Dorset OPC

Wimborne St Giles

Dorset OPC

Wimborne St Giles Church
© Kim Parker/Dorset OPC 2012

Wimborne St Giles is a hundred and parish situated in the well-wooded valley of the River Allen near the old royal hunting ground of Cranborne Chase, 12 miles North of Poole. The hundred contains West Woodyates parish, while the parish of Wimborne St Giles contains the eponymous village and the tithing of All Hallows. Formerly, All Hallows was the more important of the two villages. It was recorded as having a church in 1086, while at that time St Giles was merely a chapelry. In 1733 the two parishes were combined and All Hallows church was demolished in 1742, leaving only the lych gate and churchyard. Today Wimborne St Giles feels tranquil and secluded, away from busy roads, but the London to Weymouth coach road used to pass by the North of the village with its attendant noise and bustle.

The two Wimborne villages took their name from the meadow stream, now called the River Allen, which flows through them, from Old English ‘winn’ and ‘burna’. St Giles and All Hallows refer to the respective dedications of the churches, St Giles being an 8th century hermit of Provençal origin and All Hallows meaning ‘all saints’. Few manorial estates in Dorset can claim the distinction of not having changed ownership by purchase since the Norman Conquest. As a family became extinct in the male line, the manor passed by an heiress to a new family by name, but tied to the old one by blood, starting with the Malmaynes and the de Plecys. At the end of the 14th century, the de Plecy heiress married Sir John Hamely and on their death their daughter brought the property to her husband, Robert Ashley.

One of Robert Ashley’s descendents at the time of Elizabeth I, Anthony Ashley (1551-1628), was a real character. He was to cabbages what Sir Walter Raleigh was to potatoes, which explains the presence of carvings of the vegetable on funereal monuments at Wimborne St Giles. Knighted at Cadiz for his services to the crown, Sir Anthony was disappointed not to receive a higher honour and famously kept back a huge diamond from the Queen that he had taken as booty and which by rights he should have given to her. She pursued him on the matter for years, but to no avail. He is commemorated by a sumptuous tomb in the church, but perhaps the row of charming red-brick almshouses he built in 1624 to house eleven poor widows is a more fitting memorial. Two generations later, his wish for grandeur came true when his grandson Anthony Ashley-Cooper, son of his daughter Ann Elizabeth and her husband John Cooper, was made the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury on the coronation of Charles II.

Anthony Ashley-Cooper (1621-1683) was an astute political operator, successfully switching sides time and again during the turbulent 17th century. Initially a Royalist, he became a Parliamentarian mid-Civil War, forcing the capitulation of Corfe Castle in 1645. Towards the end of the Commonwealth, he became one of the chief architects of the Restoration, entering into negotiations with the future King Charles II. His luck turned later in life as he became increasingly more vocal in his support of religious dissent and found himself in and out of prison. Eventually he fled to Amsterdam, where he was made a Burgher in 1682. Upon his death, his body was brought back to England by his close friend and frequent visitor to Wimborne St Giles, the philosopher John Locke. Buried at Poole, perhaps his greatest legacy to Wimborne St Giles was St Giles House, which he began in 1650.

Wimborne St Giles Alms Houses
© Kim Parker/Dorset OPC 2012

The 7th Earl of Shaftesbury (1801-1885) is the Anthony Ashley-Cooper we all learn about in school. One of the great Parliamentarians of the Victorian era, a major philanthropist and the leading spirit for social reform, he advocated universal education for children and fought for the abolition of child labour and the improvement of working conditions generally. He performed many charitable works and was one of the founders of Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. Many of the rights we enjoy today are thanks to him. As well as his tomb in St Giles church, he is commemorated in the heart of London at Piccadilly Circus. Unveiled in 1893 and mistakenly known as Eros ever since, Alfred Gilbert’s life-sized statue of Christian Love was conceived to symbolise Shaftesbury’s philanthropic work, his bow positioned to point in the direction of Wimborne St Giles in tribute to him.

The fine Georgian church of St Giles was built in 1732 by the Bastard brothers on the site of the Tudor church. In 1887 the interior was Gothicised by Bodley in memory of the 8th Earl, but his work was destroyed by fire in 1908. Sir Ninian Comper was commissioned to restore the church, which he did in a classical style complementary to the surviving 18th-century work. He added wide aisles, almost squaring the interior, and added exuberantly decorative elements, including an alabaster reredos and a screen to divide chancel and nave. Other fittings of note include the replica stone crusader figure of Sir John de Plecy (1313), an ornate 18th-century font, a gilded tester over the altar and a western gallery housing the organ. In a church full of splendid monuments, including those to the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 7th, and 9th Earls, it is one of the simplest that stands out: a plaque in commemoration of robins who nested in the altar in 1887, returning to the same place in 1908

The new Online Parish Clerk (OPC) for Wimborne St Giles is Victoria Gresham
Please use the words 'OPC Wimborne St Giles' as your subject for e-mails (click on Victoria's name above to generate a pre-addressed email)

Census 1841 Census [Kim Parker]
1851 Census [Kim Parker]
1861 Census [Kim Parker]
1871 Census [Kim Parker]
1891 Census
1901 Census
Parish Registers Baptisms
Trade & Postal Directories  
Other Records Extracts from Hutchins, List of Rectors, Church History, Charity, etc. [Dorinda Miles]
Short History of the Church of All Hallows [Mervyn Wright]
Monumental Inscriptions St Giles Church Monumental Inscriptions index [Jan Hibberd]
All Hallows Old Cemetery Monumental Inscriptions index [Mervyn Wright]
All Hallows New Cemetery Monumental Inscriptions index [Jan Hibberd]
Records held at the Dorset History Centre
St Giles: Christenings 1595-1869. Marriages 1594-2006. Burials 1594-1922.
All Hallows: Christenings 1589-1731. Marriages 1600-1727. Burials 1598-1731.


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