Dorset OPC

Winterbourne Abbas

Dorset OPC

St Mary's Church, Winterbourne Abbas
© Kim Parker/Dorset OPC 2011

Winterbourne Abbas is village and ancient parish, united with neighbouring Winterbourne Steepleton since 1667, lying in a valley five miles West of Dorchester either side of the old turnpike road to Bridport, now the busy A35. The first part of the name is for the South Winterbourne rivulet, a tributary of the River Frome that rises here. As John Marius Wilson so eloquently put it in his ‘Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales’ of 1872, “the name Winterbourne arose to this parish and to others from the periodicity of streams, issuing from chalk formations, disappearing in summer, and flowing copiously in winter”. The second part of the name is from the Latin ‘abbatis’ for abbot, in reference to Cerne Abbey which was given this manor in 872 from Ethelmer, son of Ethelward, a nobleman of King Ethelred, and owned it until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII. In medieval times it was sometimes known as Watreleswyntreburn from Old English waeter-leas for waterless, referring to the dryness of the South Winterborne river here in some seasons.

St Mary’s Church appears not to have been built, but rather to have emerged higgledy-piggledy over time, and bears the scars of many alterations. Nothing remains of the Saxon chapel that once stood here, but there are a few traces of the Normans, including the foundations of the present structure, the font and the holy water stoop. Nave and Chancel, which today seem so out of kilter, were built in 1250. Of particular note is a 1320 piscina for the washing of the communal chalice, intricately carved with two figures supporting a canopy. The tower, begun in the 14th century, but not completed until the 15th or 16th centuries, has well-preserved gargoyles. One of the three bells, the Benedictum cast c1430 by John Sturdy, bears the impress of a Plantagenet coin. The 1661 Hatchment on the East wall of the Nave is one of the first representations of the Royal Arms after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. Adding to the sense of disequilibrium of the interior, a 1701-built wooden gallery juts out over half of the Nave on the North side. Until 1881 there was a Church Band whose last surviving member, William Durnford, is commemorated by a memorial plaque. He would have witnessed the last great building project of the church in 1894 when it was re-roofed with New Zealand timber, the North Aisle demolished and the pulpit and seating installed.

Not only do residents living on the northern side of the A35 have the traffic hurtling along at great speed to contend with, but once they make it across the road they must also be careful not to fall into the steep ditch through which the South Winterbourne rivulet flows. Buildings along the southern side, including St Mary’s church, have quaint little bridges across the rivulet to reach them. A Baptist Chapel was also built on this side in 1872, adjacent to a row of charming stone cottages of which the middle one was the Post Office [see above right]. Both the former Baptist Chapel and the old Post Office are now private residences.

Perhaps Winterbourne Abbas’ greatest claim to fame is the sarsen (sandstone) ellipse of nine stones, all of which are still standing in a wooded glade just half a mile to the West of St Mary’s Church [see right]. Unimaginatively called ‘The Nine Stones’, Dorset’s finest ‘circle’ of standing stones measures roughly 9m x 8m and is thought to have served as a temple in pre-historic times. John Aubrey, a 17th century antiquarian, described another circle about half a mile further to the West, but this has since been destroyed. The abundance of barrows here, especially the nearby Winterbourne Poor Lot Bronze Age cemetery straddling both the A35 and the parish boundary with Kingston Russell, and comprising at least 44 barrows of all shapes and sizes, attests the special significance of this area to our ancient forbears.

Old Post Office, Winterbourne Abbas
© Kim Parker/Dorset OPC 2011

The Nine Stones, Winterbourne Abbas
© Kim Parker/Dorset OPC 2011

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Census 1841 Census [Lynda Small]
1851 Census
[John Ridout]
1861 Census
[Wendy Warne]
1871 Census
[Wendy Warne]
1881 Census
[Wendy Warne]
1891 Census
[Wendy Warne]
1901 Census
[Wendy Warne]
1911 Census [Wendy Warne]
Parish Registers Baptisms 1791-1812 [Rachel Kent]
Baptisms 1791-1812
, 1813-1904 [Wendy Warne]
Marriages 1732-1757 [BT] [Rachel Kent]
Marriages 1754-1812
, 1813-1837, 1838-1921 [Wendy Warne]
Burials 1791-1812, 1813-1984 [Wendy Warne]
Trade & Postal Directories  
Other Records  
Monumental Inscriptions  

Records held at the Dorset History Centre
[Ref PE-WIN(A)]
Christenings 1791-1992. Marriages 1754-1988. Burials 1791-1992.
Registration District
(for the purpose of civil registration births, marriages, deaths & civil partnerships)
1 Jul 1837-30 Jun 1949: Dorchester
1 Jul 1949-31 Mar 1997: Weymouth
1 Apr 1997-30 Sep 2001: South Dorset
1 Oct 2001-16 Oct 2005: South & West Dorset

St Mary's Church, Winterbourne Abbas
© Kim Parker/Dorset OPC 2011

St Mary's Church, Winterbourne Abbas
© Kim Parker/Dorset OPC 2011


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