Pages 397-402

An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Dorset, Volume 2, South east. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1970.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by English Heritage. All rights reserved.


In this section

51 WOODSFORD (7690)

(O.S. 6 ins. aSY 78 NE, bSY 79 SE)

The roughly rectangular parish of Woodsford, covering some 1,700 acres, lies on the S. side of the river Frome, 4 m. E. of Dorchester. It slopes gently N. from about 200 ft. above O.D. in the S. to 120 ft. along the Frome. The S. half is all on Bagshot Beds and Plateau Gravel and is partly heathland while the N. is largely on a wide gravel river terrace. Two holdings in Woodsford, presumably East Woodsford and West Woodsford, are listed in Domesday Book. The former is the present village and the latter is represented by the mediaeval Woodsford Castle and its associated deserted village remains. The castle is the principal monument.


b(1) The Parish Church of St. John the Baptist stands in the village of East Woodsford on the N. edge of the parish. The walls are of local rubble with some dressed stone and flint and limestone dressings; the roofs are tiled. The S. and W. walls of the nave and the W. tower contain early 13th-century masonry; the remainder of the church was rebuilt by T. H. Wyatt in 18623.

Architectural DescriptionThe Nave has in the S. wall W. of the porch some early 13th-century masonry and a window of one lancet light with chamfered and rebated jambs externally under a modern label, wide internal splays and a two-centred chamfered rear arch. The W. wall has similar masonry in the lower courses with a chamfered plinth S. of the tower. The West Tower (5 ft. square) is of three stages with a chamfered plinth; the first stage and lower part of the second are of the early 13th century. The E. doorway to the tower is in two orders, the inner two-centred and chamfered and dying out into the responds, the outer segmental-pointed with a continuous chamfer. The W. window is of a single light with a square chamfered head and shouldered rear arch. In the S. and W. walls of the second stage are rebuilt lancet windows similar to that in the nave; in the N. wall is a plain loop.

FittingsBell: one, by Thomas Purdue, of 1693. Coffin and Coffin-lid: S. of nave, lid with raised cross, 13th-century. Piscina: in S. chapel, in S. wall, with ogee trefoiled head, chamfered jambs and bowl with octagonal sinking, 14th-century reset.


Railway Gatekeeper's Cottage, see p. 416.

b(2) Woodsford Castle ( m. W.S.W.). The manor of West Woodsford was held from the 11th to the early 14th century by the Belet family, but it was to William de Whitefield that a licence to crenellate the manor house was granted in 1335 (Cal. Pat. Rolls 1334 1338, 221). The manor passed to Guy de Brian in 1367. The house may have been started by William and completed by Guy.

The house is a long rectangular building, of coursed squared Purbeck rubble with a thatched roof, which formed the eastern side of a courtyard, but nothing now remains above ground of the walls or buildings that closed the other three sides. Hutchins (I, 450) described 'inequalities of the soil' which on the N. side were 'still distinct enough to show the outlines of a square tower at the outer angle'. On the W. the court may have extended as far as the boundary of the present garden. The present building originally had a projecting tower at each corner and in the middle of the E. side, but only that on the N.E. survives; the other four, of which that on the S.W. may have been no more than a stair turret, have been completely destroyed leaving only ragged masonry toothing. On the N.W. corner a new wing was built probably in the late 17th century. Coker, c. 1630, described the castle as 'almost ruinated', the result, it was said, of a siege. Surviving corbels on the E. and N. walls suggest that the castle must originally have had an overhanging and perhaps machicolated parapet; the roof behind was of low pitch.

Woodsford Castle

The upper parts of the walls have been largely rebuilt, the parapet has entirely disappeared and the present roof is probably of the late 17th century; also of that date are the mullioned windows with square-headed lights on the W. front, the upper ones lighting a third storey, partly in the roof, formed at that time.

Woodsford Castle (Plates 199, 200) is a rare and remarkable example of a small, strongly fortified house of the mid 14th century, more or less symmetrical on plan and so arranged that the principal living rooms are to the N. on the first floor with service rooms below, and the servants' or retainers' accommodation on the ground and first floors to the S.

Architectural DescriptionIn the following account of the exterior, the whole of the N.W. wing is described with the W. elevation, the N.E. tower with the E. elevation.

The West Elevation (Plate 199) is divided into three parts: to the N. is the later projecting wing; in the centre is the main part of the house, with the inserted second floor, finishing on the S. with a small projecting stair turret; to the S. the main range continues, of two storeys only and with the roof at a lower level. The N.W. wing is largely rendered; in it, the ground floor has to the W. a 17th-century loop light and a small later window, to the N. a 17th-century window, and to the E. a doorway with chamfered jambs and a retooled four-centred head; in the S. return wall is a modern window set in a blocked doorway with four-centred head; to the E. of this is the springing of an arch which evidently carried a 17th-century stairway to a first-floor doorway, which is now blocked, but the whole of the stairway has been removed; the upper floors are lit by one 17th-century window of two lights and by other windows of the 18th century and later. The main part of the house is divided into two stages by a weathered string-course and the N. part of it was completely rebuilt, from the string-course up, in the 17th century; below the S. part of the string are corbels to carry the roof of a lean-to pentice, now gone, providing a covered way between two doorways and the stair turret. All the doorways have chamfered four-centred heads and continuous jambs. The ground floor has restored original windows, each of one small single light with chamfered jambs and head, and, to the old kitchen, a 17th-century four-light window. The first floor has, to the N., two similar 17th-century windows, also restored, of three lights with labels, cutting through the string-course; further S. are original windows of two lights and one light, trefoiled and transomed, with sunk spandrels in square heads. The second-floor windows are of three square-headed lights with stone mullions. The stair turret has an ashlar water-table roof and a loop light with pointed head to the S.W. To the S. of the stair turret the doorway and the ground and first-floor windows are original and uniform with those further N. In the exposed back wall of the destroyed S.W. tower are a four-centred arch and the remains of a second doorway above leading into the main range. Below the lower archway is a ragged mass of solid masonry 8 ft. high which represents the butt end of the S. wall to the courtyard.

In the South Elevation the upper part of the wall has been rebuilt with a half hip. The first-floor window is of mediaeval stonework rearranged and includes dressings with mouldings similar to those in the N. window of the 'King's' Hall. At the E. end is the toothing for the wall of the S.E. tower; it retains the reveal of a window on the first floor.

The East Elevation (Plate 200) retains under the eaves towards the N. end three shaped corbels for a parapet; the corbels are now of two courses but were originally of three; they are widely spaced and the parapet they supported was probably of timber, not stone. Below, on the ground floor are a 19th-century doorway, which replaces a window, and two windows uniform with those on the W. front; on the first floor the window to the 'King's' Hall is largely a modern reconstruction of the original and has two cinque-foiled ogee lights with shouldered transoms and with pierced spandrels in a square head with a label; a second window, to the former chapel, may originally have been similar to the foregoing, but has been partly blocked and replaced by a smaller early 18th-century window. The top storey has two 18th-century windows. The middle tower has been destroyed, leaving the back wall exposed; this has on the ground floor a wide relieving arch related to the oven and fireplace in the main range behind and over it a chamfered corbel course to carry the timbers of the first floor; above, there is a disused doorway with chamfered four-centred head and a single corbel to carry a beam for the second floor, above which the wall is set back for the width of the tower; the second floor was entered by a doorway now converted to a window. Similarly in the matrix of the destroyed S.E. tower are blocked doorways to ground and first floors with cambered rear arches. The N.E. tower stands complete to the level of the parapet but of this only three corbels remain on the E. wall; the wall above was built up as a gable end in the 17th century. Low down in the E. wall, under a relieving arch, is a rectangular outlet to the garderobe shaft; vents to the shaft are pierced through this wall and the N. wall. On the ground floor the E. and S. walls contain narrow loops. The first floor has small trefoiled single-light windows to N., E. and S.; that on the E. is flanked by the stone outlet from the first-floor sink within; the second floor is similarly lit except that the small N. and E. windows are uncusped. The top storey, partly in the roof, has an 18th-century window to the E. In the upper part of the N. wall of this tower is a large plain panel, of uncertain purpose, with bolection-moulded sides and head and a chamfered sill.

The N. wall of the main range (Plate 200) has been heightened to equal the N.E. tower, but a large shaped corbel for a timber parapet remains at the original wallhead; a rounded stair tower projects in the angle formed with the N.W. wing and in the W. return wall of the N.E. tower and in the E. side of the stair tower are the housings for timber beams which presumably formed part of the parapet to the wall between. On the ground floor are two windows uniform with the original ground-floor windows on the W. front already described. On the first floor is a window to the 'King's' Hall uniform with that in the E. wall of the same room and also largely a modern reconstruction; over it is a relieving arch, partly cut away for the insertion of an 18th-century window; this last is set partly in a chamfered 16th-century window opening with a label. The rounded stair turret is lit by small loop lights and the lower part of the N. side has been refaced.

Inside, all the ground-floor rooms of the main range and the N.E. tower have segmental stone barrel vaults springing from chamfered imposts, except in the southernmost room where the chamfered offsets and corbels for a timber floor remain. On the first floor the floor level of some of the rooms has been altered and ceilings have been inserted, which in the 'King's' Hall cut across the tops of the principal windows. Doorways throughout have chamfered four-centred heads and continuous jambs. The Old Kitchen has a large fireplace with segmental head formed of two large stones with a joggled keystone between them; in the N. and S. walls are small rectangular recesses; the S. doorway is modern. The Bakehouse has in the E. wall a large, partly blocked fireplace with an oven in the N.E. corner; at the S. end of the W. wall is a smaller fireplace, the flue for which has been blocked. The room next S. was originally entered only from the bakehouse; the doorway to the S. is later; in the lower part of the S. wall is a big relieving arch.

On the first floor, the N.E. tower has a garderobe behind a partition to the N. and, in the E. wall of the main compartment, a stone sink in a round-headed recess with its moulded three-sided front edge projecting from the wall. The main N. room or hall, known as the 'King's' Hall, has in the E. wall a long, shallow sink set in a recess with a moulded four-centred head and with a moulded projecting front edge; the fireplace in the N. wall is modern but incorporates an old joggled stone head. The room next S. of the Hall, now divided, was formerly the Chapel; it has in the S. wall a moulded and trefoiled ogee-headed piscina (Plate 4); the existing timber stair in the S.W. corner is modern; the stone stair in the N.W. corner, though largely modern, is in the original position and retains the original substructure in the floor below. The 'Queen's' Room, next S., has a small fireplace in the W. wall, restored and with the head partly cut away; in the N. wall at the E. end is a splayed squint to the chapel and in the E. wall at the S. end is a blocked doorway. The 'Guard' Room, S. of the foregoing, has in the N.E. corner a doorway 3 ft. above the present floor level which led up to the third storey of the E. tower, and in the S.E. corner, a narrow doorway to the second storey of the same; the E. wall retains a chamfered stone corbel course to support the original roof; in the S. wall is a blocked modern opening and in the W. wall is a blocked fireplace, probably of the 17th century. The South Hall is now reached from below by a ladder, and appears originally to have had no means of access to the room adjoining on the N. The fireplace in it has a joggled stone lintel with a relieving arch over; in the S. end wall is a chamfered offset and in the W. wall a single corbel.

In the third storey of the N.W. wing the broken ends of the N. and S. walls of the former N.W. tower can be seen, giving an internal dimension of 10 ft. In the room over the Guard Room the original cambered top of the S. cross wall can be seen below the gable built up later between the high roof to the N. and the lower roof to the S.

Woodsford Farm. Barn

b(3) Woodsford Farm (20 yds. E.), of two storeys, attic and basement, with stone walls and slated roof, was built c. 1600 on an L-shaped plan with main range running E. to W. and a wing to the N. which has been partly removed; modern additions have been made to the N. and to the E.

Projecting from the middle of the original S. front is a small staircase wing; this front retains original stone-mullioned windows. Inside, the ground floor has moulded muntin and plank partitions and, in the W. room, panelling repaired with contemporary material brought from a house in Guildford. An overmantel of arcaded panelling is from the same source; the fireplace has a moulded, depressed four-centred stone head and continuous jambs. On the first floor is a similar but chamfered fireplace over which is scratched a Cross and IHS. Barn, to N.E., also of c. 1600, has a high brick plinth, buttressed on the W. side, with some stone footings perhaps of earlier date. Above the brickwork the walls are timber-framed and weather-boarded and the roof is supported on sling-brace trusses (cf. Bloxworth 28 (Pt. I, Fig. p. lxv), Morden 29, 47, 50). There were formerly porches to E. and W. but only that to the E. remains.

Earthworks, Etc.

Mediaeval and Later Earthworks

b(4) Settlement Remains (760905), formerly part of West Woodsford village and now almost destroyed, covered nearly 10 acres immediately S.E. and E. of Woodsford Castle (2). Woodsford was surveyed in Domesday Book as two parcels, the eastern apparently held by Cerne Abbey and the western by William Belet, whose family retained the connections until the time of Edward II; the name Woodsford Strangways is derived from the family which obtained the western manor in c. 1500. An 'Est Werdesford' is mentioned in 1268, and Woodsford Farm is probably on the site of its manor house; E. of the farm traces of strip divisions, perhaps village closes, appear on air photographs. The boundary between the two manors in 1775 ran S. from the Frome, curving W. to include the church in E. Woodsford. (Hutchins I, 453; Fgersten, 149.)

The remains at West Woodsford lie on a rounded welldrained ridge of valley gravel with outcropping Bagshot Beds which slopes gently from S.W. to N.E. at about 130 ft. above O.D. and about 10 ft. above the flood plain of the Frome to the N. To the S. a stream formerly flowed N.E. A large pond was made in its valley and cut into three closes.

On the N. of the ridge a hollow-way running N.E., perhaps the original village street, is about 3 ft. deep and 10 ft. to 12 ft. across. A spread of flints on the S. side of it has concentrations of 13th and 14th-century and later pottery and some squared chalk blocks. These are doubtless traces of 'the marks of dwelling-houses and small enclosures' which lay'south of an old road to the ford' (Hutchins I, 453). Nine strip-like closes up to 500 ft. long and from 60 ft. to 125 ft. wide straddle the ridge S. of the hollow-way and dip into the valley. These were divided by scarps I ft. to 2 ft. high which have been largely destroyed. In the field S. of the castle a surviving scarp has traces of a ditch below it. The present road S.E. of the castle cuts these closes and narrow rig to the E., but appears on O.S. drawings of 18056.

Woodsford. Settlement Remains, West Woodsford

To the S.W. of the closes a bank about 30 ft. across stands up to 4 ft. high above a flat-bottomed ditch running N.W.S.E. which may have been a sunken road. Immediately W. a block of broad rig runs up to a headland about 8 ft. wide. Whatever may be the date of this rig, the bank probably represents the boundary between the open fields and the village closes at this point. From the S.E. end of the possible sunken road another ditch or hollow-way ran S.W. on the line of the old stream and appears to have met the line of an 'old road, now disused', marked mile S. of the church on I. Taylor's estate map of about 1775. (R.A.F. V.A.P. CPE/UK 1934 : 2076.)

b(5) Earthworks, including fishponds (758905), lie N. of Woodsford Castle (2) and were probably associated with it rather than with the village. Two groups of earthworks are separated by ditches, one some 4 ft. wide running E.W.; S. of this are flat areas with scarped sides and N. of it are at least three partly-embanked contiguous depressions which were probably fishponds fed by leats. (R.A.F. V.A.P. CPE/UK 1934 : 2076.)

Other Earthworks and Allied Monuments

(6, 7) Round Barrows, p. 620

Roman Finds, p. 620