The best of Dorset in words and pictures

In the footsteps of Treves: Bradpole, Loders, Symondsbury and Chideock

Steve White and Clive Hannay follow Sir Frederick to the west of the county


Chapter sixteen of Highways and Byways in Dorset finds Sir Frederick Treves near the coast in the west of the county: ‘Close to Bridport is Bradpole, a village of which the historian says little but that “its situation is very watry”. It was in this uninteresting place that the Right Hon. W E Forster was born. The house of his fathers is a plain farmhouse of the simplest type. Growing against one side of it is a great pear tree, while behind lies a fair garden within walls. It may be safe to surmise that with both these addenda to the homestead the youthful Forster was well and practically acquainted.’
‘The historian’ referred to above is Rev. Hutchins, author of the seminal History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset; Treves quoted him often throughout Highways and Byways in Dorset. The reason Hutchins described the area as ‘very watry’ is probably due to the confluence of the rivers Mangerton and Asker (the Brit is also close by). Bradpole, being virtually surrounded by hills, would probably have flooded regularly back in the 1700s when Hutchins wrote his book.
The village clearly didn’t impress Treves, the Right Honorable W E Forster on the other hand did. Forster (1818-1886) had a fascinating career; he was a Liberal Party statesman (almost becoming party leader) and chief secretary for Ireland. He is perhaps best known as the man responsible for the education act of 1870; which established the beginnings of the primary School system. Like Treves (and Winston Churchill) Forster had a three-year tenure as Lord Rector of Aberdeen University. The ‘plain farmhouse of the simplest type’ is now called ‘Forster’s’ and can be found in Forster’s Lane. Thatched when Forster knew it, it now has a slate roof, whether Treves saw slate or thatch, we cannot know. The current owners are undertaking the not inconsiderable task of bringing the place back from near dereliction – the house and the gardens had been allowed to fall into a state of neglect for a number of decades and the ‘fair garden’ had reverted back to nature. Apparently, the high boundary wall was almost invisible from the house and a dead pear tree was found near the wall amongst the undergrowth.
The most obvious change since Treves called here over a century ago is the considerable expansion of Bradpole; to all intents and purposes it is now joined to Bridport.
Moving on to somewhere he found much more to his liking, Treves comes to Loders: ‘The adjacent village of Loders is noteworthy by reason of its picturesque church, the architecture of which is mainly of the Perpendicular period. The church is under cover of the fir-capped hill of Waddon, which is the landmark of the district. The church possesses a battlemented porch, by the side of which is a curious staircase tower; the winding stair within it leads to a chamber over the porch. This chamber, which is empty, has two old college windows,…The windows look upon a churchyard full of flowers, and if this was ever a priest’s room, the good man had reason to be content with the prospect which met his eyes whenever he looked up from his missal.’
The church of St Mary Magdalene is not the only part of the village that can be called picturesque – this statement applies to the whole of Loders – it is a beautiful place, nestled between a number of imposing and beautiful hills.
Waddon Hill is still capped with trees, although none is a fir; the adjacent and equally impressive hill called Boarbarrow does have a cap of firs, whether things have changed or Treves mistook one hill for another we cannot be sure.
Treves obviously visited in high summer with his description of ‘a churchyard full of flowers’ – a visit in winter could not do justice to the village’s churchyard – although the place is well kept and there is evidence of much planting (the vicar has confirmed that the churchyard is much like a garden in summer). The room above the porch was apparently used for visiting clergy and so would have seen many ecclesiastical personages in its time. Access was kindly allowed to what is an intriguing room, reached by a winding staircase, just as Treves describes. It is now used as a store room, although it appears that the floor may have been lowered in the intervening 100 years, as the windows sit around twelve feet above it.

Loders church has a wealth of interesting architectural features. An unusual object is the bell on the floor inside the church which acts as a memorial to Colonel Sir Edward and Lady Le Breton, who lived next to the church at Loders Court from 1921-1961. The bell, which had hung in the church for some 300 years, was taken down in 1927 and as it could not be retuned Sir Edward paid for a new bell, the old one ultimately becoming an imposing memorial to them both. There is much of interest in Loders church that would make a journey here for its own sake a worthwhile venture; the profusion of footpaths and the attraction provided by a pub to visit afterwards, make for an irresistible combination.
The Farmer’s Arms – which was once near to the Loders Arms (the aforementioned pub) – closed in 1973; it is now a private house and is also of architectural interest and sits well within an architecturally pleasing high street.
Treves now heads westwards along the coast road:
‘The first place along the coast road is Symondsbury, a pretty enough village of thatched cottages and many trees, by the side of the River Simene. The highway thence to Lyme is extremely hilly, and indeed can scarcely boast a single level stretch. It passes through a fine country commanding views of the hills of Pilsdon and Lewesdon, of the heights of Lambert’s Castle, and of the houseless Vale of Marsh wood.’
Time hardly seems to have affected Symondsbury; most of it would be recognisable to Treves. There remain plenty of thatched cottages and some of the back lanes around here can hardly have changed at all. Symondsbury, however, has not stagnated; whilst changes have been subtle, the Symondsbury Estate is currently converting some of its many farm buildings to more modern uses; Symondsbury Kitchen serves excellent victuals, Symondsbury Store is a farm/gift shop and there’s also a shop for fans of vintage and retro products.
Treves’s description of the highway from Symondsbury to Lyme Regis will be familiar today to all who travel this route. He himself would have been acutely aware of the undulations on this road as he cycled the highway’s then rutted chalk tracks. He continues westward: ‘In each dip between the great hills which make waves of the road is a townlet or village. The first of these is Chideock, an unspoiled old-world village in a hollow of green fields. Most of its cottages are ancient, and are still made beautiful by thatched roofs, while among them are houses of greater pretence and a hint or two of the suburban villa. The handsome old church is comfortably in keeping with the village.’
It will come as no surprise to anyone living in Dorset that the biggest change Chideock has seen since Treves’s time is the advent of the motor vehicle and all that it brings with it. A bypass has been mooted for many a decade but essentially the village still has the same road traversing its centre as it did over 100 years ago, carrying traffic from the east of the country to the west.
Crossing this road with its ceaseless flow of vehicles is not an easy undertaking; the settlement is, to all intents and purposes, cut into two. That said, Chideock is a delightful place, many of the buildings Treves talks of are still extant, many of these are ancient. Turn off the main road towards Seatown and things calm down markedly; the hustle and bustle of the traffic disappears into the distance. Sitting, as it still does, in a hollow of green fields, with stunning views to be had in all directions and its proximity to the sea, Chideock remains a beautiful village.
Visiting this part of Dorset around a century after Treves became so taken with the place, it’s good to be able to say that this part of the county is still a place with which it is easy to be so taken. ◗

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