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
(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
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
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
(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
(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).