Dorset OPC

Catherston Leweston

Dorset OPC

Catherston Leweston Church
© Kim Parker/Dorset OPC 2012

Catherston Leweston is a tiny parish situated on the decline of a hill by the River Char, three miles North-East of Lyme Regis and six miles West of Bridport. The name comes from the combination of two adjacent manors, Catherston meaning ‘estate of the Charteray family’ and Leweston meaning ‘estate of the Lester family’, from proper names plus the Old English ‘tun’ for estate. Neither manor is mentioned in the 1086 Domesday Survey, so they probably formed part of another manor at that time. The manor house itself is faux-Tudor, built in 1887, although it retains a 16th century tower and, inside, an early 18th century staircase.

There has been a church here since 1337. Little is known about it, other than that it was re-dedicated to St Mary in 1511 and that Bartholomew Westley, a dissenting minister who was rector of nearby Allington and great-grandfather of Methodism’s John Wesley, sometimes preached here in the 1600s. John Hutchins in his ‘History and Antiquities of Dorset’ judged the old church to be unremarkable. Doubtless he would revise that opinion if he could see the new church that was erected in 1857-8 by the noted ecclesiastical architect J. L. Pearson of London, commissioned by the then Lord of the Manor, Robert Charles Hildyard. Built of stone in the Early Decorated style, this gem of a church consists of chancel and nave, and a western turret containing one bell, cast from a piece of brass cannon taken from the Russians at Sebastopol during the Crimean War. Of particular note are the Blue Lias walls in what Pevsner called “a crazy-paving pattern”. The church is reached by a leafy path, and the decoration both inside and out carries on a foliage theme, including exquisite carving in both stone and wood. Indeed, the church is particularly appreciated for the fine workmanship of its carved oak roof. The stained glass windows by Clayton & Bell are also very attractive.

In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson's ‘Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales’ claimed that Catherston Leweston was the seat of the notorious Judge Jeffreys and that his judge’s cap was preserved in the church. George Jeffreys (1645 –1689), 1st Baron Jeffreys of Wem, was the most corrupt judge in British History. After the Monmouth Rebellion, whose focal point was in Devon, Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire, Jeffreys was in charge of bringing the rebels ‘to justice’. He was ruthless, flaunting even the few rights that defendants held in those days, such as refusing to hear evidence and taunting the prisoners. At first his preferred sentence was hanging, but after receiving an offer he could not refuse from slave traders, he began to favour transportation instead. The court session over which he presided in Dorchester and other western towns came to be known as the ‘Bloody Assizes’. In all, about 320 people were hanged and over 800 sentenced to be transported to the West Indies.

Hutchins, who traces the ownership of the manor from the Payne family in the 14th century, through to the Wadham family and then on to a Jeffrey family in Stuart times, makes no mention of Judge Jeffreys. Furthermore, according to Hutchins, the manor was sequestered in the Civil War and sold after the Restoration to the Yonge family. If this is correct, it could not have been the seat of Judge Jeffreys. To return to the Wadham family, the last of that line, Sir Nicholas Wadham, gave his name to Wadham College at Oxford University, founded by his widow Dorothy as a memorial to her husband after his death in 1612.

Catherston Leweston Estate
© Kim Parker/Dorset OPC 2012

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Contributions of additional resource materials for the site are always welcome

Census 1841 Census [Mari Viertel]
1851 Census [Peter Anderson]
1861 Census [Ron Adams]
1871 Census [Ron Adams]
1881 Census [Jon Baker]
1891 Census [Jon Baker]
1901 Census [Jon Baker]
1911 Census [Jon Baker]
Parish Registers Baptisms 1837-1902 [Kim Parker]
Marriages 1839-1912 [Kim Parker]
Trade & Postal Directories  
Other Records  
Monumental Inscriptions Monumental Inscriptions [Brian Webber]
Records held at the Dorset History Centre
Christenings 1837-1943. Marriages 1839-1979. Burials None.

Catherston Leweston Church Door
© Kim Parker/Dorset OPC 2012

Catherston Leweston Manor
© Kim Parker/Dorset OPC 2012


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