An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Dorset, Volume 3, Central. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1970.
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27 IWERNE STEPLETON (8611)
(O.S. 6 ins. ST 81 SE)
The narrow strip-like parish, little more than 800 acres in extent, lies on the E. side of the R. Iwerne, entirely on Chalk. The parish occupies a broad dry valley and rises from 150 ft. above sea-level at the river bank to over 500 ft. at the E. boundary. The church dates from about the end of the 11th century and the village almost certainly stood near by, but it was deserted by 1662 and no traces of earlier habitation remain visible. The site is now occupied by Stepleton House and its gardens, in which the church stands. The house is the principal monument.
(1) The Parish Church of St. Mary stands at the W. end of the parish and close to the R. Iwerne, which at this point is dammed up to form a lake. The walls are mainly rendered, but the N. wall of the nave has been exposed during recent repairs, showing it to be of flint and rubble with squared rubble dressings; the roofs are stone-slated and tiled. The Chancel and Nave are of the late 11th or early 12th century; from the thickness of the walls it appears probable that the chancel was originally surmounted by a tower. A blocked archway in the E. wall of the chancel presumably opened into a sanctuary, now demolished; according to Hutchins (I, 300) the foundations of a compartment to the E. were exposed at some time by excavation, but no details are known. Hutchins also refers to the discovery of eight narrow windows in the nave; one of them, a round-headed loop, has recently been rediscovered.
Architectural Description— The Chancel (11½ ft. square) has in the E. wall a round-headed recess which was presumably the original sanctuary archway. The arch has a single order of plain voussoirs springing from chamfered imposts which are enriched with a pattern of small rectangles enclosing diagonal crosses and pearls. The decoration is original only on the imposts in the reveals of the archway; elsewhere it is of the 19th century, as is the similarly decorated label which outlines the arch. The ashlar responds are square and undecorated. the wall which closes the archway contains a restored 15th-century window of two cinquefoil-headed lights with a quatrefoil in a two-centred head. To the N. a round-headed opening with splayed reveals gives access to a modern vestry; to the S. is a modern two-light window with a splayed round-headed rear-arch; to the W. is a round-headed archway from the nave; all three openings are rendered. The Nave (30½ ft. by 18½ ft.) has an original round-headed loop set high up near the middle of the N. wall; to the E. is a 19th-century two-light window and to the W. is a 19th-century doorway with a four-centred head. The S. wall has similar 19th-century openings; any original openings that may survive are concealed by rendering. The W. wall has a 19th-century two-light window and, high up, a round-headed opening of uncertain date, now used as a bell-cote.
Fittings—Bell: one, dated 1809. Monuments: In nave, in vertical E. side of raised platform at W. end, four plain slabs of white marble; (1) with inscription 'P.B. sibi et suis MDCCCIX', (2) of Marcia Louisa Pitt, 1850, and George Horace Pitt, 1850, (3) of William Horace, third Lord Rivers, 1831, (4) of Peter Beckford, 1811. Niche: In chancel, in N. respond of former E. archway, square recess with cusped two-centred head and stop-chamfered jambs, 14th century. Piscina: In chancel, on S. side, with hollow-chamfered cinquefoil ogee-headed opening in square casement-moulded head, and mutilated polygonal basin with hollow-chamfered rim; early 15th century. Plate: includes silver cup (Plate 42) with hall-mark of 1649 and cover-paten with hall-mark of 1638, the latter engraved with arms of Pitt impaling Cadbury; also silver alms-dish with hall-mark of 1770.
(2) Stepleton House (86331129), 50 yds. N.E. of the church, has ashlar walls of Greensand and limestone, and stone-slated roofs with lead ridges (Plate 148). A rectangular central block of two main storeys with basement and attics is symmetrically flanked to E. and W. by smaller two-storied pavilions, isolated but joined to the main block by linking passages of one storey. In conformity with the fall of the land the W. pavilion has also a basement storey, and on the W. front of the main block the basement stands wholly above ground. The central block dates substantially from the first quarter of the 17th century. It is nearly square in plan and originally had a small central courtyard; the main entrance was probably on the E. From 1654 to 1745 the house belonged to the Fownes family who made numerous improvements, including the transfer of the main entrance from the E. front to the S. front, and the building of pedimented central features on those two fronts. In 1745 Julines Beckford acquired the house and soon afterwards the courtyard was roofed over to accommodate a new staircase and vestibule. The flanking pavilions appear to have been built in 1758, the date inscribed with Beckford's crest on the lead rainwater heads.
Although of two periods, the house in its present form is a harmonious and well-proportioned example of English domestic architecture. The 17th-century building is of interest when compared with Hanford House (p. 102), which is nearly contemporary and similar in ground-plan; the cylindrical chimneystacks also find parallels at Hanford.
The S. front of the main block has six regularly spaced bays with sashed windows in the two principal storeys and three dormer windows in the hipped roof. The windows of the two middle bays are set in a slightly projecting centrepiece, added in the 18th century when the front doorway was inserted between the two middle ground-floor windows and this became the principal front. A niche over the doorway and a pediment at the top of the centrepiece successfully convert the former side elevation of six equal bays into an axial main front. Above window-sill level the lower storey of the centrepiece is rusticated; the central doorway is square-headed with a triple keystone, and above it is a flat stone hood supported on scrolled consoles. The two first-floor windows of the centrepiece and the niche between them are flanked by Ionic pilasters supporting an entablature which continues in the concavity of the niche, the niche-head rising into the tympanum of the pediment. The heavily moulded cornice extends across the four lateral bays of the elevation and effectively binds the 18th-century centrepiece to the pre-existing façade; similar cornices continue on the other three sides of the building. In the lateral bays of the S. front the main details of the original 17th-century elevation are preserved. At the base is a plinth of Greensand ashlar, with a hollow-chamfered capping; above, the walls are of limestone and a weathered and hollow-chamfered string-course occurs a few inches above the ground-floor window heads. The square-headed windows have weathered sills flush with the wall-face, and recessed and hollow-chamfered jambs and heads; these openings are evidently of the early 17th century with inserted 18th-century sashes; no doubt they originally had mullions and transoms. However, the two first-floor windows to the E. of the centrepiece were entirely remodelled in the 18th century; they are set at a lower level than the others and have classical architraves.
The E. front is of five bays and the central bay is embellished with another added centrepiece (Plate 149) consisting of a rusticated doorway, a round-headed first-floor window and a pediment. The two bays on each side retain the original hollow-chamfered plinth, which is 1½ ft. higher than that of the S. front but otherwise similar, and also a string-course that is continuous with that to the S.; all the windows have been provided with 18th-century architraves. As in the S. front, the attic has three dormer windows.
The N. front retains its original hollow-chamfered plinth and weathered string-course and has six evenly spaced windows on each main floor, and three dormer windows in the attic; there are also six square-headed two-light basement windows with sills a few inches above ground-level; two of them are blocked. All except the dormer windows have 17th-century hollow-chamfered jambs and heads, and weathered flush sills, as noted on the S. front; the basement windows retain original hollow-chamfered mullions but the other openings have 18th-century sashes, as described before. On the W. front the falling terrain causes the basement storey to be wholly above ground level. The 17th-century plinth and string-course, and the 18th-century cornice are continuous, as before. A service corridor, added in the 18th century, partly masks the principal storey; it is supported on ashlar piers with square impost blocks and shallow elliptical arches with keystones. In the basement elevation, seen below the service corridor, is a wide square-headed 17th-century doorway with a deeply chamfered stone surround and an oak plank door, heavily studded. Adjacent is a 17th-century window of two square-headed lights with hollow-chamfered surrounds, and further to the S. is a smaller two-light opening with a chamfered surround. The ground and first floors have 17th-century windows, some of them blocked and others with 18th-century sashes, except where the 18th-century service corridor supervenes.
The chimneystacks of the main block are of ashlar and terminate above roof level in cylindrical brick flues, grouped in batteries of from two to six. At the top the flues are united by rectangular slabs of terracotta with moulded edges, continuous over a whole battery.
The mid 18th-century pavilions to E. and W. of the main block have walls of Greensand ashlar, with plat-bands at first-floor level corresponding with the string-courses of the original house. The hipped roofs are stone-slated with lead flats at the centre; instead of eaves they have parapet walls above modillion cornices. On the ground floor, at the centre of the N. front each pavilion has a rusticated and pedimented false doorway; on either side of this feature are two tall sashed windows with moulded architraves and keystones; five similar windows of squarer proportions light the upper storey. On the E., S. and W. sides each pavilion has three openings in each storey, except where the W. pavilion is partly masked by a lean-to addition. Several of the openings are false and have imitation windows painted on the blocking. On the S. side, the central openings are accentuated by round heads on the ground floor and by eared architraves on the first floor. At the middle of the roof of each pavilion is a square brick chimney-stack. The single-storied ranges which join the pavilions to the main block have, to the N., doorways with moulded architraves and keystones, set between pairs of rusticated pilasters. The W. range is a corridor, with windows to the S.; the E. range is an open loggia with Ionic columns and an entablature; both ranges have flat lead roofs.
Inside, the fittings generally are of the mid 18th century. The central doorway in the S. front of the main block opens into the South Hall, where there is a carved wooden fireplace surround with a sun-mask centre panel and rococo scroll-work on either side of the head. The walls have a dado of fielded panels. The moulded plaster ceiling is enriched with rococo arabesques surrounding an octagonal centre panel. In the Dining Room, the dado has bolection-moulded panels and the plaster ceiling has a round central panel enclosing, among floral arabesques, two scrolled cartouches, one with the arms of Fownes quartering Armstrong and the other with the arms of Fitch (fn. 1); the Fownes eagle crest decorates each corner of the ceiling. In the Drawing Room to the E., the doorways have eared architraves and entablatures with pulvinated acanthus friezes; the fireplace has a moulded marble surround with a cross-lugged wooden architrave and a dentil cornice; the ceiling has an oval centre panel and a modillion cornice. In the East Hall are doorways similar to those of the drawing room, but with pediments in addition. The N.E. corner room also has a pedimented doorway; the ceiling has an octagonal central panel with Greek-key and acanthus bracket enrichment; the fireplace has a 19th-century reeded marble surround. The central N. room has pine panelling in two heights surmounted by a moulded wooden cornice; the wooden fireplace surround has scrolled cheek-pieces, a carved central panel and a cornice supported on shaped brackets with acanthus enrichment. The Study is lined with early 17th-century oak panelling in five heights, with moulded rails and stiles; it has probably been reset and is made up with some modern work; the fireplace is flanked by Ionic pilasters in two heights, one standing directly on top of the other, with conventional scroll-foliage carving on the shafts; above the pilasters is a strapwork frieze. The moulded plaster ceiling is a modern reproduction of the 17th-century ceiling in the dining-room at Bingham's Melcombe, Melcombe Horsey (2).
The main Staircase, inserted in the former courtyard, has stone steps with shaped soffits and moulded nosing; the scrolled wrought-iron balustrade supports a moulded and veneered wooden handrail (Plate 85). The fascia of the first-floor landing is decorated with a Greek-key frieze which continues as a string-course around the stair well; the soffit below the landing has rococo ornament. On the first floor, the stair well is flanked to the N. by an arcade of three elliptical-headed arches with panelled soffits and piers. The staircase ceiling has a deep cove surrounding a skylight. The back stairs are of the early 17th century and have close strings, stout turned balusters and square handrails; in the top flight the balusters are vase-shaped. The flight of stairs which leads down to the basement has a 17th-century balustrade with a moulded handrail, large turned balusters and a moulded close string; it is possible that these elements belonged to an early main staircase and were transfered to the basement in the mid 18th century, when the present main staircase was inserted.
In the basement, a room in the N.W. corner of the main block has a large open fireplace with brick jambs and a chamfered elliptical head; presumably this was the former kitchen, before the building of the W. pavilion, where the kitchen is now situated. To the E., in a position which corresponds with the W. side of the East Hall, a thick wall in the basement is pierced by a square-headed doorway with a chamfered surround, similar to that of the W. front; the doorway suggests that the E. front of the house may originally have been in this position, but the evidence is inconclusive. The cellars to the E. of the doorway have groined brick vaults; those to the W. have wooden beams.
On the first floor, the chamber above the South Hall has a plain dado, and a carved wooden fireplace surround with a foliate pulvinated frieze, a centre panel with rococo ornament in high relief, and carved enrichment at the sides; the ceiling has moulded panels. A large chamber over the Drawing Room is lined with fielded and enriched panelling in two heights below a wooden dentil cornice. The chamber over the Dining Room has a dado with fielded panelling, and a fireplace surround of carved wood with scrolled cheek-pieces, a frieze in high relief representing a festoon of flowers, and a pedimented cornice; these are of the 18th century, but the pictorial wallpaper is a modern reprint from early 19th-century blocks. The N.E. bedroom has fielded panelling in two heights. A bedroom at the centre of the N. front has a richly carved wood fireplace surround with rococo cheekpieces and a flower frieze; the mantelshelf rests on brackets with acanthus and scale decoration. The plaster ceiling of this room has a sun-mask at the centre and a guilloche outer moulding enriched at the corners with arabesques.
The detached pavilion to the E. has a plain stone staircase and, on the first floor, a large room with a coved ceiling with a moulded cornice; the other rooms have no architectural decoration. The W. pavilion contains the kitchen and other service rooms; the kitchen has elliptical-headed recesses to the E.
(3) Stables (Plate 63), 30 yds. W. of Stepleton House, date probably from the second quarter of the 18th century. The building is of one storey with lofts and has walls of brick with ashlar dressings; the roofs are partly tiled and partly stone-slated. The N. façade has a pedimented centre bay defined by quoins, with a rusticated arch at the centre; the brickwork of the centre bay is entirely of headers. These details are closely paralleled in the stables at Bryanston (p. 47) and it is probable that the same architect was employed. On each side extend symmetrical wings, each with three round-headed sashed windows. The pediment is crowned by a wooden clock turret and bell-cote with an ogival lead cupola; this too is closely paralleled in the turret on the Portman Chapel at Bryanston.
(4) Kennels (86041134), built about 1770 for Peter Beckford's hounds, have now been converted into cottages; an upper floor has been inserted, with casement windows under the eaves. The walls are of Flemish-bonded brickwork and the roofs are tiled. Original openings are identifiable by surviving segmental heads and keystones, although many openings have been walled up and others have been made. The original building closely resembled Beckford's drawing (Thoughts on Hunting, Letter II), except that the plan is a little smaller, the 'lodging room' windows have segmental instead of round heads, and the roofs have gables to N. and S. instead of being hipped.
Mediaeval and Later Earthworks
(5) Cultivation Remains. Nothing is known of the open fields of the parish although it has been suggested that there once was a two-field system, Dorset Procs., LXIX (1947), 48); about 40 acres of strip lynchets and ridge-and-furrow remain. N.E. of Everley Farm (871118) are faint traces of two strip lynchets. In Stepleton Park (868115, 865115 and 865112), ten contour strip lynchets are arranged in three-furlong blocks, up to 300 yds. long. Also in the park (863114) are faint traces of almost straight ridge-and-furrow, 6 yds. to 9 yds. wide.