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Saint John the Baptist Spetisbury

Spetisbury is an ancient settlement and has a neolithic ring fort to prove the point.  It was here that members of the Durotriges tribe put up a spirited, if hopeless, defence against the invading Roman Legions at about the same time as Christ walked the shores of Galilee.

It is a village that has suffered grievously from the arrival of the motor car and the A350 road that sweeps past this peaceful little church practically never ceases to carry traffic.  There has undoubtedly been a church on this site for a very long time, but the earliest elements evident today are part of the early 13c north arcade, the tower, with six bells, of around 1500 and a table tomb dated at 1591.  The rest is the result of the 1859 restoration by T H Wyatt.  Nevertheless, the barrel roof of the chancel is both important and attractive. The south window, described by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as "anaemically sentimental" is by A K Nicholson and is the sole example of his work in the County.

 

Outside, opposite the porch, is a trihedron or three-sided white ashlar pyramid, which serves as a memorial to the Rev Thomas Rackett and his wife.  On it are inscribed the following words: 'His diligence and eminent talents were not confined to the exercise of ordinary Parochial duties they extended themselves to the promotion and cultivation of the various useful arts which soften the asperity of human nature and of those sciences which fill the mind with the most exalted ideas of the goodness of our Creator.  He died 29th November 1840 near the close of his 85th year'

Thomas Rackett was Rector for nearly 60 years and was a remarkable man of many talents.  When in the village, he lived in the exquisite Queen Anne house now known as 'The Cedars', which had been erected in 1716 for a predecessor, Dr Charles Sloper.  He was a friend of the actor/manager David Garrick, the playwright Sheridan and the artist George Romney, who almost certainly painted Rackett and his son while staying in the house.  He was an enthusiastic collector of coins, became an accomplished musician and artist, liberally illustrating the second edition of his friend Hutchings' 'History of Dorset'. (Click here to see his painting of the church) He was also a very considerable scientist, but particularly interested in all aspects of natural history and was a great friend of the 'Father of British Surgery' John Hunter.  He was a member of the Linnaean, Antiquarian and Royal Societies and a constant attendant at the lectures of the Royal Institution.

Perhaps unfairly, it has been suggested that he was the origin of the word 'Rackett'.  In essence, the Spetisbury living was then a very generous one and he had undoubtedly been rather naughty in employing a lowly paid curate to carry out his parochial duties while he pursued his interests in London.  Matters came to a head when he was reported to the Bishop of Bristol because there had been a number of conversions to Roman Catholicism.  Amid considerable publicity, he was called to account for himself before the House of Lords.  

Interestingly, Hutchins, had this to say about his friend, "With all his scientific labours Mr Rackett seems never to have neglected his parochial duties, though at one time some undeserved odium rested upon him on account of his alleged non-residence."  Nevertheless, there can be little doubt that his secular interests must have taken up much of his time and kept him away from the parish in London, where he maintained a house.  There is plenty of evidence that many of the clergy in those days following 'other' interests, so perhaps Rackett was just unlucky.

 

The Trust gratefully acknowledges images and text by Robin Adeney ©

 

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