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Dorset Historic Churches Trust

Church Crawl – Thursday 14th September 2017

The 2017 season of summer church crawls came to a very successful conclusion on Thursday 14th September with a tour of five diverse but most interesting buildings clustered round Witchampton.

Some 30 Friends of DHCT gathered first at All Saints, Chalbury, where organisers Sue Smith and Sue Bruce-Payne served coffee before the DHCT Trustee and architectural historian Dr Tim Connor spoke about the building. For those not familiar with this gem of a church – mainly Georgian and a miraculous survivor of the Victorian restorations – its beautiful box pew-filled interior and its archetypal merrie-England setting were a revelation.

Moving on to St Wolfrida, Horton, the group were confronted with something largely of a similar period but a quite different feeling. Here the exterior impresses with its solid, powerful tower of 1722 inspired perhaps by the work of Sir John Vanbrugh at the now demolished Eastbury House at Tarrant Gunville. Meanwhile inside the Broase tombs moved from a lost priory and the 18th century reredos were very much worth close study.

The centre of the day’s meanderings was Witchampton, where a sandwich lunch was arranged in the village hall after the group had studied the church of St Mary and St Cuthberga. Largely rebuilt in 1840, this church contains some interesting memorials, especially to the Uvedale and Cole families and some impressive early 20th century work, particularly the windows of 1938 by Sir Ninian Comper. The reredos of a similar period provided the nativity image for this year’s DHCT Christmas Card, which was available for purchase on the day, and may be ordered via the shop pages of the website: www.dhct.org.uk/index.php/shop

The church of St Mary, Tarrant Rushton, is a very attractive cruciform building, chiefly Norman in date, but now looking rather severe without its internal plaster wall coverings. The curious squint for lepers and the large Cobham Tomb in the churchyard provided much to look at. We were also able to see another of the rare stained glass windows provided by this circuit of churches – by Francis Skeete.

These days out always aim to finish on a high note, in this case emphatically supplied by St Mary’s, Tarrant Crawford. This building is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust as the local population, never great, has moved away in modern times. The rich and important nunnery of the middle ages has completely disappeared, apart from a few private farm buildings, leaving the church, probably intended for the use of the servants, alone in a field. This decline has allowed the most impressive wall paintings to survive from the fourteenth century and reminds us how colourful most churches of the middle ages must have been.

A vote of thanks to our guide and leaders was offered by trustee Tim Smith before, following tea and a welcome slice of cake, crawlers dispersed.