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Corscombe and its history

Ghosts, alien stones, witchcraft, smugglers and a lord of the manor buried with his horse in a field, just some of many parts of the Corscombe village history. Below there is a (very) brief history of Corscombe and historical houses that are worth a look at. But before that a little bit about Corscombe Village as it is today.

Corscombe is a small village in West Dorset of some five thousand acres that has a population of around 450 people and according to the last census in 2011 a total of 207 houses.

Corscombe village sits on very high ground (830 feet above sea level) and a mile from Toller Down which is one of the highest hills in Dorset.

It is designated as area of outstanding natural beauty.

It lies in beautiful hilly and wooded country and is one of the most remote and peaceful parts of Dorset.

It’s situated about eight miles from Yeovil in Somerset and four miles from Beaminster, and seventeen miles from Dorchester, Crewkerne is six miles away, and other close villages are Halstock, Evershot, and Maiden Newton.

Corscombe is a village with no shops assuming you do not include the village library that is set in a red telephone box, officially called the Information Exchange. However, it does have a pub and a very good one at that, The Fox Inn, which as well as having some great local beers also has an excellent restaurant.

In fact Corscombe in surrounded by superb restaurants, all using local Dorset produce. Like the restaurant at Summer Lodge at Evershot (a luxury five star county hotel voted the best UK hotel by Conde Nast in 2015). Then there is the Acorn Inn also at Evershot which was featured in Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ and is one of the best pubs in Dorset with a great restaurant.

Then a few miles away at Beaminster another two places: the Beaminster Brasserie at the Bridge House, or Brassica Restaurant both of which are superb.

PJ Harvey MBE the famous musician and songwriter, poet and composer was brought up in the village on their family farm. The Harvey family who are still in the village own one of only two Ham Stone quarries that is used on many local buildings. The Golden coloured Ham Stone has been described as the most beautiful stone in England and is unique to the Somerset and Dorset area.

A very brief history of Corscombe

Corscombe Village derives its names from the Angle Saxon Cors-Weg-Cumb meaning the valley of the pass road.

Cuthred, King of the West Saxons who died in c.754AD gave Corscombe to the Abbey at Sherborne. In fact the history of Corscombe starts with its association with Sherborne Abbey although there is some evidence of Roman occupation before that. The Abbey continued to have control over the village, and was the Lord of the Manor receiving homage from its tenants until the dissolution of the Abbey in 1539 when the village passed to the crown.

Many fields and farms in the in the hills and valleys around Corscombe have American names, this comes about because of its connection with Thomas Hollis (born 1720) whose uncle was the main benefactor of Harvard University. Although he only spent four years in Corscombe he has had great effect on the area. An eccentric man who when he lost his home because of a fire he walked out saving only one thing – his portrait of John Milton. In his short time in Corscombe he also was responsible for undertaking extensive repair to St. Mary’s church.

He died in 1774 dropping dead in a Corscombe field and indeed was buried in his own field, local rumour has it that his horse was also shot and is buried with him at either Urless Farm where he lived or at Harvard Farm.

AnchorThe eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were interesting times for Corscombe, with many Corscombe inhabitants involved with smuggling. In fact smuggling was rife along the whole of the Dorset coast, with tea, tobacco, lace, silks and brandy being the main items in demand. There was then witchcraft practiced and some ghost stories as well. Ones says that the Red Post the junction between Corscombe; Chelborough and Rampisham parishes is haunted and should not be passed at night. A post of soldiers that died here are said to haunt the place to this day.

The twentieth century came very slowly to Corscombe, electricity only arrived in 1951, and mains water only coming to the properties in 1953.

The village at one time has two public houses, a post office, a resident policeman, and several shops. The general store which was the last shop in Corscombe closed in 1966 leaving the village shop less.

It’s remarkable that in a time that things chance so fast Corscombe Village remains almost untouched.

Historical building and standing stones

Seven hundred yards from Toller Down Gate there are standing stones called Hore stones, and near to Beckham’s corner are further standing stones one called the Devils Armchair or Devils Chair which you can visit via Hackney Hill.

On one of the highest points of the village stands St. Mary’s Church which dates back to the year 1315. It’s a beautiful church with its dressing of Ham Hill Stone and reflects a Tudor style with a Gothic tower containing six bells. A large part of the church was rebuild in 15th century this includes the arcade and the North wall of the Nave, the west tower and the north porch. The rest of the church was rebuilt in the late 18th century.

But St. Mary’s church is not the oldest building in Corscombe village, nearby Corscombe Court dates from the 13th century and is partially surrounded by a moat. Within its grounds there is also a 15th century tithe barn that was used by the Sherborne Abbey monks. In fact it is not just the oldest building in Corscombe its one of the oldest in the whole of Dorset. If you want to see an example of mediaeval Dorset look no further.

The Fox Inn, which is opposite is around four hundred years old, enjoy a drink while you admire the architecture and then continue along the road to Halstock to the Mill House, the Mill at the property was mentioned in the Doomsday book and was powered by the nearby stream.

Next to St. Mary’s church is Corscombe House, originally it was the rectory and it was built around 1560 and much of the original house remains. Along the high street Pope Cottage built in 1796 is a beautifully restored thatched house. At the other end of the High Street is Pitts Farm, build around 1760, at one time this was Corscombe second public house called the George Inn and when it closed in about 1880-1885 it because a bakery.

A few of the other houses of note in and near the village are Benville Manor House (Oak Lane) which has a moat and one mile south east from the Church and was built in the 17th century. Toller Whelme Manor House which is two miles from the church and is another 17th century house. High Orchards (court Hill), Church Farm, Lilac cottage (High street) Milton Farm are other examples of Corscombe village houses built in the 17th century.

Places Further reading

British History online
Corscombe through the ages by Mary and Peter Sadler

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