Dorset OPC

Stanton St Gabriel

with Morecombelake

Dorset OPC

Stanton St Gabriel Church
© Kim Parker 2010

Stanton St Gabriel is a hamlet and civil parish in west Dorset, situated on the wind-lashed western slopes of Golden Cap on the Jurassic coast between Bridport and Lyme Regis. Mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086) simply as ‘Stantone’, from the Old English for ‘farm on stoney ground’, ‘St Gabriel’ was added later with reference to the dedication of the church. Legend has it that in the 12th century a newly married couple washed up here in a dinghy after two days at sea being buffeted by storms that had forced them to abandon their ship. The groom, Bertram, prayed to St Gabriel to save them, promising to raise a shrine to him wherever they landed. His prayer was answered and he carried his bride ashore, but the ordeal had been too much for her and she died in his arms. Bertram was distraught, but honoured his pledge.

Originally a parish in its own right, Stanton St Gabriel became a perpetual curacy annexed to Whitchurch Canonicorum some time in the Middle Ages. A 17th century petition by the inhabitants to restore the parish status of Stanton St Gabriel, because the twenty-three families of the hamlet had to travel more than two miles to Whitchurch, ‘along a road exposed to such violence of wind and weather that they could seldom make the journey to church in winter’, went unheeded. By the 18th century the once flourishing settlement was all but abandoned, as the inhabitants were lured away to work in the many new mills and rope-walks of Bridport, or moved to what is now the village of Morecombe Lake when the coach road from Dorchester to Exeter was rerouted inland.

Once a new chapel was erected beside the turnpike at Morecombelake in 1841, the chapel at Stanton St Gabriel was used less and less for ceremonial purposes and became a warehouse for smugglers. A rough track from the shoreline up through a gully made a convenient route for carrying the contraband goods to the disused chapel and a thriving trade in brandy, tobacco and French silk was carried on with Morlaix in Brittany. Eventually, better policing of the coast put paid to the smuggling trade and the disused church fell to ruin. Some materials were salvaged for the new chapel, including the font and the rood beam. 15th century corbels in the image of a man and woman found amongst the ruins of the old chapel by a field trip in 1960, and fancied by some to be Bertram and his bride, are kept at the Dorchester Museum.

Much of the land here now belongs to the National Trust, which has created a number of trails to allow the public to enjoy the spectacular views from Golden Cap, the highest point on the south coast. The land is farmed traditionally so that there are rich and abundant flora and fauna to be enjoyed. Of the old hamlet of Stanton St Gabriel only the Elizabethan farmhouse and a small thatched cottage dating from around 1700 remain. The ruins of the chapel are carefully preserved and services are sometimes celebrated there, weather permitting.

Morecombelake is the home of Moores Biscuit Bakery, famous for the Dorset knob - the traditional meal for local farm workers at the start of the day. Near the village, overlooking Lyme Bay, is an ancient well dedicated to St Candida, a Saxon anchorite killed by Viking raiders in the 8th century, which is reputed for its healing qualities, especially for sore eyes. With such spectacular views on offer, such a cure is particularly apt.

Stanton St Gabriel Church
© Kim Parker 2010

The post of Online Parish Clerk (OPC) is currently vacant
If you would like to volunteer for the role, please contact the OPC Project Co-ordinator
Contributions of additional resource materials for the site are always welcome

Census 1841 Census [Jacqui Bowen]
1861 Census [Jacqui Bowen]
1871 Census [John Ridout]
1901 Census [Keith Searson]
Parish Registers Baptisms
Trade & Postal Directories  
Other Records Roll of Honour [Kim Parker]
Monumental Inscriptions Index of Monumental Inscriptions [Jacqui Bowen & Brian Webber]
Records held at the Dorset History Centre
Registers (formerly part of Whitechurch Canonicorum)
Marriages 1840-1982. Banns 1938-1978





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