The story of Portesham, a Dorset village - 1868 to 1968
Under Blackdown was compiled to mark the Centenary of Portesham Church School in 1968 and our best thanks are due to all who have so kindly helped with the text and the pictures, but we would specially like to thank Mr. J. H. Lucking for his article on the Railway, and Mr. I. D. Beale for the picture of Portesham Station, both of whom, though not of our village community, have shown their interest in us, by their kindness.
Under Black Down,
Though fleet to some,
Slowly passing years
Bring little change
In beauty, peace and form.
And, behind the lovely Dorset stone,
Bartlett and Joliffe, Hodder and Mayo
Still live, envied by those who,
To escape the fumes and crashing gears
Turn from the coast roads summer stream,
To discover our calm.
But change must come to all
And even Portesham must move on,
So let us here preserve
Something of the last hundred years,
So that all will not be lost . . . .
Portesham is a village and parish of 4,511 acres, eight miles South West from Dorchester and 7 miles North West from Weymouth, in the hundred of Uggescombe. Its population, in 1851 census was 767, the highest it had ever been since records were kept, probably because there were more cottages in the village, the families were larger and there was less tendency for them to move away. It is interesting to note from the following population table the reversal of the male to female ratio:
1861 .. .. . . population 704
1911 . . .. . . population 550-289 males & 261 females.
1951 . . . . . . population 419-195 males & 224 females.
1961 . . . . . . Population 412, the lowest ever recorded
The parish includes the hamlets of Friar Waddon, Corton, Coryates, Little Waddon and Shilvinghampton. These were all, anciently manors and hamlets, but now are farms.
KING CANUTE'S CHARTER TO ORC
This fleeting life is so full of worldly miseries and by (various) imperfections consumed and wasted by trouble that in cases of premature death very many, alas! are dragged unprepared into eternity. But it is evident that all of those who are truly wise must labour by all known means that, avoiding the filth of the devil, we may be worthy to attain the most pleasing fellowship of a life of contemplation.
Wherefore I, Canute, by the grace and favoring clemency of Almighty God, King of all the English and Ruler and Governor of other nations dwelling around, have with willing peace bestowed with perpetual liberty a certain part of the country, to wit, seven hides (manses) of land in a place to which the country men of that land have given the name PORTESHAM, to my servant whom his acquaintances and (friends have been used to call ORC) for his amiable fidelity and willing mind, so that he may have perpetually possess the same as long as his life shall continue . . . and it shall be lawful to him to leave (the same) to his heir . . . (And) the before named village shall be free with all things thereto rightly appertaining in fields and feedings, meadows and watercourses ; three things only excepted (that is to say), the restoration of a . . . (document decayed) . . . a bridge, and a fortification
+ I Canute King of the English have signed this munificence with the sign of the Holy Cross.
(Endorsed by 36 signatures . . . of Archbishop, Bishop, Dux, Abbots, Priests and Ministers.)
As Orc and his wife, Thola, had no children, Portesham was bequeathed to the Monastery at Abbotsbury until the Dissolution of Monasteries in 1539. The Rectory and Manor were then given to William Paulet, Lord St. John, and remained in the family of Paulets until between the years of 1731 and 1742, when they were sold to William Biscoe, of London, who sold them to Joseph Hardy. of Portesham.
The neighbourhood of Portesham was much affected during the Civil War. In 1644 Sir Edward Walgrave was quartered with his regiment of horse at Bridport when he was surprised by Parliament troops. However, he engaged them near Portesham, slew some and took forty horses and a cornet. This fighting may have accounted for the two lead musket balls recently extracted from the south door of the church.
An interesting epitaph on the south wall of the church suggests that the Roundheads may have pillaged the farm of William Weare, a parishioner.
"William Weare lies heere in dust as thou and I and all men must."
"Over plundered by Sabaean force, "Some cald it war, but others worse.
"With confidence he pleads his cause "And, Kings, to be above those laws.
"Septembeber's eyghth day died hee "When neare the date of 63'' Anno Domini 1670.
At this same timed we had two other notable parishioners. Sir Andrew Riccard, Kt., who went to sea as a lad and became an eminent merchant and President of the East India and Turkey Companies. He died in 1672 and although he was buried under the altar in the Church of Saint Olave, in the City of London, his hatchment still hangs in the north aisle of the church. He chose as his motto the single Latin word "POSSUM" (I am able) in memory of his birthplace and his achievements.
In the middle of the seventeenth century Colonel Bullen Reymes who played such a notable part in the Restoration, acquired the manor of Waddon. His will was proved in 1673 in which he prays to be buried in the aisle of the church at Possum. His son, Bullen Reymes, died in 1695, and then it was that his widow married Harry Chafyn.
On the highest point in the parish, the summit of Black Down, it was decided, in 1844, to erect a monument to Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy, Bart, G.C.B., who was captain of H.M.S. Victory at the battle of Trafalgar, and whose home was at Portesham. His epitaph at Greenwich reads as follows : "Eminent for judgement and self possession ; Ever anxious for the improvement of the service to which he devoted himself ; Equal to all its difficulties and duties, and conversant with its minutest details. The name of this gallant and distinguished officer will descend to posterity as one of the noblest ornaments of the profession to which England is so much indebted for security and renown.
The Portesham scenery is dominated on its northern boundaries by the Upper Chalk ridge of Bronkham Hill and the Ridgeway, running west to east. The soil on this formation is fertile, except where it is very thin. It is, by nature, grassland supporting a rich and varied flora. Formerly sheepgrazing, this land has been extensively ploughed up and the grass downward replaced by arable fields.
On the top of the chalk ridge there is a covering of sand and gravel, thought to be derived from the Bagshot Beds. In contrast to the chalk and limestone, this yields an infertile and acid soil, covered with heather and bracken. It forms most of Black Down with the Hardy memorial at its summit. A few sheep are still raised here but in 1936 most of this land was leased to the Forestry Commission.
Much is now planted with pine trees and in a few years these will have grown up and completely changed the landscape. Sand and gravel have in the past been dug out of this formation and the old pits are still to be seen in various places, notably below the Hardy memorial.
On the southern slopes this hillside changes its aspect because of a ''fault'' in the ground; that is to say, in geological times, the earth cracked and one part fell lower than the other, folded up and even turned upside down. The top of the fault on Black Down is Puerbeck Limestone, a very hard rock which is evident in its cliffs and rocks at Portesham quarry, Corton and Friar Waddon.
Like the chalk, this gives a neutral soil, covered with grassland, formerly sheep pasture, but in suitable places one finds some arable land. Mostly it is too stony and rocky to plough. It is this formation that has been quarried for its building stone and limeburning.
In the old Portesham quarry there are many fossils, the most interesting being an old Calamite or Giant Horsetail, known locally as the "Elephant's Tusk". The remains of the old limekiln can also still be seen here.
Below the cliffs and slopes of the Purbeck Limestones the ground flattens and it is composed of the so-called Kimmeridge Beds, which give rise to a well-watered clay soil producing a rich Grass land. Much of this has also been ploughed and the fields at tames enlarged. In contrast to the sheep grazing of the hillside this was probably always cattle country. This is indicated by the frequency of buildings and farms bearing the name of "Dairy". This formation extends northwards over the boundary of the parish. As well as variations of clay and sand, here may also be found "Cemented Stones'' which are layers of sandstone pressed together to form large slabs which split very easily and can often be seen in the stone walls with the Purbeck Limestone. Another feature of special interest in this formation is a bed of oil-bearing shale, which extends from Goosehill Dairy to Friar Waddon, on a line parallel to, and north of, the old railway. This was discovered in 1856 near Portesham Dairy at 14 feet but only a few tons were dug out. A pit was also sunk east of The Buildings but was quickly drowned out. Some shale also was dug when making the railways and it was used as ballast. The Manfield Shaft was sunk in 1883 but after running dry for some depths through the shale, water burst in from the sides and it was also drowned out. Further attempts were made to exploit this shale for its oil in 1908 and 1916, but difficulties were again experienced with the abundance of water, and workings have now been abandoned. Remains of some of these borings may be seen between Waddon and Corton.
Of interest also are the Sarsen Stones. These are formed of angular flints and a sandy conglomerate, cemented together in a very hard siliceous matrix. They are thought to have been formed in the Bagshot Beds and have been swept down the hillside with mud and water from the melting ice after the Ice Age. They are to be seen in plenty down Rocky Lane, at the side of Portesham stream, in the school playground, in the churchyard and are incorporated into the foundations of many of the houses in Front Street. They are extremely hard and presented a great problem to the contractors laying the water main and later the main sewer, when some 25 huge Sarsens were dug up and carried away.
These stones have also been transported and incorporated into the cromlechs and stone-circles of ancient times. Well known ones are the "Grey Mare and Her Colts'' the "Nine Stones'' and 1 I and the Kingston Russell Stone Circle, all in neighbouring parishes, and the Hell Stones on Portesham Hill. This last cromlech or burial place was re-erected from the scattered stones by the Dorset Field Club about 1894, and gives a good picture of what such places were like.
During the recent survey the school children reported the following wild birds and animals in the parish : swan, heron, buzzard, pheasant, partridge, French partridge, sparrow hawk, kestrel, green plover, golden plover? woodcock, snipe, mallard, carrion crow, rook, jackdaw, magpie, jay, wood pigeon, dove, cuckoo, teal, mistle thrush, garden thrush, blackbird, bullfinch, ring ouzel, Greenwich, goldfinch, chaffinch, whitethroat, willow warbler, grey wagtail, pied wagtail, great tit, wallow tit, blue tit, tree creeper, yellowhammer, green woodpecker, spotted woodpecker, wren, robin, house sparrow, hedge sparrow, kingfisher, black cap, chiff chaff swallow, house martin, swift, woodhen, barn owl, little owl, brown owl, fieldfare, redwing, linnet, wheatear, and goldcrest.
The older villagers remember that, on the rare occasions when wild geese were seen flying over the village, severe weather invariably followed.
The wild animals included red deer, badger, fox, hare, rabbit, hedgehog, stoat, weasel, rat, water rat, mouse, shrew, mole, field mouse, and grey squirrel.
The hills were covered with rabbit warrens, but in common with other areas, about sixteen years ago myxomatosis wiped out the rabbit population. Butterflies are now scarce compared with the days before modern insecticides were used, and the little blue and chalk blue butterflies which used to be so prolific on the hills, are now rarely seen. The hillsides were also covered with tiny snails, which used to give liver fluke to the sheep. These are now scarce.
Unlike its neighbours, Portesham cannot boast of any exceedingly rare Powers. Nevertheless, in the land that remains unploughed there are several uncommon and interesting plants. The type of soil largely determines the kind of flower that grows on it, and as already pointed out there are four zones of soil in the parish.
1, The Chalk Down.
2, The heartland of Black Down.
3, The rocky Purbeck Limestone.
4, The well watered Kimmeridge Clay in the valley.
On the chalk grassland may be found cowslips, prim- roses, orchids such as the green-winged and the early purple, the meadow dropwort, and in shady places anemone, sanicle. Unfortunately there is hardly any of this grassland remaining unploughed and there are no woodlands nor ponds, so many of the chalk down flowers common elsewhere cannot now be found in the very restricted area left.
Flowers of a very different kind are found on Black Down.
They are plants of acid soils and, therefore, lime haters, most conspicuous of which are the heather, heath, wood sage, red rattle, tormentil, certain sedges and grasses, gorse, foxgloves, harebell. The introduced rosebay willow herb is often abundant. Bluebells abound in certain places which usually seem to be in the vicinity of the junction of the sandy and chalky soils.
Most of the natural wild flora remains on the limestone rocks, and cliffs. Here again is a neutral limestone. Chalk-loving flowers are abundant, some of which, like the felwort, the carline thistle, the great knapweed, ploughman's spikenard, and the stemless thistle, are not seen elsewhere in the parish. Other plants such as thyme, marjoram, hoary plantain, nodding thistle, are commoner on this formation than on any others. The soil is, on the whole dry but where the springs issue at the base of the limestone, watercress and water celery are often abundant.
The most varied flora is, however, seen on the Kimmeridge Clay though here again much has been exterminated by the plough and the cutting of the roadside verges. One rather rare plant that may be found abundantly in hedgerow and coppice, is a pale blue iris, whose flower may pass unnoticed but, in the winter, its bright red seeds make it conspicuous. It is often called the "Roast Beef Plant'' because its leaves when rubbed yield that characteristic odour. Where not overgrown, the old railway is a sanctuary for many flowers. Here may be found the bee orchid, cowslips, yellow rattle, and the rare grass vetchling, while the butterfly orchid grows in a copse nearby. The mellilot, with a scent of new-mown hay, now covers the old permanent way and must have spread from elsewhere since the railway was closed. Also introduced by Goosehill is a purple wood-ruff-like plant known as Pholcrus. Here and in other waste places is the somewhat rare spotted medick with hooked hedgehog-like fruits.
In this district, the small streams have their own characteristic flora of watercress, water parsnip, water dropwort, comfrey, while on the bands are yellow iris, great willow-herb, brooklime, water speedwell, figwort, water mint, and many others. There is very little in the way of woodland. but in the small plantations are primroses, anemones, yellow deadnettle, violets, early purple orchid, woodruff, and sometimes the roast-beef plant.
Of course, there are many other common plants spread all over the area that are not particular about the soil or moisture. A list of these is hardly justified in a pamphlet like this.
THE VILLAGE SCENE
What Portesham looked like at the end of the last century may be gathered from the plates.
Plate I shows clearly the approach to the village from the Weymouth Road. On our left lies the pleasaunce of Mr. Manfield's garden, on our right the estate workshop with the museum above.
Plate 2 shows Portesham House from the pleasaunce. Facing the cross-roads is the village green with its stacks of furze, one for each cottage. 'The road on the left leads past Maltkiln and Goosehill cottages to Elworth and Abbotsbury. To the left of the green is the lane known as New Road (as seen in Plate 3) , over the ford towards Smoky Hole and the Chapel erected in 1867 and thence to Back Street; whilst the right-hand road leads us past the Kings Arms up Front Street. Plate 4 shows us the Church Tower , the School House and Front Street. Right opposite the school is the old Reading Room, now a private house, "The Green'' whither the men and boys resorted on winter evenings.
Close to Blagdon House is the footpath leading to the Butts, no doubt where archery practice was held in bygone days.
To the left of Front Street, on a little eminence we see the Parish Church which has been standing there since before the Norman Conquest. See plate 5.
"A pretty large, neat and ancient fabric, dedicated to Saint Peter, and consisting of a chancel and a body and two aisles covered with lead. It has a tower fifty feet high with battlements and pinnacles." Such is the description given in 1770 by the Reverend John Hutchings in his History of Dorset, and since that time there has been little or no change in the building.
A little past the church, on the right, lies Winter's Lane unadorned as yet with buildings and leading up the hill to Waddon and Coryates.
From this spot, plate 6 shows the view up Front Street with Chestnut Cottage, where once was the Dame School, Half Moon Inn and Trafalgar House on our right, leading up to the Fountain Inn and the New Buildings at the top. Adjoining New Buildings there stood an ancient pigeon house, the foundations of which still remain.
Such is the extent of the village and save for Miscombe and Rocky Buildings there are no houses further north.
Since those times, Council houses have appeared in Cemetery Road and on Portesham Hill, and numerous other houses have been built in Helstone Close and up Winter's Lane.
Bram Lane is now no longer a quiet village lane, but the busy main road to Weymouth. As the willow trees rotted they were cut down, and the Estate workshop has been replaced by a garage built an 1920 and the village hall built in 1930.
There were various shops in the village: a butcher's where the Temperance Hall was later built; three bakers: a carpenter, wheelwright and an undertaker; a grocery store and the agency for the "Braiding'' or net making at Tudor Cottage, since destroyed by fire; a blacksmith, next to the Half Moon; a tailor, a bootmaker and a coal merchant.
Beer was brewed at the Fountain Inn (now Portesham Stores) and at the Brew House, the building which adjoins the Manor House. Barley was locally grown and hops were brought in farm wagons from the Devenish Brewery in Weymouth.
THE FARMING SCENE
It was natural that the main work carried on in the village was connected with the farm. Without the machinery available now the work was inevitably arduous and long.
A hundred years ago working hours for farm labourers were from 6 am. to 6 pm. There were no holidays, but Sunday was free except for looking after the needs of livestock. Wages were 12 shillings for a carter, 11 shillings for a labourer, whilst a shepherd was paid 13 shillings.
If a labourer wanted to change employment, he would to the Candlemas Fair at Dorchester in February, in the hope of being hired. The following account is taken from the Dorset Chronicle of February, 1868: "As usual a motley mob of labourers of all description congregated in High West Street for hire; and although the baneful system has been spoken against . . . the supply of labour did not seem to be in the least degree abated when compared with former years. Good hands were in request; but the labour market seemed to be greatly overstocked."
For those successful in getting new employment, "Old Lady day''- the 1st April - was "moving day'' . . "Monday last was marked by the customary migration of farm servants and their families from one employ to another. Large number of wagons, laden with household furniture and effects passed through the town ( Dorchester) during the day . . . '' Sheep farming was the principle enterprise. Although Mr.
Manfield and Mr. Symes sheared their own sheep, there was, in Portesham, a sheep shearing gang who sheared from Abbotsbury to Bincombe, and some flocks at Ashton and Martinstown. The gang consisted of Mr. James Chipp the foreman, together with Mr. Henry Chipp, Mr. Harry Hodder, Mr. George Dunford and Mr. George Watts.
Each man had his own special job and the gang was paid 17 shillings per hundred, the money, being shared out at the end.
On the average, the working day lasted from 7 am. to 9 p.m.,
with each man shearing about 34 sheep daily. When sheep were nipped, one of the gang, "the chap to mind the bottle stick" would come along with a stick topped with wool, dipped in oil, which was dabbed on the spot to stop the bleeding. Machine shearing came into use in this area during the 1950s.
There was quite a ritual at the beginning of the day. The beer barrel was brought in; everyone had a drink; and only then would the shearing begin. At that time, beer was 1 1/2p a pint. In later years the gang became teetotal, and apparently the number of sheep sheared per man per day rose to 45 or 50. The custom then was for the farmer to bring in a jar of cider at the end. (Plate 13.)
Hay was cut with scythes. Mr. Hallett, employed by Mr. Symes, had a team of mowers who "swung the scythe'' from the end of May to September, beginning with clover cutting, then copsing thistles, and finally the corn harvest. Pig manure was used as booster for hay.
Ploughing was done in teams, with a carter holding the plough and the "boy" leading the horses; everything had to travel in a line along the furrow in order not to poach the clay. Mr. Canfield kept a four oxen team yoked together two by two. Edmund Mantels of Portesham, won £2 prize at the Dorchester Agricultural Society Exhibition for ploughing 1/2 acre with two horses October 1868.
Little did Portesham people realise, during the evening of July 18th 1955, that they were experiencing the heaviest rainfall ever recorded in Great Britain. The thunder- storm started soon after four and by nine o'clock it was over. Many houses in the village were flooded, especially at Goose Hill; and the road at Coryates was washed out to a depth of nearly ten feet.
Seven years later, the village was cut off by snow drifts for more than a week, and bread was flown out by R.N. helicopters from Portland.
With soils and landscape so varied as it is in Portesham it is inevitable that there was a great variety of farming enterprises.
PORTESHAM FARM , which included the present day Marsh Farm and Clover Farm, comprised five to six hundred acres in all, and was farmed by Mr. William Manfield who lived at Portesham House. Thirty-two men were employed including a bailiff, a black- smith, three carters with four horses each, a carpenter, gardener and groom. Cows and sheep were the main livestock kept, but at least 100 pigs were kept at Blackdown Barn. At his dairy at Marsh Farm, butter and cheese were made and sold in the towns; for at that time there was no milk collection from the village. The butter- milk and whey were fed to the pigs. About 1911, Haywards Nursery started milk collecting with two horses and a drey. The cattle, mainly Devon Reds, were kept in yards at night and let out to pasture on the hill by day; the dry cows were kept in the straw yards and fed on turnips and swedes.
MANOR FARM, including Elworth Farm, was 900 acres farmed by Mr. Isaac Symes who specialised in sheep. Annually about 1,500 sheep were sheared in the barn by Manor Farm House. Most of these were Dorset Down Sheep, their market price then being 20s. to 30s. for ewes, and 18s. to 22s. for lambs. Linseed cake was fed to fat lambs, and cotton. cake and crushed corn to the ewes. Four to five acres of beans and peas were grown also as fodder for the lambs. Barley, oats and a little wheat grown on about 200 acres of his land were used for malting and cattle fodder.
Twenty-two men were employed including a head shepherd and his assistant.
TRAFALGAR FARM was a small holding farmed by Mr. Bartlett, who kept 10 cows and some pigs. Butter and cheese, commonly called ''goods'' were made in the dairy opposite and sold locally. (See plate 9) The cows were milked by hand at the top of the village on the green by the Springhead.
THE LOWER DAIRY, GOOSEHILL, was owned by Mr. Symes, but it was rented out to a dairyman under a system unique to Dorset. The dairyman rented a certain number of cows at a fixed price per year, the rent being paid quarterly. The farmer provided sufficient cake for the year, and as the hay was grown on the dairy land, the dairyman had free use of it. The "goods" made were sold to a provisioner in Weymouth for the dairyman's own benefit. The butter was rolled in half pounds to sell at 8d.
to 10d. per pound; cheese was sold at 25s. to 30s. per hundred- weight. Prior to the first World War the rent for a cow was £17, but it increased during this war to £29. If the dairyman wanted to terminate his lease, three months notice had to be given. If the notice was not handed in before noon, the farmer could compel him to stay another twelve months. This Lower Dairy was at one time a mill, but by 1868, it had ceased to grind corn and the mill wheel was employed only for turning the butter churn. It is interesting to note that this mill was mentioned in Domesday Book as "worth 10 solidos clear and not more because in summer they cannot grind corn for want of water''
There will have been much of interest in the Buildings, part of Portesham Farm lying to the East of Rocket.
Not only was this one of the last places in Dorset where working oxen were to seen, but there was a beam engine with a squat chimney. This was used to drive a threshing machine and a small mill for grinding barley. The beam engine has long since disappeared, but the boiler remained, and the threshing machine was dismantled in comparatively recent years. There was also a large steam engine with a chimney at the Manor Farm which has now been removed.
Comment, perhaps, ought to be made here on the encouragement and financial award afforded to the successful labourer, at this time of low wages, by the Agricultural Society at its annual exhibition and by The Cottagers Exhibition also held annually at Dorchester. In the latter, prizes were awarded for vegetables, honey, bread; "to the cottager's wife whose house and premises shall have been kept in the tidiest and cleanest state, regard being had to the number of children'' and "to the labourer (one in each district) who shall have sent the greatest number of children, the most regularly to the parish day school". There were also prizes, in each age group, in needlework and knitting, to girls from 7 years to 18 years; and even to the schoolmistress and pupil teacher for shirt making. The Dorset Chronicle comments, on 12th September, 1867: "Whilst the labourer is pursuing his quiet routine of life, the watchful eyes of the Society are on him, marking his exertions to improve his little flower garden or allotment . . . peeping into his well kept cottage, and rewarding that which is most deserving . . . good is done . . . although the Society does not pretend to be an almsgiver . . . the prizes . . . are received . . .