Marnhull: A photo essay
Ken Ayres points his camera at the home of Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Published in February ’16
The village of Marnhull is normally best known for being ‘Marlott': the home of the ill-fated Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Hardy described his fictional version as being a: ‘long and broken village’.
More accurately, perhaps, it’s an collection of conjoined hamlets in the form of Pillwell, Hains, Mounters, Pleck and Walton Elm, which all blur into one in the form of the village of Marnhull.
With close to 2000 inhabitants it’s quite a village in population terms and in area the village is bigger than the nearby town of Sturminster Newton, although the civil parish Marnhull dominates is, at 1500 hectares, smaller than that of Sturminster’s 1840.
Although described by Sir Frederick Treves as ‘a disappointing village, prim and stiff, with many villas of the Camberwell and Brixton type,’ – which expression one can only imagine being spoken with a curled lip – Marnhull is not without its historical interest.
There was once an annual bull-baiting meeting, held on 3 May, which led to violence, riot and bloodshed, which often spread to surrounding villages, which is why, 253 years ago, it was banned.
32 years after this, in 1795, Benedictine nuns on the run from post-revolutionary Paris sought refuge in Marnhull. Their black frocks and veils gave, according to Treves, ‘little grounds at first for more than curiosity. A nun unfortunately died and the sisters buried her in the garden of the house where they were staying.’
The former bull-baiting aficionados could not really care less about the ‘goings on’ in a convent, or indeed burying bodies in a back garden, but, according to Treves, what they could not bear was ‘the fact that the corpse had been buried “without the coroner”. By reason of this ignoring of the coroner, the nuns “became obnoxious” and to such a degree were they made to feel their offensiveness, that they shook the dust of Marnhull from their feet forever.’
Still on matters ecclesiastical, and indeed dust, St Gregory’s contains a tomb which, in the time of Treves, was thought to be that of the one-time keeper of the rolls of Dorset, Thomas Howard (also known as Viscount Bindon, who died in 1582) and two of his three wives, but now thought more likely to be that of John Carent (1413-1478) and his two wives. The alabaster of the monument was said to have been “stolen… for coining” (ie to create moulds for counterfeit coins or to create dies that could strike counterfeit coins), which seems about as base as the metal with which the coins would be made.
With a Catholic and a Methodist church, Catholic and Anglican schools and a couple of pubs, a village shop, post office and a butcher’s, a doctors’ surgery and pharmacy, Marnhull may have gone beyond the riotous bull-baiting days, but there’s still clearly quite a bit of life going on here, as evidenced by two of its longer roads being called Love Lane and Sodom Lane. ◗