Dorset OPC


Dorset OPC

Belchalwell Church
© Kim Parker 2010

Belchalwell is a small parish in the Vale of Blackmore in North Dorset. Its principal hamlets of Belchalwell and Belchalwell Street lie about 2-1/2 miles South of Sturminster Newton and 6 miles North-West of Blandford Forum, under the north slopes of Bell Hill. Arguably, the parish is endowed with one of Dorset’s most intriguing place names. Belchalwell does not appear in the Domesday Survey of 1086 as such, lending weight to the theory that the name is an amalgamation of that of two separate manors, known by the 13th century as Belle and Chaldwelle. The latter is easy to interpret, coming from the Anglo-Saxon for ‘cool water or spring’. ‘Belle’ enjoys a range of much more exotic explanations, from a French compliment to its beauty in reference to the magnificent views from Bell hill, to derivation from the name of the hill itself, to a corruption of Beltaine, the old Celtic May-day festival, celebrated by kindling great fires atop beacon hills, of which Bell hill was probably one. There has been settlement here since Neolithic times and the appendage of ‘Street’ to the name of one of the hamlets may be indicative of a Roman presence at some time, although no artefacts have been found in support of this theory. The hamlets themselves are of Saxon origin

Since Belchalwell is so far detached from the body of Cranborne Hundred, of which if formed a part, Dorset historian Revd. John Hutchins conjectured that it once belonged to the ancient Lords of Cranborne. However, by the reign of Edward II Chaldwelle at least was in the hands of the St Quintin family. During the reign of Richard II the property came to the Marmions when John Marmion married Elizabeth, the St. Quintin heiress, and from the Marmions it descended to the Fitz-Hughs. In the reign of Elizabeth Tudor the Fitz-Hughs seem to have forfeited it, for in the 23rd year of Elizabeth’s reign the ‘manor of Bell and Chalwell’ was demised to Winifred, Marchioness of Winchester. After that the Frekes of Shroton held it, and it eventually passed to Lord Rivers, in whose family it continued throughout the 19th century. Separately, the hamlet of Fifehead St. Quintin, once a manor, but already just a farm in Hutchins’ time, passed from the St. Quintins to the Mohuns and Trenchards, but also eventually came into the possession of Lord Rivers

The civil parish of Belchalwell was divided between Okeford Fitzpaine and Fifehead Neville in 1884, while in 1920 the ecclesiastical parish underwent some modification when the outlying Fifehead St. Quintin was transferred to the parish of Fifehead Neville to which is was adjacent. Today the ecclesiastical parish of Belchalwell forms part of the Benefice of Hazelbury Bryan and the Hillside Parishes.

Belchalwell is famed for its loftily situated 15th century church incorporating elements from earlier centuries, and in particular for the handsome Norman porch. It is dedicated to a Saxon saint, Aldhelm, the first Bishop of Sherborne who founded its Abbey in 703. The church consists of chancel, nave, north aisle with three-bay arcade, the famed south porch and a fine tower with moulded battlements and the remains of grotesque gargoyles. Although there has been much restoration over the centuries, the church survived the Victorian ‘demolish and rebuild’ mania largely intact. Frederick Treves, in his 1906 book “Highways & Byeways of Dorset”, described it thus: “At Belchalwell is a church which has been deserted by its village, of which but a few cottages now remain. The church is placed on a solitary mound commanding a near view of the downs. It has a little low square tower and an elaborate Norman porch. Roses are climbing over the chancel windows, and when I visited the place in June a turbulent assembly of bees had established a colony under the ancient eaves.” Prospective visitors will be glad to know that the bees are long gone

Belchalwell Street Post Box Cottage
© Kim Parker 2010

The post of Online Parish Clerk (OPC) is currently vacant
If you would like to volunteer for the role, please contact the OPC Project Co-ordinator
Contributions of additional resource materials for the site are always welcome

Census 1841 Census [Mari Viertel]
1851 Census [Royston Clarke]
1861 Census [Caryl Parsons]
1891 Census - part of Okeford Fitzpaine Civil Parish [Derek Stone]
Parish Registers Baptisms 1733-1838 Bishops Transcripts [Jane Weller]
Marriages 1739-1839
Burials 1737-1861
Trade & Postal Directories  
Other Records Index of Wills for Belchalwell Residents [Kim Parker]
Belchalwell Village web site - contains comprehensive PR and Census records [note this is an archived site, original site deleted]
Transfer of Fifehead St Quinton from Belchalwell to Fifehead Neville Parish in 1920 [Kim Parker]
Monumental Inscriptions Monumental Inscription Index
Belchalwell Roll of Honour [Kim Parker]
Maps Map showing outline of Parish Boundaries in 1851
Records held at the Dorset History Centre
Christenings 1842-1998. Marriages 1760-1971. Burials 1821-1998. Banns 1754-1883





Visitors to Dorset OPC

shopify site analytics

Privacy Policy

Copyright (c) 2018 Dorset OPC Project