The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Treasures of Dorset – Knowlton: Church & Henge

Clifton Beard captures a fleeting moment at one of Dorset's most evocative locations


There is no scientific explanation of why certain places are ‘atmospheric’. Why do the most insensitive of us feel the hairs on the back of our neck rising, our breath coming a little quicker and an urge to look over our shoulder in some locations but not others? If you have never had such feelings, visit Knowlton Church, which has as strong an atmosphere as any ancient site in Dorset.
The church is built in the middle of a Neolithic henge dated between 3000 and 2000 BC. It is one of four henges that make up Knowlton Rings and the area is rich in round barrows and burial mounds.
The henge may have marked a residential settlement, but more likely was for ceremonial purposes.
The surrounding henge avoided the ravages of the plough because in the 12th century, the parish church of Knowlton, which stood close by on the banks of the Allen, was built in its centre. A west tower was added in the 1400s, but soon afterwards, the village was all but wiped out by the Black Death and declined steadily thereafter. The church was used until the 18th century, when its roof fell in and it was abandoned.
Knowlton Church therefore has two distinctions: one rarely sees the ruins of a parish church, and a Christian church built in the centre of a henge is almost unique. ◗

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