"A description of mediaeval Stalbridge is given by Leland in his Itinerary of the 1530's. He saw Stalbridge, at the northern end of the Forest of Blackmore, as a 'praty uplandisch towne of one streate, neately well buildyd, where at the northe end of the town there is a churche... There is a right goodly springe on the south syde of the church waullyd about'. The street Leland mentions remains the heart of Stalbridge, along which can still be seen the building line of mediaeval dwellings, now with frontages much altered by additions in various centuries. One house, SILK HAY, retains mediaeval features in the roof and it is likely there are others. The OLD RECTORY, now a residential home, dated 1699, probably filled a large open space around the late fifteenth century cross where an early mediaeval market was held. The carvings on the CROSS are too worn to be intelligible. (See Hutchins' History of Dorset), The canopied cross-head was last replaced in 1950. Scattered throughout the parish are over ninety houses and cottages built before 1850. Many of these can be seen in the HIGH STREET and streets radiating from it, but it is likely that later dwellings were built on sites occupied for centuries, making pre-nineteenth century Stalbridge a close-clustered, compact village. The only evidence of ROMANO-BRITISH settlement has, been occupation debris found on the lower slopes of BARROW HILL. A number of Roman coins. in a sepulchral urn.were unearthed at GOMERSHAY, near the RIVER STOUR, about 1860, and a bronze coin, much defaced with AUG decipherable, was found in the mouth of a male skeleton dug up in a garden in GOLD STREET in 1918. STALBRIDGE appears in SAXON Charters of 860 and 998, affirming that 20 hides of land at Stapulbridge were given by the King to the Abbey of Sherborne. In the DOMESDAY Returns, STALBRIDGE, which included GOMERSHAY and THORNHILL in the HUNDRED OF BRUNESELLA (Brownshall), contained 'arable for 17 ploughs and 7 hides of land in demesne... 25 acres of meadow, pasture and wood 1league x 4 furlongs wide' with a population of 28. WESTON (now included in the parish of Stalbridge) was gelded for 8 hides with a population of 15. New settlements, namely ring-fence farls beyond the open fields, were recorded between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. Throughout the mediaeval period, Stalbridge was recorded variously as STAPULBRIDGE, STAPULBREICGE, STAPLEBRIGE and STAPLEFORD, the name being taken from stapul, meaning piles or posts, and bridge. Like a sentinel, St Mary's Church stands at the north end of the village, aloof from the main centre of population, but from the early days of the church until the owner of the Manor and Park enclosed the common ground, much to the annoyance of the people who took the case to Chancery in the early seventeenth century and lost, perhaps not so isolated. Nineteenth century restorations altered the church considerably. A new North Aisle was added in 1838, and in 1868 the Tower was replaced by a loftier one. The clock was presented by The Rev. L. C. Powys (1837-1867), and a new East Window dedicated to his memory. The church was enlarged in 1878, South of the Chancel a new Vestry was built which in 1978 became the Parish Room. In 1724 a building was registered as a Meeting House for PRESBYTERIANS and the first chapel was built in 1725. The present building, the CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH in STATION ROAD, was ready for public worship in 1870. The first WESLEYAN CHURCH in Stalbridge was opened in GUGGLETON STREET, later STATION ROAD, in 1833 with seating for two hundred people. The present building, the METHODIST CHURCH in RING STREET, was completed in 1873. The former SCHOOL building on Church Hill began as a NATIONAL SCHOOL in 1832, was enlarged thirty years later by the Marquess of Westminster, and used as a boys' school when the SCHOOL built in 1871 in DUCK LANE was used for older girls and mixed infants.A fine mansion (see Hutchins) once stood in STALBRIDGE PARK. One of its owners was ROBERT BOYLE, discoverer of Boyle's Law, who lived in it from 1644 -1655. It was taken down in 1822, The massive gate piers remain, together with the wall which extends for five miles around the Park. PARK FARM HOUSE is early nineteenth century. SIR JAMES THORNHILL, well-known for his painting of the Dome of St. Paul's and the Painted Hall, Greenwich, bought the Thornhill Estate in 1720 and rebuilt THORNHILL HOUSE, probably to his own design, with a bell and clock tower. The tower was later removed; the inscribed Thornhill bell hangs in Milton Abbey School. Thornhil1 House is privately owned. The OBELISK in the grounds, erected by THORNHILL in honour of the accession of George II in 1727, was blown down in 1836 and reconstructed. One mill is recorded for Stalbridge in the Domesday Returns, worth 15s per annum. WEST'S MILL and DRAKE'S (DEACON'S) MILL are shown on Curray's Map, 1738, but there are later records of mills at STALBRIDGE PARK FARM and HEWLETT'S FARM. Before 1730 Stalbridge was famous for its knitted stockings and for some time there was a silk manufactory but trade died out at the end of the eighteenth century. The name, SILK HOUSE BARTON, is the only relic of the silk trade which operated just off the HIGH STREET. A glove factory on.the same site closed down in the 1970's. Home gloving was carried on through several generations. Changes in the HIGH STREET reflect the economic processes which support local trade. Makers of goods, such as the draper and tailor at Manchester House, employing seven men and boys in 1881, have been replaced mainly by providers of services, including solicitors, bankers, estate agents, garage owners and an advertising magazine. Industrial units, West Country Foods, YeoviI Steel and others at Gibbs Marsh, absorb some of the workforce which was once widely dispersed in large numbers in agriculture, stone quarrying and domestic service. Some well known Stalbridge names carry on a long family tradition, DIKE's at the Shop and Bakery, MOORE's at the Mill, and at the Smithy, the JEANS, father and son, whose ancestors were blacksmiths in the village over four hundred years ago. At the southern end of the village is THE RING, now a neatly defined triangle on which decoratively stands the TOWN PUMP, once supplying many households from the PUMP HOUSE in STATION ROAD until it was no longer required. The GAOL was not far frol THE RING and nearby was the POUND. Next to THE RING was the old POORHOUSE where in 1834 it was resolved that not more than thirty paupers should be maintained. When houses began to be built for philanthropic reasons in the nineteenth century by the owners of the Stalbridge Estate, the village was extended south by the early Victorian ANGLESEY COTTAGES to the east of THE RING, and then later WESTMINSTER BUILDINGS on the west side of THORNHILL ROAD. There used to be two FAIR days on MAY 6th and SEPTEMBER 4th, and a MARKET was held in alternate weeks. On market days cattle and animals for sale used to be tied to railings along the HIGH STREET, and at one time stalls used to stand by the old RED LION. MEADER'S address in 1881 was the MARKET PLACE. GUGGLETON STREET became STATION ROAD some time after the SOMERSET AND DORSET RAILWAY arrived in Stalbridge in 1863. The railway gave employment until 1966 and encouraged a wider diversity of trades. The present century has seen the largest expansion of Stalbridge with COUNCIL estates at BARROW HILL and along THORNHILL ROAD, and the later private development at WESTACRES. There is the possibility of two hundred further dwellings by 1996. The mounting volume of late twentieth century traffic will take the same highway Leland trod in the sixteenth century, but through a HIGH STREET made narrower by the progress of the last four hundred and fifty years....."
Home Surnames Links