Ken Ayres points his camera at a Purbeck village with literary and clay mining connections
Published in November ’15
There can be relatively few locations that can cite a genuine connection between steam railways and Danté’s Inferno, as Church Knowle can. Throw in the fact that Church Knowle has what is possibly Dorset’s oldest continuously occupied house as well as evidence of Roman construction, and settlement remains scattered over an area of four acres and this village in the Isle of Purbeck belies its initially sleepy appearance.
The two names with which the village may be most closely assciated are the Pikes and the Clavells. The houses of Barnston (the aforementioned claimant to the longest continuously occupied) is where the Clavells lived before they built Smedmore; Bucknowle House is where the Pikes later made their home. Those thinking that the Clavell name rings a bell is because the Reverend John Richards built Clavell Tower – now a Landmark Trust holiday home – four miles away at Kimmeridge on inheriting the Smedmore estate, and indeed changed hs name to John Richards Clavell.
The Pike brothers – John William Pike and William Joseph Pike were enthusiastic and successful in the Purbeck ball clay industry. They it was who brought the first steam locomotive (appropriately named Primus) to Purbeck in 1866. Another brother, Warburton Pike, was less interested in industry and more in the rarified world of literature and translaton and was the first person to translate Dante’s Inferno into English. All are buried in the churchyard of St Peter’s Church, as is, rather tragically, William Joseph’s seven-year-old son, who drowned not far away in Studland Bay.
The church itself is typical of the Dorset variety in a way in that it demonstrates why buildings are called buildings, rather than builts. There are different parts of the church dating from the 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. In fact one wonders whether they simply had a rest in the 17th century or whether the Victorian improvement visited on so many Dorset churches merely wiped away forever any contributions from that century. There is a list of rectors going back to the 14th century and there has presumably been a place of worship here even longer, given that the Domesday Book makes mention of ‘a church at Chennole’ with a resident priest. The Old Rectory, though no longer a residence for the church’s priest, still pays a part in the village’s life as the location of the annual village fête. Throw in a pub, a village hall and even an animal rescue centre (celebrating its golden anniversary this year) and Church Knowle is not simply a repository of memories from the past, but also a village for the present. Where new houses have been added, it has been done in a generally sensitive manner.