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In the footsteps of Treves: Hinton Martell, Chalbury and Horton

Steve White and Clive Hannay follow Sir Frederick into the northeast of the county

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Sir Frederick Treves when visiting the easternmost edge of the county researching for his book Highways and Byways in Dorset began in his usual inimitable style by offending the local residents: ‘Hinton Martell, an out-of-the-world hamlet of thatched cottages, has a possession which is, so far as I know, unique among the attractions of hamlets. In what may be called the street is a circular basin, in the centre of which is just such a fountain as may be found in a suburban tea-garden or in front of a gaudy Italian villa. The fountain, of painted metal, tawdry and flimsy, represents a boy standing in one dish while he holds another on his head. No unhappy detail is spared: the ambitious pedestal, the three impossible dolphins, the paltry squirt of water, are all here. How this café chantant ornament has found its way into a modest and secluded hamlet there is no evidence to show. It would be incongruous even for a Jubilee memorial.’
Hinton Martell seems to have managed to survive the century since Treves came by relatively unscathed; there has been the usual comparatively recent building infill, typical of the last few decades and new houses on its edges have expanded its girth somewhat. It could, still, be described as an out-of-the-world hamlet. A website devoted to the village and particularly the fountain, quotes the above diatribe by Treves verbatim. The fountain has seen changes since Treves condemned it; the original ‘cupid’ fountain was replaced by a simpler metal bowl design which was itself replaced in the 1960’s by an ornate stone fountain. In 2009 enough money was raised to create a copy of the original cupid affair, beloved of Treves, in the middle of the large bowl. Whist today’s visitor to the village may find the fountain unusual, it doesn’t cause the offence it gave Sir Frederick, and Clive’s painting amply demonstrates the appeal of this attractive corner of Dorset.
Treves found things much more to his liking as he cycled uphill to Chalbury: ‘From Hinton Martell a deep Devonshire lane leads to the hill of Chalbury. The village, save for a few houses, has disappeared, but the faithful church still clings to the summit. It is an odd little building to be found here alone, very ancient and very simple; its windows vary from those of the Early English period to those of the ordinary dwelling-house. It boasts neither tower nor steeple. Within are high pews with doors, an old wooden gallery, and a little box for the clerk below the pulpit. There are iron pegs along the wall, handy for hats and cloaks, but they must be few who climb up to this meek church of the summit.’
The ‘deep Devonshire lane’ still leads from Hinton Martell to the village of Chalbury. The church is not as alone as it was when Treves visited; a number of bungalows and other buildings now keep it company and share the vistas afforded the church. As far as the church is concerned, what Treves saw, we see today, nothing appears to have changed inside or out of this wonderful ecclesiastical gem. It has a single bell turret atop its tiled roof and the whitewashed interior has gallery, triple decker pulpit with clerk’s box beneath and box pews, all painted and immaculate. The dedication was unknown in Treves time. It wasn’t until March 22nd 1946 that the then Bishop of Salisbury dedicated the church to ‘All Saints’.

Hinton Martell with fountain in 1910

Hinton Martell with fountain in 1910 (image: www.barriepictures.co.uk)

Treves, whilst enchanted with the view unsurprisingly didn’t approve of the tower of Horton: ‘According to Hutchins, the air that sweeps over this hill is ‘‘clear and wholesome,’’ while the view from its height is one of the most fascinating in the county. To the East are Ringwood church and the sweep of the New Forest. To the North are Monmouth’s country, Wimborne St. Giles, and Cranborne Chase, the ‘‘long backs of the bushless down’’ and the wild heath.  To the South are the water meadows of the Stour, the Purbeck Hills, and the Needles.  The only blot in the landscape is the nightmare tower of Horton, built for an observatory, and now happily falling into decay.’
It is beguiling that, despite the hill of Chalbury only being some 335 feet above sea level (small by Dorset standards), the views should be so exceptional. That the area in the immediate vicinity is flat by Dorset standards helps to accentuate this phenomenal view. On the day visited there was only a hint of breeze, a feeling of solitude and views from the small churchyard to the Purbeck Hills, the New Forest and the Isle of Wight. It is not difficult to see why Hutchins, Treves and others, such as Ralph Wightman (the television and radio broadcaster from Piddletrentide) have all been mesmerised by this spectacle. There are a number of trees now growing on the top of Chalbury hill, consequently, some of what Treves reported is difficult to view but he would be gratified perhaps to know that several of these trees obscure the ‘nightmare’ of Horton Tower. The British Listed Buildings website confirms that in 1955 the roof was missing and that there were originally seven floors inside Horton Tower. The work and expense that would have been put into building this behemoth of bricks is staggering to consider – there was apparently until the middle of last century, the remains of the kilns built to produce the many thousands of bricks close by. The building is now Grade II listed. A mobile telecommunications company is using the edifice to mount mobile telephone masts, albeit discretely, near the top of the tower – this has necessitated some improvement work including a new lead roof and glass being set into the topmost windows, no doubt to protect electrical equipment. Horton Tower can be examined from the comfort of your armchair – a youtube video, filmed from a drone, gives an opportunity to see the tower from hitherto impossible angles – there are small trees and other vegetation growing from some parts of the structure but aside from this it looks sound. Treves would shudder to think that the building is probably going to be around for at least another 100 years!
Doubtless doing his best not to get a closer look at the tower, Treves gets to Horton itself: ‘Close to Chalbury is Horton. It is possessed of a quaint church, furnished with pews, one of which can be locked, safe for the present from the hands of the iconoclastic ‘‘restorer.’’ Here is the effigy of Sir Giles de Braose, who died so long ago as 1305,…’
The ‘quaint’ church of St Wolfrida in Horton is most unusual. Firstly, for its dedication which is unique; Wolfrida (or Wolfreda) was the first Abbess of a Benedictine Abbey founded in Horton in 961 and secondly, architecturally; it was almost totally rebuilt in 1722, the tower particularly, appears suspiciously similar to the design used by Sir John Vanbrugh in the construction of Eastbury House at Tarrant Gunville. It is not known if St Wolfrida’s was actually designed by Vanbrugh or merely ‘in a similar style to.’ The furniture, specifically the pews, has been moved since Treves called and the lockable specimen has gone. The effigy of Sir Giles de Braose and his wife, whilst also moved are still to be found and are now over 700 years old.
Sir Frederick Treves now completes this chapter of his book by relating the tale of the ‘Flight of Monmouth.’ James Scott, the 1st Duke of Monmouth, the illegitimate son of Charles II and his mistress Lucy Walter, landed in Lyme Regis in June 1685 to claim the throne now occupied by James II (Charles II had died in February). His makeshift army destroyed at the Battle of Sedgemoor, Monmouth fled across country in an attempt to make the coast and freedom, his flight ended between Woodlands and Horton (hence Treves’ referral to the area as ‘Monmouth’s country’). Found in a ditch under an ash tree, he was taken to London where he was executed 7 days later.     Thus ended Monmouth’s attempt for the throne and chapter VIII of Highways and Byways in Dorset.
❱ You can view the video of Horton Tower by drone at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IP_ENzFREQ8

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