Pages 8-13

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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In this section


(O.S. 6 ins. SY 79 SE)

Athelhampton, a parish of only 480 acres, lies mainly S. of the R. Piddle on fairly level terrain between 150 ft. and 200 ft. above sea-level. The land is Chalk except for a small area of Reading Beds to the S.E. The original settlement must have been beside the river; nothing is known of its open field system, but certain lands were already enclosed by the late 15th century, when a deer park (3) was enlarged in the southern part of the parish. Athelhampton Hall is the most important monument.


(1) The Parish Church of St. John was built in 1862 to replace an earlier church, now demolished, which stood some 80 yds. S.W. of (2).

Fittings—Brass: reset in N. wall of nave, to George Masterman, 1744, inscription plate. Plate: includes an Elizabethan silver cup and cover-paten by Lawrence Stratford, cover-paten inscribed 1575, also a stand-paten of 1717 and a 19th-century alms-dish and flagon.


(2) Athelhampton Hall (770942) stands beside the R. Piddle ½ m. E. of Puddletown. The main part of the house has two principal storeys with attics, except the Great Hall which is open from floor to roof. The ashlar-faced external walls are mainly of limestone and Greensand, with Ham Hill stone for many of the dressings. The roofs have large stone-slates in the lower courses and tiles above. The house was started in the reign of Henry VII by Sir William Martyn, Lord Mayor of London in 1493, and was continued by his heirs throughout the 16th century. Sir William built the Great Hall with its oriel window, and the Service Range which extends N.E. from the S.E. end of the Hall. A solar at the N.W. end of the Hall, shown on Buckler's plan of 1828 (BM. Add. MS. 36361, f. 128) but subsequently pulled down, was probably original; the present solar is a modern reproduction. Robert Martyn (d. 1550) built the West Wing, which runs W. from the N.W. end of the Hall, forming the N. side of a forecourt in front of the house. This forecourt was originally bounded to the W. by a Gate House which, with connecting walls, completed the enclosure. The gate house and the connecting walls were pulled down in 1862 but many architectural fragments are preserved. The complete gatehouse is known from Buckler's plan, from a sketch by Benjamin Ferrey dated 1834 (Plate 93), from Nash's engraving (Mansions in the Olden Time, 1839–, III, pl. ix) and also from J. Pouncy, Dorset Illustrated, c. 1857. That the gate house was the work of Robert Martyn is proved by the arms of Martyn quartering Kelway in a stone cartouche, formerly above the gateway and now preserved in the house. Robert married Elizabeth Kelway and their daughter Katherine married Edward Knoyle of Sandford Orcas; it is curious to note that lozenge panels on the gables of the W. wing at Athelhampton are closely paralleled at Sandford Orcas (Dorset I, 196). Robert Martyn's wing is entered through an original doorway in the 15th-century oriel window of the Hall, proving that at least part of the wing replaces some earlier building contemporary with the Hall; possibly it was a W. extension of the solar. In the 17th century, the 15th-century service range was remodelled and heightened, masking a window in the S.E. gable of the Hall. The present Kitchen Wing was probably built in the later 16th century. Late in the 19th century, ranges of buildings of uncertain date which had formed the N.W. and N.E. sides of the court to the N.E. of the Hall were demolished. In 1891 the house was bought by A. C. de Lafontaine and carefully restored. The S.E. range, incorporating the original service rooms, was remodelled and extended. Later, the solar was reconstructed, together with a stair leading to it from an original archway in the N.W. side of the Hall; at the same time a new range was built on the N.E. side of the inner court.

Today Athelhampton Hall is famous for its beauty and for its fine setting among magnificent gardens, laid out at the end of the 19th century. The early parts of the house constitute an important specimen of late mediaeval domestic architecture. The Hall has a remarkable roof, a graceful oriel window and fine original doors. Some original heraldic window glass is preserved.

Architectural Description—The S. W. front incorporates the side of the 15th-century Hall, with its porch and oriel, and one end of the service wing (Plate 92). The façade has a moulded plinth and is crowned by an embattled parapet with a moulded string-course and copings. At the S. corner is a 15th-century turret, at the foot of which are traces of the demolished 16th-century forecourt wall. In the W. wall of the turret is an original doorway with moulded jambs and a four-centred head. The string-course and embattled parapet continue along the façade, crossing the end of the service wing at the base of its gable and showing that the attic storey is secondary. The two-storied porch has the front corners splayed, giving it five external sides; each angle has an attached shaft rising to the string-course from a polygonal plinth. Heraldic emblems mask the junction of the shafts with the string; to one side of the doorway is the chained ape crest of Martyn, to the other is the Faringdon unicorn, the crest of Sir William's first wife. The porch arch is two-centred and of three continuous orders; above it is a hood-mould of Ham Hill stone with the Martyn ape at the summit and large headstops at the springing, one of the latter perished. On the ground floor, each side of the porch contains a small quatrefoil light. Above the arch the porch chamber has a pair of two-centred lights under a square hood-mould with headstops.

N.W. of the porch the Hall is lit by a window of four moulded, hollow-chamfered and two-centred lights within a square-headed casement moulding under a hood-mould with headstops. The central mullion is incorporated in the upper stage of a weathered two-stage buttress which continues upwards as a faceted standard, intersecting the hood-mould and string-course and terminating in a lion finial. Beyond this window projects the oriel, a five-sided bay with lights in four faces, the place of the fifth being taken by a buttressed angle at the junction of the W. wing (Plate 94). The masonry of the oriel is not perfectly integral with that of the Hall and it appears to be an afterthought. Each corner of the oriel has a small two-stage buttress with moulded weatherings, developing at the top into a standard which intersects the parapet string-course at a grotesque head. The lower moulded copings of the oriel parapet are level with the main string-course of the Hall. Each exposed face of the oriel has a tall two-centred window of two double-transomed lights; below the lower transom the lights are ogee-headed with open spandrels; in the middle tier the lights are two-centred; in the top tier they are ogee-headed and at the apex each window has a central tracery light. Above, moulded labels die into the buttress standards.

S.E. of the porch, the S.W. end wall of the service wing has a moulded plinth uniform with that of the Hall. On the ground floor is a square-headed window of three lights with ovolo mouldings and a label with reused head stops; the first floor has a similar window of four lights and the attic has another three-light window; these openings are of the 17th century and presumably are contemporary with the attic gable which, as noted above, is superimposed on the original parapet.

The S.E. front acquired an approximately symmetrical appearance c. 1895, when the E. turret and the adjacent gable were built. S.W. of this modern work the rubble wall-face up to the level of the first-floor window-sills remains from the 15th-century wing, to which the S. turret also belongs. At the base of the wall the remains of the original moulded plinth, a few inches lower than the plinth of the S. turret and S.W. front, are traceable throughout the length of the original masonry. More evenly coursed stonework above the first-floor window-sills is probably refacing of the 17th century but, towards the N.E., a fragment of banded flint and rubble work is probably part of the original upper storey. A projecting bay with a two-centred archway in the middle of the façade is modern; within is reset a two-centred doorway with ovolo mouldings. Behind the modern E. turret and the adjacent gable stands the late 16th-century kitchen wing; its N.E. wall is of thin red and blue bricks with ashlar dressings; the openings are modern. At the E. corner of the kitchen is a diagonal twostage brick buttress with ashlar weatherings. The original N.E. wall of the service wing is represented by a weathered moulding, probably part of a chimney-breast, that survives in the attic storey; it rises directly over the wall between the dining-room and the kitchen.

Athelhampton Hall

In the West Wing, which adjoins the oriel at the N.W. corner of the Hall, the S. front has three four-light casement windows in each of the two lower storeys, and two three-light windows in gabled stone-fronted dormers, asymmetrically disposed, in the attic. The ground and first-floor windows have casement-moulded square heads and jambs, enclosing lights with moulded and hollow-chamfered mullions and four-centred heads; the dormer windows are similar except that the mullions are only hollow-chamfered and the lights have elliptical heads. All the windows have labels with square stops, and on the ground floor the horizontal member of the label continues between the windows, forming a string-course; this turns up at the S.W. corner to avoid the capping of the former forecourt wall, part of which survives in the guise of a weathered buttress. Above eaves level each attic dormer is decorated with a moulded lozenge-shaped panel with foliate bosses at the corners.

The corners of the gabled W. end of the W. wing are defined by octagonal angle shafts with concave facets; the shaft at the N.W. corner runs down to the ground but the other is based on a moulded corbel, level with the ground-floor window heads and thus clearing the former forecourt wall. For a short length at the top of each shaft the fluting is spiral and above this the shaft terminates in a Martyn ape. A moulded string at the base of the spiral portion of the shaft is continuous with the inclined coping of the gable. At the apex the gable has a finial composed of a cluster of crockets above a moulded shaft with a ring of projecting volutes. The W. façade is pierced in the lower storey by two coupled four-light transomed windows, in the upper storey by a six-light window and in the attic by a four-light window; hood-moulds and other details, including a lozenge above the first-floor window, are similar to those of the S. front.

The N. wall of the W. wing (Plate 92) is faced with coursed rubble. To the E. of a large chimney-breast projects a gabled bay of two storeys with a cellar and an attic, with a casementmoulded window on each floor; further E. are the windows of a spiral stair, that at the lowest level being square-headed with two-centred lights under blind tracery; it is of the 15th century but probably reset. Beside the stair bay the line of the N. wall forms an obtuse re-entrant angle and to the E. of the angle a short stretch of the 15th-century solar wall survives; some 20 ft. above ground it is traversed by a fragment of weathered and moulded string-course and above this is a section of the original weathered gable.

The courtyard N.E. of the Hall incorporates some ancient features although the walls have been extensively refaced; the banded stone and flint-work of the Hall itself is seen beside the modern solar stair bay. The four-light N.E. window of the Hall is uniform with that of the S.W. front; above it the eaves of the Hall roof have neither string-course nor parapet.

Inside, the doorway from the S.W. porch to the Hall has a two-centred head with mouldings continuous on the jambs. The original oak door (Plate 80) is decorated on the outside with moulded and cusped wooden tracery. At the opposite end of the screens-passage another doorway with a similar traceried oak door now leads to the staircase hall; it formerly opened into a single-storied corridor between the old service range and the inner courtyard; however, the N.W. wall of the corridor is of the 16th century and originally there may have been no more than a wooden lean-to porch. In the W. jamb of the Hall doorway is a square mortice for a long wooden draw-bar. On the S.E. side of the screens-passage two openings with moulded four-centred heads and continuous jambs communicate with the former service wing; one is blocked. The oak screens are partly of the late 15th century but apparently not in situ since Nash's engraving (op. cit. pl. X) omits them. They have moulded base rails and muntins, and 16th-century linenfold panels between the muntins. The parapet is a recent addition.

The Hall (21¼ ft. by 38¼ ft., including the screens-passage) is lined to half its height with linenfold panelling brought from elsewhere in the 20th century (Plate 95). Near the N.W. end, the N.E. wall is pierced by a 15th-century archway with a moulded four-centred head the inner member of which is carried on three-quarter shafts with moulded and carved capitals and bases; the winding stairs from this archway to the rebuilt solar are wholly modern. At a higher level the central part of the N.E. wall contains the four-light window noted externally. The restored glazing includes some 16th-century quarries with monograms, and armorial achievements; those of Faringdon, Martyn and de Pidele noted by Hutchins (1st ed., I, 473) in the 18th century are still present; the fourth light has the crest of Brune, apparently original, above a modern shield of Mohun. The corresponding window on the S.W. side of the Hall has similar achievements representing families associated with the house, but these appear to be modern reproductions. The tall four-centred opening to the oriel has three moulded ribs springing from slender wall-shafts with moulded octagonal caps and bases. The two inner shafts of the N.W. jamb are truncated by a doorway set partly in the reveal and partly within the oriel; it has a moulded four-centred head and continuous jambs. The tracery of the four windows has already been noted; the mantled shields in the glazing of the upper pairs of lights are modern reproductions showing Martyn alliances, but the crests in the tracery lights appear to be original; however, Hutchins makes no mention of them and the openings are shown blank in Nash's engraving of 1840. The fifth side of the oriel, above the N.W. doorway, has blind tracery. The internal angles have attached shafts carrying octagonal capitals at the springing of the window-heads and, above these, hollow-chamfered and cusped vault ribs which meet at a foliate central boss. The brick-lined fireplace at the N.W. end of the Hall has a stone surround with a wide elliptical moulded stone head and continuous jambs, apparently restored. Adjacent, to the N.E., is an original doorway with a chamfered four-centred head; it is masked by the panelling. High up in the S.E. gable, a square-headed original window of three two-centred lights has recently been uncovered and restored; externally it is masked by the attic storey which was added to the original service range in the 17th century.

The 15th-century open timber roof of the Hall has been repaired from time to time but otherwise it seems to be largely original. Iron braces which strengthen the principals were probably inserted in the present century. The base of each member for about a foot above its junction with the wall has been repaired in plaster, moulded and painted to resemble wood. Possibly the roof originally rose from deep timber cornices or wall-plates, as in the Great Hall at Milton Abbey (p. 193), the decay of which may have necessitated the renewal of the lower extremities of the principals. This may have been the occasion for a modification of the original design, wherein gadrooned stone corbels were substituted for the presumed wall-plates. If the walls between the principals were then heightened, this would account for the position of the lower purlins, only a few inches above the wall-head. The date of the modification is uncertain; Hutchins (edition of 1774) may refer to it when he says 'it was lately repaired by Sir Robert Long'; alternatively the style of the gadrooned corbels suggests a date in the 17th century.

Athelhampton Hall, Details of Great Hall

Five heavily moulded principal trusses rise from the gadrooned corbels and are collared 3 ft. below the apex. The principals and collars are strengthened with moulded archbraces which are produced to form large cusps with open spandrels, creating enormous trefoils which span the Hall from side to side. About 1 ft. below the collars the four bays are traversed by heavily moulded main purlins, of such a depth as almost to constitute cornices; they are decorated with two tiers of spaced leaf bosses. Against the purlins rest the upper ends of moulded subsidiary principals, one in the middle of each bay, its foot resting on an intermediate gadrooned corbel. The common rafters are carried on moulded secondary purlins at two levels, the lower ones, as noted above, very close to the wall-head. The rafters continue over the main purlins to the ridge, where they are trussed with curved and moulded braces. Between the purlins are two orders of curved wind-braces; above the upper subsidiary purlins they are set four to a bay, facing one another to make a small arch on either side of each subsidiary principal; between the lower purlins larger braces are set two to a bay, forming larger arches. Every wind-brace is hollow-chamfered and cusped.

The doorway with a four-centred head in the N. side of the oriel leads to an antechamber at the E. end of the W. wing. The four-light S. window contains roundels with shields of Martyn, Tregonwell and Kelway; two of them were noted by Hutchins. To the E. is a 16th-century doorway to the solar undercroft, with a moulded four-centred head and continuous jambs; adjacent is a fireplace with a similar surround. To the N. an archway with a moulded four-centred head leads to a newel staircase. The walls have late 17th-century panelling.

The large ground-floor room in the W. wing has a chamfered oak doorway with a four-centred head in an original 16th-century stud partition. The walls have 17th-century panelling brought from elsewhere. Above the wide four-centred stone arch of the fireplace are set eight carved wooden panels of c. 1540 depicting male and female heads in medallions with scrolls above. To the W. of the fireplace a doorway leading directly to the garden is reversed so that the moulded four-centred stone head and jambs are seen internally. To the E. of the fireplace a small concealed closet contains modern wooden stairs to the room above. The richly moulded plaster ceiling is a modern reproduction. The heraldic roundels in the windows are as reported in Hutchins's edition of 1863 (II, 587) but differ from the edition of 1774. The winding stair on the N. side of the antechamber has stone treads to first-floor level and solid oak baulks above (Plate 81); the doorways opening off the stairs have chamfered stone jambs and four-centred heads. On the first floor a single large chamber, the Library, occupies the entire W. wing; it is entered from the winding stair through a stone doorway on the jambs of which are several 17th and 18th-century graffiti. The glass of the most easterly window in the S. wall includes four 16th-century roundels with shields; Strangways impaling Wadham; Zouch quartering St. Maur and Cantelupe; Tregonwell impaling Kelway; Martyn impaling Wadham (Nicholas Martyn, d. 1595, married Margaret Wadham). The rich oak panelling is dated 1893; the moulded plaster ceiling is of the same period.

On the S.E. side of the screens-passage one of the arched openings to the original service rooms is blocked; the other leads to a 'Parlour' in the S.E. wing. The ceiling of this room is supported by two deep-chamfered oak beams enriched with 17th-century chip-carving. The two-light S.E. window incorporates roundels of fragmentary 16th-century glass. The Dining Room to the N.E., probably the original kitchen, has no early features. The principal Staircase, inserted where there was originally a corridor beside the kitchen, includes 16th-century carved oak balustrades that have recently been brought from the Priory at Bradford-on-Avon; these replace a staircase of the late 19th century. Underneath the lower flight is a wide 16th-century doorway with a chamfered four-centred head that originally opened into the courtyard.

On the first floor the State Bedchamber occupies the S.W. end of the Service Range. The 15th-century fireplace in the S.E. wall has a square head of Ham Hill stone, moulded on soffit and jambs, with a frieze of six quatrefoil ogee panels enclosing plain shields, a rose and foliate bosses. The spandrels between the panels are carved with conventional foliage and heraldic emblems; two have Martyn apes and three have Faringdon unicorns showing that the surround dates from the time of Sir William Martyn whose first wife was a Faringdon. The 17th-century oak panelling in four heights is surmounted by a frieze with sea monsters in low relief. A doorway beside the fireplace leads to the S. turret, originally containing a stair but now fitted on the first floor as an oratory; another doorway leads by a narrow diagonal passage to the chamber over the porch, now a bathroom. An original doorway at the N.W. end of the N.E. wall has chamfered wooden jambs and traces of a four-centred head. The adjoining bedroom, above the Dining Room, has reset bolection-moulded 17th-century panelling surmounted by a modern strap-work frieze and cornice. Other bedrooms are lined with 17th and 18th-century panelling brought from elsewhere when the house was restored at the end of the 19th century.

A circular Pigeon-cote about 50 ft. N.W. of the house is of the early 16th century. It is of roughly coursed rubble with occasional repairs in brick and has a coved stone eaves cornice; four ashlar buttresses of two stages are set symmetrically around the circumference. The cote is entered from the E. through a low ashlar doorway with a chamfered four-centred head. The internal wall-face has about 600 pigeon-holes accessible by a wooden ladder on a cantilevered frame which pivots on a central post. The conical timber roof is tiled, with a stone-slate verge. The timber turret at the apex is modern.

The Stables S.W. of the house are of the first half of the 17th century and have ashlar walls with some brickwork and cob. The E. wall has two 17th-century windows with four-centred openings below square heads; a wide doorway has a chamfered four-centred head and continuous jambs.

Mediaeval and Later Earthworks

(3) Deer Pale (771940–776933) is marked by a length of bank and ditch extending from the S.E. corner of the parish, across Park Hill, towards the parish church. The bank is 14 ft. wide and from 3 ft. to 6 ft. high; the ditch is about 10 ft. wide. Although the circuit cannot be fully traced the pale probably enclosed about 160 acres, including a small part of Burleston parish (Dorset Procs., 88 (1967), 177–80).

Roman and Prehistoric

Roman Road from Badbury Rings to Dorchester (see Dorset V).