Dorset OPC

Melbury Sampford

Dorset OPC

St Mary's Chapel, Melbury Sampford
© Kim Parker/Dorset OPC 2011

Melbury Sampford is a small estate parish in the Beaminster area of Dorset, sandwiched between Melbury Osmond and Evershot, seven miles South-West of Sherborne. It is thought the first part of the name ‘Melbury’ comes from the joining of two Old English words, ‘maele’ and ‘burh’, meaning ‘multi-coloured fortified place’, hinting at long forgotten battles in ancient times. The second part of the name is a Manorial addition in honour of the Saunford family, Lords of the Manor here from the late 13th century. In medieval times this place was often alternatively called Melbury Turbeville from the family of that name. By the 15th century, the Manor had passed to the Brouning family.

Henry Strangways married into the Brouning family, which brought him the House and Manor of Melbury Sampford, and his descendents continue to hold the estate to this day, although they are no longer in residence here. The Strangways family, one of Dorset’s most famous and influential, also held extensive property in Abbotsbury and Kilmington (Somerset). By the mid-18th century there were no further male heirs. Awarded an earldom in 1758 by George II, Stephen Fox added his mother’s maiden name to his surname to become Stephen Fox-Strangways, first Earl of Ilchester, and it is this branch of the family that inherited Melbury Sampford, the seat of the Earls of Ilchester until 1964.

The parish primarily consists of Melbury Park, an attractive deer park, with woodland and agricultural land of around 300 hectares. Formerly, there was a village of Melbury Sampford, whose disappearance may have been due to the enclosure of the deer park and the 1530 rebuilding of Melbury House by Sir Giles Strangways, Henry VIII’s Dorset Commissioner for the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Melbury Hall, one of Dorset’s finest country houses, sits on an eminence at the heart of the park, commanding spectacular views of the Mendip and Quantock hills. The house, which has an E-shaped front of weather-beaten Ham stone ornamented with Corinthian pillars, was significantly remodelled in 1692 by Sir Thomas Strangways and greatly extended in the late 19th century by the fifth Earl. One of the more unusual features is a tower crowned with battlements and finials, with a room at the top glazed on five sides with full width windows and a castellated hexagonal stair-turret on the sixth side, built for the pleasure of enjoying the view of the surrounding countryside. The pioneer of photography Henry Fox Talbot was born in the house.

Next to the house, on slightly lower ground, is the Chapel of St Mary’s, which was once the parish church of the lost village of Melbury Sampford. It is a 15th century building with a pinnacled tower decorated with lions, wolves and gargoyles to guard the tombs of those buried in the church. Inside the church, as well as the ancient canopied tombs and memorials to the Brouning and Strangways families so carefully guarded by the stone creatures outside, there is a beautiful marble reredos depicting the Last Supper. Although both Melbury Hall and St Mary’s Chapel are private, there is a public footpath between Evershot and Melbury Osmond that runs through the park, affording a glimpse of the chapel and the splendid country house it serves.

Melbury House & St Mary's Chapel
© Kim Parker/Dorset OPC 2011

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Contributions of additional resource materials for the site are always welcome

Census 1841 Census [Lynda Small]
1851 Census
1861 Census [John Ridout]
1871 Census [Lynne Penny]
1891 Census [Lynda Small]
Parish Registers Baptisms 1813-1919 [Kim Parker]
Marriages 1606-1919 [Kim Parker]
Burials 1819-1970 [Kim Parker]
Trade & Postal Directories  
Other Records  
Monumental Inscriptions  
Records held at the Dorset History Centre
Christenings 1606-1978. Marriages 1606-1969. Burials 1614-1970.





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