The Dorset Walk – Sturminster Marshall & White Mill
Teresa Rabbetts in a short village wall with a scenic extension
Published in October ’15
To dismiss Sturminster Marshall, as Richard Ollard does in his County History Guide to Dorset when he advises a route to ‘skirt the village of Sturminster, which does not live up to the euphony of its name’, is to do an injustice to this vibrant community.
In 1101 the village was owned by the de Clare family who were Earls of Pembroke, King Henry I allowed the Earl of Pembroke to hold a market and fair on the Market Green – two village greens remain in the village centre to this day. The name Marshall relates to William Marshall, who married into the de Clare family and inherited the estate, he was a trusted and faithful supporter of King John and one of the witnesses to Magna Carta. Sturminster means ‘large church on the river Stour’; the village was once a Royal Peculiar meaning that the parish came directly under the jurisdiction of the monarch. From the Saxon era many large minster churches were established and the spiritual welfare of the population of a sizeable area surrounding these churches was administered by groups of priests. Until 1857 the parish of Sturminster Marshall included the chapelries of Corfe Mullen, Lytchett Minster and Hamworthy.
Standing on what is believed to be a Saxon site is the Church of St Mary the Virgin. The church forms the focal point of the village along with the thatched row of Church Cottages and the pub. The Church of St Mary has Norman origins although it was inevitably altered during the 19th century. One alteration was born out of necessity: the church tower fell down in 1802 and a mock medieval tower was built in 1805 and then, due to the poor state of the entire building, extensive restoration was carried out in 1859. The boundary of the churchyard is separated from the road by a listed 17th-century heath-stone wall topped by distinctive limestone caps and in the churchyard can be found two 14th-century crosses and a table tomb.
One of the most attractive features of Sturminster Marshall is its green openness. The two triangular village greens, known as Market Place, are surrounded by some of the older buildings and large oak and chestnut trees. On the eastern green is situated the Maypole surrounded by a circular iron seat and capped with a water rat weather vane, the emblem of the village, while the western green has replica village stocks.
In 1799 William Mackrell of Spetisbury founded the Mackrell Charity to provide a school and two teachers. There was no entitlement to an education at that time and so his charity was an extremely generous act for the time. As education become a legal requirement the need for William Mackrell’s charity receded until in 1993 the Mackrell Charity was re-started with the aim of providing mostly educationally based activities for the village of Sturminster Marshall and the surrounding area. The Charity has developed and now promotes a varied programme of lifelong learning opportunities and cultural activities to enrich the community. They have also been responsible for creating the Sturminster Marshall Village History website in partnership with the Parish Council and have developed and catalogued a wonderful collection of photographs, documents and memorabilia available to all for easy access and sharing.
Although agriculture was the predominant activity in the community, life began to change when the railway came to the village. Opened in 1860 the station was originally known as Sturminster Marshall but, to avoid confusion when the station at Sturminster Newton was opened in 1863, they renamed Sturminster Marshall as Bailey Gate, after a nearby feature on a turnpike road. The principal purpose of Bailey Gate was not so much for passengers but for freight connections to serve the milk and cheese plant which was situated behind the station. At one point the factory was reputed to be the largest producer of Cheddar cheese in the country and even had its own siding for a milk train. Although Bailey Gate closed to passengers in 1966, the milk train continued until 1969 and the milk factory closed in 1978.
Not to be missed are nearby White Mill and the famous White Mill Bridge over the Stour, a stone’s throw away from Sturminster Marshall in the adjoining parish of Shapwick. Although there is no certainty to the age of White Mill Bridge, there are references to a bridge at the site adjacent to White Mill dating back to 1175, although the current bridge probably dates from the sixteenth century with evidence of numerous repairs over its lifetime. It is a beautiful structure of eight semicircular stone arches with piers that are protected by cutwaters which also provide a step-in/passing-place for pedestrians; the structure was unusually wide for a rural medieval bridge with parapets 12 feet apart.
Nearby White Mill, part of the Kingston Lacy estate, is a former watermill that was last rebuilt in 1776 and in use until the end of the 19th century. It is likely that a mill has been on this site since at least the 14th century with references to Wytemull in historic documents dating from 1341. Unusually, whereas most geared wheels seen today are cast-iron, White Mill contains all wooden machinery which would tear out if the machinery jammed and could be relatively easily replaced. Although too fragile to work ever work again, the mill and its interior have been restored to a display condition by the National Trust, who were bequeathed the Kingston Lacy estate in 1982, and is open for guided tours between March and November (see National Trust website for opening times and dates).
1 Leaving Sturminster Marshall from The Ginger Fox, begin the walk crossing the main road and by heading down Newton Peveril Road which is signposted to Almer; (this is quite a long road stretch passing Newton Farm and Newton Peveril Manor on the right) until approximately ¾ of the way down the road towards the A31.
2Turn right into a green lane (unhelpfully the footpath sign is missing). Follow the path which is lined by hedgerows and which then follows a gentle rise uphill.
3Just before the track bends round to the right to go round Westley Wood, turn right at the crossroads and continue to follow the track – along this stretch is possible to see towards Stag Gate on the Drax Estate wall and across Charborough Park – and continue until you once again reach the A350.
4This is an extremely fast stretch of the road so cross with care and follow Green Lane straight ahead; the pumping station is on the right of this lane and at the time of writing, improvement works were taking place but the lane was still available for walkers; it also provides access for the owners to Green Lane Cottage.
5Turn right at the footpath sign and through the gate before continuing along the narrow path (the next stretch passes through three fields before heading back into the village). Pass a deserted section of the Somerset and Dorset line on the right – follow the path for approximately 900 yards and then turn right onto a concrete path and follow this path into Sturminster Marshall.
6On reaching the road turn left into King’s Street and follow the road along Back Lane and turn left into Church Street to visit St Mary the Virgin Church.
The walk could (and should) be extended at this point by continuing to walk along Church Street which bends to the right before becoming Mill Lane and eventually leads to White Mill Bridge and Mill). ◗
Distance: 3 miles
Terrain: Mostly level and a bit ‘soft’ in places.
How to get there: A350 Blandford to Poole.
Parking & Start: Roadside parking available (with care) in Sturminster Marshall or car parks for patrons of the Ginger Fox Pub.
Maps: OS Landranger 195 Bournemouth, Purbeck & surrounding area
OS Explorer Outdoor Leisure 118 Shaftesbury & Cranborne Chase
Refreshments & Toilets: The Red Lion Pub, Churchill Arms and the Ginger Fox Pub.