Dorset OPC


Dorset OPC

Spetisbury Church, dedicated to St John the Baptist
© KimParker 2010

Spetisbury is a village on the banks of the River Stour, three miles South-east of Blandford Forum and eleven miles North-west of Poole. The 1086 Domesday Book talks of two manors here, Spetisbury and Crawford Magna, while in medieval times there was a third manor between the two known as Middlestreet. Modern-day Spetisbury is an amalgamation of all three, ownership of the manors having become concentrated in the hands of a single landowner, Francis Fane, in the 18th century. The name of the village is delightfully Anglo-Saxon, meaning ‘the ancient earthwork frequented by the green woodpecker’ from the Old English ‘speht’ or ‘speoht’ for woodpecker and ‘burgh’ or ‘byrig’ for earthwork, referring to the Iron Age fort above the village known variously as Spetisbury Rings or Crawford Castle. In ancient times this fort was the scene of a great battle between the Britons and the Romans, as the Durotriges valiantly but vainly tried to stop the all-conquering legionnaires

In 1905 disaster struck when a fire at the bakery spread and destroyed much of the village. Fortunately a few picturesque thatched cob cottages remain, as does the quirky numbering system, a legacy of 19th century landowners, the Drax family, who only numbered the buildings they themselves owned. At the southern tip of Spetisbury is the splendid nine-arched, 15th century Crawford Bridge, one of Dorset’s most famous bridges and a perfect spot to escape from the madness of the A350 traffic roaring through the village. For more than a century Spetisbury also resounded to the roar of trains, but in 1956 Beeching closed Spetisbury Halt and then in 1966 axed the entire Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway – a decision that is still resented over 50 years later. Today the corridor of land through which the railway once passed is a public footpath, and if a proposed by-pass is constructed to divert heavy traffic away from Spetisbury, the woodpeckers may even return to grace it.

There has been a Church in Spetisbury since Norman times, although the current church of St John the Baptist is an 1858 Wyatt rebuild largely funded by Rev. Henry Vizard, with only the tower, columned arcade and some of the window frames remaining from the medieval church. There are nevertheless many points of interest, including the medieval font, the Tudor tomb of one-time lord of the manor Sir John Boyer, the Jacobean pulpit and the bell-ringer’s ditty dating from 1818. The North Aisle window depicts an odd cast of characters: the hermit Robert of Knaresborough, sainted for his lifestyle of extreme deprivation, King Charles I, portrayed as a martyr, and finally Sir Thomas More, executed by Henry VIII for a matter of conscience, but not averse to burning protestants whose religious beliefs did not accord with his own. It is dedicated to former incumbent Rev. Baskett, even though he was never really active in the parish, hiring a curate to do the job after having been controversially appointed to the living at age 80. Spetisbury’s longest serving rector, Rev. Thomas Rackett, had had the same idea, leaving the curate to it while he pursued his many and varied interests in London, consorting with the likes of actor David Garrick, playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan and artist George Romney. Although Dorset historian, Rev. John Hutchins always defended him, even Rackett’s distinctive tetrahedron tombstone alludes to his neglect of parochial duties, which was held by his bishop to be the cause of defections from amongst his congregation to non-conformism

Spetisbury has strong associations with non-conformism - Roman Catholicism in particular. In 1800 Middlestreet Manor House became an Augustinian nunnery for the Sisters of St Monica, while in 1839 six Spetisbury priests were amongst the first to join A.R.Serbati’s ‘Institute of Charity’. The priory was home to a succession of religious orders. In September 1861 a London newspaper related how twelve nuns from the ancient convent of Sion House travelled to England from Portugal aboard a steamer named ‘The Sultan’ en route to their new home in Spetisbury. No doubt the juxtaposition of ‘nuns’ and ‘Sultan’ caused more than one Victorian moustache to twitch in amusement, but over the years the nuns became valued members of the community and the local gentry sent their offspring to them to be educated. Most of the original building has now been destroyed, but the spirit and reputation of St Monica’s Priory lives on in local historian Sue Stead’s fascinating study of its history

Spetisbury from Crawford Bridge
© 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 [Keith Searson]
Parish Registers Baptisms 1813-1837 [Nigel Kennard]
Marriages 1706-1845 [Kim Parker]
Trade & Postal Directories Extract from the 1865 & 1880  Directory [Lynda Small]
Other Records List of Wills proved at Blandford [Lynda Small]
Index of Wills for Spetisbury Residents [Kim Parker]
Militia List 1787 [Caryl Parsons]
Extracts from Hutchins [Dorinda Miles]
Spetisbury Web Site - contains excellent pictures and a brief but informative history of the village and church
Bellringer's Ditty 1818 [Kim Parker]
Spetisbury Parish Rectors [Kim Parker]
Photographs Churchyard Memorial Stones including Inscriptions [Jan Hibberd]
Monumental Inscriptions St John the Baptist Monumental Inscriptions Index [Jan Hibberd]
Spetisbury Roll of Honour [Kim Parker]
Maps Map showing outline of Parish Boundary in 1851
Records held at the Dorset History Centre
Christenings 1705-1991. Marriages 1706-1995. Burials 1705-1904. Banns 1877-1981

Spetisbury Rectory 1716
© Kim Parker 2010

Poole & Blandford Milestone, Spetisbury
© Kim Parker 2010

Spetisbury War Memorial & Church
© Kim Parker 2010


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