Dorset village walk: East Lulworth
Clive Hannay's walk in the village of the Welds
Published in October ’13
Its castle and the Weld family dominate the village of East Lulworth; in fact, the village would not exist as we see it today were it not for its castle and the Weld family. Until the late 1700s, East Lulworth clustered round the parish church of St Andrew on rising ground a mile inland from Arish Mell. Then the Welds, perhaps inspired by Joseph Damer’s more notorious example at Milton Abbey, decided that the dwellings of mere ordinary people were spoiling the view from the castle and knocked the village down, replacing it with new dwellings half a mile to the east. They spared the parish church, which therefore has the odd distinction of standing half a mile from the village it serves.
The castle had been built in 1610 by Thomas Howard, Viscount Bindon, as a hunting-lodge. He hoped that James I, with whom he wished to curry favour, would pay it a visit – but the monarch never did. Thirty years later, the Howard family sold East Lulworth to Humphrey Weld, and it is his descendants who live there to this day, not in the castle but in Lulworth Castle House nearby; completed in 1977, it is perhaps the finest country house built in Dorset in the 20th century. The Welds came from Cheshire and were and are strongly Catholic but, like the Howards before them, they have always respected and supported St Andrew’s.
A disastrous fire destroyed the inside of the castle in 1929, and it stood as a derelict ruin for over fifty years until restored by English Heritage. Today it is a venue for weddings and other events and is the setting for displays about its own history and that of the Weld family.
The oldest part of St Andrew’s, the west tower and its arch, is 15th-century. The nave and chancel were re-built in 1780s and again only eighty years later. This latter restoration was done by John Hicks, and the plans for it were drawn up by his young assistant, Thomas Hardy. Most of the interior dates from the 1860s, including the lectern, pulpit and the font cover, although the font itself is as old as the church. All that can be seen of the 1780s work is the trace of a roof-line above the west tower arch. Further restoration took place in the 1960s, when the church had fallen into sad disrepair.
Although a member of the Weld family, Dorothy Pickering was a staunch Anglican who, on her death in 1707, left £600 to found a charity to benefit ‘twelve poor protestant widows and maidens’ of East Lulworth, all of whom must be aged at least forty. They had to attend the church on 9 May each year, when a service was to be held and a sermon preached. Although the terms of the charity have changed somewhat with the passage of time, it still exists.
Historians of East Lulworth have been uniquely well served by the Rolls family. Henry Rolls was a shoemaker who taught himself to read and write and kept a journal of happenings in the village from 1824 until his death in 1877. His son, George, then took up the task until 1928, when George’s daughter, Agnes, took over until 1955. Although the later entries are almost exclusively births, marriages and deaths, the journal provides an invaluable record of a typical Dorset village over more than a century. The journal is now kept at the Dorset History Centre.
Part of the appeal of the Rolls journal in its earlier years is how it mixes great events with the minutiae of village life. Thus a visit to the castle by the Duke of Gloucester is immediately followed by news that a well has received a new stone kerb, and nearby a cure for a wasp’s sting is set out. A reference to houses being built for ‘preventive men’ is a reminder that the whole coast of Dorset hereabouts was popular with smugglers, and secluded Arish Mell was an ideal landing-place for contraband.
One of the best-known local smugglers was Richard Champ, who in about 1770 was running the village pub. Inevitably in an estate village, the pub was, and is, called the Weld Arms. Still owned by the Weld family, it has in recent years gained a good reputation as a ‘destination pub’ for a day out from Poole, Bournemouth and further afield. This process was briefly interrupted in 2007, when an unexploded World War 2 bomb was found under the beer garden in which drinkers had sat in blissful ignorance for years. It proved that such things come in threes, since a bomb had rolled under a sofa without exploding in 1944, and another had been discovered in the roof in 1994.
A good feeling for the village can be gained from this walk of only about a mile. If approaching from the Wareham direction on the B3070, turn left at the start of the village into the quaintly named Cockles. This is the main street through the village, and in a few yards there is a parking area on the left.
Walk on down the road, and follow it as it swings to the right. Just before the old school on the left – now a gift shop and café called Past and Presents – turn left on a track into a field. Head across the field towards the tallest tree on the far side, some 80 yards to the right of a white flagpole on which a red flag flies when the Army is firing on the Lulworth ranges. Pass just to the left of the tree to reach a road, where turn right. At the next junction, almost opposite the entrance to Lulworth Castle, cross carefully and turn left to walk along the grass verge.
In almost 300 yards, opposite another white flagpole, turn right over a stile, go through a belt of woodland and emerge into the park of Lulworth Castle. Walk straight ahead to St Andrew’s. Turn right on the track which runs down with the old stables and courtyard on the left. Cross straight over the entrance drive, then bear left and right to walk down the exit drive. Go through the impressive gates and straight across the main road, turning right onto an enclosed path. At the end of this, go down some steps and the Weld Arms is a few yards on the
right. The route of the walk lies to the left, past the old school, round to the left and back to your car.