The Parish Church

The Parish Church is dedicated to Saint Mary the Mother of Our Lord and stands at the north end of the village. The walls are of local rubble and flint with ashlar (squared-stone) and dressings from Ham Hill and other stone; the roofs are covered with lead, tiles and stone slates. The lower part of the tower with parts of the nave belong to a mid-twelfth-century church with chancel, axial tower, nave and probably a south aisle. The chancel and the west tower-arch were rebuilt about 1400, and about the middle of the fifteenth century the south arcade (row of arches) and the south aisle were rebuilt and the south transept added. At the same time the west part of the north wall of the nave, the upper part of the west wall and the east wall of the chancel were rebuilt; the upper part of the tower was added or rebuilt, and the south tower-arch inserted. About 1500 the south porch was added or rebuilt with older stones, traces of which with designs are visible, and the wall of the aisle adjoining. There have been restorations in modern times including the addition of the vestry-organ chamber, in 1886.

Thus the architectural periods represented in this church are – (Saxon 600-1070), Norman (1070-1200), Early English-Gothic (1200-1300), Decorated (1300-1360), Perpendicular (1360-1550), which are usually thought of as medieval. 

Transept and Aisle provide a good example of the Decorated period and are a fine addition to the church. The battlements and gargoyles are a notable feature, as are also the windows in the tracery of which are some fragments of old stained glass; the white roses and suns may be badges of the House of York. The piscina is in its original place, but the other fragments of carved stones have been let into the south wall of the transept; and the coffin lid with enriched cross and stepped Calvary, broken, of the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century fitted into the floor. The Holy Table, which is of date about 1700, was removed from the vestry and placed here when the chapel was restored in 1962-63. It was re-dedicated in the Name of the Holy Child Jesus, and the Book of Remembrance records the names of those who contributed furnishings and money in memory of relatives or friends whose names are also written in the book. The pews of pine wood were removed and sold, and at the same time other pews were re-positioned in the nave for choir purposes, and all darkened in colour. The Saxon keystone of an arch depicting a knight on horseback let into the wall over the south door appears to be a counterpart of the one fixed over the blocked Saxon doorway opposite. The font in the aisle is Early English (1220-1250) and was moved to its present position in 1962 from a spot opposite the door where the book table is now. The panelled ceiling of the aisle is modern, about 1850, though there are a few good corbels from the original decorated roof. The wood bosses of the modern ceiling consist of angels holding heraldic shields on which are depicted details connected with the betrayal and crucifixion of Our Lord. Beginning from the west end of the aisle they are – the robe with three dice above and bowl below; pillar, with scourges, birches, canes, etc.; head of Judas Iscariot, with thirty pieces of silver above it and below it a rope, lantern a sword and a cudgel. In the transept starting over the window, crown of thorns and three nails, IHS (Latin for ‘Jesus Saviour of Men’) on a cross with four more crosses in quarterings; five wounds of Christ on a cross, a heart pierced by four thorns, a hand in each of the upper quarterings bleeding into a cup on the end of the arms of the cross, a foot in each of the lower quarterings bleeding into a cup at the foot of the cross.

In the children’s corner is an altar table of 1641, an oak chest of 1660. Another chest in the Jesus Chapel is of 1700, and there is a poppyhead pew from about 1420 which used to be framed into a heavy oak curb which made them four or five inches higher. Rushes were spread on the floor in winter and the curb kept them in place. The waxwork model of the descent from the cross, in the glass case, was brought from Italy by Seaman William Pratt of Maiden Newton and given to the Church. The figures are dressed in textile materials against a background of rocks with foliage and small white flowers. Unfortunately the whole thing is decaying with wood-worm and may have to be removed soon. There are vaults beneath the aisle floor and the names of those buried in them are on grave stones laid flat outside the church wall, or on wall tablets.

Chancel and Vestry. The Norman apse or chancel was pulled down between 1220 and 1250 to make way for an Early English or Gothic chancel. Of this there now remains the south wall up to the corbel height, with the piscina and lower portion of the priest’s door; also the south-east buttress and the lower four feet of the east wall which can be seen from outside. One hundred years later the windows of the Decorated period replaced the Early English in the north and south walls. The east window is part of the restoration in 1850. The chancel was also re-roofed at the same time. The vestry was added to the chancel in 1886 when the decorated window was built into the east wall. The vestry serves the purpose of an organ chamber too. The organ used to be on the gallery at the west end of the church, which gallery was removed as unsafe (and un-used) in 1930. The organ is a Walker, built 1850-1860, possibly bought from another church. A cupboard behind the organ has an early eighteenth-century door with carved cherubs.

Of course, prior to 1886 the choir sang in the gallery. A tale has been handed down which may or not be true, that the choir of Rampisham Church came for a special occasion and took offence at something they thought the clerk gave out, and rose up in a body and left the gallery. The clerk gave out the hymn and read a line – ‘Return ye ransomed sinners home’. The visitors declared he said – ‘Return ye ramp’sham sinners whome’.

It is true, however, that in 1863 (according to a local newspaper) one of the churchwardens left the church in the midst of a service in a fit of disgust brought on by the number of candlesticks in front of the altar and other ‘Popish mummeries’.

The only stained glass windows in the church at present are in the sanctuary and all are memorials to members of the Hankey family. The Reverend Montague Hankey, M.A., Canon of Salisbury, was Rector of Maiden Newton for forty-four years, from 1869 to 1913, and is remembered affectionately by older parishioners as Father Hankey, not because he was a high churchman but a fatherly, kindly, generous man. The windows date from 1879 to 1886 and represent the Good Shepherd, the Annunciation, Virgin and Child, Mary and Elizabeth, St. Anne, and the Virgin Mary as a young girl, and St. Joseph with the Boy Jesus.

Most of the memorials in this church are to previous rectors and their families, and to the Channings of Cruxton (in the Jesus Chapel in the south transept). Charlotte Channing, who loved Cruxton Manor Farmhouse and Maiden Newton so much, is among them. Robert Pearson, who was rector in 1775, is commemorated with members of his family; and in the chancel one of the rectors, Mr. Wm. Cox, M.A., 1693, has a gravestone in the floor., and another on which is inscribed a pathetic verse in remembrance of his 13-year-old daughter:

 ‘Like as a bud nipt of a tree, so death hath parted you and me,

 Therefore dear friends I you befeech, be fatisfied for I am rich.’

There is a brass tablet on the wall of the chancel in memory of William Hugh Scott, M.A., second son of Hugh, Fourth Baron Polewarth, Prebendary of Salisbury Cathedral, thirty-one years rector of this parish. He built the parsonage, founded the school and restored the church in 1868. The tablet is in memory of his wife, too, Eleanor Sophia, daughter of Charles Baille-Hamilton, Archdeacon of Cleveland, and of Lady Charlotte Sophia, his wife, daughter of the 9th Earl of Home (1853). The tombs of this family are near the south porch. Our present Prime Minister was the 14th Earl of Home – Sir Alec Douglas-Home.

The oak reredos was put in as part of the memorial to the Hankey family by Miss Hankey, a sister of the rector. It shows Christ in glory in the middle panel accompanied by two angels in the other panels. The carved table was given by the Rev. S. Lane in 1840, then Rector of Frome Vauchurch. The brass almsdish, embossed with St. George and the dragon, probably came from Augsburg. All the chairs in the church are ancient, the tall-backed one with turned legs is dated 1700, and the coffin stools are seventeenth-century stools. The Royal Arms at the top of the arch in the nave is of George I, probably made by a local craftsman.

The memorial of outstanding interest in the church is that to the Reverend Doctor Whetcomb, above the piscina in the chancel, composed of freestone. John Whetcombe, D.D., was rector from 1610 to 1635 in the first years of the Stuarts. He is holding a skull and a book (The Bible?) and wearing a ruff. The monument was once painted, and bore a Latin inscription which is now almost un-readable. It tells of his goodness, justice, courtesy, and equity (as a magistrate), and of his learning. The Reverend Canon D.F.Slemeck, rector 1938 to 1958, secured a translation of the Latin before it faded too far, from his brother-in-law, Mr. Justice Vesey. The Latin was in capital letters.


Returned to Earth is John Whetcum, D.D., a man greatly revered, for 25 years Rector of this Church. He was famed for his learning, his goodness, his justice and his courtesy. By which qualities (religiously cultivated) as a Magistrate he wrought Equity, and blessed with good fortune in his public life, Ordered his own affairs successfully, he sleeps the sleep of Death to the grief of all good men, and to the great loss both of Church and State. His sorrowing wife Anna (beloved daughter of Thomas Holland) placed this memorial to record his worth and hope of resurrection.

On the north wall of the chancel there was a square compartment containing the Arms of the Strangways of Melbury Sampford, dated 1637. But this has now disappeared, perhaps under plaster.

The Doorways in the wall at the east end of the nave are those of the stairway leading to the rood loft, now blocked as there is no rood. They are of the Perpendicular period, about 1380, and the north wall was thickened outside to make way for these stairs. The door behind the pulpit leads to the tower and belfry. The fourteenth-century roof of the nave is part of the alteration resulting from the addition of the aisle, but the original tie-beams were replaced by deal beams in 1764-69, when the lead sheeting on the roof was renewed. In 1940 the whole roof was treated against death-watch beetle, and the lead sheeting re-cast. Some sheets on the north side have the names of churchwardens stamped on them. The transept roof was repaired in 1960 when extra support was given to the beams, and the copper sheeting laid.

The south Porch is all of the Decorated period. The fine oak door still carries the massive piece of timber from which the lock was fashioned; the hinges are Norman, presumably taken from another door. Outside, built into the west wall of the porch are two Norman arch stones, ornamented with chevron pattern, and another stone which may be a Saxon capital. The well-moulded outer arch, the show buttresses, the stone and slate roof, the stone seats, the oak door, the three niches above it for statues, all combine to present a compact and pleasing example of the sturdy craftsmanship of 600 years ago.

The Tower is a mixture of Norman, Transitional and Decorated, the window in the north wall probably built in during the seventeenth century, though dated about 1380. When the transept and aisle were added to the church during the century 1350-1450, the Norman arch leading to the nave was replaced by the present Decorated arch and the one of similar design was inserted for the transept. At the same time the south and west walls of the tower were rebuilt and increased in height for the bells. All this work involved the building up of the immense pillar at the meeting of the aisle, transept and crossing, under the belfry. The hagioscope was pierced through the thick wall opposite this thick pillar to allow worshippers in the aisle to see the altar and the celebrant. It is possible that the solid stone block against the thick pillar on which the war memorial book is placed is a stone nave altar. The chief feature of the upper stage of the tower is the beautiful design of the belfry lights with panels of pierced stone instead of the usual louvres, a typical feature of Dorset and Somerset churches. It may be noted that the south panel of the west light has been fixed upsidedown. On the south side there is a sun dial of 1630-60, a square slab with simple capping and iron pin whose shadow points to the hour.

The Bells. There are six of them, very sweet and mellow in tone. They are dated 1580, 1593, 1606, 1883, and two are undated, one of which is inscribed, ‘Sancte Garbeel ora pro nobis’ – ‘Holy Gabriel pray for us’. The other of these two was recast in 1883, together with the two dated ones, 1580 and 1606. The whole peal was re-hung in 1924-25 on a steel frame by Messrs. Mears & Stainbank at a cost of £300. Maiden Newton or Frome Vauchurch boasts a visiting bell-founder, Roger Purdie, whose bell foundry was set up probably at Tollerford on the Crewkerne road. Purdie in 1633 restored the bells of Cerne Abbas, at Maiden Newton and not at Closworth says A.O. Gibbon in his ‘Notes and Speculations on Cerne Abbas’. The tenor bell at Maiden Newton was made by William Warr in 1593. In the belfry a painted board is inscribed as follows:

  • This is to certify that James Grove, 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 ‘ringers field’, the rent of the said field being the ringers’ due to be paid to them by one of the churchwardens. Dated this 3rd of January 1851. The present ringers names: James Grove, John Corbin, John Lot and Frederick Scriven.

A peal of Bob Minor (5040 changes) was rung on Saturday, April 2nd, 1932, in 2 hours 55 minutes. ‘The first peal on the bells’ says the certificate which we hesitate to query, but it sounds unlikely. The bells were re-hung in 1924-25, so it may mean since that date.

The Churchyard and Cemetery. Close to the transept is the base and part of the shaft of a churchyard cross of the Decorated period. It is now preserved by the Commissioners of Works under the Ancient Monuments Act of 1931 by Order, dated July 6th, 1959. The churchyard contains the tombs (table and other) of well-known local people, like the Channings, the Hennings, the Strangways, and also of Rectors Scott and Hankey, and of the well-known Reverend Doctor Andrew Reed, Minister of Wycliffe Chapel in London, a descendent of the famous Reeds of Maiden Newton. A notable burial also was that of Hugh Crofts in 1725, whose age was reputed to be 107. Since 1887 when the Church Cemetery was bought, the churchyard has been little used. Negotiations for the purchase of land for a cemetery were entered into some years before, first for a piece of land north of the railway station, then for a bit of glebe land in Dorchester road. The Vestry Meeting empowered the Burial Board to borrow up to £500 for fencing, planting etc., one acre and providing a lych gate. Robert Wyatt and his sister, Miss Kate Wyatt left £500 for the improvement and upkeep of the cemetery. Half this money was spent in 1960 levelling graves – over 250 of them. The annual income from invested capital brings in £11 per annum – quite inadequate of course to do what should be done. More generous benefactors are needed, or the revival of a church rate for the upkeep of cemeteries like this. In 1851 the church rate in Maiden Newton was one penny in the pound. The rate today would have to be sixpence in the pound. The old fire-engine in 1851 used to be kept in the churchyard at St. Mary’s. This was a hand-worked cart still preserved in the new fire station erected in 1958 in Bull Lane.

The Registers of Maiden Newton Parish Church date from 1555. The ancient registers are in the keeping of the County Archivist in the County Hall, Dorchester, as are all the ancient registers of the Maiden Newton group of parishes, viz. Frome Vauchurch (1654). Compton Abbas West (1538), Toller Fratrum with Wynford Eagle (1640), together with Poor Books, Rate Books, Churchwardens and Parish Overseers Account Books and Banns books. Fragments of the Batcombe registers are also in this safe keeping, because Batcombe was joined to Frome Vauchurch from 1752 to 1925. The Maiden Newton and Frome Vauchurch registers were transcribed by two or three past rectors and all re-copied and edited by the Reverend Grosvenor Bartelot, M.A., F.S.A., then Vicar of Fordington St. George, Dorchester. These transcriptions are kept in the church chest at St. Mary’s Maiden Newton.

The Rectory of Maiden Newton is actually in Higher Frome Vauchurch at Tollerford,. The Rectory is obviously the residence of the Rector, as the Vicarage is of the Vicar, and the Manse of the Minister, sometimes called the Parsonage. The present Rectory was built in 1930 by Dr. Stevenson, and was bought by the Church Commissioners in 1958 when the house, now called Summerleaze opposite the garage in Dorchester road was sold. This house was called the Lynchets for a few years after it was sold, and then reverted to its original name of Summerleaze. When Maiden Newton House, next to the church, was sold in 1938, this house was then two cottages and was bought and converted into a rectory. The old rectory, now Maiden Newton House, was built or re-built by the Reverend the Hon. William Scott during his incumbency 1837-1869. It is a beautiful house of ecclesiastical architecture and considered much too large for modern times. This is not really so, it is a question of expense and staffing. This house is at least the second rector’s house to be built next to the church of St. Mary, previous ones being possibly a little nearer to the River Frome, which flows through the garden to the Mill (this earlier house is shown on the 1838 Tithe Map). Attached to the rectory or vicarage is often glebe land and there is still some left in Maiden Newton – much of it has been sold during the 1950s – the Rectory tennis courts in Bull Lane (now Glebe Close), the Parson’s Copse at Hog’s Cliff Farm, and fields in the Dorchester road, now Maiden Newton Filling Station.