Dorset OPC

West Stafford

with Frome Billet (alias Frome Everard)

Dorset OPC

West Stafford Church (St Andrew)
© Kim Parker 2010

West Stafford, two miles East of Dorchester, was originally known as Stanford, from the Old English for “stony ford”, perhaps alluding to a crossing of the South Winterborne which flows through it, or even of the River Frome just to the North. It gained its cardinal affix to distinguish it from a settlement of the same name in the neighbouring parish of West Knighton, but which is now known as Lewell. Evidence of occupation from Neolithic to Roman times has been found, including urns of Samian ware, and the landscape is dotted here and there with ancient earthworks, barrows and tumuli.

Curiously, there are two manor houses in the village. The elder of the two, Stafford House, is considered to be one of the best examples of Stuart architecture in Dorset. It was built in 1633 by Dorchester merchant John Gould on the site of Everard’s Manor in the vanished village of Frome Billet. In 1470 the parishes of West Stafford and Frome Belet had been united and all trace of the old parish church of the latter, which stood to the West of Stafford House, was lost. The other manor, once known as Bingham’s Manor after the eponymous family of Bingham’s Melcombe, was sold in the late 16th century and came into the possession of the Russell family. Three generations of Richard Russells became rectors of St. Andrews Church, where they are commemorated by a plaque, together with their last namesake, who died aged only 4 years old. By marriage the manor then passed to the White family, and it was George White who substantially remodelled it in 1720, when it took on its present aspect. In the early 19th century, the Floyer family purchased both manor houses.

The Parish Church of West Stafford is dedicated to St. Andrew and was rebuilt in 1640 incorporating elements from its 15th century predecessor. Distinctly Jacobean in character, the interior of the church is much appreciated for its plastered wagon ceiling, the carved rood screen separating nave from chancel and a fine candelabra, gifted by the Gould family in 1713. The chancel, built in 1898 from a design by Ponting, houses the Parish Dower Chest - said to be one of only three of its pattern, the other two being in the Bank of Ireland. Near the altar is a monument to Canon Reginald Southwell Smith, who was invested as rector of West Stafford a year before Queen Victoria acceded to the throne, and “reigned” almost as long as she did, dying in 1898. At the western end there is a gallery decorated by a coat of arms and three bells by Wallis in the late 16th century tower, one dated 1595 and the other two 1620. It is to these three bells that Hardy refers when describing the wedding of Tess to Angel Clare in chapter 33 of “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”: “As they came out of the church the ringers swung the bells off their rests, and a modest peal of three notes broke forth – that limited amount of expression having been deemed sufficient by the church builders for the joys of such a small parish.”

Around the time that Hardy was writing Tess, he designed a lodge to be built for his siblings, together with nine cottages, on land in West Stafford acquired by his father in 1887, known as Talbot Mead. The lodge was named “Talbothays”, like the dairy where Tess goes to work and meets her future husband. The fictitious Talbothays was probably modelled on Lower Lewell Farm, just outside of West Stafford, while it is thought the village itself appeared in the book as Lew Everard

West Stafford Cottage
© 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  [Alan House]
1851 Census  [Alan House]
1861 Census  [Glenda Lightowler]
1871 Census  [Alan House]
1881 Census  [Alan House]
1891 Census  [Alan House]
Parish Registers Baptisms 1813-1858, 1859-1910 [Kay Kearsey]
Banns 1838-1912 [Kay Kearsey]

Marriages 1559-1751 1752-1836 [Kim Parker]
Burials 1797-1811 [Kay Kearsey]
Trade & Postal Directories  
Other Records West Stafford cum Frome Belet Rectors [Kim Parker]
Dorset Militia Ballot List 1758
Monumental Inscriptions West Stafford Roll of Honour and selected memorials [Kim Parker]
New Burial Ground Monumental Inscriptions index [Jan Hibberd]
Records held at the Dorset History Centre
Christenings 1570-1958. Marriages 1558-1837.
Burials 1558-1812. Banns 1823-1912





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