The Wonders of Dorset


26/10/2012 by noonobservation

Instead of writing my blog last week, I thought it about time that I graced the good people of Dorset with my regal presence. Taking but one retainer, I set out upon a progress from Oxford to Dorchester and back. Upon the road I met with many strange wonders which I shall now attempt to recall through the foggy veil of my mead-soaked wits.

(Apologies if I stray too close to the fiery horrors of travel writing – I shall soon return to actual history.)

1. One does not simply walk into Wardour

A fine view of Wardour castle, foully obscured by Kevin Costner and his hair.

First stop on Friday afternoon was Old Wardour Castle, as featured in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Contrary to popular belief, the castle was not in fact destroyed by Alan Rickman, but was blown up by its owner, Henry 3rd Baron Arundell while trying to evict parliamentarian squatters in 1644.

Gaining entry to the castle was indeed most tedious for its walls are protected by many miles of poorly sign-posted country lanes. Such defences were contrived when the advent of cars rendered castles pregnable to casual day trippers. The invention of SatNav is likely to presage the next evolution in defensive architecture, probably involving stout ditches and iOS 6.

2. The Town of Dorchester has Tutankhamen

Sadly, the military museum was closed.

This is surely an even worse act of cultural colonialism than the Elgin Marbles and I plan to start a campaign to have Tutan repatriated just as soon as I’ve finished this blog.

I also feel mildly indignant about the ticket price I paid at the museum in Cairo to look at some cheap fibreglass fake.

3. Hardy Country

Dorset is apparently “Hardy Country”. I’m not entirely sure what this refers to, but I have narrowed it down to three contenders:

The Hardy monument looks much like a misplaced chimney.

a) Thomas Masterman Hardy, naval officer and the eponymous hero of the popular musical Kiss Me Hardy! He was born near Dorchester and has a large, ugly monument on a nearby hill.

b) Thomas Hardy, writer of bawdy comedies such as Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. He was also born near Dorchester, but was less monumental.

c) The county is resistant to chaffing and bad winters.

4. Lost abbeys

Every time I wander the ruins of an abbey or monastery, I tend to end up muttering “That c*** Henry,” over and over again. It is pleasant then to find that some abbeys survived the cull and are alive and well and living in Dorset.

Adaptation is the key. Milton Abbey is, I’m pleased to say, now a happy, healthy school. By using the obscenely ugly dormitories next to it as cover, it successfully evaded Henry VIII’s roving eye, and over the centuries, has learned to tolerate the itchy discomfort of having fluffy-haired, rosy-cheeked public school boys running about it all day long.

Domestication however, did not come easy and in 1605 the abbey threw one of its first owners (Sir John Tregonwell) from the roof, the young lad only being saved when his billowing pantaloons slowed his descent.

Also among the survivors is Sherborne Abbey. Before the Reformation, the Benedictine monks had kept the abbey all to themselves, making the townsfolk use the dingy annex that was stuck on the western end of their splendid cathedral. When the monasteries were dissolved (forming Monk(aq) + Au(s)), the abbey was sold to the people of Sherborne, who joyfully demolished their shitty old church and moved into the monks’ prayer palace, thus preventing it being sold for scrap.

Safety warning: Looking at fan-vaulting for extended periods may lead to mild religious awe, neck pain and falling over backwards.

Sherborne boasts the first fan-vaulted stone ceiling in Britain, a boast shared by Gloucester Cathedral. Since Gloucester has a significant height and weight advantage, I think Sherborne should probably pipe down.

5. The so-called Tolpuddle “martyrs”

Dutifully, M and I went to the Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum out of some misplaced belief that this is the kind of thing we should be interested in. For those who don’t know, the Tolpuddle “martyrs” were 6 farm labourers who were transported to Australia in 1834 for swearing an illegal oath, and are generally blamed for trade unions and starting that whole charmless period of history when everyone was either dirty and righteous (often also crippled), or rich and heartless.

As well as thinking that martyrdom needn’t necessarily involve dying (all six “martyrs” having made it home safely), the good people of Tolpuddle also seem to think that you can have a museum consisting of only five artefacts, one of which is a history textbook open on the page about Tolpuddle. The only virtue is that it’s entirely free, the museum making its precarious living selling Marxist car stickers to members of Old Labour.

I instructed M to inscribe in the visitors’ book, “A good value museum”, but she feared this might be taken as back-handed.

(Before the SWP start sending me poop parcels through the post, I’d like to make it clear that I’m not dissing the trade union movement or the historical importance of the Tolpuddle Martyrs – they just make for a lousy museum is all. I shall stick to visiting shiny gold-filled stately homes or pretty abbeys in future, because I am shallow.)

6. Some churches are dishonest

Would anyone like to guess the age and origins of this church, which resides in the town of Wilton, former capital of the ancient kingdom of Wessex?

This strumpet waylaid us on the Salisbury road.

That’s right – it was built in 1845 at the instigation of the Countess of Pembroke, in the Romanesque style, imitating a basilica she’d seen in Lombardy. How very vulgar.

In an attempt to make it more “authentic”, they did import some medieval French stained glass and some pillars from a 2nd century B.C. pagan temple in Italy. Victorian esteem for the ancient treasures of other cultures is legendary.

bit showy

tastefully understated

Despite its gaudy mosaics with interactive illumination functionality and spangley marble font, M and I infinitely preferred the original parish church in all its comely grey ruination.

In conclusion

Dorset is well worth a visit, especially if you are fond of ecclesiastical architecture or getting frequently lost. There is also the joy of the many spectacular place names, including Mappowder, Hazelbury Bryan, Piddletrenthide, Puddletown and Shitterton.

In addition to the wonders described above, I also discovered that…
1) clay pigeon shooting can cause severe bruising when done inexpertly
2) when Cromwell “slighted” a castle he was more than just discourteous to it
3) if you drink enough cheap English Heritage branded mead, some egg boxes look increasingly like boobies.

2 thoughts on “The Wonders of Dorset

  1. maxinterax says:

    Ah, Dorset. Have you ever visited the Isle of Portland? Delightfully, the Portlanders chose not to marry the mainlanders for 200 to 300 years. The result being only six Portland surnames, small noses, their own dialect, and a distinctive height. Being only a hemi-demi-Portlander, I am left with only one such feature.

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