Clive Hannay in a watery village in the shadow of the Ridgeway
Published in January ’15
Think of Sutton Poyntz and you think of water. Sitting under the chalk of the Ridgeway, it receives a steady flow of water from a series of springs that between them can produce 2.8 million gallons of water a day. The main source used to be from near the evocatively named Boiling Rock, to the west, but when Upper Mill, on the northern edge of the village, was sold to the Weymouth Waterworks Company in 1855, that was where they built their pumping station to supply the growing resort with water. Part of the filtration equipment they installed – and still in use until a few years ago – was a converted funnel from Brunel’s SS Great Eastern.
The main mill in the town was Sutton Mill, which was still working after World War 2; it is now converted into a residence, although its original use is immediately recognisable. The village pond was its header pond and Weymouth Waterworks promised that the flow of water through the village would never be interrupted, an undertaking honoured by their present-day successors, Wessex Water.
The Ridgeway to the north of Sutton Poyntz is full of history, with barrows and burial mounds dating back four centuries. The hillfort on a southern outlier of the Ridgeway, Chalbury Hill, to the west of the village, dates from 800 BC. This makes it one of the earliest examples of an Iron Age hillfort in the country, but the hilltop was also occupied earlier during the Bronze Age and later under the Romans.
Since before the Norman Conquest, Sutton (as it was then) was owned by the Crown, as is recorded in the Domesday Book. Somewhere around 1200, it was granted to the Poyntz family, hence the name. It was bought some 150 years later by Sir Guy de Bryan of Woodsford Castle, and from his family passed to the Newburghs, the Howards and the Harveys. Eliab Harvey, later an Admiral, captained ‘the fighting Temeraire’ at Trafalgar but was an inveterate gambler and may have sold the manor of Sutton Poyntz to pay gambling debts. The purchasers were the Welds of Lulworth, who had it until 1925, when they sold it to pay double death duties caused by the deaths in quick succession of Reginald Weld and his brother, Humphrey. Most of the properties were bought by their sitting tenants.
In the mid-19th century, much of the agricultural land in and around Sutton Poyntz was being farmed by John Allen Pope. He also produced four daughters and seven sons, including Alfred and Edwin. Realising that there would not be enough land to set up all seven brothers as farmers, they instead bought into a small Dorchester brewery called Eldridge, Mason & Co., which they eventually took over completely and re-named Eldridge Pope, one of Dorchester’s major companies for the next hundred years.
One of the few times Sutton Poyntz hit the national headlines was in 1862, when John Cox, a young man who was known to have mental problems but had never been violent, chopped up the local doctor and disposed of the bits by throwing them over the hedge onto the public highway. Found criminally insane, he was one of the first patients at Broadmoor, where he lived happily for the next sixty years.
Despite being joined to the much larger Preston (they are one parish) and so to Weymouth, Sutton Poyntz has kept its identity. Most of its residents are retired people or commuters into Dorchester or Weymouth, but there is still a strong village spirit and a thriving Sutton Poyntz Society. Every other year, the village organises a Street Fayre with stalls, music, food and games and raises a five-figure sum for charity. Perhaps it would not have pleased Sir Frederick Treves who, having visited Sutton Poyntz for his Highways and Byways in Dorset, wrote disapprovingly of ‘char-a-bancs from Weymouth (for the fee of one shilling each) bringing hundreds of hearty folk, who clamour for “shrimp and lobster teas”, pelt the ducks in the pond and “rot” the dignified villagers with unintelligible jibes’, but today’s dignified villagers are rightly proud of their efforts.
This 2½-mile route is more demanding than some of my walks because there are uphill stretches and the ground is sometimes quite rough underfoot. But it is worth it for the wide views of the village in its geographical setting – and the downhill at the end makes up for the up! Park between the pond on the left and the Springhead pub on the right and walk up the road. Turn left round the top of the pond onto Mission Hall Lane and in a few yards right onto a stony track. Go straight ahead through a gate into a field and follow a wall on the right.
In the next field, stay on the track between woodland on the right and an open field on the left. Cross a stile at the end of the field and turn left along the hedgerow on the left, with West Hill rising on the right. The path bends right and rises, but fork left at the first opportunity to climb a knoll from which there is the first of several good views that the walk provides of Sutton Poyntz with Preston, Weymouth, Weymouth Bay, Portland Harbour and the Isle of Portland beyond.
Descend from the knoll and pick up a path which continues downwards until it is once again running alongside the hedgerow on the left. It eventually leads through the hedgerow to a kissing gate. Follow the path beyond to reach a road. Turn right and walk for about 600 yards to a stile on the left. Cross the stile and another one straight ahead, then walk along the hillside. Emerge onto a road and turn left. In about 200 yards, go over a stile on the left and turn immediately right to go through a gate onto Chalbury Hill.
Climb towards its summit but on reaching a broad grassy track some way below the top, turn right. Follow the track as it follows the old ramparts, then begins to descend and picks up a stone wall on the left. Turn through the first gate on the left onto a track. Preston lies below to the right and a covered reservoir is passed on the left.
Follow the fence on the right for two fields after the reservoir, but about 75 yards before the end of the second field, turn downhill to its bottom left-hand corner. Cross a stile and follow the path beyond, with houses on the right, to a gate and a paved track. Turn left and follow the track round to the right twice to reach a lane, where turn left. At the T-junction turn left, then take the first turning to walk up past the mill to the pond. ◗