every morning: ‘The whole operation does not take a boy more than a quarter of an hour. And within ten minutes after its completion neither the eye nor nose can perceive anything offensive.’ Moule died in 1880, but continued to the end to try to persuade the British government that the earth-closet, not the water closet, was the sanitation system for the future.
Terrain: Flat, smooth walk, mostly paved with some unmade flat riverside paths.
Parking: Top O’Town car & coach park, Bridport Road or follow the signs to numerous pay and display car parks in centre of Dorchester.
Maps: Town Map available from Tourist Information Centre, Trinity Street, Dorchester or OS 194 Landranger Map Dorchester & Weymouth.
1 Park at Top O’Town car & coach park, Bridport Road. Walk downhill – High West Street into High East Street to where the road becomes flat. On the right hand side, opposite the White Hart Pub, turn right into Fordington High Street, on the left side of which you will see a former malthouse, barn and former Noah’s Ark pub and evidence of industry, in the shape of the 19th-century Lott and Walne’s Foundry.
2 Continue along the right hand pavement until it begins to rise, then turn into an alley signposted Victoria Buildings immediately after number 56. The alternating flint cobbles and brick wall are all that remain of the vicarage where Reverend Henry Moule lived with his family. Return to the alley which leads you to Salisbury Field – a wonderful public open space since 1892 surrounded by horse chestnut trees and much enjoyed by local residents.
3 Cross Salisbury Field keeping the open area on your right, towards the Beacon – used to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee and Millennium. On leaving Salisbury Field, lies what was one of the main areas for public execution with the gaol a short distance away at the end of Icen Way (formerly known as Gaol Lane). Opposite is Elizabeth Frink’s The Dorset Martyrs Statue to commemorate those throughout Dorset who died for their faith.
4 Turning back towards the north, follow South Walks Road towards St George’s tower which can be seen in the distance.
5 Leaving Fordington Green with St George’s on your left side, walk down Fordington High Street towards Fordington Cross and turn left into Kings Road and pass along the walls of the cemetery until you come to Prince’s Bridge. On the left of Holloway Road the memorial stone for German soldiers can be seen above. On this junction is the former Swan Public House and Mill (there had been a mill on this site since Domesday until it was closed and then acquired by the Mill Street Housing Society and transformed into much-needed housing.
6 Walk along Mill Street between the Mill on the left and the Swan on the right. Follow until the road ends and becomes a pedestrian riverside path, with the Frome on the left. At the end of the Mill Stream walk, cross London Road and continue to follow the river path. The White Hart pub stands on the opposite bank, this was once a well-used gathering point for carriers carts and is mentioned in Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge.
7 Continue to walk westwards along the river path passing an attractive row of late Victorian terrace cottages built in speckled Broadmayne brick then, as the river and path bear left and then right, pass beneath the red-brick walls of Dorchester prison. When the path and the river divide, take the path to the left and pass in front of Hangman’s Cottage.
8 Walk past Hangman’s Cottage and to the road, almost immediately opposite climb the steps up to the walls of Colliton Park and continue in a west direction along Northernhay with the wall on the left and the road beneath on the right. Dorset County Council acquired the park in 1933 to construct County Hall and during the construction discovered the famous Roman Town House which can be viewed, now housed for preservation under a steel and glass building. Walk uphill along the Grove back to Top O’Town roundabout. The Thomas Hardy statue is on the left, cross the zebra crossing to return to the car park.