Dorset OPC

Fifehead Magdalen

Dorset OPC

Fifehead Magdalen Church
© Dorset OPC 2014

Fifehead Magdalen is a small, remote village and parish in the Vale of Blackmore 8km West of Shaftesbury in North Dorset. It is sited on Corallian limestone soil not far from the West bank of the River Stour. The River Cale, a tributary of the River Stour, also runs through the parish. ‘Fifehead’ is a corruption of “five hides”, which is how the estate was assessed in the Doomsday Book of 1086. A hide was originally the amount of land that would support one free family and its dependents – this varied in different parts of the country, but was typically 48 acres in Wessex. The later addition of ‘Magdalen’ is from the dedication of the church.

The parish church of St. Mary Magdalene is fortunate not to have been restored until the early twentieth century when there was greater sensitivity to our medieval heritage than had been the case during the Victorian era. It was Lieutenant-Colonel Percy John Browne, then lord of the manor, who undertook the restoration at his own expense in 1905. The church building dates mainly from the fourteenth century, including the nave, chancel and south tower, with the belfry housing three bells from the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries respectively. The church interior has a very rustic feel at odds with the mortuary or North chapel off of the chancel. Here there are elaborate marble monuments to the Newman family, lords of the manor of Fifehead Magdalen from the early fifteenth or early sixteenth century, depending on which authority is credited.

Local historian Peter Oxlade claims the Newman family rented the estate in 1408 from its then lord, the Abbot of the Augustine Abbey at Bristol, John Newman having been rector here from 1405. It was not until two hundred and fifty years later that Colonel Richard Newman finally purchased the estate outright after the Restoration of Charles II. Family historian Wayne Newman dates the association of the family with the estate to a lease taken out in 1530. Other sources suggest the Tudor manor house - once adjacent to the church and demolished in 1807 to make way for a Georgian mansion (itself demolished in 1964) - was built by the Newman family as early as 1510.

All are agreed that the male line of this branch of the ancient Essex family, who were also the lords of Evercreech in Somerset, became extinct when Sir Samuel Newton died in 1747 without heir. Two of his three surviving sisters continued to live at the manor until the death of the last of them, Frances, in 1775 when it was sold. Having remained in the possession of a single family for several centuries, the estate was then sold every twenty to thirty years until the 1920s when it was finally broken up. Elsewhere in the parish, there also appears to have been a lot of stability in terms of the houses and landholdings, the sites of which have barely changed since the sixteenth century, even where buildings have been torn down and rebuilt anew – and that despite the Luftwaffe’s habit of dropping unused bombs on or near the village after raids on strategic Dorset targets during the Second World War.

Fifehead Magdalen Church
© Dorset OPC 2014

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 [Lynne Radford]
1851 Census
1861 Census [Ron Adams]
1871 Census [Ron Adams]
1881 Census [Ralph Woolfrey]
1891 Census [Ron Adams]
1901 Census
1911 Census
Parish Registers Baptisms
Marriages 1568-1841 [Kim Parker]
Trade & Postal Directories  
Other Records  
Monumental Inscriptions Monumental Inscriptions index St Mary Magdalen
Monumental Inscriptions index Civic Cemetery
Records held at the Dorset History Centre
Christenings 1565-1992. Marriages 1565-1993. Burials 1565-1990.5





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