Museum planning application for new extension and development approved

New Museum Entrance concept design -Carmody Groarke © 2015

New Museum Entrance concept design -Carmody Groarke © 2015

The planned extension and redevelopment plans for Dorchester’s County Museum have finally been given the green light by West Dorset District Council.

The plans, which call for the transformation of the museum’s facilities, include a new learning centre, library, café and shop and most importantly additional gallery space.

Hidden behind the museum’s 19th century façade lie almost 4 million artefacts, charting the natural, archaeological, cultural and social history of Dorset. Regrettably, many of these hidden gems have remained just that, hidden from view and unable to tell their story…until now!

With £13 million of the £15 million target already pledged, these hidden gems will once again see the light of day, helping to illustrate, educate and inform us of our unique history.

‘We are absolutely delighted that the relevant authorities have recognised the importance and significance of the project to the local community and to the county. We can now look forward to realising our ambition to provide Dorset with the appropriate facilities in which to properly conserve, display and make accessible, our wonderful collection.’ says Dr Jon Murden, Director of Dorset County museum.

Online donations to the appeal can be made via

Gold coins circa 70-50BC found in Tarrant Valley - DCM © 2017

Gold coins circa 70-50BC found in Tarrant Valley – DCM © 2017

In recognition of the Museum’s unique collections and its role in furthering the knowledge of palaeontology the museum will be welcoming its largest and oldest visitor in February 2018. Dippy, the famous diplodocus skeleton replica from the National History Museum is embarking on national tour with Dorchester being his first stop.

When he was roaming the Earth, Dippy measured almost 30m in length and weighed an incredible 15 tonnes, once installed in the museum’s magnificent Victorian gallery there will be just inches to spare.

Dr Jon Murden, is understandably overjoyed at the prospect of Dippy coming to town.

“Dippy’s visit is a once in generation opportunity and as such we’re expecting a huge demand for tickets” says Jon. The museum’s online ticket reservation service will be launched very soon but visitors are advised to register their advance interest by visiting and visiting the Dippy page.

Working in partnership with the Jurassic Coast Trust, visitors to the museum will receive expert guided tours and experience real life time travel by visiting the Jurassic Coast and travelling back 155 million years.

Related Links:

Meet your favourite Sci-Fi and Superhero characters at the Dorset County Museum

StormtroopersIt’s nearly time for Dorchester Christmas Cracker night. The event that officially kicks off Christmas in the County town takes place this year on Thursday 8 December from 5.00pm.

This year by popular demand, everyone’s favourite Science Fiction and Fantasy Movie and TV characters will be back at Dorset County Museum. Come along to see a host of characters from the Superheroes from the Marvel Universe, Star Wars, Doctor Who and many more….

Delicious mulled wine and mince pies will be available to buy and the Tea Room will be open for tasty snacks and refreshments.  A browse in the Museum shop will reveal a wide range of gift ideas including toys, games, books and jewellery.  The current exhibition Speed to the West: A Nostalgic Journey an exhibition of 20th Century Railway Posters will be on display, with prints and railway memorabilia on sale in the shop for just a few more weeks – another fantastic opportunity to pick up a very special Christmas present.

scifi-and-superheros-at-dorset-county-museumEntry to the Museum on Cracker Night is FREE and everyone is welcome. All the galleries will be open on the night.

For further information and other forthcoming events contact the Museum on on 01305 756827 or check the website on or follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Dorset County Museum to host Sci-Fi characters and Father Christmas on Cracker Night

Dorchester Christmas CrackerIt’s nearly time for Cracker Night again in Dorchester. The event that officially kicks off Christmas in the County town takes place this year on Thursday 3rd December from 5.00pm.

This year by popular demand, everyone’s favourite science fiction characters will be back at Dorset County Museum. Come along to see characters from the Star Wars films and Dr Who. Bring the children to see Father Christmas in his grotto – every child will receive a bag of goodies in return for a small donation.

Pliosaur meets Darth Vader

Delicious mulled wine and mince pies will be available to buy in the Victorian Gallery, and the Tea Room will be open for tasty snacks and refreshments. A browse in the Museum shop will reveal a wide range of gift ideas including toys, games, books and jewellery. The current exhibition St Ives and British Modernism: the George & Ann Dannatt Collection will be on display in the exhibition gallery, and prints of some of the works will be for sale – another fantastic opportunity to pick up a very special Christmas present.

Entry to the Museum on Cracker Night is FREE and everyone is welcome. The ground floor galleries will be open on the night.

For further information and other forthcoming events contact the Museum on on 01305 756827 or check the website on or follow us on Facebook and Twitter

The Dewlish Elephants

From the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society’ Volume 10, 1889, an article written by by John Clavell Mansel-Pleydell, Esq., F.L.S, F.G.S. entitled ‘Note on Elephus Meridionalis, found at Dewlish. With a History of the Proboscidian Family and Special References to E. Antiquus and E. Primigenius, whose Remains have also been Found in this County.

An excavation for building sand at Dewlish, between Dorchester and Blandford, uncovered a narrow fissure containing the bones of an elephant. The Dewlish elephant tusk is the most spectacular specimen recovered and is mounted on a massive wood and plaster block which is almost too large to move

John Clavell Mansel-Pleydell with Workmen taken in 1914. An excavation for building sand at Dewlish, between Dorchester and Blandford, uncovered a narrow fissure containing the bones of an elephant. The Dewlish elephant tusk is the most spectacular specimen recovered and is mounted on a massive wood and plaster block which is almost too large to move. DCM © 2015

Before entering into a detailed account of the discovery of Elephantine remains at Dewlish I propose giving a sketch of the Proboscidian family, from its first appearance to the present time. It includes Deinotherium, Mastodon, and fflephas ; the two first are extinct, the last constituted several species, of which two only now exist — the Asiatic and the African Elephants.


The career of Deinotherium was a short one, limited exclusively to the Miocene age. Great Britain, as far as it is known, was not submerged during that age, and formed part of the Continent, hence the remains of Deinotherium have not been met with in these islands. The lower . jaw had two powerful tusk-like incisors directed downwards vertically, which were used either in digging up the roots on which it fed, or in mooring itself to the banks of
the river it inhabited, for, like the Hippopotamus, it was probably aquatic. The upper jaw had no molars ; neither the upper nor lower were provided with canines. The molars were crossed by transverse ridges, somewhat resembling the Mastodon. Deinotherium giganteum appears to have been the only species.


This extinct family is represented by seven species, ranging in Europe and Asia, from the Miocene to the Pliocene. In North America its remains occur as late as the Pleistocene. Both the upper and lower jaws of Mastodon are furnished with tusks, those of the lower jaw disappearing in the adult state. It differed from the Elephant in having three molars in use at the same time. The crowns had mammillated boss-like tubercles with transverse ridges standing out in bold relief. In many species of Mastodon there is a true vertical succession, affecting the third or the third and second molars instead of the horizontal forward succession of replacement, as is the case with Elephants. The range of the genus is very extensive ; it has been supposed to reach Australia. A fragment of a tusk found near Moreton Bay, Queensland, was described by Sir R. Owen (Proc. Royal Soc, March 30, 1882), the Australian origin of which there is no question.

The true Elephants appeared like the Deinotherium and Mastodon, in the Miocene age. They are grouped by the late Doctor Palconer under three suborders — Stegodon, Loxodon, and Eu-elephas, of which Stegodon approaches nearest the Mastodon in the mammillary form of the crown-ridges, so much so that if the crown of a molar of Stegodon is denuded of its coat of cement it would be referred to Mastodon rather than to Elephas. Three of the four species of this genus are restricted to the Miocene formation of India, the fourth, S. insignis, survived the Pliocene age of that country.

Loxodon is represented by the living African Elephant. It differs from Stegodon in the character of the molars, which are more elevated and the enamel thinner. The European Pliocene, Elephas meridionalis, the chief subject of the present memoir, belongs to this section, Elephas planifrons, of the Upper Miocene Sewalik Hill formation of India, and the Post-pliocene pigmy Elephants of Malta, E. Melitensis, which was not more than feet high, and Elephas Falconeri, Busk, which did not exceed or 3 feet.

Eu-elephas is represented by the living Indian Elephant. It includes also E. antiquus and the Mammoth ; both are of the Pliocene age, and jorobably appeared during the latter part of it, when the warm temperature of the earlier period had given place to the cold which began then to set in — the precursor of the Glacial Period. The Pliocene beds give no evidence of a true glacial fauna, neither in the alluvial deposits of the valleys of the Po and of the Arno, nor in the corresponding deposits on the northern side of the Alps, the valley of the Rhone, and other parts of Switzerland. The climate was more equable and of a higher temperature than at present ; the flora  then was remarkably uniform in France and in Italy. The Pliocene flora of Lyons, of the Cantal in France, of Bologna, and Tuscany in Italy, connects the past and present plant-life of Europe with those of distant regions, now separated by extensive seas, such as America, the Caucasus, Japan, and China. The Valley of the Po was then an arm of the sea, which stretched into what are now Alpine valleys. The Valley of the Arno was also submerged at this period. In the overlying marine deposits both fauna and flora shew a considerable lowering of the temperature ; immigrants from the north were introduced and largely prevailed towards the end of the Pliocene period, reaching as far southward as Sicily. I expect it was at the later period Elephas meridionalis, Hippopotamus, and Rhinoceros Etruscus (leptorhinus) and Irish Elk were driven southwards, and were hardy enough to endure the changes attending the early part of the Glacial Period. As there was then land communication with Africa, some found refuge there, others unable from some cause or other to reach it in time perished. Of the above named animals, as well as Machairodus latidens, Rhinoceros megarlmius, Ursus Arverne?isis, Hippopotamus is theonly one now living, therest having perished from inability to survive the new state of things. Elephas meridionalis has been traced in the Italian interglacial beds, on the plains of Arezzo, and in the freshwater beds of the Upper Yal d’Arno, also in the French interglacial beds of Perrier near Issoire, in the Valley of the Allier, where it is associated with the Mammoth, also in a Pleistocene alluvial deposit in the Valley of the Khine, between Lyons and Bourg. In England deposits of the Pliocene age occur in the submerged Forest-bed of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex, and in the high and low-gravels of the Thames Valley, which contain the same association of Mammalian remains as in the sub-Appenine Pliocenes of the Valleys of the Po and of the Arno. These are overlaid by beds of boulder-clay of the Glacial Period and by superficial gravels of the post-glacial ages. The Crag is the lowest British horizon in which Proboscidian remains have been found — Mastodon, Elephas meridional^, Elephas antiquus, together with Hippopotamus and Rhinoceros Etruscus (leptorhinus). Elephas antiquus has been found at Bracklesham Bay, in the Isle of Wight, and at Pagham Harbour in Suffolk, in mud-deposits, which were evidently laid down when the temperature was moderately high. These are doubtless the oldest Pliocene beds in England, contemporary with the fluviatile beds of Gray’s Turrock in Essex.

The probable climatal condition of Europe during the Pliocene age may be inferred from the Hippopotamus, whose remains are locally abundant in the beds of that period. It is an amphibious animal, spending the day either floating on, or swimming near the surface of the rivers they inhabit, and roaming at night to feed on and near its bank. Wherever it is now found there is open water all the year round. A frost of twenty-four hours’ duration, sufficiently severe to freeze over the lakes or rivers it inhabited, would cause a disastrous annihilation of every Hippopotamus thus imprisoned. It appears to have been spread over the whole of the Pliocene area of England in the Valleys of the Severn, the Avon, the Thames, Kirkdale Cave, and Kent’s.Hole. It has been found at Motcombe in this county. A comparative warm temperature throughout the year may be also inferred by the presence of southern freshwater shells which are now extinct in England. It is probable that not more than one species of Elephant occupied one district at the same time, and the district must have been extensive. The supply of food they required must have been enormous, and no district could have maintained two species of such large animals, whose habits are gregarious and their food similar ; if we draw an analogy from our own experience at the present day, we find only one species of Elephant, Rhinoceros, Hippopotamus, Camel, Giraffe, Ostrich, or Crocodile, in any one given district. A similar law doubtless existed in geological times. The comparatively meagre flora of the Forest-bed, as determined by Heer, in which the three species of Elephants occur — leads us to a similar conclusion.

ELEPHAS MERIDIONALIS (0. Fisher, ” Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society,” vol. xliv.,p. 818, 1888.)

Although a contemporary with Elephas antiquus and the Mammoth, it appeared at an earlier period than either. It is designated by Nesfre as being the most ancient elephant. Until the discovery of its remains at Dewlish it had been only known as occurring in the Forest-bed of the eastern coast. Its European distribution, however, extended through the northern, central, and southern Departments of France, and with the exception of some notifications of it in Northern Italy and South-eastern Europe, there are not any well authenticated records of it elsewhere in Europe. It is found with Mastodon in the Valley of the Arno and in Piedmont, also on the north side of the Alps. In the Pliocene alluvium of St. Prest in France it is the only Elephant ; this is the case in corresponding beds in the Departments of the Gard and of the Herault, and in the sub-volcanic Pliocene alluvium beds of the Auvergne and of Yelay, where the Mastodon also occurs, but in a lower horizon. Elephas meridionalis exceeded the two other British Elephants both in size and height. It stood 17 feet from the withers, its limbs were enormous, as may be supposed, to enable them to carry such a weighty bulk. Being a Pliocene animal, it was probably unfurnished with hair. Its molars shew a greater width of crown than any of its congeners ; the enamel-plates are thick with wide intervening ridges of cement. The height of the molar is low in comparison to its breadth, the fangs, especially the anterior, one being long and strong. Their discs, when only partially worn down, shew the rings of digitation, in proportion tothe amount of wear. The molar belonging to Mr. Kent (here exhibited) had just come into wear, from which an idea may be formed of the appearance of a new unused tooth. The tusks are enormous, commensurate with the rest of the animal ; the alveoli in which the tusks were inserted form elongated massive cylinders. They have a slight outward divergence, which is obviously necessary, as otherwise the tusks would interfere with each other had the distal end of the alveoli converged. The osteology of Elephas meridionalis agrees in its general character with those of the other two species, although differing materially in size. Both the shoulder and pelvic-girdles of the Dewlish Elephants, which were fortunately entire, corresponded nearly with the dimensions of this species, given by Mr. Leith Adams in his Monograph of British Fossil Elephants. In spite of the care and pains I took to remove the abundant remains from the bed, by applications of hot liquid glue, fish-gluten, thick coatings of plaster of Paris, and strong supports, the disintegrating effects of the impalpable sand, which filled up every osseous cell, neutralised it all ; many vanished before our eyes into “dust and ashes.”


This Elephant also preceded the Mammoth in point of time and was its contemporary as late as postglacial times. It appears not to have had so wide a range ; its remains having not been notified from a locality of higher latitude than 54 degrees north, in North Western Europe. It survived the Glacial Period and is found abundantly in Southern Europe, on the south side of the Alps and of the Pyrenees, but it is only on the northern side of these ranges its remains have been found with those of the Mammoth and Elephas meridionalis. It is common in Italy, and has been found in many parts of Sicily and in Piedmont, in the neighbourhood of Rome and Florence, also in Spain and as far south as Gibraltar. It is scarce in France, the Yalleys of the Somme and of the Marne only have yielded any of its
remains. Some have been obtained from the preglacial beds of the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts, from the more recent river and estuarine beds, and from cavern and fissure deposits. The English quaternary alluviums which cover the boulder-clay in the
eastern counties are not rich in remains of Elephas antiquus, Mr. John Evans gives a list of the drift-beds in England, and cites one instance only of Eleplias antiquus, in a bed which does not lie under the boulder-clay. Until Falconer’s time this species was supposed to be only a variety of the Mammoth, neither were the two forms of the crowns of its molars — the broad, and the narrow — differentiated by any previous palaeontologist. The lower molars have a slight central expansion of the crown more or less angular, the crimping varies in different teeth as well as in the same tooth, according as the crown has been more or less worn down. Some of the digitations of the plates show disconnected discs as in Eleplias meridionalis, while the rest have a continuous, unbroken double-edge of enamel.

Professor Boyd Dawkins considers the tusks of Elevlias antiquus to be nearly straight. Mr. Leith Adams (1881) thought this fact had yet to be identified. This will be referred to further on, where a remarkable double curved tusk very different in shape and bulk to that of E. meridionalis is described.(See Prof. Prestwiche’s ” Notes on the Phenomena of the Quaternary Period in the Isle of Portland and Around Weymouth.” Q.J.G.S., 1875.)

In an irregular trough or depression of the Purbeck and Upper Portland beds from 20 to 30 feet thick and from 50 to 60 yards wide, extending to a distance from 200 to 300 yards underlain by large waterborne blocks on the surface of the Upper Portland rocks in the eastern part of the Admiralty Quarries, Portland, is a Manmiiliferous Drift, composed of red clay or brown, passing into coarse loam with angular debris of Portland and Purbeck beds,
together with a considerable number of blocks of hard Sarsen stones, underlain by a layer of waterborne rounded pebbles, and in a matrix of sand red-loam, mixed with peroxide of manganese ; the pebbles were perfectly clean and polished surface. In the lower part of the deposit numerous mammalian remains were found, including a large number of teeth of elephants. Mr. Busk identified a well marked molar of Elephas antiquus and fragments, apparently of the Mammoth. Another molar, belonging to R. Damon, Esq., F.G.S., is kindly lent to us to-day for exhibition. I had the good fortune to accompany Professor Prestwich during his examination of this interesting deposit.


The Mammoth. — This, like E. antiquus, comes under Doctor Palkner’s subgenus, Eu-Elephas. It is the most interesting of all the extinct Elephants, owing to its having co-existed with man, as is proved by the implements and utensils of human manufacture found with its remains. M. Mortillet describes the figure of a Mammoth engraved on the beam of a reindeer’s horn from Montastruc, near Bruniquel, Department of the Tarn et Garonne, France, which served as the handle of a poignard. Its head is lowered, and the trunk lies perpendicularly between the fore-legs; the tusks form a support to the blade of the poignard, the tail has a thick, bushy tip, which, as M. Mortillet adds, would be the case of an animal covered as the Mammoth was with hair and wool. The Mammoth stands pre-eminent among its congeners in the wideness of its distribution. Its lighter frame and more pliable constitution rendered it capable of surviving the vicissitudes of climate to which it was subjected, and to which Elephas meridionalis and Elephas antiquus succumbed. It passed through the whole of the Glacial Period, and of the Elephant family was the only contemporary of man. Its remains are found in the Old World from the extreme North of Siberia to the farthest parts of Western Europe. It has been reported from Portugal, rarely from Italy, except in the north, near Turin ; it touched the Mediterranean basin at Ventimiglia, the present frontier of France and Italy, and
has been reported from the neighbourhood of Rome. It crossed the mountains of Northern Europe, and its remains have been found 70 degrees north latitude, in the Valleys of the Obi, of the Lena, and of the Tenisei. Its absence from Sweden, Finland, and Denmark may be accounted for by a submergence of those countries during the ice-age. A molar, and one only, has been met with in Denmark. Mammoth remains are found in the whole of Central Europe from Great Britain to the Caspian Sea and China. Its remains have been found in North America from Behring’s Straits to Texas. It is distinguished from the rest of the family by the plates of the molars being more numerous and narrower, the enamel extremely thin, and scarcely crimped.

Mr. Leith Adams shews that the number of ridges of each tooth, especially those at the posterior end of the series, is subject to every kind of variation, also in the number of plates of which each tooth is composed, but the thickness of the enamel varies so much
as to have given rise to a distinction between a thick-plated and a thin-plated variety; the former prevail mostly in Italy, the latter in Siberia and Northern Europe, including the British Isles.

There are many instances on record from Siberia of the soft portions of the Mammoth having been found preserved as fresh as if it had died yesterday. The date of the earliest record is 1692-95. In Lorenz Lange’s Travels, 1721, we are told how the Russian prisoners who were banished to Siberia obtained a livelihood by turning snuff-boxes out of Mammoth’s teeth. Sangtschof, who wrote in 1887 a description of his journey through Siberia, says the river at Alaseya had washed out of its sandy banks the skeleton of a gigantic animal, apparently about the size of an elephant. It stood in an upright position and retained its skin.

In 1806 Adams heard that a Mammoth, with its flesh, skin, and hair intact, had been found on the banks of the Lena, in latitude 70 degrees north, as early as 1801 ; three years after, in 1804, Schumakof, a Tungus chief, took away the tusks and bartered them for goods to the value of 30 roubles. Adams did not see the remains until 1806. In the meantime the natives had carried off a great part of the flesh to feed their dogs ; wild beasts too, had fed
upon it, and little more than the skeleton was left ; one of the forelegs had been taken away, the skin of the side on which the body rested was covered with hair, and so heavy it took ten men to drag it on to the banks of the river, which consisted of a continuous
and undisturbed bed of gravel intercalated with clay without boulders, supported by a, bed consisting of coarse sand containing boulders of various kinds and sizes. I will only name one more instance mentioned by Nordenskiold, who collected fragments of bones and pieces of the hide of a Mammoth at the confluence of the river Mesenken with the Yenesei 71°-28″ north in 1876. The hide was an inch thick and nearly tanned by age.

It was clear in Nordenskiold’s opirion it had been washed out of the tundra-banks ; close by it was a very fine cranium of the Musk-ox. In 1887 he found on the banks of a tributary of the Lena 69° north an exceedingly well preserved carcase of a Rhinoceros ( R. Merlcii Jaers). The nearer, he adds, we come to the coast of the Polar Sea the more common are the remains of the Mammoth, and nowhere are they found in such numbers as on the New Siberian Islands. Hedenström, in the space of one verst, saw ten tusks sticking out of the ground. Other animal forms occur on these half explored islands, which must have lived on the plains of Siberia with the Mammoth. As no flesh could remain without decomposition in an unfrozen bed, it is obvious that undecomposed and entire animals found in the Siberian tundras must have been frozen immediately after death, and remained so until extricated from their ice tomb, because exposure to the air through the melting of the ice would have caused decomposition to set in. This was Sir Charles Lyell’s view  —

It is certain,” he says, ” that from the moment when the carcases both of the Mammoth and Rhinoceros were buried in Siberia in latitude 64° and 70° north the soil must have remained frozen and the atmosphere as cold as at this day. It is clear that the ice or congealed mud in which the bodies of such quadrupeds were enveloped has never once been melted since the day when they perished, so as to allow the free percolation of water through the matrix, for had this been the case the soft part of the animals could not have remained undecomposed.” M. D’ Archaic, an eminent French geologist, expresses himself in similar terms.

It seems probable that Siberia enjoyed at no very remote period a climate sufficiently mild to afford food for Elephants or Rhinoceros of different species to those of the present day. It is supposed that such large animals would require a luxuriant vegetation for their support, but Darwin shows this to be erroneous. He says : ” The southern parts of Africa, though sterile and desert, are remarkable for the number and great bulk of their indigenous quadrupeds.” Dr. Andrew Smith saw in one day’s march in latitude 24° south, 150 Rhinoceros, several herds of Giraffes, and his party killed in one night eight Hippopotamus. ‘ Yet the country was thinly covered with grass and bushes about 4ft. high. Where Mammoth’s remains are now found in Siberia, lichens can only grow. Stumps of trees occur on the tundras associated with their roots and dissevered branches, which now grow a few degrees south, and much dwarfed. We are forced to the conclusion, therefore, that the temperature of Siberia was higher then than it is now. The food of this giant animal consisted partly of the leaves of fir, as shewn by their occasional presence in the interstices of their teeth. As yet the contents of the Mammoth’s stomach have not, I believe, been examined ; the brain, muscles, and tendons are the only portions which have undergone a microscopic examination.

One of the constant characters of the Mammoth’s molars of all ages and of all regions, is that the enamel-ridges rise only a very little above the ivory and cement. The alternate successions of enamel, ivory, and cement, are more condensed, and a larger number of plates form the part of the tooth which is in use. Lartel gives from 20 to 24 plates in a molar about 9J inches long. The number the same length of an Indian Elephant’s molar is not more than 16. The wide geographical range and long duration as to time of the Mammoth, extending from the Tiber 42° north, to the Lena, 70° north, and from Mexico 25° north to Eschscholtz Bay, 66° north, shews a remarkable pliancy and adaptation to changes and varieties of climate. The woolly covering which protected the Siberian form probably disappeared from the bodies of those which haunted the southern homes of the species.

The adaptation of the molar crowns for the food supplied by countries wide apart from each other, and not specially adapted more for one region than another, gave them facilities for a survival besides a robust constitution, for want of which the other two
species failed.

There are several records of the molars of the Mammoth having been found in this county — at Lyme Regis, Blandford, Encombe, and Portland ; also the magnificent scapula, from a gravel bed near the Lidden, which Lord Stalbridge so generously presented to the County Museum last year.

The tusks of the Mammoth have a double spiral curvature, amounting in some cases to three-fourths of a circle, with recurved points. The smaller tusk of the two before us shares some of these characters.

I have dwelt, perhaps, too long upon the general history of this very interesting family, with more special reference to the three British species which have been met with in this county. I now proceed with an account of the Elephantine remains from a remarkable bed reaching over and beyond the summit of a hill overhanging the village of Dewlish, which, with few exceptions, belong to Eleplias meridionalis. ” Hitherto no traces of Eleplias meridionalis have been discovered on dry land,” so wrote the late Professor Leith Adams in his Monograph on the British Fossil Elephants in 1877 ; sixty years before these words were written, four molars of this rare species were discovered in this bed. The discovery was attributable to the work of an humble fieldmouse in the construction of its winter retreat on the side of this barren hill ; the choice was made, perhaps, on account of its favourable western aspect. The sand scraped out attracted the attention of a passer-by, who was aware of the value of sand in a district in which this material is wholly absent. A facetious friend, referring to the first discoverer of the sand-bed, said ” No mouse before this gained such laurels — not mus ridiculus, but mus fossor proeelarus should be its title.” Two of the four molars above referred to are in the possession of Lady Michel ; the other two, a lower molar and part of an upper one, are in the Salisbury Museum. These last were described in “The Monthly Magazine” of May, 1814, thus: “Two animals, to all appearance coiled up like a serpent, which fell to pieces when being handled, and other matters which the workmen called hands, somewhat petrified (fangs of molars?). It appears like the upper jaw of an animal, the bars of the mouth petrified, but no teeth visible.”

Doctor Shorto had a clearer view of their value and character than the writer of the above extract, to whom he addressed the following letter : — ” I was at Dewlish last week and procured some of the matters taken from the pit on the side of the hill. They are the bones of Elephants.” The possibility of the occurrence of Elephas meridionalis elsewhere in England is hinted at by Doctor Falconer in the case of a molar described and figured by Parkinson in his British Fossil Mammalia from Staffordshire. ” Supposing,” says he, ” Parkinson’s record to be exact, it would in no way surprise him if teeth of Elephas meridionalis did not turn up among the remainsfound in the Valley of the Avon.”

Fossilised Tusk of an Elephant (Elephas Sp) from the L. Pleistocene beds at Dewlish DCM © 2015

Fossilised Tusk of an Elephant (Elephas Sp) from the L. Pleistocene beds at Dewlish DCM © 2015

This remarkable and exceptional Dorsetshire deposit stands above the village of Dewlish at an altitude of 90 feet on the summit of a hill, which spreads out eastward into an undulatory ridge, looking north and south. It is about a mile broad, and forms the watershed of the Milton and Dewlish rivulets ; the former being a tributary to the river Stour, the latter to the river Piddle. The face of the hill, as has been already noticed, looks M r estward, and is extremely steep at an angle of not less than 70°. The river, which flows more than 50 yards from the base of the hill, shews no traces of having at any time filled the valley, there being a total absence of terraces. After a careful examination of the
western side of the valley, which rises less abruptly, and testing several places on the same level as the deposit on the opposite side, I found no traces of it. There was the same bed of hard stubborn clay ( glacial ? ), which caps the hill on the western side of the valley, and differing only in being in contact with undisturbed chalk.


  1. Mould, about 3 inches.
  2. Chalk (rubble), 10 inches.
  3. Stiff red clay, 6 inches.
  4. Fine impalpable sand and flint (remains of Elephant), 3 feet.
  5. Sand and ferruginous gravel (small), 3 inches.
  6. Flint material waterborne, 15 inches.
  7. Sand and ferruginous gravel’ (larger than No. 5), 3 inches.
  8. Sand (the lower portion with different sized flints), 12 feet.
  9. Chalk.

Of these six beds each shews the different conditions under which it was laid down, torrential or placid, only one is fossiliferous, consisting of flints of different sizes and of the finest impalpable quartz sand. The largest flints and bones lie at the bottom, the lighter
above, where the sand predominates. Beneath this bed are two others, separated from each other by a thicker bed, containing sand and waterworn flints. The uppermost of the two consist almost entirely of small, thin, flat, shell-like flints, not thicker than a threepenny piece, very much oxydised. The lower one resembles the upper in every respect, except in the size of the flints, which, although larger, retain their flat shell-like character. The carrying powers of the stream Avere evidently more powerful in one case than in the other.
The question which suggests itself is, as to what mechanical agency was employed to sort these light and buoyant flints from the rest of the material borne with them on the current. It would be intelligible if other objects of all shapes and sizes and of equal weight were present, but this is not the case in either of the two beds. Many of the flints in the upper beds of the deposit are highly polished, apparently by trituration after deposition, as the polish is absent on the surfaces abutting the blocks of chalk, which are interspersed here and there, and which at first sight gives one the idea of the intervention of a fault ; they had evidently fallen from the massive chalk as the torrent or invading flood passed over. The preservation of the smaller tusk I attribute to the protection it received from one of these blocks falling across it bridge-like instead of upon it.


a. A line representing the outline of the valley.
b. River bed.
c. Middle chalk, forming the eastern side of the valley.
d. Elephant bed extending to E.
e. Dotted line representing former level (theoretical)
of the chalk prior to denudation.
f. Probable extension of the Pliocene bed over the chalk.
g. Dry valley.

The presence of so many Elephantine remains in this limited space goes far to strengthen the idea that they belong to Mephas meridionalis, without taking into account the pronounced character of the molars and the tusk which distinguish it from the Mammoth, the limbs and teeth of which, as met with in England, are invariably dissociated and isolated ; never found, as in this case, with several of its bones together.

Right half pelvic of E. meridonalis

Right half pelvic of E. meridonalis

In the year 1883 a labourer of Mr. Kent’s found a molar in the sand-pit from which the previous four had been found in 1813. This tooth had not come into use at the time of the animal’s death, for the digitations of the plates are scarcely worn and shew their incipient points. Elephants’ molars are not displaced vertically like other mammals, but move forward in the jaw horizontally, pushing on the preceding tooth as plate by plate wears out, and at last taking its place in succession. This second jind stimulated me to examine the pit, and I soon found a humerus of gigantic size. After removing the surrounding flints and sand with considerable care I successfully laid bare the bone, portions of which fell to pieces as soon as touched. In hopes of its preservation by douches of liquid gelatine, and a covering of cement, I left it after carefully protecting it with a covering of sacks and hurdles. An inroad of idlers the next day (Sunday) saved me any further trouble, for on my next visit I was pained to find the sacks and hurdles had been removed and not a vestige of the limb remaining — all was without form and void. The length of the humerus was nearly four feet, its width at the joint furthest from the shoulder — distal end — was nine inches. In September, 1887, Mr. Osmond Eisher, who had seen the two molars in the Salisbury Museum already alluded to labelled Elephas meridionalis, visited the locality, and by a fortunate coincidence I was his companion during the limited time at his disposal — about three hours, when he found a portion of a nearly worn down molar. Acting under his advice I continued the search systematically for sveral days, on the first day I obtained the border and fossa of a massive prescapular, the ridge, spine, and posterior border absent. This fragment, for so it might be called, was three feet six inches long. Close by was another bone, which might have been an ilium ; it had no medullary cavity, its length was one foot nine inches, constricted towards the middle, where its breadth was reduced from one foot one inch at the extremity, to only eight inches and a-half. A diagonal ridge traversed the bone from end to end. All attempts to save these bones were unavailing. The usual consistent adhesiveness of the thin liquid glue application failed to consolidate the bone, for the cells were filled with the impalpable, penetrating sand-grains. The next find was a left alveolus, three feet two inches long ; the diameter of the orifice to receive the tusk was five and a-half inches, which corresponded with the diameter of the anterior end of a tusk which was lying near it, its posterior end expanded into a thin, wing-like plate. The remains of other tusks were profusely disseminated in the upper part of the fossiliferous bed.

The following is a list of the remains found in the year 1888 : —

  1. A left humerus 4 feet long.
  2. A radius 2 feet long.
  3. An ulna, length 2 feet 2 inches.
  4. An entire scapula with ridge and recurved process.
  5. The anterior border and fossa of a scapula 3 feet 6 inches long, and 9 inches from the border to the ridge and spine.
  6. The left side of a pelvis, ischium missing ; length of ilium and outer border 3 feet 10 inches.
  7. An ischium (?) detached ; length (transverse) 2 feet 2 inches,breath at broadest end 1 foot 1 inch, at most constricted part inches.
  8. A femur, length 2 feet 3 inches.
  9. A tibia, length 1 foot 10 inches.
  10. The massive left alveolus of an upper jaw, the cavity of which corresponded with a magnificent tusk which lay near it. The orifice for the insertion of the latter was cylindrical and 6 inches in diameter ; the other extremity was somewhat flattened, expanding into a thin, wing-like plate on one side. Dr. Falconer considered the angle which the alveolus makes with the frontal plane affords a mark of distinction between E. meridionalis and E. primigenius, but unfortunately, owing to its detachment from the tusk, the angle cannot be ascertained. Its length is 3 feet 9 inches.
  11. A tusk 6 feet 2 inches long, and 6 inches in diameter at its base. The point, for about 18 inches, rested perpendicularly upon a bed of waterworn flints, mingled with fine quartz-sand. By a bold upward curve the tusk was raised two feet four above the base line, and lay nearly horizontally, at that level in a southerly direction. The posterior end lay within a few inches of the alveolus.
  12. A tusk of much larger dimensions, 7 feet 6 inches long, and 2 feet 3 inches in circumference at the base. About 1 8 inches of the anterior end missing. It was probably in this condition when the superincumbent bed of clay was deposited, as both are in contact. This tusk differs in shape from the preceding ; the curve (which bore its whole weight as it lay in the bed) had an upward and forward direction. Both extremities touched the clay -bed above. The deficient extremity probably had an outward direction.
  13. Remains of other tusks were scattered in several parts of the deposit. In some places the fragments of ivory were so numerous as to predominate over the other materials.
  14. A molar ; crown in use 4 J inches long, consisting of 6 plates (the anterior missing) ; 6 others unexposed and not in use. Breadth of fourth plate in use 3| inches, depth 4J inches.
  15. A molar; crown 7 J inches long, consisting of 10 plates. Breadth of fourth plate 3 J inches ; depth from tenth plate (posterior) to the fang 5 inches.
  16. Several other molars of Elephas meridionalis have been found, the whole number being seven, including three plates and part of the fourth in which the digitations are worn down into continuous ridges.
  17. Isolated plates of other molars are scattered in various parts of the deposit. I am inclined to view the bed as Pliocene, deposited immediately upon the Chalk after previous removal of the lower Tertiary beds, (of which there are abundant proofs in the neighbourhood), during one of the many oscillations to which Europe was subject during the Pliocene and Glacial ages. A denudation must have removed the Pliocene bed after its deposition, of which there are no traces left, as far as our present knowledge goes, except in the Dewlish sandpit, which has no connection with the Dewlish river ; the carrying force of the Pliocene stream appears to have come from the north-east, and the deposit laid down before the present features of the district were established. The angular flints of the Dewlish bed are rjrobably derived from the neighbourhood, the sand and quartz pebbles from some distance, the latter from an older bed invaded by the Pliocene flood bearing with it the massive bodies of elephants. The age of the bed will be ascertained with some certainty, if, on further examination next summer, we find remains of other mammalia, molluscs, and plants.
1. Elephas primigenius.  2. Elephas antiquus.  3. Elephas meridionalis.

1. Elephas primigenius.
2. Elephas antiquus.
3. Elephas meridionalis.

1. Scapula (one-tenth natural size).  2. Tibia (one-eighth natural size).  3. Radius (one-fourth natural size).  4. Humerus (one-eleventh natural size).

1. Scapula (one-tenth natural size).
2. Tibia (one-eighth natural size).
3. Radius (one-fourth natural size).
4. Humerus (one-eleventh natural size).

From the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society’ Volume 14, 1893, an article written by by John Clavell Mansel-Pleydell, Esq., F.L.S, F.G.S. entitled ‘A futher note on the dewlish “Elephant Bed.”

Since writing my note on the Dewlish Elephant Bed, I have traced it to its termination, a distance of 103 feet, and instead of its having been deposited when the river flowed at a higher level than it does at present, which I thought at one time to be the case, I find it was carried into a fissure by a river or flood, before the formation of the Dewlish Valley, when the features of the district were different to what they are now. A fault which is apparent about three miles to the north, in the axis of the valley, has elevated its eastern side 84 feet. at an angle of about 74°, giving the strata a north and east dip. This fault has not affected the strata on its western side, the inclination of which is conformable to those of the district, extending to the Tertiaries, which appear farther west in the neighbourhood of Puddletown. The stream did not flow with uniform strength ; at times it was gentle enough to transport only the lightest materials ; at others it was capable of carrying down heavy objects. This seems to have been the case shortly before the fissure was filled up, as the large flints and elephant remains lay at the top of the deposit and so near the surface that
every bone, with the exception of the massive limbs, pelvic-bones, tusks, and molars, was dissolved ; every attempt failed to raise them from the matrix, and in spite of applications of thin liquid glue and coatings of plaster of Paris they crumbled into dust. The remarkable polished flints, interspersed in the upper part of the deposit, had been probably lying on the surface of a sandy plain, and their exposed parts subjected to the ceaseless friction of wind-blown sand.

Bones of

Bones of “Elephas Meridionalis” in fissure at Dewlish DCM © 2015

During the greater part of the Pliocene age the climate of Europe was warmer than it is now ; many plants and animals disappeared before the Forest-bed was laid down ; the Mastodon and Hipparion (the supposed ancestor of the horse) did so at an early period, and before the deposition of the Norwich Crag. Elephas meridionalis survived as late as the Forest-bed, but had at last to succumb to the rigours of the Glacial age. The more hardy Mammoth was the last to disappear, being less dependent upon the luxuriant vegetation of a tropical climate than E. antiquus and E. meridionalis ; the plates of its molars were narrower and interspaced with thinner wedges of cement, which were more suitable for browsing upon the stunted Arctic trees and shrubs.

Fissure at Dewlish. Containing remains of

Fissure at Dewlish. Containing remains of “Elephas Meridionalis” DCM © 2015

With the exception of the large herbivors the animals and the plants of Europe at the present day are similar to those of the Forest-bed age.

Fossilised Tusk of an Elephant (Elephas Sp) from the L. Pleistocene beds at Dewlish DCM © 2015

Fossilised Tusk of an Elephant (Elephas Sp) from the L. Pleistocene beds at Dewlish DCM © 2015

Of the fifty-six species of plants which Mr. Clement Reid has determined from the Forest-bed, all are now living in Norfolk with the exception of Trapa natans, the Water-chestnut, and the Spruce fir, both of which did not return to England after the Glacial age.
The Stag, Boar, Beaver, Glutton, and some insectivorous quad- rupeds which had been the companions of Elephas meridionalis, passed safely through that rigorous period. The Hippopotamus escaped the fate of the rest of the large herbivors by pushing its way southward before the climate became severe enough to cover the rivers and lakes with ice ; for, being an air-breathing animal, it is obliged to come occasionally to the surface. Its remains have been met with at Motcombe in this county, but no details of the bed, or the circumstances under which they were found have been preserved. They are met with frequently in the Pliocene beds of Italy and France. Near St. Brest, in the Valley of the Eure, beds of sand and flint-gravel of the Pliocene age, about 90 feet above the sea-level, occur similar to those of Dewlish, containing Elephas meridionalis and Rhinoceros etruscus.

Alveolus of Tusk

Alveolus of Tusk
“Elephas Meridionalis” DCM © 2015

The Dewlish remains lay at depths varying from three to eight feet from the surface ; beneath are lenticular beds of ferruginous loamy-sand, and two layers of thin flat-flints, of which the lowest are the largest — both are unaccompanied by any sand or loam. Large pieces of chalk, water-worn fossils — mainly consisting of Sponges and Bryozoa — sphseroidal flints, and some Palaeozoic pebbles lay scattered throughout the bed. After a careful search I have been able to find only two small patches of sand similar to that of the Elephant-bed, which must have found its way through crevices too small to receive any material of greater bulk. With the exception of the remains of this southern Elephant there is no other evidence of the geological age of the deposit, but it may. without much doubt, be assigned to the Pliocene.

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Dorset County Museum wins £10.3 million Heritage Lottery Funding

Cross-Section Artist Impression of Dorset County Museum Redevelopment Project - Carmody Groarke © 2015

Cross-Section Artist Impression of Dorset County Museum Redevelopment Project – Carmody Groarke © 2015

Dorset County Museum has received initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for an exciting new Collections Discovery Centre project, it was announced today. The main aims of the project are to provide a new state of the art learning centre, better archive and storage facilities and better public access to displays of the Museum’s vast collection.

This will be achieved through the sensitive yet contemporary redevelopment of the current building, which will transform Dorset County Museum’s facilities and double its visitor numbers. There will be new gallery spaces, an area for researchers to work and open workshop spaces so the public can see for themselves the fascinating inner workings of the museum. There will also be a new shop and tearoom, accessible from the street. The award of initial stage one funding of £483,900 will enable a detailed two year development plan to take place ahead of final submission to the HLF in May 2017. This would enable building work to start in 2017 and the Collections Discovery Centre to be opened to the public by 2020.

The Museum is housed in the centre of Dorchester in a beautiful high Victorian gothic building of architectural importance which will be carefully preserved during the works. The 1883 Crickmay Building which housed the Museum originally along with the stunning Victorian Hall will be conserved, and John White’s historic sixteenth century rectory will be sensitively restored.

More than 45,000 people visit the Museum every year, along with 5,000 local school children. It is anticipated that the new Collections Discovery Centre will become a focal point for locals and visitors to Dorset alike, attracting twice as many visitors in the years to come.

Jon Murden, Director of Dorset County Museum said “This is a brilliant and exciting opportunity for Dorset. For the first time we will have the space to do justice to our amazing collections, whilst ensuring they are safely preserved for future generations to enjoy. We would like to thank all of the organisations and individuals who have supported us with this bid. In particular we would like to thank, Arts Council England, Wessex Museums Partnership, Dorset County Council, West Dorset District Council and Dorchester Town Council.”

Dr Peter Down, Chairman of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society continued “We are delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has recognised the importance of the Dorset County Museum to the people of Dorset, and also recognises our commitment to learning with the new education centre. This very generous grant will allow us to increase the small number of staff, and give space to the many volunteers on which the museum relies heavily. As the County Museum, we can now look forward to working even more closely with our partner museums and other conservation Trusts within the whole of Dorset.”

The Lord Fellowes of West Stafford, Patron of the Dorset County Museum Development Appeal, added “This project will enable the Museum to bring world class exhibitions to the local area, and develop its role as a cultural and community hub for a range of events and activities. By 2020, while retaining and respecting its Victorian roots, the Museum will have been completely transformed into a modern, sustainable heritage service that serves twice as many visitors, making an even more significant contribution to the local economy.”

Explaining the importance of the HLF support Nerys Watts, Head of HLF South West said “From the spectacular Weymouth Bay pliosaur to the largest Thomas Hardy collection in the world, the collections at Dorset County Museum provide an unrivalled picture of 185 million years of our area’s heritage. We’re thrilled to support these plans which will transform the museum, preserve their incredible collections and finally enable visitors to get a true insight into Dorset’s past. We look forward to seeing the plans develop.”

Cllr Peter Wharf, the Dorset County Council‘s representative on the museum’s board, said: “This is really excellent news for Dorset. The museum is a real asset for residents and visitors alike and the county council has worked closely with them to help bring in this significant injection of funds which will benefit so many people. I look forward to being involved in this exciting project to develop a first class facility.”

Robin Potter, Mayor of Dorchester says “On behalf of the Town Council and the people of the town can I express our absolute delight at the success of the Museum’s lottery bid. The project will not only allow the Museum to provide a fitting home for the storage, interpretation and research into Dorset’s fascinating history; it will also become the essential cornerstone that the town’s Tourism sector has been looking for to stimulate significantly increased interest in visiting Dorchester to explore the town’s rich cultural heritage, creating more jobs and a more diverse local economy. The Town Council is keen now to do its part in helping Dorset County Museum raise the remaining, but not inconsiderable, £3 Million needed to make the scheme a reality.”

Phil Gibby, Area Director, South West, Arts Council England, said: ‘This is terrific news – we are delighted that Dorset County Museum has been successful in its application to the Heritage Lottery Fund. We’ve been supporting the museum to develop the skills and capacity they need to become more resilient and our investment has helped them plan a sustainable future with vision and confidence. Now we’re looking forward to working with staff and stakeholders as they deliver this exciting project.’

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Dorchester Museum to host Sci-Fi characters and Father Christmas on Cracker Night

Dorchester Cracker Night

Sci-Fi characters at Dorset County Museum at a previous Cracker Night.

It’s nearly time for Cracker Night again in Dorchester. The event that officially kicks off Christmas in the County town takes place this year on Thursday 4th December from 5.30pm.

This year everyone’s favourite Science fiction characters will be back at Dorset County Museum by popular demand. Come along to see characters from the Star Wars films and Doctor Who – and bring the children to see Father Christmas in his grotto in the Museum’s Victorian Gallery. A small donation is requested, and every child will receive a bag of goodies.

Delicious mulled wine and mince pies will be for sale in the Tea Room and the Museum shop will be open with a range of gift ideas including toys, games, books and jewellery. The current exhibition by local artist, Phyllis Wolff will be on display in the exhibition gallery and many of the works are for sale – another fantastic opportunity to pick up a very special Christmas present.

Entry to the Museum on Cracker Night is FREE and everyone is welcome. The ground floor galleries will also be open on the night.

For further information visit or telephone the Museum on 01305 262735.

The Black Death in Dorset

Black Death in Dorset From the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society’ Volume 43 1923, an article written by the Rev. Canon J. M. J. Fletcher, M.A. entitled ‘The Black Death in Dorset (1348 – 1349)’

It has frequently been pointed out that the middle of the fourteenth century appeared to be the time of England’s greatest glory. France had suffered a crushing and unexpected defeat at Crecy in 1346. In the following year Calais was taken. And when Edward III, in the height of his triumph, landed at Sandwich on October the 14th, 1347, the whole country seemed to be carried away with excitement at the success of their King. To all appearance an era of glory, of peace, and of plenty had arisen. It was the golden age of chivalry. And, in various parts of the country, tournaments were held to celebrate the establishment of the Order of the Garter, which appears to have been instituted by the King in order to hand down to posterity the memory of his martial prowess.

Such was the England upon which the great pestilence fell in the summer of 1348. It has been described as having been

“a turning point in the national life. It formed the real close of the mediaeval period and the beginning of our modern age. It produced a break with the past and was the beginning of a new era. The sudden sweeping away of the population and the subsequent scarcity of labourers raised, it is well recognised, new and extravagant expectations in the minds of what are called the lower classes; or, to use a modern expression, labour began then to understand its value and assert its power.” (F. A. Gasquet, The Great Pestilence, p. xvi.)

For two years or more, previously, there had been rumours of a mysterious disease which had been raging in the distant east, and by which, in a brief space of time, whole districts were depopulated. China and India more especially suffered. Tartary, Mesopotamia, Syria and Armenia were depopulated. Cairo lost daily, while the plague was at its height, from 10,000 to 12,000 persons. (Hecker, Epidemics of the Middle Ages (translated by Babington) 2nd Edit., 1835, p. 21.)

Its specific causes are unknown. The opinion of the time connected its appearance with contemporary physical phenomena of a remarkable kind. Parching droughts were
succeeded by convulsions of the earth and crackings of its surface from which a fetid and poisonous vapour was projected into the atmosphere, the corruption of which was afterwards increased by malarious exhalations from swamps caused by incessant deluges of rain. To the panic-stricken imagination of the people, the pestilence seemed to be advancing to their destruction in the palpable form of a thick stinking mist.

The Death CartThe pestilence found its way to Europe along the great trade routes, being carried by the trading caravans which brought spices and gums and silks and other produce of the eastern markets. An Italian writer (|Gabriele de Mussi, Ystoria de Morbo. quoted by Gasquet, Op. cit.. pp. 4, 17, &c.) tells how the infection was brought to Genoa. Some number of Italian merchants had resorted to a place called Tana, north of Constantinople and under the rule of the Tartars. Tana was besieged and taken by the Tartars; and the Christian merchants, who were violently expelled from that city, were then received, for the protection of their persons and property, within the walls of Caffa, which had been built by the Genoese in the Crimea. This, too, was attacked by the Tartars, and the inhabitants were hard pressed. Suddenly the plague broke out amongst the Tartar host. At first they were paralysed with fear; and then, turning their vengeance on the besieged, and, in the hope of communicating the infection to their Christian enemies, by the aid of the engines of war they projected the bodies of the dead over the walls into the city. As far as possible the plague-infected bodies were committed to the sea. Before long, however, the air became tainted, and the wells of water poisoned. In this way the disease spread so rapidly in the city that few of the inhabitants had strength to fly from it. From the Crimea the plague seems to have found its way to Constantinople, which, at that time, was the great centre of communication between the Asiatic and European countries. It reached Italy in the early days of 1348, being brought from the Crimea to Genoa and to Venice. Boccaccio (Boccaccio, Decameron, Introduction) tells us graphically of what happened at Florence. All classes were affected. Magnificent dwellings were rendered desolate, sometimes to the last inhabitant. Riches were left with no known heir to inherit them. People of both sexes dined, apparently, in the best of health, and at supper time were lying dead. Stricken children were forsaken by their parents. The poor languished on the highways, in the fields, or in their own cottages, and were dying like animals. Flocks and herds wandered unwatched through the forsaken harvest fields.

The pestilence reached France about the same time that it reached Italy. From Genoa it was brought to Marseilles, where in a month 57,000 were carried off by the sickness. It reached Avignon, where Pope Clement VI held his court, in the early days of January, 1348. Here, in the first three days, 1,800 people are said to have died ; and in the seven months that the plague lasted no less than 150,000 persons in the surrounding territory died. The Pope found it necessary to consecrate the Rhone, that bodies might he thrown into the river without delay, as the churchyards would no longer hold them. He himself lived in seclusion in his palace at Avignon, keeping up constant fires and allowing no one to approach him.

Weymouth Harbour

A view of the harbour as it appears today. At the time of the Black Death Melcombe Regis Harbour was to the right and Weymouth Harbour to the left

The pestilence first attacked England in the summer of 1348. It was probably brought from Calais, being conveyed by fugitives who came to England in hopes of escaping from it. It appears certain that the first place attacked was Melcombe Regis, or Weymouth, which at that time was apparently almost as important a port as Bristol or London.

” In the year of our Lord 1348, about the feast of the translation of S. Thomas (July 7th),” writes the Author of the Eulogium Historiarum, (Eulogium Historiantm, Vol. Ill, p. 213.) a contemporary monk of Malmesbury, ” the cruel pestilence, terrible to all future ages, came from parts over the sea to the south coast of England into a port called Melcombe, in Dorsetshire. This plague, sweeping over the southern districts, destroyed numberless people in Dorset, Devon and Somerset.”

The plaque on Custom House Quay which records the part that Melcombe Regis played in the story of the Black Death

The plaque near ‘The George Inn’, Custom House Quay which commemorates the event when the Black Death entered Dorset

Bristol more especially suffered. Other dates given for its first appearance in this country are July 25th and August 1st, while another contemporary monkish chronicler (Henry Knighton, Chronicon Ltyccstrcusis (Rolls Series), Vol. II, pp. 58, &c.) states that it began in the autumn of the year 1348. News of its actual presence had not apparently reached the Bishop of Bath and Wells (Ralph of Shrewsbury, Bishop, 1329-1363.) on August 17th, for on that date he sent letters throughout his diocese ordering processions and stations every Friday, in each collegiate, regular, and parish church, to beg that Almighty God would protect the people from the pestilence which had come from the east into the neighbouring kingdom. The same bishop, a little later, issued a mandate which he ordered to be read clearly and distinctly in the cathedral on the 10th of January, 1348-9. (Wilkins, Concilia Magn. Brit, 1737, Vol. II, pp. 745-746 (Ex reg. Wellen., fol. 333). In it he speaks of the pestilence having left many parishes destitute of spiritual care and without a priest. Numbers of people were dying without the Sacrament of Penance, in consequence of the infection, and through dread of the disease. And he directs that it shall be made generally known that, if a priest cannot be found, confession of sin may be made to a layman, or even in case of necessity to a woman; though, if the penitent recovers his health, confession is again to be made to a priest. Moreover, in the absence of a priest, the Sacrament of the Eucharist may be administered by a deacon. And if no priest can be found to administer the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, then, as in other cases, faith in the sacrament ought to suffice.

It is said that from June 24th until Christmas it rained either by day or by night almost without exception. And no doubt the abnormally wet season,’ unhealthy as it naturally was, would aid the development of the sickness.

Black Death VictimThe Pestilence appears to have been some form of the ordinary Eastern, or bubonic, plague (Gasquet, The Great Pestilence, p. y; Hecker, Epidemics of the Middle Ages, pp. 4-27; Villani, quoted by Dr. Jessopp in The Black Death in East Anglia; Chronicon GalfricU le Baker de Swyhebroke, Oxford 1889, pp. 98-100). It showed itself in swellings and carbuncles under the arm and in the groin – sometimes in size as large as a hen’s egg, at others smaller and distributed over the body; but in addition there were special symptoms, from one or more of which the patient suffered, which seemed to differentiate it from the common type, viz.:

  1. gangrenous inflammation of the throat and lungs,
  2. violent pains in the region of the chest,
  3. the vomiting and spitting of blood,
  4. the pestilential odour coming from the bodies and breath of those affected.

Though many recovered from the carbuncles and glandular swellings, it is stated that none did from the blood spitting. Sometimes the patient died within a few hours, though more usually the sickness lasted from three to rive days before death.

From the absence of contemporary statistics it is impossible to tell what proportion of the population was swept away by the plague. Platina, of Cremona, (B. Platina, Lives of the Popes (Clement VI) who lived about a century later, conjectures that, during the three years that it raged in Italy, ” scarce one man in ten escaped.” The same proportion is given for England by some of the Chroniclers,( Galfridus le Baker, Op. cit., p. 98; T. Walsingham, Historia Anglicana (Rolls Series), Vol. I, p. 273; Annales Monastici (Rolls Series), Vol. Ill, p. 475. ) who are followed by Stow and Barnes. (Barnes, History of Edward III (Cambridge, 1688), p. 435; Stow, Survey of the City of London, Vol. I, p. 129, Vol. II, 61. 62.) This must of course be an exaggerated conjecture. But, in all probability, the population of the whole country before the plague was somewhere approaching rive millions, of whom perhaps the half perished in the fatal year. A certain amount of evidence, however, can be obtained from various ecclesiastical documents, such as the records of institutions to vacant benefices, lists of ordinations, &c. And, if I seem to deal mainly with ecclesiastics, I would point out that it is because such statistics are to a certain extent available; and, what is more, that they are practically the only ones that are, with the exception of what may be surmised from the Court Rolls. I propose for the most part to confine myself to the county of Dorset, merely stating beforehand that, in January, 1349, Parliament, which was to have met at Westminster, was prorogued until April, (Rymer, Fcedera, Vol. V. p. 655.) in consequence of the deadly pestilence having broken out and daily increasing in severity, so that grave fears were entertained for the safety of those attending. In the early spring it was again found necessary that it should be prorogued indefinitely. (Ibid, p. 658.)

A scene from the former Weymouth attraction 'The Timewalk' shows a plague victim receiving the last rites from a priest while his distraught family look on

A scene from the former Weymouth attraction ‘The Timewalk’ shows a plague victim receiving the last rites from a priest while his distraught family look on

Dr. Gasquet gives the number of Institutions in the county of Dorset during the seven months from October 1348 until April 1349, as 5, 15, 17, 16, 14, 10, and 4, or a total of 81, whereas the previous average had been only one a month. That is to say that during those months there were more than eleven times the usual number of Institutions. The learned Doctor must have dealt, I think, only with Institutions to benefices conferred by the King or by some monastic or other quasi-public body; for from the episcopal registers, which are preserved amongst the muniments of our own Cathedral at Salisbury, and which I have examined carefully, the number of actual Institutions to Dorset benefices will be found to be 4, 17, 28, 21, 12, 12, and 6 – making a total of 100. And furthermore in these numbers are not included Institutions due to vacancies which had been caused by resignation or exchange. The pestilence still lingered on during the next four months, May to August, when the Institutions, owing to death, numbered 9, 3, 11, and 5.

West Chickerell appears to have been the first parish to be deprived of its Incumbent, for his successor was instituted on September 30th, 1348. His oversight of the parish, however, was but a short one, for another Institution to West Chickerell was necessary on the 6th of the following March. During October, 1348, there were Institutions to Warmwell on the 9th, and to Wool, Combe Keynes (Wool and Combe Keynes, however, were held in plurality by John Glanvill in succession to Richard Palmere. Consequently the loss by death was only one and not two.) and Holy Trinity, Dorchester, on the 19th. From then the deaths of Dorset clergy followed one another in quick succession. The parts of the county most affected were the districts within a short distance of the coast, and the villages through which the Winterbourne passes before emptying itself into the Stour. Bincombe changed its Incumbent both in November and in March; Worth Matravers lost both Rector and Vicar; at East Ringstead (Osmington) there were two changes in a short space of time; Tyneham suffered early in November ; Warmwell, Combe Keynes and Wool have already been alluded to; Winterbourne Monkton, Winterbourne Houghton, Winterbourne Came, and Radipole doubtless caught the infection from Weymouth or from Dorchester. At Wareham the Incumbents of Lady S. Mary, S. Martin, S. Michael, and S. Peter (two ?), as well as the Prior of the alien Priory, (Onginalia Roll, 22 Edw. Ill, m. 4.) were amongst the victims; There were new Incumbents at Milborne S. Andrew in November and again in February. Between November 17th and November 20th there were eight Institutions, seven of which apparently were due to the death of previous Incumbents, viz.: — on the 17th at Kingston Russell, (Here, as elsewhere at implies for, or on behalf of . Xo doubt the clergy were usually instituted at Salisbury, or wherever the Bishop might be at the time.) on the 18th at Cerne Abbas, East Lulworth, and East Morden (as well as one at Catherston Leweston, through resignation), on the following day at Toller Porcorum and Winterbourne Zelston, and on the 20th at Langton Long, Blandford, of the Chantry Priest. At Langton, although the Rector lived through the visitation, another Institution to the Chantry followed in June. Then there were Owermoigne, Aff puddle, Chalbury (twice), West Chaldon (now united to Chaldon Herring) both in December and May, West Knighton, and Stafford. Along the Valley of of the Winterbournes, Clenston S. Nicholas suffered most severely, there being fresh Institutions on December 7th, March 6th, April 8th, and yet again on May 3rd; while Winterbourne Houghton had three changes, viz. : on December 18th, March 5th, and June 7th. The Winterbournes Steepleton, Stickland, Whitchurch, and Zelston all lost their clergy, as, too, did Sturminster Marshall, which lies near the junction of the Winterbourne and the Stour. Not far away is Spetisbury, which lost two of its Rectors as well as two Vicars. Lytchett Matravers and Hilton, two other sufferers, are in the same neighbourhood. Lower down the Stour from Sturminster Marshall we come to Wimborne Minster, (Close Rolls, 23 Edw. III. January 31 and June 17.) two of whose Deans died in quick succession. Here the Win, or Allen, joins the Stour; and along the Win there were fatal cases amongst the clergy at Witchampton, Wimborne S. Giles, and Wimborne All Saints.

Blandford Forum, on the Stour, so far as its clergy were concerned, seems to have escaped the ravages of the disease; but Blandford S. Mary, Pimperne, Tarrant Monkton, Tarrant Rushton, Okeford Fitzpaine, Shillingstone, Farnham, Iwerne Courtney, Hammoon, Fontmell Magna, Iwerne Minster, Ibberton, Marnhull, Thornton (early in December and again in the middle of April), and Stour Provost all were bereft of their parish priests.

On the other side of Dorchester, of the coast towns, Bridport was one of the first to suffer, the institution taking place on November 9th, 1348, while the new Incumbent
himself succumbed just three months later. From the Bridport Corporation Records (Historical MSS. Commission. Appendix to Report, p. 475) we find that there were two Bailiffs of the town in each year; but in the 23rd year of Edward III (1349-50) four bailiffs are named, as having held office, Edward Stone, John Grey, William Hichecoke and Richard Laurenz in tempore P&stilcntice. The Abbot of Abbotsbury fell a victim quite early to the ravages of the disease, and, before his successor was appointed, the Vicar also died. Portesham, Puncknowle, Litton Cheney, Askerswell, Compton Valence, Allington, Bradpole (twice in the space of three months), Pilsdon and North Poorton were deprived of their clergy, as were Maiden Newton, South Perrott, Hooke, Toller Porqorum, Chelborough, Chilcombe, Chilfrome, Broadwinsor and Buckland Newton.

The northern part of the county was not nearly so much affected, though Gillingham lost one of its Chantry Priests at the beginning of December, 1348. Shaftesbury, however, suffered most severely. The Abbess herself, fell victim to the terrible disease, which also proved fatal to the Incumbents of S. Peter and S. Andrew, S. Martin, S. Laurence (both in November and in May), S. Mary and S. John, and later in the year S. Ronald. In addition to these, the Monastery lost its Chaplains, both at the altar of S. Nicholas and at that of S. Curas, while the House of S. Thomas was bereft of its Custodian.

For Sherborne, there were Institutions for the Free Chapel of S. Thomas on January 12th; and on the 18th of the same month a new Abbot was elected. Castleton, hard by, had previously lost its Vicar before December 21st. At Bradford Abbas, not far away, a new Vicar was instituted on December 1st. He can but have lived for a few days, for just twelve days later, on December 13th, in consequence of his death a successor was instituted; and about eight months afterwards, on the 20th of August, 1349, the death of this successor is noted, and there was yet a third Institution. Chardstock, farther S.W., on the borders of Devon, saw changes of Incumbents on March 8th and on December 8th.

Enough has been said to show how widely spread the ravages of this terrible disease were in the County of Dorset.

Although our own Bishop, Robert Wyvil, was spared, for his episcopate lasted from 1330 until 1375, yet two of our Metropolitans died of the plague. John de Ufford was elected Archbishop of Canterbury upon the death of John Stratford, and received the temporalties on December 14th, 1348; but he died of the plague before his consecration, on the 20th of May, 1349. He was succeeded by Thomas. Bradwardine, who was consecrated on the 19th of July, 1349. This great and good prelate, writes Dean Hook, (W. F. Hook, Lives of the Arclibisliops of Canterbury, Vol. IV; p. 106.) who had known how to administer

“the consolations of religion to the wounded in camp, and to the dying on the field of battle, regarded the post of danger as the post of honour. He hastened to England, prepared to lead the way to the abodes of sickness, sorrow, and death.”

He landed at Dover on the 19th of August, and after doing homage to the King, who held his court at Eltham, on the 22nd, he proceeded to London. At once he sickened of the plague, and died on the 26th of August.

There was a return of the plague in 1361, and, great as had been the mortality amongst the clergy of Dorset in 1348-49, at this later visitation it was, if anything, greater. Amongst the victims of this second pestilence was Thomas de Brembre, Dean of Wimborne Minster, and founder of a chantry in that Collegiate Church. Wimborne had lost two Deans during the time of the preceding visitation. And this was not all, for the Bishop of Worcester, Reginald de Bryan, who had formerly been Dean of Wimborne, died in his Cathedral City of the plague. Amongst other Dorset Incumbents who died were those of Canford, Lytchet Matravers, Moor Crichel, Hinton Martel, Chalbury, Gussage All Saints (two), West Aimer, Iwerne Minster, West Parley (two, viz. on August 27th and on September 6th), Pentridge, Edmondsham, Tarrant Gunville (two), Long Crichel, Belchalwell, Pulham, and Buckland Newton; and at Shaftesbury, S. Peter (two), S. Martin, and S. John.

It will be interesting just to look at the comparative numbers of deaths amongst the clergy in the neighbouring counties of Wilts and of Hants.

In Wilts, the Institutions, according to the Registers of the Bishop of Salisbury, in 1343 were 15; in 1347, 29, which number would be above the annual average. In 1348 they had risen to 72, and in the following year to 103. In 1361, during the second visitation of the plague, they were 128. At Ivychurch Priory, in Wilts, a house of Augustinian Canons, the ruins of whose abode are still to be seen some three miles or so to the east of Salisbury, the whole community was carried off with one single exception.

In Hants, the number of Institutions in December 1348 was 7; in January, 12; in February, 19; March, 33; April, 46; May, 29; June, 24; July, 18; August, 11 ; and in September 12; or during the ten months, 211, which would be about ten times the annual average.

What has been said of the mortality amongst the clergy will imply that there must also have been a terrible mortality amongst the people in general; although no doubt, in the exercise of their office amongst the sick and dying and with the dead, the clergy would be more especially exposed to the risk of infection. It is quite evident that the ranks of the clergy must have been very seriously diminished. And consequently, steps had to be taken to supply the places of the parish priests and chaplains of the religious houses who had died in such great numbers. The regular times of Ordination, at the Ember Seasons, had to be disregarded; and not infrequently men who had only attained to the minor orders — deacons, and even acolytes — were instituted to vacant benefices before being raised to the priesthood. Over and over again we read of permission being given for considerable numbers of men to be ordained priest who were under the canonical age. And sometimes they were passed very quickly through the various orders to the priesthood. It has generally been considered that it was partly due to this that there was a marked decline in the spirituality, as most certainly there was a deterioration in the intellectual attainments, of the clergy.

“So great,” writes the chronicler, (Henry Knighton, Chronicon Leyceslrensis, Vol. II, p. 63.) “was the dearth of clergy that many churches were deprived, and were wanting in divine offices, masses, mattins, vespers, sacraments, and sacramentals. It was difficult to get a chaplain for less than £10, or 10 marks, to minister in a church, instead of for four or live marks, or two marks with board (cum mensa), as before the pestilence when there were plenty of priests. It was difficult to get anyone to accept a Vicarage for 20 marks or £20. But in a short time a great multitude whose wives had died of the plague, many illiterate and mere lay- men, barely able to read, still less to understand, became candidates for orders (conjiuabant ad ordines).”

There was a natural reaction upon the religious life of the nation. One good result, however, was the foundation of Winchester College, of which the plague was the proximate cause, the ultimate cause being the wish to have a learned clergy to carry on the duties of the church and the business of the state. And in the first clause of the Statutes of New College, Oxford, William of Wykeham’s other great foundation, the munificent Founder sets forth with great clearness the objects of his foundation, and shows that what he intended was to provide educated clergy, who were not monks, but seculars, to fill up the gaps caused by the Black Death.

And the recurrence of the pestilence, in some places at any rate, drew attention to the advisability of better sanitary conditions. In one of the Close Rolls (Lit. Clans, 35 Edward III, Feb. 25, quoted in Stow’s Survey of the City of London (1720), Vol. I, p. 129.) is a King’s letter relative to Butchers’ Hall Lane, or Stinking Lane, London (25th February, 1361).

“Order that all Bulls, Oxen, Hogs, &c., should be led as far as to Stratford or Knightsbridge to be slain, instead of being killed in the city, and the putrified blood running down the streets, and the bowels cast into the Thames, whereby the air is corrupted and sickness and other evils have happened.”

Although at first the scourge fell most heavily upon the labouring classes, it was not long before it produced a marked improvement in their social status, and eventually a general enfranchisement of servile labour. In numberless manors so many of the peasants had been swept away that the land could not be tilled, but lay fallow and neglected. The old method of farming by bailiff gave way firstly to the system of stock and land lease, (Thorold Rogers, Six Centuries of Work and Wages, pp. 277-280, &c,) and gradually to that of ordinary tenant farming. And, partly from lack of labourers, and partly because it was found to be more profitable to “grow” wool than corn, large tracts of land which had formerly been cultivated were converted into pasture. And, indeed, labour was in such request that it could make its own terms; and, in spite of statutes and enactments and branding and fines and imprisonments, men were not content to be bound down as in past days to reside always in their old neighbourhood and to work for a mere pittance. The Statute of Labourers was passed in 1349, immediately after the first visitation of the plague, with the idea of compelling labourers to work for the wages formerly accustomed to be paid, and confining them to their own counties. This and subsequent laws passed were but imperfectly obeyed, and eventually,

“under the dread of servile war, the abolition of compulsory service and all the other demands of the populace were tacitly but surely accorded. Thus, within fifty years of the visitation of the Black Death, serfdom and villainage were practically abolished in England, and the labourer, released from his bondage to the land, was free to carry his thews and sinews to the best market” (W. Warburton, Edivard III, p. 144.).

In addition to the authorities noted, the following works may be consulted.

  • Seebohm, Articles in Fortnightly Review, Sept. 1, and 15, 1865.
  • Creighton, History of Epidemics in Britain, Vol. I.
  • Victoria History of Dorset, Vol. II, pp. 20, 21.
  • English Historical Rcvieiv, July, 1890, p. 524.
  • Stubbs, Constitutional History ,1875), Vol. II, p. 434.
  • Dr. Jessopp, Nineteenth Century, Vols. XVI, p. 915, and XVII, p. 599.
  • Stow, Annates, 384.
  • Thucydides. History of the Peloponesian War, Bk. II. sect. 47 — 57.

Related Sources:

Saint Wite of Whitechurch Canonicorum

Church of Saint White, or Candida, and Holy Cross,  Whitechurch Canonicorum.

Church of Saint White, or Candida, and Holy Cross, Whitechurch Canonicorum.

From the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society’ Volume 28, 1907, an article written by the Rev. D. Holland Stubbs entitled ‘Church of Saint White, or Candida, and Holy Cross, Whitechurch Canonicorum: A Descriptive Sketch, compiled from notes made at various times by former vicars’

In the valley of the Char, near the village of Charmouth, about midway between Bridport and Lyme Regis, stands the ancient Whitechurch Canonicorum, founded by King Alfred the Great about a.d. 897. It is a building composed of various styles of architecture, and consists of nave with north and south aisles, transepts, chancel, and western tower.

The first point of interest lies in the names by which it is so honourably known. It would therefore be fitting perhaps to observe what is generally believed to be the origin of the church and its dedication. Upon good authority it is considered to have been built by King Alfred, who united a few townships of which he was presumably the owner — for it is well known that the Kings of Wessex held great estates in all this district — and built a church of stone on this his royal domain. As a rule, churches derive their names from the parishes in which they are built, but in all probability this parish derived its name from the church having been built of white stone, or possibly having been whitewashed*. (*N.B. This theory of the origin of the place-name is simple and in harmony with the well-known instance of “Candida casa ” in Galloway. Vide Article by the Rev. Charles Druitt in the Club’s Proceedings, Vol. XIX., 1898)

In his will, dated a.d. 901, King Alfred bequeathed Hwitan Cyrican to his youngest son Ethelwald. In the next century, about the year 1060, the then Rector of Withchirche, Guntard by name, who was Chaplain to William the Conqueror, “being desirous to retire into the Monastery of S. Wandragesil, prevailed upon the King to grant the two churches (Whitechurch and Sherston) to the monks of that house.” Accordingly the Rectory of Witcerce was given by William to the Benedictine Abbey of S. Wandragesil, now called S. Wandrille (near Caudebec in Normandy), and was constituted a “cell of the abbey” under the name of Album Monasterium. This connexion lasted about a hundred and forty years, during which time the monks began to rebuild King Alfred’s Church on a larger scale.

The Abbey of S. Wandrille surrendered the Rectory of Witcherch to the Church of Old Sarum in 1200. The right of presentation to the Rectory then passed to Sir Robert de Mandivel, a resident knight (whose name survives to this day in Mandivel Stoke), apparently on his undertaking to carry out the unfinished work of the abbots, and this was done in the Early English style in the early part of that century. This accounts for the different shapes of the arches and the admixture of Norman and Early English in the nave arcades. By the addition of transepts the church was now made ‘ cruciform.’ It was on Christmas Day of the year 1240 that a charter was signed by which the Rectory and rectorial revenues were assigned to the Canons of the Cathedrals of Salisbury and Wells, from which time the church became known as Whitechurch of the canons, or, in its latinised form, Canonicorum. Thus we have the earliest name of Hwitan Cyrican about a.d. 900, then in William’s charter to his Rector Guntard, Withchirche, in Domesday, Witcerce, and in later periods (1200) Whytecherche, (1228) Wittecheriche, (1240) Witcherche, or, in its latinised form, Album Monasterium, and then Whitechurch Canonicorum.

The Western Tower

The Western Tower

To make a tour of the church in systematic order it is best to proceed first to the outside of the western tower. This massive and lofty tower, in the Perpendicular style of architecture, is a conspicuous object in the landscape for miles around, and is used as a landmark by vessels at sea when making for the port of Lyme Regis. With its buttresses it is thirty-two feet square and seventy-five feet high. The fine western window with three lights is, so far as the tracery is concerned, more modern, although a copy of the original. On either side of it there are canopied niches well preserved, but from which sacrilegious hands in times of religious strife have torn down the effigies of the saints. The tower contains six bells, with inscriptions respectively as follows : —

Whitechurch-Canoncorum-bellIn the walls of the church are embedded many fragments of carved stone which have been preserved from former buildings probably on the same site. On the south side of the tower, and high up, is an interesting stone carving of an archaic ship and an axe. On a separate panel, and a little higher on the right, will be seen another axe and an ancient weapon resembling an iron socketted celt.

Whitechurch-Canoncorum-AxeOn the north side is a perfect, unweathered specimen of the same curious weapon. The ship has been supposed by some to indicate that the donor of the tower was a merchant who had obtained, by the traffic of his ships, the wealth which enabled him thus to dignify and adorn his parish church, but a more probable explanation will be found later on.

A “spoked circle,” supposed to be an old sun dial, but, more likely, a mystic symbol which had to do with solar myths, will be seen built into the south-east side of the diagonal buttress of the south transept. The most interesting fragment, however, and deserving of a paragraph all to itself, is fixed in the south wall between the tower and the porch.

The Holy Grail

The Holy Grail

It represents a two-handled cup and is supposed to be a figure of the Holy Grail. It is similar in design to the Holy Grail as seen by Bishop Arculph in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem about A.D. 680. The Holy Grail, in mediaeval legend, is the Holy Cup used by Our Lord at the Last Supper, originally the ” San Great,” or Holy Dish, in which it is said Joseph of Arimathaea collected the Sacred Blood. There is a similar representation on a cross at Sancreed in Cornwall, of a one-handled cup, but it more probably refers to the ” pot and lily,” symbolical of the Annunciation and not to the Holy Grail. (Baring-Gould).

South Porch

South Porch

Particular notice should be taken of the south porch with its striking Inner Doorway, which is really a beautiful example of Norman work. The jambs are ornamented with circular shafts, having foliated capitals, and the circular head enriched with nail-head ornaments and pointed roll. On the eastern jamb and on the inner side of it, will be seen four roughly-cut crosses, which are said to be consecration marks. These crosses, it is supposed, were first marked in holy oil by the bishop who re-consecrated the church, or some part of it, possibly after desecration by bloodshed, and were then chiselled in their present form to commemorate the event. Of special antiquarian and ecclesiastical interest also is the old sacring-bell-hut over the west gable of the chancel. In this hung the bell that was rung at the consecration prayer in the Latin Mass before the Reformation. Nearly all over the country these sacring-bells and their huts were destroyed in Puritan times.

Projecting from the four corners of the porch are grotesquely-cut figures called gargoyles, evidently of earlier date than the part into which they were built. Others may be seen on the north side of the church, and the upper portion of the tower. On the north side also may be observed traces of a foundation which may be a remnant of the old Saxon portion of the fabric.

Whitechurch-Canoncorum-InteThe Interior of the Church. — In the severely plain, yet most dignified interior, there is much more of interest than at first meets the eye of the casual observer, and much that is of great value to the student of ancient architecture. Attention is at once drawn to two arches of the south aisle, which are Norman. They date from the time of the re-building by the monks of the Benedictine Abbey of S. Wandrille. These foreign owners began to re-place the earlier church with a larger structure in the then prevalent style of architecture.

The Font

The Font

The bowl of the font is Transition Norman work. It was discovered by a former vicar, the Rev. Sir William Palmer, in a field belonging to Berne Farm, and was erected by him on a base in character with the ancient piece of work.

On the east wall of the south transept there is a painted board with tablet to the memory of Elizabeth Floyer, dated 1666, and a hatchment above showing the arms of Floyer impaling Mainwaring. The following quaint inscription sets forth the virtues of the good lady : —

Æsuœ 42.

Come, gentle reader, to bestow a teare,
Upon her sacred dust doe not forbeare,
Shee was a vertuous wife, a tender mother,
A neighbour kind, theres scarse left such another,
Though shee bee dead her memory will find
A name in her faire issue left behind
And in her pious life, which here below
With us, shee was too good to stay we know,
Who on her death bead thanked god most high
S’was not asham’d to live, nor feard to dye.

The vestry door should receive special attention, as it is considered a good example of mediaeval architecture. Originally there was a rood screen or loft across the chancel arch, the remains of the entrance to which may still be seen in the wall above.

The chancel is a very large one for a country church. It is simply, but effectively, furnished and adorned with oak stalls, the panelling being known as the ‘ linen pattern.’ The altar is well raised, and the whole appearance of the sanctuary from the west end is of an elevating and devotional character. The east window is bold and impressive, but not old. It was placed there by the Rev. Sir William Palmer, a former vicar, 1846- 1885. The altar rail is of the same date as the pulpit. One of the most striking features is the highly-decorated tomb of Sir John Jeffery, of Catherstone, with a recumbent figure of the knight, whose casque hangs overhead. Hard by is the smaller and less sumptuous tomb of John Wadham, of Catherstone, a kinsman of the founder of Wadham College, Oxford. There are remains of stones with matrices of missing brasses in the floor of the sanctuary. The old registers indicate that in this Church lie (in a nameless grave) the remains of a gallant sailor, Sir George Somers, born at Lyme Regis in 1554, the famous admiral who annexed the Bermudas in the reign of James I. No stone now marks the site, but a movement is on foot for erecting a tablet or brass to his memory.

The fine carved pulpit, which is Jacobean in style, was placed here in the time of James I. It serves to mark an epoch in the history of the church. Simiiarly-carved pulpits exist at Netherbury, Lyme Regis, and at Wootton Fitzpayne.

The north transept bears the date of 11 28 on a small wooden cross built into the upper portion of the east wall. It was intended to include the shrine of S. White or Candida, around which such interest gathers. Here too stood, formerly, two altars, one under each window, lighted by two small lancets. Very good specimens of foliated capitals to the arcade are deserving of special notice, particularly that representing a leaf of the water avens, or herb bennet. The north wall, it is probable, was originally of the same design as the bays of the east wall, with a lancet window, replaced later by the three-light window.

St. Wite's ShrineBeneath this window is the recessed tomb which is the reputed resting place of S. Wita, or Candida, and locally known as ” the saint’s shrine.” The monument consists of two parts. the lower, of a 13th century base brought from some other place, and rebuilt in its present position to bear the upper part, which is of older date. The three oval openings beneath the tomb are a common feature of such monuments. In these openings, handkerchiefs and other small articles were placed, in the belief that they would become possessed of healing virtues, and could then be carried to recover the sick. This coffin was opened by the Rev. Sir William Palmer, and was said to contain a small stone box in which were a few bones, but no documentary evidence remains of his act, nor any record of what he found there. On the top stands a small stone cross much decayed, which formed the finial of the east gable of the chancel. It was placed here for its preservation by the Rev. J. R. W. Stafford, a former vicar, in 1890. A second opportunity for examining the contents of the tomb presented itself, for in March, 1900, an ominous fissure appeared in the north wall, and it was necessary to underpin the walls, which was done by the then Vicar, the Rev. Charles Druitt. The movement of the soil and consequent settlement dislocated the old shrine, re-opening an ancient fracture in the stone coffin to such an extent that it became necessary to reset the broken end. It was during the execution of this work that the re-discovery of the relics was made.* (* N.B. Vide the Eev. Charles Druitt’s paper, ” Discovery of the Kelics of S. Wita,” in the Salisbury Diocesan Gazette for Sept., 1900.)

The broken end of the coffin having been withdrawn, there was seen within the end of a leaden casket eight inches square ; and on it, cast in raised letters on the lead, was found the following inscription : —

Whitechurch Canoncorum

This proved to be the square end of an oblong, ancient, leaden reliquary of 2ft. 5ms. It was badly damaged, having been ripped open from end to end. The incrustation of oxide on the torn edges seemed to show that the damage was not recent ; apparently it had been done some centuries before. In the reliquary were a number of large bones, a good deal decayed, presumably those of a small woman. These were not disturbed in their resting place, but one of the bones which lay upper most, was measured and found to be 13⅞ins. long. The larger fragments found on the floor of the coffin were placed with the bones in the reliquary, and all the smaller fragments and dust reverently collected into a small metal box and placed within the coffin. One side of the reliquary was complete and undamaged, and on it was found cast in similar raised letters on the lead the following inscription: —St.-Wite-Inscription

(Here lie the remains of Saint Wita.)

The whole of the relics were carefully replaced in the stone coffin, the broken end being securely cemented in its place. Formerly, it is said, there was a painted inscription on the stone front of the tomb, but the only words decipherable were:
Candida…….. Candidiorque ……..

Now the great question of interest is: Who is this S. Wita, or Candida? Certain theories have been propounded from time to time, to account for her origin and the presence of her bones at Whitechurch, but none of these can so far be proved to be more than conjecture. By some it has been thought that she was a virgin-martyr saint who suffered death under Maximian at Carthage, but it would be difficult to explain what she could possibly have had to do with a Dorset village. Some think that the abbots of S. Wandrille, perceiving a desirable connexion with a saint in the Roman calendar of the name of Candida, or White and Whitechurch, had her bones conveyed here. Others, again, that it is possible that a male saint of the name of White, or S. Candidus as he might be called, who suffered martyrdom near Utrecht in A.D. 755, is intended, as he was believed to be a native of western Dorset. But the best and most probable explanation of the mystery is that recently advanced by the Rev. S. Baring-Gould, who is a recognised authority on such subjects. He has kindly written the following notes expressly for this paper :

“Who was S. Candida, or S. White? No legend exists of her in England, but she has received recognition in Brittany under the Celtic name of Gwen, the Latin name of Candida, and the French name of Blanche, all of which have their equivalent in the English name of White. We can only conjecture as to her identity. Of Gwen we know a good deal. She was twice married. By her first husband she became the mother of S. Cadfan, the founder of Tywyn Church in Merionethshire, where his stone with inscription still remains. She was the daughter of Emyr Llydaw, a prince of Brittany, and her first husband was Eneas Lldewig. On his death she married Fragan, cousin of Cado, Duke of Cornwall. For some unknown reason, Fragan resolved on leaving Britain and crossing over to Brittany, in the latter part of the fifth century, and took with him his wife Gwen ‘ of the three breasts,’ and his two sons with her, Gwenthenoc and James, and he settled near where is now the city of S. Brieuc, at a place still called Ploufragan, or the Plebs or tribal residence of Fragan.

“Shortly after their arrival in Brittany, Gwen gave birth to another son who was named Winwaloe, a notable saint, who died in the year 550. Gwen received the name of ‘the three breasted’ from an expression in use among the Welsh and Irish, descriptive of a woman who was twice married and who had children by both husbands. At Ploufragan there is a modern statue of her as a queen, but at Scaer is her holy well, yielding an abundant outflow of crystal water, and there she is called Candida.

“What little that is reliable concerning her we know from the life of her son S. Winwaloe, but legend has been busy with her name and story, and Sebillot, in his collection of folk tales collected in Brittany, tells some of the traditional stories connected with her. According to them the connection with England is still present, but she is fabled to have been carried off by English pirates to London, but she escaped from the ship with the loss of two fingers cut off by an axe by one of the pirates — according to another version, the loss of her left hand — and to have walked on the water back to Brittany. There the track of foam left by the tide as it turns is still called ‘ the track of S. Blanche.’

Le Chemin de Saint Blanche.

Le Chemin de Saint Blanche.

“She must at one time have had a considerable cult in Brittany, as not only are there churches dedicated to her where she had her settlement of retainers, as at Plouguin and Pleguen, but there is also a parish of S. Gwen, and she is likewise venerated at S. Cast,

“In A.D. 919 – 921 there was a great influx of Bretons flying their country under their chief Matuedoi who came to England, as the Chronicle of Nantes says, ‘ with a great number of Britons,’ and they brought with them the bodies of their saints. By this means a large number of the relics of old Welsh and Breton saints arrived in England. Athelstan, although not yet King, received the refugees kindly and planted them, there is reason to believe, in Cornwall and Wessex, of which Dorset was a part. At Wareham, in Dorset, have been found inscribed stones that belong to these settlers. Athelstan placed the relics in various churches, and it is quite conceivable that he gave those of Gwen, or Candida, to Whitechurch which his grandfather had founded.

“Now it is remarkable that nowhere in Brittany is it held that her relics were preserved; consequently it is not at all improbable that when the migration took place to England, the refugees carried with them the bones of the mother of some of their greatest saints, S. Cadfan, S. Winwaloe, S. Gwenthenoc, and S. James. It is possible that they conveyed those of Gwen, the ‘three-breasted,’ to England, and that Athelstan gave them to Whitechurch, partly influenced by the name it bore. If that be the case, then Whitechurch may congratulate itself in possessing the remains of a notable mother of saints. Her son, S. Winwaloe had^ and has still, churches dedicated to him in Cornwall, Gunwalloe, Tresmere, etc., and in Devon, that of Portsmouth.

“There are several Candidas in Martyrologies, but none of these can be the S. Candida of Whitechurch. S. Candida, the martyr of Carthage, was a virgin, but both the history of Gwen and the legend of S. Blanche represent her as a married woman,
and do not admit of her having been a martyr. It is possible enough that the emblems of a ship, a ‘Celt,’ and an axe represented on the tower of Whitechurch may have reference to her legend, the axe that cut off her fingers, the ship in which she crossed the sea, and the ‘Celt’ to symbolise the pirates.”

In the church walk which runs along the outside of the church grounds there are many ancient stones built into the wall which at one time formed part of the historic building. There are also many other stones on which are carved texts of Scripture, the gifts of various bishops and other dignitaries of the Church.

Tales from the Archives: A browse through old registers

Dorset County Museum Accession RegisterWhen carrying out research at the Dorset County Museum using its old Accession Registers, (some tatty, some neat and tidy!) one cannot but help spotting odd, strikingly worded or unusual descriptions. The following list is a record of some of the most significant, interesting and obscure Accession Register entries those found during 2013. Serendipity is indeed a strange bedfellow…


1884 October
Given by J. S. Udal Esq, Inner Temple. A portrait of Judge Jeffreys.


1885 September
The slough of a snake, nearly 4ft long from Wool Heath. Given by Mrs Penny.


1886 May

A pair of Chinese stockings made of human hair. Given by the Right Reverend G.E Moule. Bishop in Mid China.


1896 March
A fragment of Roman pavement from Victoria St London. from F. A. Burt Esq, 1 Gordon Villas, Swanage.


1891 January
Copy of poll at Shaftesbury Election 1679. Given by J. E. Nightingale Esq.


1893 February
Beaver bones from Tarrant Crawford.


1901 April
Palestine Exploration Fund Journal for April 1901. Given by the Reverend G. E. V. Filleul, Dorchester.


1903 November
On loan from F. J. Lloyd Priestley Esq. 2 hawk mummies and several small figures of Egyptian Gods etc.


1921 June
Hen’s egg “freak”- chicken 1 head, 4 legs, 2 bodies. Mrs Follett, Wych Farm, Bridport.


1925 February
Little Auk. Picked up in an exhausted state, near Corfe Castle.


1937 March

Chimney sweep’s hook for pulling down obstructions in chimneys. Found broken in a chimney, Cornhill, Dorchester.


  • Some but not all of these objects may still be found in the collections of the Dorset Natural History & Archaeological Society at the Dorset County Museum!
Archivist Mole

David Ashford – Dorset County Museum Research Enquiries & Identifications Service

A British Earthwork by Rev. William Barnes

Maiden Castle, Dorchester, DorsetA British Earthwork by Rev. William Barnes

[An Archaeologist speaks.]

The grassy downs of Dorset,
Rising o’er our homes of peace,
E’er teem with life and riches
In the sheep and precious fleece;
And charm the thoughtful roamer
When, like us, he climbs to scan
Their high-cast mounds of war – the works
Of Britain’s early man,
Whose speech, although here lingers yet
His mighty works of hand,
Has ceased a thousand years to sound
In air of this green land,
And startled may it be to hear
The words of British kin —

An gwaliow war an meneth,(1)
An caer war an bryn.(2)

Their breastworks now are fallen,
And their banks are sunken low;
The gateway yawns ungated,
And unsought by friend or foe.
No war-horn (3) calls for warriors,
And no clear-eyed watchmen spy
For tokens of the foe, around
The quarters of the sky.

No band, with shout and singing, (4)
Sally forth with spear and sword,
Staying foes at wood or hill,
Or at the waded river ford;
Or else to take the hill, and fight
To win, or die within

An gwaliow war an meneth.
An caer war an bryn.

There were lowings of the cattle
By the rattling spears and swords;
There were wails of weeping women
And grim warriors’ angry words —
“Be every Briton fearless, or
For ever live in fear;
And bring his ready weapons out —
His bow, and sword, and spear! (5)
For what have we to fight the foe?
Our children and our wives!
For whom have we to fight? For those
Far dearer than our lives!
And we, to shield them all, will die,
Or else the battle win,

Yn (6) an gwaliow war an meneth,
Yn an caer war an Bryn ! “

But now, in sweet, unbroken peace,
May Dorset land-folks sleep;
In peace may speed the gliding plough,
In peace may graze the sheep;
In peace may smoke our village tuns,
And all our children play;

And may we never need nigh banks
To keep the foe at bay!
And blest be lord or farmer
Of the land, who wins our thanks
By sparing from the spade and sull
These olden British banks,
And not destroying, for a crown
Or pound that he might win,

An gwaliow war an meneth,
An caer war an bryn.


(1) – “The ramparts on the mountain.”

(2) -“The stronghold on the hill”  

This is In the old Cornoak or Cornish-British, that of our West of England.   The modem
Welsh would be —

“Y gwaliaie ar y mynydd,
Y au caer ar y bryn.”

Au pronounced ace; y like e in le, French ; ” mynydd,” munneethe.

(3) – Cadgorn.   The bugle-horn was used for hunting, war, and drinking.

(4) –  By the laws of Hoel Dda, when the Welsh marched to battle the bards were to go before them singing a national song, now lost, called “Unbenaeth Prydain” (“The Monarchy of Britain “). This, however, was later than the time of the upcasting of our earthworks.

(5) -A law triad gives, as law-bidden weapons which every man was to keep ready for battle, a sword, a spear, and a bow with twelve arrows.

(6) – In.

Related Sources: