The History of St. John The Baptist Church

Keep reading down the Page, to find out more about this subject, or use the drop down menu below, to look at a different aspect of the Church.

There is a possibility that a small timber church stood on the present site in Saxon times. However the church we know today is thought to have been begun in about the year 1050.

The Church is a veritable treasure trove for Architectural Historians as it contains portions of all the main medieval styles of architecture between the 11th & 16th centuries.

I have split the Church History into Centuries - this should make it easier to explore.

You can either click on drop down menu below to look at each century, or you can scroll down the page.


The 11th Century

The Church in 1050

During the 10th century it was popularly believed that the world would end at the year 1000 (the millennium) and consequently very little permanent building work was carried out in the latter half of that century. However, when the year 1000 Came and went uneventfully there was a great revival in building, particularly of churches, and our parish church owes its origin to this period, the llth century. It is possible that the original Saxon church, although primarily of timber, may have contained one portion in stone, which could have been incorporated into the new church when it was built alongside the old. This could account for the odd alignment of the old north transept (See Figure below), which is still discernible in the present building in the most easterly arch of the north arcade.

11th Century Floor Plan

The original llth century church (Above) is thought to have been begun in about the year 1050, and to have been cruciform in plan. Evidence of the north transept still exists, but there is no definite evidence of a similar south transept. Much of the south wail of the north transept still remains and its south west corner is marked by a break in the wall above the present pulpit, and a corresponding straight joint in the masonry of the clerestory walling above is visible externally, although partially obscured by a rainwater pipe. The arch between the nave and the north transept seems to have been reformed or enlarged in the following 12th century, but the still existing stone corbel above it supported the original lower nave roof, and indicates that the transept was higher than the nave. The outline of the east gable of the original nave can be still seen in the remaining raking string courses externally above the chancel roof, and the east wall of the present nave on either side of the chancel arch is doubtless original. On the south side, below the later hagioscope, are the remains of the jamb of an opening which may have been the south jamb of the original chancel arch or of a flanking recess. To the left of and above the hagioscope there is an original ornamented arch stone (See Photograph below), and a similar one occurs in the outside wall of the rebuilt south porch, both of which may have formed part of the original chancel arch or flanking recesses. Apart from possibly the core of the westerly square pier of the north arcade which marked the north west corner of the original nave, no other parts of the original ilth century church remain in situ above floor level, having been removed in subsequent extensions.

South Hagioscope (click to enlarge)

Although the original chancel has been entirely removed its former dimensions are known, as an excavation carried out in August 1963 revealed portions of its foundations in the form of large flints bound together with a mixture of chalk and clay. It can be seen (Diagram below) that the later chancel was for some reason built with its central axis a little north of that of the nave, and it was thought possible that the original chancel might have been on the same axis and of the same width as the original nave, and that if this were so, the foundation walling would have lain outside the perimeter of the present building along the south wall of the chancel.

13th Century Floor Plan

This proved to be the case and the foundations began to appear at a depth of about 1 foot (30cm) below the existing ground level. Although somewhat disturbed and displaced by grave digging close under the chancel wall at various times in the past, sufficient remained to show that the original chancel was some lft. 3in. (37cm) wider than the present chancel, and therefore the same width as the original nave. Its length was 18ft. 6in. (5.5m) coinciding approximately with the present step in the chancel floor at the altar rail. A trial excavation on the north side to discover confirmatory evidence was abandoned when 1875 concrete underpinning was encountered.


The 12th Century

The Church in 1160

About the middle of the 12th century, just after the pointed arch had been introduced, but when traditional Norman ornament was still being used, sometimes known as the Transitional Period, the original cruciform church was enlarged by forming an arcade of three arches in the south wall of the nave and adding a narrow south aisle (See Figure below).

Mid 12th Century Floor Plan

The aisle itself has disappeared through subsequent enlargement, but the mid 12th century arcade still remains. Originally it terminated in semi-circular attached half columns at each end, and although that at the east end has since been replaced, the half column at the west end remains, as it was retained and incorporated as part of a subsequent isolated column. The two central columns are circular with square capitals and bases, and are interesting for the carvings at the corners of the capitals (Photographs below) depicting (A) a man's head with mouth held open by the hands, popularly held to represent a sufferer from toothache, (B and C) a man's head with a hand held to the forehead, popularly considered as representing headache, (D) a dog biting the ear of a wolf or bear, believed to represent the mediaeval sport of bear-baiting, (E) a crowned head, and (F) a monkey. One of the carvings (B) appears to be an 1875 restoration, but the remainder are original. There is a nail head patterned architrave over the arches on the nave side, and two carved heads (G and H) occur above the intersections of the arches on the aisle side.

Carvings at corners of capitals (Click each to enlarge)

(Top Row L-R - A,B,C. Middle Row - D,E,F, Bottom Row - G,H)

The crowned head on one of the capitals (E) in association with the mediaeval sporting scene at one time gave rise to the supposition that the building of this arcade and aisle was financed by King John who frequently visited Bere Regis, but this cannot be so, as the arcade must have been built at least 40 years before the beginning of his reign.

At the end of the 12th century the church was further enlarged by forming an arcade in the north wall of the nave and adding a similar narrow north aisle (See Figure below). Again, the three arches remain, and although similar in shape and size to their counterparts on the south they are devoid of ornament and carving, and the outside arches sprang from corbels in the end walls instead of from half columns. This corbelled springer remains in situ at the east end, and the painted consecration cross below it is thought to date from about 1200, probably marking the completion of this arcade.

Late 12th Century Floor Plan

This north arcade terminated at its east end against the original north transept, and as the east end of the earlier south arcade terminated at a similar point, this suggests that it did so for the same reason and gives indirect evidence for the existence of a south transept also in the original building.

The font (Left Photograph below) is often referred to as being Norman and therefore of the lith century, but it is now generally considered to belong to the 12th century. The bowl is original and shallowly carved with interlacing semi-circular arches and star shaped flower patterns (right Photograph below), but the stem and base were added in 1875 to replace the original roughly hewn rock like base, when it was removed from its former position in the north aisle.

The Font & Font Detail (Click each to enlarge)

The Church was starting to take the form we see it in today.


The 13th Century

The Church in 1200

The only portion of definite 13th century work now remaining consists of the lower portion of the chancel east window, identifiable by the attached circular shafts on the mullions and reveals internally, typical of this century. This window may of course have been inserted in the east wall of the original smaller chancel and subsequently re-used, but if it is in original position, then the chancel must have been rebuilt to its present extent in the 13th century. The picture below shows this window (internally & externally) with the top replaced in 1875.

The Chancel (click each to enlarge)

Most of the features in the present chancel are of the 15th century, and its outside facing is of the same date, but this could result from the partial rebuilding and general renovations which were carried out at that time. The piscina, with double bowl and shelf at the east end of the chancel (Photograph below) is of the 14th century and further suggests that the enlarged chancel must be earlier than the 15th century, but again this feature could have been removed from a former position and re-used.

14th Century Piscina (Click to enlarge)

The present chancel arch may be of the 13th or 14th century, but the original llth century arch could have been removed and replaced by the present larger one independently of the rebuilding and enlargement of the chancel itself. The springing stone of this arch on the south side is rather curious and appears to have originally served some other purpose, perhaps in association with stone vaulting.

13th Century Floor Plan

It is considered by some authorities that the westerly arch in each of the two nave arcades belongs to the end of this century, and that the nave and both narrow aisles were therefore extended to the west at this time.

The Church in 1250

In spite of the appearance of the work, the arches are rather large both in span and height for such narrow aisles, and the completeness of the existing west wall of the south aisle (visible internally when plaster was removed for repairs in 1969) suggest that this extension westward was carried out after or at the same time as the widening of the south aisle in the following 14th century. Also in 1969, when the ground level was reduced against the wall around the west end of the south aisle to minimise rising damp, the lower parts of the walling including a double plinth were exposed, and although the plinth is somewhat irregular there are no signs that the wall was built at two different periods.


The 14th Century

The Church in 1320

The Turbervilles, as lords of the manor were probably largely responsible for the 14th century work which seems to have been confined mainly to the south aisle. Their family fortunes and influence appear to have been increasing during this century, and they used the south aisle as their family chapel with its burial vault below.

In addition to the work on the south aisle, the whole building, including the nave and both aisles was extended westward to its present extent by constructing large additional arches at the west end of each nave arcade. On the north side where the 12th century arcade terminated at a wall corbel springer a square pier was formed, but on the south the semi-circular half column was converted into a complete isolated column by building a new half against it, and the two styles of work can still be clearly seen in this column. A new west wall was then built at the end of the nave, probably containing a west door and window above, which has since been removed.

14th Century Floor Plan

At the time of this westward extension the 12th century narrow north aisle had not been widened, and the extension was therefore a narrow one, necessitating a complete rebuilding of this section in the 15th century when the whole aisle was
widened. However a small portion of the west wall was retained and can be seen externally, together with part of the jamb and sill of the west window, just south of the present north aisle west window (See Photograph Below - Click to enlarge).

North Aisle west window

The north doorway (See photograph below - click to enlarge) belongs to this century, but it has since been re-used in a new position.

The North Doorway

It is difficult to reconcile the westward extension of the whole building and the widening of the south aisle. If as is generally believed the westward extension was carried out in about 1300, then both aisles would have been in their narrow 12th century form, and the westward extensions would therefore have been of the same width. This was quite clearly so on the north side, but on the south the widening of the aisle appears to have occurred before or at the same time as the westward lengthening. The date of the west end of the south aisle is therefore uncertain, especially as a small window in the south wall at this end was replaced in 1875, and a new one inserted in the formerly windowless west wall.

The work on the rest of the south aisle can however be definitely assigned to the 14th century. The supposed original south transept and 12th century narrow south aisle were removed. and a new wider aisle built. At the east end a new arch was constructed between the nave and aisle where the north wall of the transept had been, and the old half column at the eastend of the 12th century arcade was probably converted into a complete column as at the west end, but it has since been rebuilt. The east window was probably small and similar to the centre one on the south (See photograph below - click to enlarge), but it has twice been replaced since the 14th century.

South Aisle 14th Century window

It was at this time that the south hagioscope (right photograph below) was formed to give a view into the chancel, and is interesting for its original iron grill, but the hagioscope on the north side (left photograph below) is no more than a roughly cut tunnel-like opening of indeterminate date. Click the photographs to enlarge.

Northern & Southern Hagioscopes

The whole of the upper portion of this 14th century south aisle has since been rebuilt and the only original features remaining lie in the lower portions, including the piscina (below, 1 st row left), part of a wall recess (below, 1st row right), the centre south window, a low recessed altar tomb (below, 2nd row left), and the south door (below, 2nd row right). Three other windows in this aisle of 14th century appearancewere added in 1875. Click the Photographs to enlarge.

A Piscina & a Wall recess

An Altar Tomb & the Southern Door

During repairs to plasterwork in 1969, two interesting features were revealed in the lower part of the south wall of this aisle. The portion of wall recess, referred to above, could be seen to be almost exactly half of the original and was probably partially bricked up when the additional doorway was cut in the south wall, and a small bricked up fireplace recess could be seen immediately east of the low altar tomb. It was lft. 6in. (45cm) wide, 3ft. 8in. (110cm) high, and spanned by a brick segmental arch supported on a flat section iron bar, and was probably originally associated with the lord of the manor's pew enclosure.

It is very probable that in either the 13th or 14th centuries the original north transept was heightened to form a tower, and would account for the retention of this part of the original building until the present west tower was added in about 1500. It would also account for the distortion which has occurred in the arch between the transept and the nave at some time in the past, and which is still apparent. It is also unlikely that a church which had by the 14th century become so large, shouldhave been without a tower. Canford Magna church (see photograph below) for example has its existing tower in just this position - the easternmost bay of the north aisle-where the llth century north transept was subsequently heightened.

Candford Magna Church


The 15th Century


The Church in 1486

The roof loft appears to have been added at the beginning of this century, and the three surviving supporting stone corbels show it to have been an exceptionally large one occupying the whole of the eastern bay of the nave. The remaining rear corbel is plain, but the two front ones are ornamented with carved figures and date from about 1400.

15th Century Floor Plan

Two old wooden seats in the chancel (See photographs below - click to enlarge) which belong to the early part of this century contain linenfold panelling, and the side of one of them shows evidence of once having had a curved seat, usual in times when clergy were not allowed to sit (at least comfortably) during services.

15th Century wooden seats

During the restoration work of 1875, signs of a previous fire were said to have been observed, and it seems probable that such a fire might have occurred about the middle of the 15th century. Apart from improvements and extensions, a great deal of rebuilding of existing work was carried out, much of it only dating from the previous century.

It appears that in 1450 money was being collected for the repair of the chancel, and shortly afterwards it seems to have been largely rebuilt as a result. Any existing windows were replaced, and new ones were added (See photograph below), but the lower portion of the 13th century east window was retained and a typical 15th century traceried top added, which may also be seen in pre 1875 engravings and photographs.

Chancel 15th Century North & South windows (click to enlarge)

At the same time a priest's door was added in the south wall (See photograph below), decorated with carved paterae, and the whole of the external walling appears to have been refaced or rebuilt.

15th Century Priest's Door

The large amount of work carried out during the last quarter of the 15th century is thought to have been due to the influence of Cardinal Morton who was a native of Bere Regis, having been born at Milborne Stileham which then formed part of this
parish, and who was said to have been "much given to building".

In about 1485 the old nave roof was removed and replaced by a new one at a higher level, incorporating clerestry walling and windows with trefoil headed double lights (See photograph below - click to enlarge). The old north transept which had probably developed into a tower, was retained however, and the joint in the masonry where the new clerestory walling abutted it can still be seen externally. It also meant that at this point there could be no clerestoy window, and the one which now exists in this position can be seen by its plain top to have been inserted early in the following century when the tower was removed.

15th Century Clerestry walling & windows

At about the same time the old narrow north aisle including its westward extension carried out in the previous century, was taken down and rebuilt to its present width with new cinquefoil headed windows (left photograph below) in the north wall and an unusual triangular headed window (right photograph below) in the west wall. The roof at this period was probably a shallow double pitched roof, the supporting corbels of which still remain, but it has since been replaced by a single pitched roof at a slightly higher level. Pre 1875 engravings and plans show that there were several more buttresses on the north wall than at present, and that the north doorway was further east.

Cinquefoil Headed window & Triangular Headed window (click to enlarge photograph)

The late 15th century work cannot be left without considering the magnificent nave roof of about 1485 in greater detail. As it is so unique for this part of the country, there is a seperate section covering the roof alone which you can find by clicking here or by using the menu on the left.


The 16th Century


The Church in 1500

In about 1500 work was begun on the new west tower and the east end of the north aisle or Morton Chapel. Although at opposite ends of the building, these two items were connected, insofar as it is supposed that the original llth century north
transept had been heightened in the 13th or 14th centuries to form a tower, and that this tower would have been retained until replaced by a new one.

Early 16th Century Floor Plan

The work carried out on the north aisle and nave at the end of the previous century must have been completed several years before 1500 as there is a distinct difference in the style of the work. This is particularly noticeable in the north aisle and nave clerestory where the earlier 15th century windows have cinquefoil and trefoil headed lights, and the later windows of the Morton Chapel and the associated nave clerestory window have plain heads (Left & right photographs below respectively - click to enlarge).

Morton Chapel window & associated Nave Clerestory window

The old west wall of the nave seems to have been rebuilt, or at least thickened, as it now encroaches into the nave to partially obscure the springing of the older western arch of the north arcade. In this new or thickened wall a large arch with tracery panelled soffite and reveals was constructed, and at its apex an attempt seems to have been made to reach a compromise where the central axes of the tower and nave do not coincide. Apart from the adaptation of the west wall of the nave, the tower was treated as a simple addition. It is a splendid tower in three stages externally faced with chequered ashlar and flintwork, with battlemented and pinnacled top, and the brown ferruginous stone used in the upper stage gives the tower its distinctive appearance. The stair turret is on the north west corner and there are buttresses on each face near the angles which terminate as attached pinnacles in the upper stage. A pierced stone belfry window occurs on each face and there is a large window (below left) over the west door (below right) flanked by canopied niches which would have originally contained carved figures.

The West window & the West door (click to enlarge)

At the east end of the north aisle most of the old tower was taken down, leaving its south wall below the nave eaves level to form the new section of clerestory walling, and into which was inserted a new clerestory window. It matches the remaining late 15th century clerestory windows in size but not in detail, being constructed in early 16th century fashion with plain headed lights, as were the two new windows in the north and east walls of the Morton Chapel. At the same time a new stair turret was formed to gain access to the existing rood loft, previous access to which could have been by way of an upper chamber in the old tower. In the chapel there are two semi-octagonal stone brackets flanking the east window, and a further stone bracket decorated with a carved angel attached to the east reveal of the north window. The roof was a shallow double pitched roof continuous with that over the remainder of the north aisle, and when the whole aisle was later re-roofed in monopitch form, the old portion over this eastern bay was retained beneath it and still exists. In Cardinal Morton's will, proved in 1500, it was directed that a chantry chapel should be founded in Bere Regis church, with a priest to say Mass for the souls of his parents for twenty years.

The south porch is thought to have been added early in this century, but as it was almost entirely rebuilt in 1875, its date is difficult to determine. At least it seems to have been added after the widening of the south aisle as there are unbonded joints at its junction with the main wall.

Early in the 16th century the 14th century east window of the south aisle was replaced by a five light square headed window presumably to admit more light. It was again replaced in 1875 but may be seen in a pre-1875 photograph.

In his will of 1535 John Turberville directed that his body should be buried "in my own aisle before the image of Our Blessed Lady, in one of the tombs wherein Sir Richard and Sir Robert Turberville my ancestors hath been buried". In addition, he directed that the east window of the aisle should be rebuilt and reglazed. It is thought that the `Turberville window' (below left) was the result of this direction, and presumably also the canopied altar tomb memorial below it (below right).

The Turbeville window & the canopied Altar Tomb (click to enlarge)

Another apparently older altar tomb (See photograph below) occurs in the east wall of this aisle, but in both cases the identifying brasses have disappeared, leaving the rivet holes, as Thomas Hardy put it "like martin-holes in a sand cliff". One Turberville brass does however remain, that to Robert Turberville who died in 1559, although it is now fixed in a less vulnerable position on the wall near the floor slab to which it was formerly attached.

Altar Tomb (click to enlarge)

Two further canopied altar tombs formerly existed at the east end of the north aisle, but the brasses were already missing by about 1770 when Hutchins visited the church, and he considered them to have been memorials to the Willoughby family of Turnerspuddle. Sir William Willoughby, Nicholas Willoughby and Leonard Willoughby, between 1512 and about 1570, all ordered their bodies to be buried in this church. The remains of one of these canopied tombs are built into the north wall of the north aisle, consisting of the back with its housings for brasses, and the carved soffite of the canopy. A carved fragment now built into the wall in the porch could also have originally formed part of this tomb.

The Skerne canopied altar tomb (See below - click to enlarge) on the north wall of the chancel is similar in design to the others, but it is in white free-stone and in an almost perfect state of preservation. The brasses are all intact bearing the date 1596, and around the edges of the slab are mortises which originally held iron trefoil guards, one of which remains in a flattened condition. The Skerne family held land at Winterborne Kingston, and had descended from a branch of the Spanish kings of Castile and Leon. They were established at Winterborne Kingston at least by 1458 when Robert Skerne held the manor there, and John Skerne, whom this monument commemorates, seems to have been the last of his line, dying in 1593.

The Skerne Canopied Altar Tomb

Some 16th century bench ends still exist (See below - click to enlarge), and had been incorporated in the reading pew prior to 1875, but they now form panels in the backs of the front blocks of nave pews. They are beautifully carved with arabesques and tracery, and one depicts an eagle feeding its young, whilst another bears the date 1547 in Roman numerals-McccccxLVII. Some include carved initials, and another bears the inscription ION DAV WARDEN OF THYS CHARYS, the last word appearing to be a compromise between church and parish. Ion Dav was John Dau or Daw who occurs in the Bere Regis muster roll for 1542, and a namesake who was churchwarden here in 1656 was doubtless one of his descendants.

16th Century Pew Ends

More old carved woodwork remains in the form of linen-fold panels now incorporated into the lower section of the screen which forms the south side of the vestry. Below is an example of one of the beautifully carved Pew Ends.

Pew End Detail (click to enlarge)


The 17th Century

With the completion of the west tower and Morton Chapel early in the 16th century, the church was brought to its full development, and all subsequent work has been concerned solely with repairs, renewals, and the installation of fittings and various amenities. Many of such items have also been removed at various times, and the Reformation of the mid 16th century caused the removal of many of the church's ancient fittings including the old rood loft, various carved images, church plate and ceremonial robes, besides the stone altar top which in 1875 was rediscovered and restored to its original position. At the Reformation it had been effectively concealed by being disguised as a paving slab in the floor.

When the old 17th century pulpit was removed in 1875, its six panels, together with others from the readers desk and box pews, were retained and mounted as panelling on the north wall of the vestry. The pew panels are quite plain, but those of the pulpit are intricately carved with semi-circular arches and columns, decorated with strapwork patterns. (See below - click to enlarge)

The Pulpit

Many details of 17th century repair work and other items are referred to in the old churchwardens accounts which cover the period from 1608 to 1740, and the following information is extracted from them.

In 1608 there is an item concerning the font-"A cover for the vante given to the Church by John Hony". John Hony was a carpenter, and the present visible damage to the top of the font is probably the result of fitting this cover.

In 1610 the bells and frame were completely overhauled and repaired, Thomas Kinston from Salisbury being employed on the work for 14 days with local help, which cost altogether over £11. The workmen appear to have originally underestimated the cost of the work, for there is this odd item-"pd them over & a boufe or else they wold a loste by ett for I promised them befcr thaye tocke ett thay shold nott losse by ett or eles thay wold nott tacking ett att so lowe a prise ... 6s. Od.".

In 1624 £9 ls. 6d. was spent in repairs to the leadwork on the roof, and in 1628 a further £39 was spent when almost 52 tons of lead was used. A plumber named John Gaylard was employed for this work.

In 1632 and 1633 these items occur:

It. paid unto Mr. Davies for painting of the Kings
Ma : es Armes and for other worke done about the Church ......... £ 4 Os. Od.
It. Paid unto a Painter of Sarum that came to view Mr. Davies worke ....... 7s. 8d.
It, In our hands to Pay Davyes .............................. £ 4 Os. Od.

It appears that Mr. Davies was paid £8 altogether, and in view of the largeness of the sum for this period, his work might well have included painting the nave roof, especially as supervision from Salisbury seems to have been necessary. Hutchins, writing in about 1770, observed: "About a century subsequent to its erection, the roof appears to have been painted by some uneducated artist with rude conceptions of Italian character."

In 1656 the whole of the tower, bells and frame were again overhauled and repaired, when the present second bell was cast, and in 1685 much carpentry work was done, which included repairs to the pews and apparently re-roofing the porch.

In 1688, after severe gales, these items occur:

paid Nicholas Huchings for minding the windows and
ponting after the great wind .............................. £ 0 3s. 4d.
paid Edward mores for minding and pinting after the wind ......... £ 0 Is. 6d.
paid David Guy and men when the Church foundred ... £ 0 4s. 6d.
for beere ............................................................ £ 0 Os. 6d.

A large re-roofing job seems to have been undertaken in 1692 when Thomas Turberville was one of the churchwardens.

Among the more expensive items we find:

pd, Tho : Meader for 500 foot of Oaken board ......... £ 3 15s. Od.
pd. Bernard Maber for 140 Bushells of Lime ............ £ 2 6s. Od.
pd. Tho: & James Lockier towards their worke ......... £ 4 Is. 8d.
pd. Wm : Woolfrys for fetchinge 7000 of bricks ...... £ 1 3s. 4d.
pd. Robt. Strangman for 7000 of bricks .................. £ 4 4s. Od.
pd. for Timber bought at Clenston & marking money ... £ 4 18s. Od.
pd. ffor Lead & the Plumbers worke ..................... £13 6s. 7d.

As a result of this heavy expenditure Thomas Turberville seriously overspent on his year's account, causing him to remark somewhat apologetically at the end: "So that there is disburst by Tho : Turbeville Esqr., more yn. recd. £13 7s. 9d.", besides which he had not paid for the plumber's 'Dyett & Horsemeat' and a number of other items.

Bere Regis has suffered badly from fires on several occasions, the worst ones being in 1633, 1717 and 1788. The Fire Hooks below (click to enlarge) were used to strip thatch from roofs to act as a firebreak. These particular ones were stored in the Church and were used from the 17th Century onwards.

17th Century Fire Hooks


The 18th Century

Again details of some of the work carried out in this century can be found in the churchwardens accounts which cover almost the first half of the century up to 1740. In 1708 these items occur:

It. Pd. for White-liming of ye Church ..................... £ 1 2s. Od.
It, Pd. Edward Meader & John Ash for building the
seats ............................................................... £ 5 lOs. 6d.
It. Pd, for 60deal boards to Mrs. Seaward ............ 4 lOs. Od.

It appears from the 1711 account that about £14 worth of leadwork was carried out on the roof and roof of the tower, and in 1712 over £28 was paid to Richard Ham, a plumber, for recasting and relaying lead on the roof. He was paid a further
£14 for similar work in 1715, and £19 in 1719.

The parish chest (See below - click to expand) which stands in the north aisle was made in 1716, and it bears this date and the names of the churchwardens Lawrence Harris and Robert Spear. The names are carved in the wood, and many of the letters are back to front. In the account for this year there is this item: "It. George Smethe for ye Coffer ............... 12s. Od."

The Parish Chest

This chest has three locks, numbered 1, 11 and 111, and long bolts incorporated in the back presumably for fixing to a wall. Separate keys were held by the Vicar and each church warden so that the chest could be opened only in the presence of all three.

The old church clock (See below - click to enlarge) now in the County Museum at Dorchester, was made in 1719 by Lawrence Boyce, a Puddletown blacksmith, and it bears this inscription on the frame: ROBERT FRAMPTON AND JOSHUA GOLLOP, CHURCHWARDENS ANNO DOMINI 1719 LAWRENCE BOYCE PIDDLETOWN FECIT 1719. By referring to the account for this year we find: "Pd. Mr. Boys for the Clock ............ £14 Os. Od.".

The Old Church Clock

This was a very large sum indeed in the 18th century, and in addition Mr. Boyce was paid five shillings each year when he came to clean and service the clock, at least until 1740 when the accounts end. This clock continued in use until 1878 when the present one was installed, but an earlier clock existed before 1719 as there are items in the accounts regarding it as far back as 1608.

There seems to have been further gale damage in 1734:

Paid Benj. Moors for Glasing and Cleaning of the North
side of the Church windows just after the great storm £ 1 Os. Od.
Paid Porters Bill for work about the Monument & the
Tower and Cleaning all the Body of the Church and
Walling up the east end of the Church and for plaistering
of it also and for Hair for all the work .................. £ 2 is. 9d.
In 1738 more repair work was done:
Pd. James Burges for 600 paving brick for ye Church Porch ...... £ 0 12s. Od.
Pd. for 120 bushels of Lime for the Church ............ £ 2 Os. Od.
for the Carriage of 2 load of Lime ........................ £ 1 Os. Od.
Paid Henry Porter and His son their bill for plaistering the Church .... £ 4 16s. lOd.
Pd. Henry Porter for 10 bushels of white hair ......... £ 0 15s. Od.
Paid Hen. Porters wife for helping to clean the Church
and for use of his poles for Scafling .................. £ 0 2s. 6d.
Paid Benjamin Moores for helping Hen. Porter 8 days £ 0 8s. Od.
Paid Benjamin Moores for Cleaning & Oyling the Apostles ....... £ 0 4s. Od.

There are further items bringing the total on this occasion to over £20.

The vestry table which is still in use, was made by the Rev. Henry Fisher, vicar from 1725 until his death in 1773 aged 90. It is reputed to have been made from a yew treewhich grew in the churchyard, and as it is unlikely to have been made in Mr. Fisher's later years it probably dates from between 1725 and 1750. It bears the gilt painted inscription HFV Dedit Dedicat q.

Some rebuilding work to the south aisle would appear to have been carried out in 1760, as a stone on the east end bears that date and the initials MS.


The 19th Century

The Church in 1875

In the county museum at Dorchester there is an early 19th century barrel organ formerly used in Bere Regis church. It was purchased second hand from the churchwardens of Puddletown in 1852, and continued in use on a gallery at the back of the church until about 1865 when a small conventional organ was installed in the chancel. Somehow or other this old barrel organ found its way to Upwey, and in 1908 it was offered to the parishioners of Bere Regis, but no one seems to have been interested in recovering it.

The organ was used by turning a handle on the front which both rotated the barrel inside and operated the bellows. Tunes were produced by a system of valves at the ends of the pipes actuated in a set order by metal projections on the revolving
wooden barrel, and the tune was changed by moving the barrel sideways. There were ten different tunes on each barrel, and three barrels survive, but originally there were probably more.

Due largely to the effects of the Industrial Revolution the early part of the 19th century saw a great decline generally in the population and prosperity of country districts, with the result that village churches no longer received the care which had been formerly given to them. Bere Regis church was no exception, and by 1870 it was in a very poor condition indeed after years of neglect. The roof leaked in many places, the woodwork was in consequence suffering badly from rot, stonework was crumbling, and most of the windows were broken.

Late 19th Century Floor Plan

It was therefore decided to thoroughly restore the church, and in March 1873 the Rev. Francis Warre sent out a circular letter appealing for funds, and a committee was formed to arrange the restoration of the nave and north aisle. Mrs. Lloyd Egginton as chief proprietor of the parish undertook to restore the chancel and south aisle at her own expense. Sir George E. Street, R.A., one of the foremost national architects of the day, was commissioned to prepare a scheme and supervise the work and Messrs. Hale of Salisbury were the building contractors. £2,485 was spent on the chancel and south aisle, and £2,605 was collected in subscriptions for the remainder of the work. The restored church was re-opened on Thursday, 7 October, 1875, when the Bishop preached at morning service, and lunch and tea were provided for 1,700 parishioners and guests. Another thanksgiving service was held at 6 p.m. on the same day, and for many years afterwards a combined thanksgiving and harvest service was held on the first Thursday in each October to commemorate the restoration.

Although Sir George Street ensured that as much as possible of the old work was retained, a large amount of rebuilding was nevertheless carried out, and as a result the church lost much of its mediaeval character, especially internally. It is fortunate, however, that two pre-1875 photographs survive, one internal and one external, and with Street's plan of the building as it existed, now housed in the Diocesan Registry at Salisbury, a good idea of the church's pre-restoration appearance can be formed. The following work was carried out in 1875:

Chancel. The unstable north wall was underpinned with a concrete foundation, and the upper part of the east window was renewed together with the apex of the gable. At the same time the whole of the chancel roof was renewed, and it is unfortunate that no record seems to exist of its form before this date, although the new roof was claimed to have been a copy of a former mediaeval roof deduced from one or two remains found at the time. The old organ which stood on the north side was removed to the east end of the north aisle, and the clergy stalls and one bay of choir stalls were put in. The altar and rail were removed and replaced, with the old pre-reformation stone altar top incorporated in the new work.

North Aisle. The whole of the north wall, except the eastern bay, was rebuilt, the original 15th century windows being repaired and re-used, and the north doorway was similarly re-used some ten feet (3m) west of its former position.

South Aisle. The 15th century square headed east window was removed and replaced by the present one (See below - click to enlarge), and the east gable was largely rebuilt.

19th Century South Aisle East window

The west gable was similarly rebuilt with a new window inserted and a very small window in the south wall at the west end was replaced (See below - click to enlarge). The whole of the south aisle roof was renewed, and the porch almost entirely rebuilt with new roof, side windows, entrance arch and angle buttresses.

Nave. Mercifully the nave roof was not renewed, but it was care-fully repaired and repainted, it was claimed, in its original colours, but some of the decorative paintwork on the tie beams and wall plates appears to have a suspiciously Victorian character. The east gable and south clerestory walls were largely rebuilt, re-using the old windows, and the south arcade columns and capitals were repaired with new stone inserts

Floors. All the floors which had been mainly stone flagged, were taken up and renewed. Those portions under the pews and to most of the north aisle were replaced with boards and joists, and the remainder were tiled with glazed tiles which were said to have been copies of tiles previously in the church and from Bindon Abbey. During the course of the work it was discovered that the floors of the nave and south aisle had been raised, to the level of the north aisle and chancel (in 1830 it is believed) and these were reduced to their original level, exposing the bases of the south arcade columns. It is not clear what type of heating system, if any, existed before this time, but in 1875, ducts were formed under the floor and a ducted hot air system installed.

A section of the Floor (click to enlarge)

Furniture and Fittings. Almost all of the previous furnishings and fittings were taken out, including the west gallery, the box pews, pulpit and vicar's desk, and replaced by new. Some of the more interesting portions were however retained as paneling and mounted on the north wall of the vestry and in the backs of pews. The new pews, pulpit and organ screen were carved by Harry Hems of Exeter, in oak, and the ends of all the pews are carved, each with a different design, said to have been copies from various west country churches. The old west gallery seems to have occupied the whole of the space under the tower and to have projected slightly into the nave, two repaired patches on either side of the tower arch marking its level. The space under the gallery seems to have been used for storage, and the village fire engine among other things was kept there. Before 1875 the font, on a roughly hewn stone base, was situated in the north aisle, and it seems to have been removed temporarily into the south aisle before being moved to its present position. There is a note in the parish register against a baptism entry for 15 April, 1875 - "last baptism in the North Aisle before removing into S. Aisle now restored".

Generally. Although the 1875 restoration regrettably caused the removal of several ancient features, others were discovered as a result. These included the pre-reformation stone altar top, the hagioscopes, the original chancel arch or recess jamb and arch stone, a carved stone capital of about 1200 (Diagram below, A) and four stones now built into the north wall of the north aisle internally (Diagram below, B, C, D and E).

Objects (l-r) A-E (click to enlarge)

Also discovered were several fragments built into the main wall within the porch (Diagram below, J, K, L and M). J and K bear carved heraldic devices known as calvary crosses, thought to have been parts of stone coffin lids, and L is a stone cross very similar to D.

Objects (from top) J-M (click to enlarge)

Several of the Turberville floor tomb slabs in the south aisle were replaced in their original positions, but others from the south aisle and other parts of the church were reset in the floor under the tower around the font. Some of these bear fragmentary inscriptions and housings for brasses now missing. In the chancel the positions of floor tombs were marked by dated and initialed tiles.

All the old timber doors were renewed, and the plain glass in all the windows was replaced by new stained glass. Most of the windows depict scenes from the gospels, but the main west window (see below - click to enlarge) shows the life of St. John Baptist the patron saint.

Main West Window

The Turberville window in the south aisle contains the names and arms of the Turberville family, together with those of earlier and subsequent owners of the manor.

The Turberville Window & Window Detail (click to enlarge)

Much of the old plasterwork was renewed and in the process the painted consecration cross was discovered and preserved. More painted wall plaster was discovered near the roof at the east end of the nave consisting of a text from Haggai (chapter 1, verse 4), very appropriate for the occasion: "Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house to lie waste?"

In 1894, some twenty years after the restoration, it was found that the board and joist floors of the north aisle and under the pews in the nave were badly affected by dry rot. This was beginning to affect the pews and the organ continually required propping in order to keep it reasonably upright. The boards and joists were therefore removed and replaced with concrete finished with oak blocks, at a cost of £150.


The 20th Century

In September, 1901 a fund was started for improving, rebuilding or renewing the organ. In fact, a new organ was built, using parts of the old one, at a cost of £380, and was completed at Christmas 1903.

The Organ (click to enlarge)

In 1905 the oak screen to the south side of the vestry was erected to `replace the present unsightly arrangement of curtains,' and took the form of a memorial to George Hibbs who had died in January 1903. He had been an ardent church worker, being in the choir for 45 years, and a churchwarden from 1884 until his death. He had also been the 'barrel-organist' when that instrument was in use. The screen, which cost about £100, was designed and carved by Harry Hems and Son of Exeter, the firm who had carried out the woodwork in 1875.

Oak Vestry Screen (click to enlarge)

In 1906 the roofs of the south aisle and nave were found to be leaking in no less than ten different places, and the repair work was completed by June, 1907. The building contractor was Mr. F. Stickland of Blandford, and the total cost, including expenses in connection with the appeal, was £133.

In 1907 a fund was started to provide an oak reredos behind the altar, and it was later decided that it should take the form of a memorial to Mr. Drax who had died in April of that year.

Reredos Detail (click to enlarge)

The work was carried out by Messrs. Parsons of Dewlish to the design of Mr. A. Troyte Griffith, an architect of Great Malvern, Worcestershire, and the completed reredos was dedicated on 18 April, 1909.

The Reredos & Altar (click to enlarge)

By the end of the 1914-18 war repair work had accumulated, and one of the most urgent tasks was the repair, tuning and rehanging of the bells, and renewal of the bell frame. In addition a new treble bell was added, bringing the peal up from five to six, and when the old frame was removed, extensive repairs to the tower itself were found to be necessary. The work, which cost £210 16s. 821 d., was completed by February 1920.

The enclosure of the vestry, started in 1905 by erecting the south screen, was completed by a screen on the east side. Harry Hems and Son of Exeter again carried out the work, which was finished just before Christmas, 1923.

Before 1925 the church was lit by chandelier type paraffin lamps and as these became worn out, it grew increasingly difficult to replace them with similar fittings. It was therefore decided to completely renew the lighting, and an ambitious project of electric lighting was embarked upon seven or eight years in advance of mains electricity coming to the village. The system was completed, and used for the first time at the evening service on Armistice Day, 1925. The work was carried out by Messrs. Allen-Liversidge of London at a cost of between £500 and £550, and included the erection of an engine house (now used as a storage shed), 32 h.p. petrol driven Lister engine driving a 50 volt D.C. generator, lead sheathed wiring and Holophane glass light fittings. When a mains supply later became available, this wiring intended for a 50 volt D.C. supply, then had to cope with 240 volt A.C. current, and continued to do so until 1962.

The old underfloor ducted air heating system (of which the ducts and gratings still remain) finally failed to function in November 1925 after exactly 50 years service. A new central heating system was installed, and first used on 11 November, 1926. Although the boiler itself has been replaced several times since, the basic system of radiators and circulating pipes remains in use. Mr. W. H. R. Blacking, an architect of Guildford designed the system, and the work was carried out by Messrs. Wippell Bros. and Row of Exeter.

In 1931 the whole of the lead on the north aisle roof was relaid, and extensive repairs were carried out to the top of the tower. This work entailed taking down and rebuilding the south parapet and repairing and repointing the remaining parapets and pinnacles. It was also during this year that the presence of death watch beetle in the nave roof was first suspected.

Water had been penetrating the tower walls at various points, and in 1932 this was rectified by repairs and repointing at a cost of about £180. At the same time the external walling of the south aisle was repaired and repointed.

In 1934 the choir stalls in the chancel were extended eastwards, again by Messrs. Harry Hems and Son of Exeter, who had carried out most of the other church woodwork. In 1936 supplementary choir stalls for ladies were added in the nave, in memory of the Rev. P. W. Taylor who had died in 1935.

The Choir Stalls (click to enlarge)

Just before the second world war, death watch beetle was found to have become firmly established in the nave roof, and it was extensively repaired and treated with a preservative.

In 1950 after several of the stone slates on the chancel roof had become displaced, the whole roof was stripped and the slates rehung, the work being carried out by A. E. Griffin and Son.

In 1956, the Vicarage was moved from what is now Summerods (photograph below), to No 28, West Street, otherwise known as 'The Retreat' (photograph below). The Church garden party continued at Summerods until 1976. The statues over the door, at The Retreat, probably disappeared before the war.

Summerods circa 1900, The Retreat in 1925 & the Vicarage today (click each to enlarge)

By the end of 1962 the whole of the old electrical wiring had been removed and replaced by new copper sheathed cable, and new high level inconspicuous spot lights were installed. The old wiring had become unsafe and rewiring afforded the opportunity to dispense with the old light fittings which were suspended on chains in front of the arcades. The new lighting was dedicated by the Rev. R. C. Herring, the previous vicar, at a special service on 23 June, 1963.

During the summer of 1963 an oil fired mechanism was fitted to the boiler, together with an electric circulating pump, thermostatic control and time switch, putting the church heatingsystem on an automatic basis. Later, however the new automatic mechanism was in danger of deteriorating as a result of water penetration through the boiler house roof and walls, and in addition the cast iron beams supporting the concrete roof had corroded badly and were unsafe. In 1966 the roof was removed, the walls were lined and waterproofed and a new insulated timber roof was constructed. At the same time the boiler was renewed, and the efficiency of the heating system improved by adjustments to the pipework in the boiler house. In September 1966 the choir stalls were removed from the chancel and re-erected at the east end of the nave, in order to accommodate a larger choir in one position.

The organ had long been in need of tuning, cleaning and repair, and early in 1967 it was completely dismantled for this purpose. This afforded a long sought for opportunity to remove the organ from the Morton Chapel which it completely filled, and it was therefore re-assembled in a new position further west in the north aisle.

After a thorough inspection of the whole roof and other woodwork, including treatment where required, and a complete overhaul of all the parapets, lead flashings and gutters, the internal plasterwork was repaired where necessary in November and December 1969, and the whole of the interior white lime-washed.

In 1971 the whole of the tower, except the lower part, was cleaned, repaired and repointed at a cost of over £2,000. At the same time the pinnacles at the top of the stair turret were renewed and presented to the church by the Griffin family in
memory of the late G. R. Griffin. One of the old pinnacles had been missing for a great many years.

Following removal of the organ in 1967, work on the restoration of the Morton Chapel proceeded as and when funds permitted, many items being donated as memorials. The principal items consisted of the removal, restoration and refixing of the old 17th century pulpit and stall panelling formerly fixed to the north wall of the vestry, new steel radiator grill, new altar with locally made tapestry panels, stainless steel altar furnishings, carpet, chairs, kneelers and kneeling benches. The work was completed in 1973.

Views of The Morton Chapel (click to enlarge)

In 1999 a concealed kitchen unit (with running water) was installed at the Western end of the southern Aisle. In addition, the former electricty shed was converted into a disabled toilet & storeroom.

Finally, as the century drew to a close, floodlighting was installed in time for the Millenium. Click the photograph to enlarge.

The Church floodlit at the Millenium


The 21st Century


As the Church enters its 10th Century it has remained an oasis of calm in a constantly evolving village. The Church is fortunate indeed to have a consistently resourceful and caring group of people willing to to look after it.

The first big piece of work for the Church this century will be the installation of locally crafted Porch Gates, sometime in 2004. You can see an artists impression of what they will look like below.

The Porch Gates

I hope you have enjoyed discovering the history of our Church. Come back again soon, as these pages will be updated, as our Church is improved over the years.



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