Found in Milton Abbas

This stunning object was found by a metal detectorist somewhere in Milton Abbas. It is of unique design according the the British Museum.

The image is from the Portable Antiquities Scheme where you will find more information.

Posted in Anglo-Saxon, archaeology, Milton Abbas, Old Town of Milton Abbas | 1 Comment

The Reredos of Milton Abbey Church

A dissertation by James Bowler at the University of St Andrews has recently come to our notice which is titled ‘The Life and Afterlife of an English Reredos: A Contextual, Restorative and Aesthetic Analysis of the Great Screen of Milton Abbey, Dorset’.

This shows just how important this reredos is in the history of English church architecture. It is on a par with Winchester, New College Oxford, Southwark, Ottery St Mary and Christchurch, and is one of the finest high walled reredoses in England. All are missing their original niche sculptures although some have been replaced. The date of construction is confirmed stylistically, as the inscription reads 1492, and the design follows that of New College Oxford. This was an expensive undertaking and was probably financed by the then abbot Walter of Middleton.

The author concludes that James Wyatt’s refurbishment was carried out sensitively, leaving the features of the original visible. It would have once looked spectacular with the niches filled with painted and gilded statues, the figures can be deduced from the size of the niches and comparison with other layouts.

We are very much hoping that the other Milton Abbey features such as the pyx shrine, Apostle panels and Abbot’s Hall screen would be subject of more research and recording.

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James Jacob  of Waterloo


Research by Clive Barnes

Veteran of Waterloo 

The returning soldier was a common theme in  early 19C literature. This illustration is taken  from an 1803 collection by Whatcombe-born  poet William Holloway.

James Jacob was the third son of  carpenter John Jacob (b 1746). His  father appears to have trained only  James’s elder brother John as a  carpenter; and James was described  as working as a labourer before he  joined the army and as a collarmaker,  harness maker and army pensioner  afterwards.  

James enlisted in the army in 1811,  when he was twenty. The cavalry  regiment he joined, the 7th Light  Dragoons, also known as The Queens  Hussars, was possibly then stationed  near Weymouth. It was a cavalry  regiment which had been fighting with  Wellington in Spain. The continental  war against Napoleon had been raging  for seven years and James may well  have joined up for patriotic reasons. He  may also have felt that he had few  prospects if he stayed at home. The  army offered regular pay and rations.  

The 7th Light Dragoons sailed for Spain  from Portsmouth in 1813. They  endured a long march from north eastern Spain into France and,  crossing the Pyrenees in the winter,  they suffered severe hardship. They  joined battle with the French, first at  Orthes in February 1814 and then at  Toulouse in April.  

They returned to England that summer  and were used in March of the  following year to keep order during the  Corn Law riots in London. Later that  month, the regiment embarked from  Dover for Belgium, and on the 18 June  1815 took a prominent part in the battle  of Waterloo. James was wounded in  the left shoulder, was sent back to  England, and was convalescing in  hospital at Colchester in May 1816.  

He was invalided out of the army in  1817 as an “out-pensioner” of the  Royal Hospital, Chelsea. He received  nine pence a day, paid every quarter in  advance. He joined a large number of  veterans of the armed forces who  returned to their homes after the  Napoleonic wars. In 1828, it is said  there were over 85,000 such men in  the United Kingdom.  

On returning to Milton Abbas, James  married Rachel Vacher in 1819. They  had one child, a daughter, Jenny in  1820. Rachel was described as a  former button maker in the 1851  census and died the following year,  followed by James in 1856. Jenny  married twice. She remained in Milton  Abbas, and was living with her second  husband, Joseph Vacher, at the Lower  Lodge when she died in 1889.  

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St Catherine’s Chapel – medieval tiles

The Milton Abbas Local History Group have been recording all the medieval tiles in the Chapel. We have photographed them at high resolution.

The tiles were moved from the Abbey Church during its Victorian restoration. They show the results of 600 years of wear and tear, and much of the original glaze has worn off.

Just imagine how many monk’s and pilgrim’s feet have trodden here!

They are well worth a look as some are quite rare.

For more on the importance of St Catherine’s Chapel see our website.

There is good information on the tiles in the book by by A B Emden ‘Medieval Decorated Tiles in Dorset’, Phillimore 1977.

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Milton Abbas Lake

Our member Clive Barnes gave a presentation summarising his excellent research on the design and building of the dam and lake by Lord Milton to our history group on 1 June. This presentation with maps ‘Lord Milton and the Lake’ is now available for our members on our website. We now know the intentions of Lord Milton and Capability Brown compared to what was achieved when it came to build it. We are still actively researching and mapping the lake, and new LiDAR Digital Terrain Models are helping us understand this.

The court cases which resulted when Lord Milton, his daughter and heir Caroline and her heir Lord Portarlington dammed the Milborne Brook in order to fill the lake were many and may have resulted in the abandonment of Milborne Manor House and the move to Whatcombe of the Pleydell family. We have transcribed and researched these up to about 1820.

But it didn’t end there! A lot more correspondence ensued which is held by the Dorset History Centre – ‘Letters and a few other papers relating to case of Margaretta Michel v. the Earl of Portarlington about obstruction of watercourse, and to some related cases brought by tenants’ D-PLR/L/18.

These letters would be a great opportunity to see English law in action in the early Victorian era and how the ‘great and good'(???) settled their differences. Please get in touch if you would like to contribute to this research.

For more on this dispute and the history of the lake see our previous blog.

Posted in Damer, document, Dorset, landscape, local history, transcription | Leave a comment

St Catherine’s Chapel

New LIDAR Digital Terrain Model data is now available at Archi Maps. This is a revelation for the area around St Catherine’s Chapel. Compare the map on our website showing the entrenchment with the latest DTM

The Chapel itself is the small rectangle in the centre of this image.

Now we can see much more detail and there has clearly been a lot of earth moving. The ground surface has been levelled in places and a bank built surrounding the area with internal banks further dividing the area. Unfortunately without archaeological excavation we will never know when this was done.

However these results do not conflict with the legend of King Athelstan’s army building an encampment prior to a battle. The latest thoughts on the location of Brunanburh show that it was likely at Bromborough in the Wirral, so this encampment would not have been prior to that battle.

Posted in Anglo-Saxon, archaeology, landscape, Milton Abbey, St Catherine's Chapel | Leave a comment

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