Dorset Villages: East Dorset
John Chaffey continues his visit to Dorset's villages in the east of the county
Published in August ’14
East Dorset lies close to the conurbation of Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch and has thus experienced the full force of its inevitable urban spread. Thus villages with such obvious rural connotations as West Moors, Ferndown and Verwood have been engulfed in the tide of housing estates and other less dense developments that have edged incessantly outwards. Nevertheless, much of East Dorset remains essentially rural, and even remote as distance opens up from the coastal sprawl. Cranborne Chase still retains its rural charm, with its few villages hidden away in the gentle folds of Chalk downland. East Dorset lacks the obvious indigenous stone building materials of either South or West Dorset, and thus brick is substantially more important here, together with flint from the Chalk, and Greensand from farther north in Dorset.
In the north-east, Alderholt, Cranborne and Edmondsham are the key elements in the rural settlement pattern. Much of Cranborne, the main settlement, is brick-built, particularly along the Crane, which runs through the centre of the village. The church however shows how other distinctive building materials such as flint and Greensand can be used effectively. Cranborne is the key settlement, with its schools, fire station, and shops, almost looking towards neighbouring Hampshire and turning its back
Alderholt straggles along a main road, with its church distinguished by the almost complete use of heathstone in its structure – quite rare in Dorset. Edmondsham, with its great house has more remoteness. It does boast a rare active swallow hole in the Chalk.
Perhaps even more remote are the almost hidden houses and church of Pentridge in the shadow of pine-capped Penbury Knoll, where a Palaeocene outlier caps the remnant of the Belemnite Chalk secondary escarpment. Southwards the influence of neighbouring Wimborne becomes increasingly dominant.
Horton is better known for its brick tower folly than its own buildings. Horton Tower was built by a local landowner, Humphrey Sturt, so that he could watch the local hunt when he was no longer able to ride with it: the tower is now used for mobile phone communications. Nearby Knowlton has its ruined heathstone church. Brick-dominated Wimborne St Giles is the archetypal estate village, embodied particularly in its splendid church with its connections with the Ashley Coopers. Nearer Wimborne, villages almost lose their identity as Chalbury Common, Gaunt’s Common and God’s Blessing Green straggle between the more obvious centres of Holt, with its brick church and adjacent brick pub, and Hinton Martell, where the church shows how ingenious use of a variety of building stones can be visually effective. The ancient church of Chalbury, high on its Palaeogene escarpment, combines its own architectural appeal with splendid views in all directions. It is said that the very high elm tree near its summit could be used for navigation in the Channel and that it could be seen from the western Chalk Downs in the Isle of Wight. Close to Wimborne, Hinton Parva now only has a redundant church and its superb thatched lodge, whilst Pamphill, the estate village of Kingston Lacy, remains surprisingly unspoilt with its open greens, its spectacular oak avenue and unusual First School, housed in one time almshouses.
North of the road from Blandford to Shaftesbury are the arable and wooded expanses of Cranborne Chase. Ashmore, ‘ash trees by the pool’ is Dorset’s highest village at 700 feet (213 metres) and is also one of the most remote.. It is dominated by its cottage-surrounded pool: Greensand makes a major contribution to the attractive thatched cottages, often combined with flint banding as in the former Old Stag Inn, now a private residence. Chettle and Farnham share the remoteness of Ashmore. Magnificent Chettle House is brick built, as are many of the thatched cottages, but Greensand and flint again blend together in the church. The Castleman Hotel uses Greensand to give an impression of a very substantial building. Farnham’s public house, The Museum, recalls the famous museum once established in the village by Pitt-Rivers. Sixpenny Handley, having survived the fire of 1892, is the Chase’s most flourishing village with busy school, lively village life, and well-used shops. ◗