Dorset OPC


Dorset OPC

St Mary's Church, Halstock
© Kim Parker/Dorset OPC 2011

Halstock is a village and parish set in lush countryside near Dorset’s border with Somerset, 6 miles North of Beaminster. It was once a liberty consisting solely of the parish whose boundaries have not changed since at least 841, as a Saxon survey of that date shows. Halstock sits astride the Harrow Way, a Neolithic track running from Kent to Devon by way of Stonehenge. The portion of Harrow Lane between Halstock and Corscombe is known as Common Lane. At the Halstock end is a Roman Villa, built on the site of an Iron Age farm. Rediscovered in the 19th century, the villa’s mosaic floor was uncovered by the Earl of Ilchester, but was unfortunately destroyed by poor villagers looking for buried treasure.

The name Halstock means ‘holy outlying farmstead’ from Old English ‘hälig’ and ‘stoc’, so-called because it belonged to Sherborne monastery by grant of King Aethelwulf. Christianity came early to Halstock. Monks visiting in the 6th century found a Christian community here already. This was the context in which a pious young woman, Juthware, practised her religion by helping pilgrims. Her own brother beheaded her outside the church on the strength of their step-mother’s false report that Juthware was a fallen woman. Legend has it that Juthware picked up her head, walked back into the church and laid it on the altar as an offering to God. Initially buried at Halstock, her remains were reinterred at Sherborne in the 10th century. Her memory was kept alive locally in the name of a field and also an inn, ‘The Quiet Woman’, whose sign depicted Juthware carrying her own head (now closed).

St Mary’s Church is of relatively recent construction. The oldest part is the 15th-century West tower, housing five bells, three of them cast by the Purdue family at nearby Closworth (Somerset) in the 17th century. Most of the rest of the church was rebuilt in 1770 subsequent to a fire, then again in the 19th century after a hole in the roof resulted in decay. Yeovil architect Thomas Stent rebuilt the nave to A.W.N. Pugin’s designs in 1845-6 and in 1872 the chancel was rebuilt. Appropriately, a chapel dedicated to Saint Juthware was created in the North aisle in 1959. The South window commemorates long-serving churchwarden Walter Holloway, depicting St Francis of Assisi with Holloway’s faithful pet spaniel at his feet.

The churchyard is every bit as interesting as the church with more than 200 tombstones, 8 of them table tombs of which the oldest is that of Elizabeth (1524-1594) and John Deere (1519-1599). There are 25 tombstones for 45 members of the Guppy family, yeomen descended from one Gupheagh who arrived at Lyme Regis from France in 1253. The Mercer family, which ran one of Dorset’s three private lunatic asylums at Halstock for generations until the mid-1800s, also lie buried here. Perhaps the most remarkable tombstone is that of “three-century man” John Pitt, erected by public subscription to celebrate a man born at Halstock in 1799 at the end of the 18th century who lived through the entire 19th century to the ripe old age of 102, dying in 1901 at the dawn of the 20th century.

Typical Stone-built houses, Halstock
© Kim Parker/Dorset OPC 2011

In contrast to these elaborate memorials Thomas Hollis lies in an unmarked grave in one of his own quirkily-named fields. A native of Essex, he was a great friend of the Reverend John Hutchins, encouraging him to write his epic ‘History and Antiquities of Dorset’. Hollis, a Dissenter and generous benefactor of many European libraries as well as that of Harvard University, bought land here in 1749. The building of Bethel House in 1834 (now a private residence) and the existence of a chapter of the Plymouth Brethren until the 1950s proves the existence of non-conformism in Halstock. Although a Dissenter, Hollis did much to restore the local churches. His other lasting legacy to Halstock is the renaming of his farms and fields after his favourite champions of liberty. Thus there is a Liberty Farm and fields named Confucius, Education, Reasonableness, and so on. Stuart Coppice was so-named because like the unfortunate Charles I the trees there often had to have their heads cut off.

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 [Keith Searson]
1861 Census [John Ridout]
1871 Census [John Ridout]
1891 Census [John Ridout]
Parish Registers Baptisms
Marriages 1701-1812 [Philimores][Lynda Small]
Trade & Postal Directories  
Other Records Monumental Inscriptions from the church cemetery [Brian Webber]
Index of Wills of Halstock Residents [Kim Parker]
Monumental Inscriptions  
Records held at the Dorset History Centre
Christenings 1698-1969. Marriages 1700-1837. Burials 1693-1913.





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