St Marys Church, Maiden Newton

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The Church stands among the trees on the bank of the River Frome. Beyond are peaceful meadows and the rush of the water can be heard as it passes under the old mill (mentioned in Domesday), where for many years carpets were made but which is now used for light engineering. There would have been a stone-built church here in Saxon times, probably before 787 A.D. In that year the Danes came in from the sea, raiding these parts, and burning the Saxon churches.

We can see as we go round the church that much of it dates from Norman times, about 1150, and most of the rest was built in the 1400s and 1500s.

The Royal Commission on Historic Monuments of England describes St.Mary’s as follows:

“The lower part of the Tower with parts of the Nave belong to a mid 12th Century Church with Chancel, axial tower, nave and probably a S. aisle. The Chancel and the west tower-arch were rebuilt c. 1400 and about the middle of the 15th century the S. arcade and S. aisle were rebuilt and the S. Transept added; at the same time the W. part of the N. wall of the Nave and the upper part of the W. wall were rebuilt, as was the East wall of the Chancel, the upper part of the tower was added or rebuilt and the S. tower arch inserted. About 1500 the South Porch was added or rebuilt and the W. part of the adjoining aisle largely rebuilt. The church has been restored in modern times and the North Vestry (1886) and Organ Chamber are modern.”

If the visitor will walk around the inside of the church in a clock-wise direction you will find the following points of interest:


The octagonal font was made in the late 12th century. For over eight hundred years the children of Maiden Newton have been baptised into the Church of Christ at this font.

West End

The west wall of the church is Norman, but the west door and the west window were inserted in about 1450. In the stonework, left and right of the door are the sockets into which the wooden bar slid when the door was ‘barred’. Some fragments of medieval glass can be seen in the west window. At one time there was a balcony across the N.W. corner. The westernmost aisle column still shows where it was cut back to accommodate a supporting beam.

Nave Roof

The roof of the nave is of about 1450, but has been repaired with newer timbers at later dates.

North Wall

High up on this wall are the stone corbels on which the roof brackets rest. The first shows a man sounding a horn, the second is of a lady wearing a head dress as worn about 1350. Next comes a snarling dog, then a cat and finally a dog with a bone.

The north wall is mostly Norman, but has two windows of about 1540, and between the two windows is the Norman door.

Norman Door

This Norman doorway is of particular interest, as it has what is believed to be the original wooden door hanging on the original Norman hinges. There seems never to have been a lock or latch on this door, but the holes in the stonework on either side for barring the door are still there. Over the door in the arch can be seen traces of medieval wall paintings. During the 1940s lead round-shot were found imbedded in the wood work of this door. Local tradition says that these were bullets which Oliver Cromwell’s men fired at the church when some Royalists had taken refuge within. The bullets have disappeared, presumably as “souvenirs”.

The keystone of the arch is a fragment of Norman carving. There is another similar stone which has been built into the wall over the south door. Several fragments of this delicate Norman carving have been built into other parts of the church. They indicate that a beautifully carved portion of the church was destroyed before the year 1500, and stones re-used in later building. A better view of this doorway can be obtained from the outside. In 1974 the wood work was treated with preservative and the outside covered by a sheet of glass.

Norman Window

West of the chancel arch in the north wall is a round-headed Norman window, which has been made taller by lowering the cill.

Blocked Doorways

Before we reach the pulpit we see two blocked doorways of about 1480. These doors gave access, by a stair-turret, to the rood loft. The rood loft used to cross the church under the chancel arch and on top of the chancel screen. On this rood loft stood the “Holy Rood”, or crucifix, with figures of St. Mary and St. John, one on each side. On the rood loft candles would be lit in front of the figures and the crucifix. The rood loft was sometimes used by choirs and musicians. Elizabeth I in 1566, ordered that these rood lofts should be removed, with the result that few of them have survived. She also ordered that the royal arms be hung over the chancel arch to indicate that the sovereign was temporal head of the Church of England, and not the Pope. The arms of King George I (1714-27) are still over the arch in this church.

In 1974 exploratory holes were cut into these blocked doorways to see if the stairs were still there. The space behind the blocked doorway was found to be filled solid with stone and flint rubble. Some of the stones were moulded, presumably having come from the destroyed stair-turret.

Tower Stairs

Behind the pulpit is a small Norman doorway. Through this doorway are the spiral stairs which lead to the ringing chamber. These stairs are built in the thickness of the towe wall, and do not show outside except as a buttress. The stones on the sides of these stairs are interesting. They come from many different quarries and have different chisel marks on their surfaces. Some of them are odd shapes and were evidently not cut for the position they now occupy. Some of the stones show that they have been exposed to great heat, their surface having been burnt to a bright red. It seems possible that these stones were re-used from the Saxon church which was burnt by the Danes in 787 A.D.


If the visitor will now stand under the tower you will see that the tower walls to the north and east are thick, massive Norman work, whereas the tower walls to the south and east are thinner, having been rebuilt about 1450.

On the north is a window cut through the thick Norman wall in about 1450.

Of the four piers under the tower, the south western pier was rebuilt at about that time but on Norman foundations. The north-western pier is Norman but was rebuilt at a later date in its present position. The pair of eastern piers are sturdy Norman pillars in their original state.

Choir stalls originally in this area have been moved and a new Nave Altar on a raised dais has been installed.


As the visitor steps into the chancel you will see the organ of 1855, and behind is the vestry which was added to the church in 1886. Next to the organ is the old parish chest, in which, at one time, all the church registers and money would have been kept. On this chest is inscribed R.N. I.C. C.W. 1979. The C.W. will stand for “Churchwardens”, the other letters being their initials.

The chancel was built about 1450. The roof is Victorian as are the stone corbels which are carved into heads. The east window is Victorian and so is all the chancel glass. There is a hole in the glass of the east window which was made by a bullet from an enemy aircraft during the Second World War.

In the south wall, by the end of the altar, is the piscina, a stone basin formerly used for cleaning the holy vessels. Over the piscina is the wall monument to the Rev. John Whetcombe, Rector here 1610 to 1635. He is dressed in the civil dress of that period. He holds a skull in one hand and a bible in the other. On the floor are floor-slabs. There are, no doubt, vaults under some of these slabs. They are dated 1624, 1716 and 1722. Other vaults, some quite large, containing coffins and bones, are known to exist under other parts of the church. The priest’s door is modern, but most of the stone work is of 1450.


The squint, more properly called a ‘hagaioscope’, is cut right through the south-western pier of the tower. The squint was made when the transept was built, about 1450. Such squints were made so that the priest celebrating at the side altar, in this case in the transept, could see the priest celebrating at the high altar, and they could both elevate the Host at the same time. Over the opening of the squint in the transept is a grotesque mask, very similar to the one over the western tower arch in Sherborne Abbey.


This transept and the south aisle were built about 1450. The altar table is of about 1600. That there was originally an altar here is indicated by the squint and piscina in the south wall. Into the walls are built two stone ledges whose original purpose is not known, and some medieval stone brackets from other parts of the church. One shows a man in contemplative mood holding back his moustache. One shows a flower, and another rshows a man in a helmet with ear-flaps. Thes would be of about 1100. In the south window are more fragments of medieval glass, and on the floor is a stone coffin lid of about 1250.

Both in the transept and the south aisle there are, in the roof, wooden angels holding shield on which are painted Our Lord’s suffering. These are not old.

South Aisle

The aisle was built about 1450, and the arcade probably replaces a Norman arcade. Of the roof corbels, the first shows two dogs fighting for a bone. The next two are Victorian heads, and the last a demon of 1450. The south aisle is now used as a display and activities area. Immediately inside the south door as you leave is a display table dated 1640 and inscribed DEUS R.G. I.B. C.W. The C.W. stands for ‘Churchwardens’.

Before you leave

Down the centuries the people of Maiden Newton have built, have repaired, and have kept in constant use this ancient church. Please help them in this task by leaving your gift in the wall-box, and by saying a prayer for yourself and the parish.

South Door

The wooden door dates from about 1600, but the hinges appear to be Norman. On the inside of this door is a very large and ancient lock. The heavy key, still in use today is twelve inches long. When in the early 1970s this lock was taken off for greasing two inches of tallow were found in the bottom of it. The tallow had been poured in in the past to make the lock turn easily.


The porch was built in about 1500, but in its construction stones were re-used which came from some demolished work of about 1100. Fragments of a Norman arch were re-used and fragments of some delicate early Norman carving. Pieces of this can be seen inside the porch. Above the large notice board a carving depicts a flying angel but has been inserted upside down! Inside the porch, over the door are three niches. The central one will have had a statue of the Virgin and Child, and the other saints in other niches. These statues would have been thrown out in Cromwell's ’ time.

Outside the Church

If the visitor will walk around the west end of the church you will see the River Frome below the churchyard. The west end of the church is mostly Norman work into which have been built the west door and west window, both of about 1450.

West Gable Cross

Until 1974 the cross on the western end gable was missing, and had been so for longer than living memory could tell. In fact, a drawing of the church (a framed reproduction of which is in the nave) dating from the early eighteen hundreds, showed it missing then. When moving the churchyard in 1973, the machine struck a stone. Efforts to remove it proved it to be the deeply buried missing cross. Although weighing over 1.5 cwt, it was reinstated by Mr Watts and his son from Frampton in 1974. No scaffolding or block and tackle were used; just great strength. The cross had been damaged and rather crudely repaired. It would appear that it fell in a gale or when that part of the gable collapsed, but no one knows when, or why it was buried.

North Wall

Much of the north wall is Norman work, and it leans outwards considerably. The movement in this wall when it leant outwards took place early in its history. The later work of about 1450 is vertical, and has not moved.

The stone corbels, under the eaves are of about 1100, and represent dogs heads and other creatures.

Norman Door

Here we see the outside of the Norman door, already described. The glass sheet was fixed over to protect it, in 1974.


As the visitor leaves the church and walks towards the lychgate you will see on your left the base of a cross of about 1400. It is not known where this cross was discovered but it was moved to its present position by a former rector. An early photograph of the churchyard does not show it.

Turn and Look

If the visitor will look back at the church you will see the grotesque gargoyles (at one time called ‘gurgoyles’) which are still used to throw the rainwater clear of the building. You will also note the stone roof of the porch, the sundial dated 1630 on the side of the tower and the stone slabs in the belfry windows, carved and perforated to let out the sound of the bells. You will also see where the east and north walls of the tower diminish in thickness, the upper part, of 1450, being stepped back over the thicker Norman walls below.


The church has a ring of six bells in the top of the tower, and a commodious ringing chamber beneath. The 5th bell was cast in 1420. It is inscribed “Sancte Garbeel ora pro nobis”. “Holy Gabriel pray for us”. For more than 570 years that bell has been calling the people of Maiden Newton to church in good times and bad. The tenor bell, that is, the heaviest of the ring, was recast in 1883. The other four bells are dated 1580, 1593, 1606 and 1883. These bells are rung by volunteers from the Melbury Team, for Sunday Services, weddings and other special occasions. When the bells are ringing there is over two tons of bell-metal swinging to and fro.

Ringers’ Field

In the ringing chamber is a board on which is painted the following:

“This is to certify that James Groves, the foreman of the ringers of Maiden Newton has received on the first day of January, 1851, of Mr. Thomas Cox of Cruxton, the sum of two pounds, being the rent of a field called 'Rin‘ers Field' be’ng the ringers due to be paid to them by one of the churchwardens. Dated this 3rd day of January, 1851. The present ringers’ names – James Groves, John Corbin, John Lot and Frederick Scriven.”


In the churchyard are table tombs dated 1612, 1628 and 1637. There is also the tomb of Hugh of Hugh Croft, buried in 1725 aged 107 years.

Old Rectory

The large house south of the churchyard, now called Maiden Newton House, was built as a Rectory in 1846, by the Rector, the Reverend the Hon. William Scott. This replaced an earlier rectory which stood where the lawn now is between Maiden Newton House and the River Frome. The present house ceased to be a rectory in 1938.


The Church Registers, of baptisms, marriage and burials, go back to 1555. They are now lodged with the County Archivist in Dorchester, along with Churchwardens’ and Parish Overseers’ account books.

Civil Wars

During the Civil Wars, on 1st October, 1644, King Charles I was quartered at Maiden Newton, staying at the rectory with the Rev Matthew Osborne and dined in the field, the main body of troops lying at Kingcombe. The next day the Royalists marched to Sherborne.

A note in the Burial Register says: “Mr. Osborne M.A. was unjustly turned out of the living by the Rumpish Triers (Presbyterians under Cromwell) and afterwards restored by the just hand of Providence.” We also read: “Andrew Bromall M.A. (the ‘intruder’) was ejected in 1660, put in by ye scandalous party and turned out by Almighty God as a bass and unworthy successor.” Mr Osborne’s restoration as Rector coincided with the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II.

The Queen’s Visit

On 2nd July, 1952, Queen Elizabeth II slept the night in the royal train at Maiden Newton, on her way to the west country. Although the visit was supposed to be secret, permission was given for an Address of Welcome to be presented by the Parish Council.


Revised in 1996 (Michael Corner)

The Rectors of Maiden Newton. (Unknown before)

1280 William Benet

1309 Thomas Forde

1345 John or Richarde de Forde (turned out)

1346 William Jeule

1348   Thomas de Insular

1353 or 1358 Robert de Homyngton

1370 William Hyle

1392 Thomas hyne (exchanged with Walter Tylloly)

1393 or 1396 Walter Tylloly

1421 Arthur Sparrowe (or Sparwe)

1426 Robert Mere

1436 John Morton (or Marten)

1440 John Paslwe, LL.B.

1456 John Morton, LL.D. (or Marton)

1495 Henry Rawlings, LL.B.

1529 John Glyn, B.D. (July)

1529 William Davys, B.D. (October)

1550 John Powlet

1586 Nicholas Cliff, B.D. (non-resident, Chaplin to Lord Petrie in Essex)

1587 – 98 John White, M.A. (Curate-in- charge for Nicholas Cliff)

1604 Thomas French

1607 Lawrence Abbott

1610 John Whetcombe, D.D. (tomb in chancel), also of Frome Vauchurch (1620-35).

1635 Matthew Osborne, M.A., B.D. (sequestered 1645. Entertained Charles I.)

1659 – 60 Andrew Bromhall, M.A. (the ‘intruder’)

1661 William Huish, M.A.

1683 Joseph Allen, LL.B. (tomb in chancel)

1684 William Cox, M.A. (tomb in chancel)

1694 Charles Strangways, M.A.

1738 Alexander Malet, M.A.

1775 Robert Pearson, M.A. (memorial in south aisle)

1787 The Hon. Charles Redford Lynch Fox Strangways, LL.B.

1837 The Hon. William Scott, M.A., Canon of Salisbury. (tomb by south porch)

1869 Montague Hankey, M.A., Canon of Salisbury.

1913 James Lethbridge Templer, M.A.,

(Frome Vauchurch joined to Maiden Newton 1925.)

1929 Basil Jomini Langham, M.A.

1938 Daniel Frederic Slemeck, M.A., Canon of Salisbury.

1958 Edwin Dalton Ginever, M.A., L.TH.

1966 George William Allen

1981 Ian Laurence Johnson

(N.B. St. Mary’s is now part of the Melbury Team Ministry)