An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Dorset, Volume 4, North. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1972.
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17 MELBURY ABBAS (8820)
(O.S. 6 ins., ST 81 NE, ST 82 SE, ST 92 SW, ST 91 NW)
The parish, of some 2,700 acres, straddles the Chalk escarpment, occupying the steep S. side of the deep valley of the Melbury Brook, which cuts back into the escarpment for almost 1½ m. The land in the W. part of the area is on Gault and Kimmeridge Clay, falling northwards and westwards from 400 ft. to 250 ft. above sea-level. The central part of the area, between 400 ft. and 700 ft., is on Upper Greensand and Chalk, except where the underlying Gault is exposed at the bottom of the valley; in the S. it rises to 858 ft. on the top of Melbury Hill. The village stands at the foot of the escarpment and has two nuclei, Melbury Abbas and East Melbury. In 1086 it was a moderately large place with a recorded population of 47 (V.C.H., Dorset, iii, 82). Contour strip lynchets occur on the N. and on the S.E. of the village. Of the development of the outlying farms in the W. nothing is known.
(1) The Parish Church of St. Thomas was entirely rebuilt in 1852 to designs by George Evans of Wimborne (Sarum. Dioc. Regy.).
Fittings—Monuments: In N. vestry, reset on W. wall, (1) of Rev. Hugh Grove, 1792, marble tablet with cornice and pediment, with arms of Grove; (2) of Rev. Peter Smith, 1763, and Joanna his wife, 1779, marble tablet with moulded stone surround. In churchyard, 3 paces S.E. of S. transept, (3) of Mary, 1745, and John Hiscock, 1746, headstone. Plate: includes silver cup with assay mark of 1806, and paten of 1813 with donor's inscription of 1833.
(2) Cross Base (86602038), probably of a 15th-century wayside cross, stands in the garden of Cornhill Cottage. It is of stone, 2½ ft. square and nearly 2 ft. high, and has a mortice 1 ft. square for the foot of the shaft, now gone. Pyramidal stops bring the square to an octagon at the top.
(3) School (88152005), of one storey with an attic, has ashlar walls and slated roofs and was built in 1844. The N. front has a doorway with a chamfered four-centred head under a moulded label; above, in a panel, is the crest of Glyn and the date 1844; higher still, above a zone of weathered ashlar, is a bell-cote with small buttresses and a weathered stone capping. The windows of the schoolroom and of the schoolmaster's house are square-headed, with chamfered stone surrounds and moulded labels.
(4) East Melbury Farm (88822038), house, of two storeys with an attic, has walls of coursed rubble and of ashlar, and tiled roofs. It is of the 17th century, with 19th-century additions. The original plan was of class T. The W. front of the original range is symmetrical and of three bays, with a central doorway in the lower storey flanked by modern stone windows of four square-headed lights and with original three-light windows in the upper storey; these windows have moulded labels with returned stops. The central bay of the W. front has been rebuilt and now has an attic storey with a curvilinear gable. The central doorway has a moulded stone hood on shaped stone brackets, the window above it is of Venetian form and the attic window is round-headed. A 19th-century bay with two-light windows with labels, as before, extends the W. front southwards.
(5) Spring Cottage (88222033), of two storeys, with ashlar and rubble walls and with slated roofs, is of the early part of the 19th century. The S. front is symmetrical and of three bays, with a central doorway, and with square-headed sashed windows in both storeys.
Mediaeval and Later Earthworks
(6) Cultivation Remains. Nothing is known of the open fields of the parish. Contour strip lynchets occur S.W. of Breeze Hill at 890193, and E. of Barfoot farm at 882208; the first group is marked on the tithe map of 1838 as 'South Field Launches'.
Roman and Prehistoric
'Celtic' Fields, see p. 120, Group (79).
(7) Inhumation Burials, Romano-British, were found in 1846 near Melbury Hill (Gentleman's Mag., new ser., XXVI (1846), 633); associated with one burial was a coin of Antoninus Pius.
Monuments (8–15), Round Barrows
(8) Bowl (89291884), near the top of the N.-facing scarp of Melbury Down, lies at over 700 ft. above O.D. There are traces of a ditch and the suggestion of an outer bank; it appears to have been disturbed at the centre. Diam. 54 ft., ht. 3 ft. The barrow may lie within the adjacent 'Celtic' field system.
(9) Bowl (89231962), on the S.W. slope of Breeze Hill, lies at over 700 ft. above O.D.; diam. 27 ft., ht. 1 ft. Traces of a ditch.
(10) Bowl (89211982), 200 yds. N. of (9), lies at over 700 ft. above O.D.; diam. 39 ft., ht. 1 ft. Traces of a ditch.
(11) Bowl (89702016), on Breeze Hill, lies just below the 800 ft. contour; diam. 30 ft., ht. 1 ft. Slight disturbance at centre.
(12) Bowl (89892018), 200 yds. E. of (11), lies at over 800 ft. above O.D.; diam. 30 ft., ht. less than 1 ft.
(13) Bowl (89782051), on the level summit of Breeze Hill, is over 800 ft. above O.D.; diam. 21 ft., ht. less than 1 ft.
(14) Bowl (89802055), adjacent to the foregoing on the N.E. and at approximately the same altitude, has been disturbed in the N.W. and S.E. sides; diam. 42 ft., ht. 1 ft.
(15) Bowl (89542091), near the top of Breeze Hill and more than 700 ft. above O.D., lies on the boundary between Dorset and Wiltshire; diam. 60 ft., ht. 3½ ft.
The 'Ditch' shown on O.S. maps between Compton Down and Melbury Hill (885194–872200) is a disused trackway.
(16) Enclosure (873197), on the summit of Melbury Hill and more than 850 ft. above O.D., commands wide views in every direction. The feature forms an almost perfect circle about 400 ft. in diameter, with a low bank and an internal ditch; there is no visible entrance. The earthwork appears to be of no great antiquity; it might be a plantation boundary. There is little doubt that this hill-top was the site of Melbury Beacon, one of a series of fire-beacons in use at the time of the Armada (Dorset Procs., 81 (1959), 103–6).