Dorset villages: Portesham
Ken Ayres takes his camera to a village on the route to the West
Published in November ’16
The village of Portesham is no parvenu; it has been Portesham since at least 1023 when it was granted to a man called Orc, by King Cnut with the following (translated) words:
This fleeting life is so full of worldly miseries and by [various] imperfections consumed and wasted by trouble that in cases of premature death very many, alas! are dragged unprepared into eternity. But it is evident that all of those who are truly wise must labour by all known means that, avoiding the filth of the devil, we may be worthy to attain the most pleasing fellowship of a life of contemplation.
Wherefore I, Cnut, by the grace and favouring clemency of Almighty God, King of all the English and Ruler and Governor of other nations dwelling around, have with willing peace bestowed with perpetual liberty a certain part of the country, to wit, seven hides [manses] of land in a place to which the country men of that land have given the name PORTESHAM, to my servant whom his acquaintances and [friends have been used to call ORC] for his amiable fidelity and willing mind, so that he may have perpetually possess the same as long as his life shall continue… and it shall be lawful to him to leave (the same) to his heir… (And) the before named village shall be free with all things thereto rightly appertaining in fields and feedings, meadows and watercourses; three things only excepted: the restoration of a… [illegible]… a bridge, and a fortification.
Orc died without living issue, so Portesham – and its possibly still unrestored mystery – passed to the church (Abbotsbury) until the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII.
Portesham is, of course, forever associated with the man who, in the minds of schoolboys everywhere, Horatio Nelson asked to be kissed by as he lay dying on HMS Victory.
Admiral Thomas Masterman Hardy referred rather sweetly to the village of both his childhood days and his dotage as ‘Possum’, but although Hardy’s monument (around 1 ½ miles away on Black Down) can be seen from practically the whole of Dorset, and its parish Church of St Peter has bits from the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, Portesham is not just a relic to the past.
Whilst it’s flirtation with the railways lasted only around half a century, it has a vibrant village hall – with a Thursday Post Office and events on literally every weekday – a pub, and even a lovely new farm shop whose meat and vegetables seem to come from farms only single digit miles away. Who could ask for more?