Abbot’s Hall, Milton Abbey, 

Part 1 development of medieval halls

The Abbot’s Hall is securely dated 1498 and was part of Abbot William of Middleton’s refurbishment of the buildings destroyed in the fire of 1309 (yes it took nearly 200 years!). His rebus is to be seen in several locations in the hall and the date is carved in the wooden screen.

The development of the hall in medieval buildings is given in Margaret Wood’s book ‘The English Medieval House. There are no recognisable survivals of Anglo-Saxon halls, although some have been excavated, they were all of wooden construction. There are some twenty known surviving halls from the Norman period which were built in stone. These being turbulent times they were defensible. Often the access was a stone stairway to a hall built on stone undercroft. Attack by fire being common. There are examples inside baileys which have a lookout tower (a common feature in some Italian towns). The hall had a central hearth, necessitating a high roof to reduce smoke inhalation. At the opposite end to the entrance is where the lord of the manor, or abbot had a dais to oversee the manor servants during their meals. We can envisage the abbot of Milton Abbey living in such accommodation, although it would have been swept away in the fire of 1309. Note that other buildings were separate, additional wings to a hall being a later feature, planning was haphazard at this time too as many excavations at castles and baileys have shown, and also those in monastic precincts, although the locations of cloisters, abbot’s halls, dorters etc have some common features in some Benedictine monasteries.

As times became more settled, there were additions for comfort: a solar wing was added for the lord’s private quarters, the abbot withdrawing after the evening meal, often by a stairway to the solar behind the dais, this was probably the origin of the oriel. Both hall and solar were single storied at first. With the introduction of chimneys, the hall could have an upper room and many halls were modified in this way giving extra sleeping accommodation to the servants who had previously slept on the hall floor. At this time glass was still too expensive and the windows would have been small and shuttered, so the hall and solar would have been draughty and dark. About 100 examples of 13th century halls have been recognised, of which about 30 are good examples.

Glass became more common during the 14th century and window tracery similar to that in many churches appeared. A fine example survives at Meare Manor House built c1315 (tree ring analysis) and the summer residence of the Abbot of Glastonbury. More information and research at Historic England.

Surviving monastic buildings such as the Abbot’s Hall, Milton Abbas are important because they have probably been less modified over time than other domestic buildings.

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Six Little Girls Dressed in Blue: Lady Caroline’s “Spinning School”

Clive Barnes writes:

On September 7 1789, six village girls walked up to Milton Abbey mansion house to meet King George III and his wife, Queen Charlotte. When the queen returned to Weymouth with “the K”, as she referred to George in her diary, she made this entry:

“We breakfasted by 8 and set out at 9 for Milton Abbey, 17 miles from hence, where we arrived at about half an Hour after 11 & were received by Lrd Deamer [Damer] and Miss Deamer, his Daughter. In walking through the Court, six Little Girls Dressed in Blue walkd before Us and strewd Flowers. They are Miss Deamers Spinning School. Lrd Milton calls them Les Filles de Saint Cyr, & Miss Deamer Mademoiselle Maintenon.”

Lord Milton’s reference was to a seventeenth century French noblewoman, Françoise D’Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon, the unacknowledged wife of King Louis XIV of France. She had persuaded Louis in 1684 to establish a school at St Cyr for the children of noble families who had fallen on hard times. Lady Caroline’s school was for the daughters of some of the craftsmen and labourers of her father’s estate. And Lord Milton’s remark, while teasing, surely showed an indulgent pride in Lady Caroline and her interest in the village children. 

We do not know which of the village girls stood at the courtyard gate with flowers in their arms that morning, but we do know that the “charity school for girls” continued for another forty years until Lady Caroline’s death in 1829. The girls had their own uniform and there is a bill for making their gowns among Lady Caroline’s estate papers for 1822. There are also bills for a Sunday and evening school for the village boys, although they do not appear to have had a uniform made for them!

The girls seem to have been taught not only spinning, and later button-making, but also to read and write and were probably paid a small sum for attending. From the estate bills in 1789, the eldest girls were paid a penny and the youngest a halfpenny. We do not know where they met or how regularly. In 1789, three girls were taught each week by Eleanor Sargent, a village woman, on a rota system which saw some girls returning to lessons about every six weeks. 

The teaching of spinning and button making was a preparation for the kind of paid work the girls might do in the home as adults, enabling them to support the family income, or to have some independence as breadwinners themselves. The teaching of literacy would also have given them skills and confidence rare among working class women at this time. 

It is hard to measure the impact of the school on the girls themselves or on the life of the village. But perhaps we can have a glimpse of it in the life story of one of its pupils. One of the little girls in the school in 1789, and perhaps among the six that met the royal couple, was Ann Sturmey, then aged seven. She grew up to be one the women in the village who were paid by the parish to nurse the sick and the old, supporting herself and her children after the early death of her husband, William Fiander. She was also the author of the only letter from an ordinary villager in the nineteenth century that we have discovered. This was written to her son Robert who lived in Big Lorraine, Cape Breton, Nova 1855 to tell him of his brother’s death. Samuel Fiander (Robert’s father William’s brother) was in Newfoundland by the late 1790’s and died there in 1851. The letter was preserved by his family in Canada, and featured in the presentation by John O’Quinn to the history group in December 2022. Perhaps the letter itself is tangible evidence of the influence of Ann’s attendance at Lady Caroline’s spinning school a half century before.

Posted in Damer, family history, local history, Milton Abbas, Overseers of the Poor, social history | 2 Comments

Fisherman’s Grave

While researching the field names of Milton Abbas and adding to our spreadsheet of 1185 of them, I was reading A D Mills ‘Place Names of Dorset, Part 3’. Page 225 mentions a field called Fisherman’s Grave. He found a mention of this in Hutchins ‘History and Antiquities of the Country of Dorset’, 3rd Edition Volume 4 which says: 

“On what was formerly a down, north-east of Milton Abbey, called “Great Down,” now inclosed, was an ancient dyke, serving as a boundary between Hilton and Milton, part of which went traditionally by the name of ” Fisherman’s Grave,” the legend being that two fishermen had met here and fought a battle, one of them being killed in the combat, and buried on the spot. Certain it is, that, in 1831, a labourer discovered a human skeleton on the vallum of the dyke, now by the road-side, about 100 yards east of the place where the road to Milborne, through Bramblecombe Lane, separates from the Milton Road.”

I wonder if there are any visible remains of the dyke, does it appear on the LIDAR survey, or is mentioned in any of the gazetteers of dykes? Answers here please! A dyke does appear on the 25 inch OS map and is just shown as a few dots on the current OS Explorer series just where Hutchins says on the Hilton – Milton Abbas boundary.

By the way, we are still looking for the Women’s Institute survey of field names carried out in the 1960s, A D Mills certainly saw this when he was compiling his book, but Dorset History Centre have no knowledge of it.

Posted in Anglo-Saxon, Hutchins, local history, Milton Abbas, records | Leave a comment

Field Names in Milton Abbas

The Milton Abbas Local History Group have some great resources for locating the field names of this parish. We have large scale maps of 1652, and 1770 which name the fields. We have put all this information into a spreadsheet. We also have all the OS 25 inch maps published 1902 which give numbers and areas of every field, also the 1852 map and sales catalogue detailing the fields. In addition, we have some medieval documents listing the field names. Finally there is the comprehensive list given in Place Names of Dorset, Part III, A D Mills. Thus we are in a good position to tell the history of these fields and what they were used for over the centuries.

If any of our readers would like to help with this project, or have ideas on what further information or analysis is possible, please contact us.

Posted in landscape, local history, Medieval history, Milton Abbas | Leave a comment

Discover your Parish Boundary

When did parish boundaries develop? How has your parish boundary changed in the past 1000 years? Why?

It surprises me that there are not many local history groups who explore their parish boundaries. The boundary is an essential part of the history of every parish, and was once very important to every person in the parish, and is still important for the Census, the church, voting and local government. Hence the beating of the bounds and processions. In the days before maps the boundary was described in charters and perambulations in distinctive marks in the landscape. The earliest description of the Milton Abbas boundary is from 1384 and written in Latin, although we do have a translation. It features stones, trees, roads, rivers and other landscape features. It then included the parish of Woolland, but is otherwise much the same as it is today. We have another perambulation of 1769.

We have mentioned before that the Milton Abbas Local History Group has a photographic record of the boundary taken recently every 100 metres, giving us 742 images! For more information on the Milton Abbas boundary click here.

We also have copies of the ‘meresmen’ or ‘Boundary Remark’ books which the Ordnance Survey used in 1884 to define the boundary and produce the 25 inch scale maps. The original books are held in The National Archives catalogued in OS 26. There have been some slight boundary changes since then, including moving ‘Milton End’ from Milton Abbas to Winterborne Whitechurch.

Contact us if you have recorded other features of your parish boundary such as wildlife, plant species, etc.

Posted in Anglo-Saxon, Domesday, landscape, local history, records | Leave a comment

Jack Hargreaves: ‘Why 79 Dorset Villages vanished’

Thanks to Jill Arnold who runs the Arnold Family Facebook page who for reminding me of Jack Hargreaves. I used to watch his series of ‘Out of Town’ every week. Jack lived in Belchawell, just 5 miles from Milton Abbas. 

His explanation for the discrepancy of the numbers of villages lost in Dorset between the central chalk uplands, the Blackmoor Vale and the heathland to the east was new to me and most fascinating. There has been much research on Deserted Medieval Villages (DMVs), including archaeology, and there are websites dedicated to the topic. It is better to watch this episode which is available on Youtube, than it is for me to summarise it. The statistics speak for themselves – 66 lost on the chalk, 6 on the vale and 7 on the heath. Thank you Jack Hargreaves for inspiring me and so many other people. 

Posted in Anglo-Saxon, Dorset, landscape, local history, Medieval history | Leave a comment

Milton Abbey before its Dissolution

James G Clark’s new magnum opus ‘The Dissolution of the Monasteries: A New History’, 2021, brings attention to the fact that during the reign of Henry VII 1485 – 1509 the nobility vigorously tried in many ways to interfere in the running of the monasteries. They used their family ties to influence appointments, especially abbots, they obtained positions as stewards and they used their sponsorship to extract privileges and money. 

This can be witnessed by the stained glass in the Abbots Hall of Milton Abbey where local families, including the Strangways, Browning, Morton, Phelip, Filiol, Fenn, Stafford, Latimer, Turbeville, Delalynde, Newburgh, Bingham, Kelway, Knoyle, Horsey, as given by Hutchins. have their arms emblazoned.

It seems likely that Abbot William who finished the building of the Abbey Church and the Abbots Hall during Henry VII’s reign used his connections (and possibly family connections) with these nobility to raise funds for the building work. Unfortunately we do not know where William came from nor who his family were. These sponsors would have demanded something in return other than prayers for their souls. It would be nice to know what they got.

With the monasteries and the nobility entangled in this way, the monasteries lost some of their immemorial sanctity and independence from worldly concerns. They came more and more under the scrutiny and control of the crown. It didn’t help that the monasteries were in need of cash, in the case of Milton Abbey to get the Abbey Church built. The interference gathered pace, and with Cardinal Wolsey later jumping on the bandwagon, the situation only got worse for the monasteries, and we know what happened in 1536 – but that’s another story.

Posted in books, local history, Milton Abbey, Tregonwell | Leave a comment

What a treasure!

Overseers of the Poor Account Books

It is six years ago when I was in Chris Fookes’ shed that I first saw three original Overseers of the Poor Books. They had somehow been saved by the Fookes family of Milton Abbas for 200 years. Little did I know then how important these manuscript books were. They are each over 200 pages long and crammed with minute detail of the payments to the poor over the years 1771 to 1836.

I did not know what an overseer of the poor was, and knew very little about the history of agricultural labourers, apart from the Tolpuddle Martyrs. What a voyage of discovery this has been!

Six years and sixty thousand records later they are now transcribed into spreadsheets for our members to research. We are beginning to write up  They are so important for social history, how the lives of the people of a rural Dorset village played out in the Georgian era. There are so many questions which they can answer:

  • what did the people mean by ‘poor’
  • how poor were they?
  • how long were they poor?
  • how generous were the Overseers of Milton Abbas?
  • did they get out of poverty?
  • how did they fall into poverty?
  • how much rent did they pay?
  • how much did a baptism, marriage and funeral cost?
  • how much did food and clothing cost?
  • were they in debt?
  • what medical treatments were available?
Posted in Dorset, history, local history, Overseers of the Poor, transcription | 1 Comment

Nicholas Turbeville

One of our members with Milton Abbas ancestors going back the 16th century has discovered that his family were connected to the Turbeville, Horsey, Tregonwell and other high status families.

Peter Arnold writes about Nicholas Turbeville:

“.. lived at Winterborne Whitechurch as Lord of the Manor in one of the properties that curiously Sir John Tregonwell received an annual payment of one red rose. This fact is remarked upon in the historical records of the church. Peter Trasky in his publication of Milton Abbey 1978 remarked that Tregonwell had “ surrounded himself with gentlemen”. It would be easy to assume that Turberville was such a man, as he was a noted poet, author and scholar. Turberville married Ann Morgan daughter of a wealthy Mapperton family. They had four children before Turberville was murdered by Ann`s younger brother John, who was subsequently hung at Wells Somerset in 1579-80.

At this point of the tale concentration is essential. Christopher Morgan the brother of the murderer had married Mary the daughter of Sir John Brett of Whitestaunton Somerset.

John Brett was a major land owner who in 1579 had been the High Sheriff of Somerset. His son Alexander decided to marry Ann the widow of Nicholas Turberville also the sister of the Murderer John Morgan. This made Alexander the previous brother in law of Christopher Morgan the brother of the murderer, the late John!

Mrs Ann Brett the previous Mrs Turberville died August 7th 1584. On the same date, Adm. “de bonis non” of Nicholas Turberville deceased was granted to Alexander Brett.

Note: Alexander Brett and Edmund Huntley were executors of the will of Richard Arnold in 1595. 

Richard’s wealth is unknown. Wife Mary Horsey was given £600 on her father Johns`s death and £200 by her brother John on his. At the dissolution her father bought Sherborne Abbey for the sum of £1242 3s. 9d.  Both father and son now lie together as life size effigies in the Wykeham chapel of the abbey.

Richard’s wealth is unknown. Richards son, Richard d.1605 whose Wife Mary Horsey was given £600 on her father Johns Horsey’s death and £200 by her brother John on his. At the dissolution her father bought Sherborne Abbey for the sum of £1242 3s. 9d.

Both father and son now lie together as life size effigies in the Wykeham chapel of the abbey.

Posted in family history, history, local, local history, Tregonwell | 1 Comment

The name of GERRARD

Whilst searching our transcriptions of Milton Abbas documents for GERRARD it is surprising just how many different spellings of this name there are.


Not all of these occur in our Milton Abbas records, thank goodness!

The name was first introduced into England following the Norman Conquest. It has Germanic roots: geri or gari meaning spear and wald rule.

The first occurrence in Milton Abbas is in our transcription of the Churchwarden’s Accounts for the year 1662 when “Gerrads Boy for a fetchetts head” was paid 2d. A fetchett was what we now call a ferret. The accounts are full of names paid for various vermin.

We have two correspondents doing family research on their GERRARD ancestors of Milton Abbas.

We have researched the vermin caught in Milton Abbas elsewhere.

Posted in Churchwardens, family history, local history, Milton Abbas, social history | 2 Comments