Moor Crichel

Pages 40-44

An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Dorset, Volume 5, East. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1975.

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14 MOOR CRICHEL (9908)

(O.S. 6 ins., ST 90 NE, SU 00 NW)

This parish, covering slightly less than 2,000 acres, lies E. of Long Crichel in the valley of the Crichel Brook, immediately above the confluence of that stream and the R. Allen. The land is wholly Chalk, between 120 ft. and 250 ft. above O.D. There appear to have been two original settlements, each with its associated land block. Of Little Crichel in the N.W. nothing is now seen; the village probably stood in the vicinity of Norwood Park (984098). The S.E. part of the parish, Moor or More Crichel, was centred upon a village which stood until late in the 18th century near St. Mary's Church (1); after this the dwellings were demolished to make way for an extension of the park of Crichel House (2), many of the inhabitants moving to Witchampton. Manswood in the W. of the parish may correspond with the mediaeval settlement of Chetterwood, recorded in 1215 (Fägersten, 80), but a farmhouse dated 1725 is the earliest structure now found there. Other Manswood buildings noted on O.S. 1811 appear to have been rebuilt since 1850.


(1) The Church of St. Mary (disused) stands in the park of Crichel House and has walls of ashlar and roofcoverings of lead and of slate (Plate 52); it was built in 1850 at the expense of H. C. Sturt to replace a mediaeval church. The architect's name is unknown, but comparison with the church at Sutton Waldron (Dorset IV, 84) suggests George Alexander.

Architectural Description—The Chancel has buttresses of two weathered stages. The E. window is of three cinquefoil-headed lights with vertical tracery in a two-centred head. The N. and S. windows have cinquefoil-headed lights with curvilinear tracery in two-centred heads. The chancel arch is two-centred and of two moulded orders separated by a casement moulding with spaced leaf-bosses; it springs from shafted responds with octagonal capitals and bases, the capitals with brattishing. The fan vaulting has cusped and moulded panelling.

The North Vestry has an E. doorway with a two-centred head and a label, and a square-headed window of two trefoil-headed lights. Further N., a similar doorway gives access to steps going down to a burial chamber under the N. transept.

The Nave has a window above the chancel arch, with a central roundel flanked by vertical tracery in a two-centred surround. The N. wall has, on the E., an archway to the N. transept with a two-centred head of two moulded orders springing from shafted jambs. Further W. are four windows, each of two cinquefoil-headed lights with a tracery light in a two-centred head with internal and external labels. The S. wall is uniform with that on the N. The W. wall has a doorway with a moulded two-centred head and continuous jambs, flanked externally by corbels supporting trefoil niche-heads. The W. window is of three cinquefoil-headed lights with tracery in a two-centred head, with labels as before. Inside, the W. doorway has a segmental rear-arch and a surround of stonework with trefoil panelling; below the sill of the W. window is a moulded string course with a black-letter inscription recording the building of the church in 1850. The nave roof has seven arch-braced hammer-beam trusses set on shafted stone wall brackets.

St. Mary's Church, Moor Crichel, 1850

The North Transept, evidently designed as a manor-house pew for the inhabitants of Crichel House, has buttresses, roof and parapets similar to those of the chancel. Internally the E. wall has a row of stone recesses, presumably intended for memorial tablets, with shafted jambs, cusped two-centred heads and trefoil and quatrefoil tracery. The N. wall has a window of three pointed lights with trefoil and cinquefoil cusping under a four-centred rear-arch with shafted jambs. The W. wall has a doorway with a two-centred head and continuous jambs in a casement-moulded and shafted outer surround with traceried spandrels ; adjacent is a square-headed window of three trefoil-headed lights. The South Transept is generally similar to the N. transept, but less elaborately decorated. Above the S.W. corner is an octagonal bell-cote with trefoil-headed openings and a domical ogee crocketed cap.

Fittings—Brass: In S. transept, reset on E. wall, of Isabel Uvedale, 1572, oblong plate (10 ins. by 19 ins.) with English verse inscription in black-letter, figure of lady (15¼ ins. high), and shield-of-arms of Uvedale impaling Ernle. Helmets: In S. transept, two, with crests of Okeden, 17th century.

Monuments: In chancel, on N., (1), of Wyllyam Cyfrewast, 1581, tomb-chest with brass inscription-plate reciting original epitaph (Hutchins III, 129), probably 1850; on S., (2) of Dorothy Cyfrewast, 1599, similar to foregoing. In S. transept, reset on E. wall, (3) of members of the Uvedale family, marble tablet with inscription in Roman lettering, part of monument erected 1620 (Hutchins III, 130).

Plate: includes two large silver flagons (Plate 23) with assay marks of 1636, each with engraved inscription of Sir Nathaniel Napier and achievement-of-arms, Napier quartering Wyndham, Gerard and Colles; also cup (Plate 22), stand-paten and alms-dish by J. Wirgman, 1751, with engraved inscription of Sir W. Napier, 1752, and arms of Napier.

Miscellanea: In S. transept, reset above W. door, stone tablet with shield-of-arms of Uvedale, date 1618 and initials E.V.


(2) Crichel House (99430834), of three storeys with attics and basements, has walls of rendered brickwork with ashlar dressings, and roof-coverings of slate and of lead (Plates 51–3). The central part of the house was built by Sir William Napier about the middle of the 18th century to replace a 17th-century house burnt down in 1742 (Hutchins III, 127). A vignette in an estate map by I. Taylor, undated but probably of c. 1770 (D.C.R.O. photocopy 1/12), shows Sir William's house as a three-storeyed building with an E. front of seven bays and a S. front of five bays; the plan was quadrilateral, with a projecting W. wing. Edward Gibbon was there in 1762 and thought little of it (Journal, ed. Low, 51). In 1765 the property passed to Humphrey Sturt of Horton, and subsequently the house was greatly enlarged, E., W. and S. ranges being added on such a scale as almost to conceal the former building; in height the added ground-floor rooms encompass two storeys of the Napier house. Although not precisely dated, Sturt's additions must be later than Taylor's map which makes no reference to them. Advertisements for craftsmen to work at Crichel House appeared in The Salisbury Journal, June 10th and 24th, 1776; hence Sturt's additions may be assigned to the middle and late 1770s. Hutchins's engravings (1st ed. (1774), II, opp. p. 49) probably show the buildings as projected. Further additions were made in 1840 and 1867.

Crichel House

Crichel House, a remarkably handsome example of a late 18th-century country seat, incorporates at its centre a more modest house built about the middle of the century. Of both periods the decorations and joinery are of admirable quality.

Architectural Description—The W. elevation, containing the present main entrance, comprises two three-storeyed blocks with a deep recess between them, the latter filled in in 1869 by the single-storeyed West Hall. The southern block has in the lower storey, which corresponds with two storeys in the northern part of the elevation, two false Palladian windows of 1869. The upper storey has sashed windows with architraves and entablatures; first-floor level is defined by a moulded string-course and the roof is masked by a balustraded parapet with ball finials.

The S. façade (Plate 52) is symmetrical and of eleven bays, the five middle bays forming a pedimented central feature with an Ionic portico in the double lower storey and Corinthian pilasters in the upper storey. The lateral bays of the façade have Palladian windows of the 1770s in the lower storey and square-headed sashed windows above. The basement is of rusticated ashlar. Within the portico are seen the two lower storeys of the S. front of Sir William Napier's house; its central doorway is flanked by Ionic pilasters supporting a pediment; the window over it has scrolled cheek-pieces.

Humphrey Sturt's E. façade is symmetrical and of seven bays, with a pedimented central feature (Plate 51). The sashed windows in the main storey have pediments and those of the upper storey have entablatures. At the centre, the main storey has a large Palladian window under an open pediment on scrolled brackets; the upper storey has a smaller Palladian window. A single-storeyed wing built in 1869 to extend the E. façade northwards, has recently been removed.

In the N. front, recessed between the N.E. and N.W. bays of Humphrey Sturt's enlargements, the five-bay façade of the Napier house is seen; the original sashed windows retain the heavy glazing-bars of the period, but corresponding windows in the upper storeys have been modernised and round-headed windows have been added at attic level.

Inside, the rooms which belong to Sir William Napier's period can be assigned with some confidence, on grounds of style, to the Bastards of Blandford Forum; for example the plasterwork in the vestibule (Plate 39) is closely paralleled in Blandford church (Dorset III, 19). The architect of Humphrey Sturt's additions is not known; he appears sometimes to adopt a deliberately old-fashioned style, perhaps to harmonise the new with the earlier work. On the other hand the drawing-room (Plate 53) and the dining-room are fully neo-classical and could well be by James Wyatt, who was working at Milton Abbey (Dorset III, 191) about this time.

In the Library (Plates 37, 53) the chimneypiece with a grey and white marble fireplace-surround and a carved wooden overmantel (enclosing a copy of Van Dyck's painting of Strafford and his secretary), and also the monumental wooden bookcase, appear to be works of the 1730s; if not deliberate archaisms they must have been brought from elsewhere, and it may be noted that the demolition of Eastbury (Dorset IV, 90) was going on at about the time this room was built. In harmony with the chimneypiece the designer of the room has provided ornate door-cases with highly enriched architraves, friezes and cornices, and segmental pediments. The entablature below the ceiling has a deep acanthus-scroll frieze and a strong modillion cornice. The ceiling, on the other hand, incorporates a circlet of painted signs of the zodiac flanked by fan-shaped panels, neo-classical in style.

On the plan published by Hutchins in 1774 the area of the Long Drawing Room is occupied by a bedchamber and a dressing-room; the mid 18th-century house certainly had two rooms here. The present room, with rich rococo plaster-work, was formed c. 1840, but the floor-boards show that there were two rooms at first.

Humphrey Sturt's E. range contains three rooms tall enough to correspond with the two main storeys of the Napier house. The Drawing Room at the S. end (Plate 53) has a vaulted ceiling of segmental cross-section, with paintings and arabesques in the Pompeian manner; the fireplace has a marble surround with Ionic columns and a central panel carved with griffins; the doorway has two-leaf mahogany doors of eight fielded panels enriched with cross-banded margins.

In the East Hall the N., W. and S. doorways are flanked by Ionic three-quarter columns supporting pedimented entablatures with oak-leaf friezes; the Palladian window has glazed doors in the central opening; these features, old-fashioned in the 1770s, may have been introduced to assimilate Humphrey Sturt's new rooms to those of the Napier house on the E.

The Dining Room, a distinguished neo-classical composition, has plain walls relieved at intervals with delicate plaster arabesques enclosing painted medallions. The coved ceiling is embellished with wreaths of vine and honeysuckle, rosettes of ostrich feathers, and oval medallions with classical figures. The white marble and Purbeck fireplace-surround has coupled Ionic columns; the doors and door-case are similar to those of the drawing-room.

The Staircase Hall occupies the place of the entrance hall of the Napier house. The oak staircase (Plate 35), with details which belong stylistically to the first half of the 18th century, doubtless incorporates reset elements of the former stairs. The newel posts have the form of Corinthian columns with capitals with inturned volutes. The moulded and swept handrail ends at the bottom in the characteristic fist-shaped volute (Dorset III, lxii) with acanthus decoration. Each step has three vase-and-column balusters; one with spiral fluting, one with straight fluting and one unfluted. In the cut strings, each step has an end panel and a carved spandrel with scroll-work and flowers. At the top, the staircase opens into the long upper corridor of the E. range through a colonnade of coupled Ionic columns; the other walls of the staircase have niches with neo-classical sculpture.

The Vestibule on the W. of the staircase hall retains the decoration of the Napier period, albeit rearranged to some extent if, as is likely, the mid 18th-century staircase was situated there. With regard to the Napier house the vestibule is two-storeyed, but single-storeyed in relation to Sturt's additions. Ionic columns at the E. end support a gallery, accessible from a quarter-landing in the present staircase, from which the first-floor rooms of the Napier house are reached. The doorways in the lower storey have pedimented architraves remarkably similar to one which John and William Bastard installed in the mezzanine room of their own house at Blandford Forum (Dorset III, Plate 79). In its upper storey (Plate 39) the vestibule has a round-headed W. window with a coffered reveal flanked by Tuscan pilasters which support a heavy moulded archivolt with an enriched keystone; on either side hang swags of fruit and flowers. The ceiling has a gadrooned border and, at the centre, an achievement of the arms of Napier.

The Breakfast Room was evidently the dining-room in Sir William Napier's house. The walls are lined with panelling in two heights, with fielded panels, moulded dado rails and moulded cornices with dentils; the doorways have flat entablatures with fluted and swagged friezes and enriched cornices. The W. end of the room originally had a columned sideboard recess, but this was walled up in the 19th century and the columns have been removed. Isaac Taylor's estate map shows that the wing on the W. of the breakfast room, containing offices and a staircase, was in existence before the time of Sturt's enlargements.

The Sitting Room on the E. of the breakfast room has mid 18th-century panelling, doorways with enriched heads and a chimneypiece with a pedimented overmantel.

Upstairs, the principal bedchambers of the E. range (at the level of the second-floor chambers of the Napier house) have moulded and enriched joinery, modelled plaster ceilings, and marble fireplaces with neo-classical decoration. In the S. range, over the Portico, a long room, originally a billiards room, corresponds with the five middle bays of the S. front; it has a coved plaster ceiling with neo-classical enrichments and three small domes. In the 19th century the room was divided into bedrooms, but it has recently been restored. Bed-chambers surviving from the Napier house of c. 1745 have pinewood panelling in two heights with fielded panels.

(3) Stables (99330845), of two and of three storeys with brick walls and slate-covered roofs, stand 150 yds. N.W. of (2). The building, of the late 18th or early 19th century, comprises four nearly uniform ranges disposed around a square court, with a square tower at each corner and with a higher tower over the gateway at the centre of the S. range. In general the doorways to coach-houses etc. have elliptical heads; most windows are square-headed with sashes, but some major features are emphasised with Venetian windows.

(4) Moor Farm (99590862), house, of two storeys with cellars and attics, has brick walls and tiled roofs and is of the mid 18th century. The E. front is symmetrical and of three bays, with square-headed sashed windows and with a central doorway flanked by Roman-Doric three-quarter columns which support a pedimental hood. Inside, the plan is of class U. The staircase handrails have geometrical lattices in place of balusters.

(5) Cottage (99610866), of two storeys with brick walls and a tiled roof, is of the late 18th century. Adjacent on the W. is a pair of disused gate-piers of gauged brickwork with moulded stone caps and plinths; also a low wall of neat knapped flint with ashlar and brick dressings. The piers are probably of c. 1700, the flint-work earlier. An isolated brick gate-pier with a stone ball finial some 250 yds. N. of the cottage appears to be of the 18th century.

(6) Crichel Mill (00600847), house and corn mill, formerly water-powered, is of two storeys with brick walls and tiled roofs; the round-headed stone archway through which the mill-race formerly passed bears the date 1740. The house has a class-T plan.

(7) Manswood Farm (97720793), cottage, of one storey with dormer-windowed attics, has brick walls and a thatched roof. A stone over the doorway records that it was built in 1725. The E. front is symmetrical and of two bays, with a central doorway and casement windows. Inside, the plan is of class T.

Mediaeval and Later Earthworks

(8) Settlement Remains (994080) of the former village lie on the W. of the lake, some 250 yds. S. of Crichel House (2). The lake was made before 1765 (I. Taylor's Map of Dorset) and at first the village remained beside it. Humphrey Sturt's enlargement of the house was accompanied by the landscaping of the park and consequent removal of the village to New Town in Witchampton, 1,000 yds. further S. The houses had gone by c. 1770 (I. Taylor's map of Moor Crichel, D.C.R.O., photocopy 1/12). The remains comprise two lines of rectangular closes flanking a hollow-way 12 yds. wide, parallel with the lake. The closes, 20 yds. to 40 yds. wide and up to 70 yds. long, were bounded by low banks and scarps. Disturbed areas formerly indicated buildings, but the remains have recently been obliterated, and only spread banks with scatters of cobble, stone and brick remain.