Henstridge parish lies in the extreme south of Somerset, separated from Dorset by Landshire Lane. The parish extends almost 2 miles north to south and up to 11 miles east to west. It covers over 4,000 acres and includes not only Henstridge village but also the smaller settlements of Henstridge Ash, Whitechurch, Yenston, Toomer and Bowden. The name Henstridge comes from "the ridge where stallions are kept". Henst is a version of the Old English hengist, or stallion. The ridge is the narrow strip of middle Jurassic Cornbrash limestone that runs north-south through Henstridge, Yenston and Whitechurch. The significance of stallions is that they would have been kept for hunting purposes close to the Blackmore Forest, at the edge of which the settlement of Henstridge was formed. Through this forest a west-east track was cut, which was used in earlier times for carrying tin from Cornwall. Another track ran at right angles, crossing where Henstridge Ash now lies.
In "The meaning of Liff", the alternative dictionary compiled by Douglas Adams (of Hitchhikers' Guide fame) and John Lloyds, they define Henstridge as "The dried yellow substance found between the prongs of forks in restaurants". The visitor may take their own view of this definition, which certainly has no resonance amongst the residents!
Road, Rail and Air
The current Shaftesbury to Sherborne road, described as a "muddy way" in 1411, was later known as the Causeway or London road. It was made into a turnpike during 1752/3, and the Castle Cary to Stalbridge road was turnpiked in 1824. At the Henstridge Ash junction was an inn, a carrier's yard, and a smithy.
In 1862 the Somerset Central and Dorset Central railways combined as the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway Company. The Blandford to Templecombe section was opened in 1863, and with the completion of the Evercreech to Bath section allowed a twice daily service between Birmingham and Bournemouth West. The small Henstridge station was the last Somerset and Dorset station in Somerset and remained largely unchanged through its life. Upon nationalisation in 1948 the railway became absorbed into the Southern Region of British Railways. The station was closed in 1966 as part of Dr Beeching's review, which led to the loss of over 2,000 stations and more than 67,000 BR jobs.
An airfield was built during World War II on 355 acres of the former Selesmarsh estate. It was used as a naval air training school (HMS Dipper) until 1952. Visitors can still see the concrete outline of an aircraft carrier deck embedded into its one surviving runway. In the 1950s helicopters used for whaling in the Antarctic were serviced there. The MOD sold the airfield in 1957 and today it is mainly used as a base for general aviation and is an active training centre for autogyros (gyrocopters).
The airfield is also the base for the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance. Launched in 2000, the team receive an average of 3 to 4 calls a day. The service is totally self-funded, relying on charitable donations for its continued operation.
Henstridge at War
Following severe losses in the British Expeditionary Force, Herbert Asquith introduced conscription for the first time ever in Britain, and Parliament passed the first Military Service Act (January 1916). Initially only single men and childless widowers aged 18 to 41 were called up, however the second Military Service Act made all men regardless of marital status eligible for service. By the time that enlistment became law, very nearly all of the entire male population of Henstridge parish over 18 and under 50 were fighting overseas - by 1916 more than 220 men from the parish had gone to war.
Local historian Caroline Rowland has written a fascinating and informative history of Henstridge, "Lest We Forget: Henstridge, a Somerset Village and the First World War". Focussing on World War I, the book describes changes in the village in the context of the overall War campaign and the resulting social changes in rural England.
Read her book and you may also be able to provide missing information, such as the location of the Dirty Duck, and the unknown delivery boy pictured by one of Percy Dewfall's Bull nose Morris vans. You'll read of the Henstridge men who failed to return, and lighter anecdotes such as why 6 tons of desperately needed seed potatoes were dumped at Henstridge station, and arguments over the siting of the war memorial and the captured German gun that faced it. As a keen local historian, Caroline is eager to hear about your memories of this time, and can be contacted via her website.
Henstridge was a royal estate in the 10th century. It was held by Earl Harold in 1066, and twenty years later by King William. It was said to have been acquired sometime before 1217 by Hubert de Burgh, Earl of Kent. By the early 12th century Henstridge was held by the Camville family, and subsequently by the Marquess of Anglesey, George Wingfield Digby and the Guests of Inwood. Lordship was last referred to in 1939.
By 1732 there were 30 houses on the waste land of Henstridge and Yenston manors, apparently on roadside verges. Housing development in the 20th century joined Henstridge village to Henstridge Ash and spread south beyond Townsend and east towards the former railway station. The older houses are mainly of local stone rubble under tile or slate roofs. Among the larger houses are Pond Farm House, a late 18th-century house later reduced in size; the early 19th-century Henstridge House; the late 18th-century Cross House in the centre of the village; the former Henstridge Farm, dating from the 17th century, and Oak Vale to the east, said to have been built about 1815 around an earlier farmhouse using materials from Stalbridge House.
In 1801 the population was 827, rising to 1,146 in 1841. After the arrival of the railway the population rose to 1,298 by 1881, declining during the early last century to 1,040 in 1931 after which the figure rose to 1,509 this century.
More recent developments in the village include Fountain place (a redevelopment of the old Fountain inn site by Fawcett Homes) and Wessex Court (a redevelopment of the old Church Farm site by McIntosh Homes).
In 2001 a group of villagers who wanted to see Henstridge develop in a manner sympathetic to its history and setting produced The Henstridge Village Design Statement. This was to enable local views and ideas to be used to assist in the design process and affect decisions on all kinds of development and change in the village. In 2010 it was agreed to develop a new Parish Plan, to look at the infrastructure of the village as a whole, drawing together the aspirations of the village for its future development. Further details may be seen in the June 2010 newsletter of Henstridge Parish Council.
There are records of an inn in the parish dating back to 1619, and by the latter part of the 17th century there were several alehouses. The Duke of Marlborough on Horseback was recorded in 1717.
The Ash or Virginia at Henstridge Ash, later the Virginia Ash Hotel, dates back to Tudor times. For many centuries it was the centre of village life and was the initial meeting place of the friendly society, and the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway Company held its first board meeting there. (Opposite the current Viginia Ash lies India Cottage restaurant, previously a Reading Room.)
The Rose and Crown, also at Henstridge Ash, was probably open between 1775 and 1822.
The Fountain in Henstridge High Street was probably open by 1784 and was rebuilt in the early 19th century when it was known as the New Inn and Fountain. By 1839 it had resumed its old name. It has subsequently been converted to housing. South of the Fountain the Three Stars beer house was probably open by 1851 but had closed by 1883.
The Bird in Hand on the corner of Blackmoor Lane was built in the early 18th century and is still going strong. There used to be a bakery behind the inn, and the slope in front of the inn was called Pan Putten Hill, in a probable reference to the bakery.
There was a mill on the royal manor in 1086 which appears to have been later used as a textile mill in 1703 and 1753. It was occupied by a baker and miller in 1840 and remained in use, powered by water and steam, until 1902 when it was destroyed by fire. The mill pond has been filled in.
In 1831 only half the households earned a living from farming and nearly a quarter were engaged in trade and manufacture. Linen weaving was carried on in the parish from the 17th century until the early 19th and there is reference to a hosier in 1712 and a clothier in 1753. Gloving had been established by 1841 and by 1851 there were 100 glovers, mainly female, probably outworkers to Milborne Port manufacturers. In 1871 there was a gloving agent, 152 female glovers, and 5 male glove cutters and finishers. Numbers declined as glove making became automated, but there were still glovers in the parish until 1947 or later.
The two turnpike roads and later railway improved trade in the village. Several carriers, a smithy, a coal merchant, and tea and wool dealers were based here during the 19th century and among the craftsmen were a clock and watch repairer, watchmaker, proprietor of patent medicines, stocking knitter and a milliner. The grocer's shop and post office of 1861 expanded to selling drapery, books and stationery, and printing and binding. It sold china, glass, ironmongery, oil, and drugs by 1911 when the owner also acted as a shipping and insurance agent. There was a cycle works in 1891 and 1906 and a motor engineer in 1923.
In 1947, employment was provided by the milk factory, airfield, railway, and quarry. Among the businesses were several tradesmen including a hairdresser, three car and two cycle repairers, a chimney sweep, and at least twelve shops. In 1981 industries included agricultural and motor engineers, a car breaker, and a timber merchant. There were six shops in Henstridge of which two were antique shops. This has now declined to a village post office and stores.
The attractive church of St Nicholas was originally dedicated to St Michael and consecrated in 1332 with four altars. It has a chancel with north chapel and south vestry with organ chamber, a nave with north and south aisles and south porch, and a west tower. The porch was added in the 14th century and perhaps also the north chapel and the vestry. The north aisle was built in the 15th century when the upper part of the tower and several windows were renewed.
During major restoration from 1872 to 1873 the vestry was demolished, the chancel extended, the north arcade and part of the north wall rebuilt, and on the south side an aisle, porch, vestry, and organ chamber were added. The floor of the whole church was raised by 18 inches and the upper stage of the tower rebuilt. During the restoration a large fresco of St Christopher was found on the north wall of the church, under numerous layers of whitewash. It showed the arms of Carent and Toomer and miniature paintings of a windmill, with a pack-horse laden with corn and a small dog following a man towards it. The restoration work was completed in 1873 at the cost of £3,235 and 2 shillings.
From the earlier medieval building remains the blocked 15th-century doorway in the north aisle, the font, canopied recess in the north chancel chapel and the tomb of William Carent and his first wife Margaret Stourton erected after her death in 1463.
The old tower was almost entirely replaced in 1900 by a taller structure designed by Edmund Buckle and built of local forest marble with Ham Hill stone dressings. The distinctive weather vane above was made by craftsmen of the Naval Air Branch. The oldest of the six bells is by Richard Purdue dated 1615, with another by Thomas Purdue dated 1673.
The plate includes a cup and cover of 1574 by R Orenge and a salver of 1698 given by William Churchey in 1727.
In the churchyard is the base of a possibly late 13th-century cross.
There are records of a vicarage house back to 1662. By 1879 the house was so dilapidated that major alterations were carried out. A vicarage of red brick was built in 1956, behind the original house which was sold later that year.
The first Parish register entries were written in 1653, listing 17 births, 3 marriages and 4 deaths.
A malt house had been converted to a schoolroom by 1813 and there was a Sunday school for 100 children by 1819. By 1833 it had grown to 120 children, and 50 attended a day school that was built and supported by the vicar.
By 1846 there were two schools educating 109 children each day and Sundays, with a further 194 children attending only on Sundays. Both were supported entirely by the vicar.
By 1840 a boys' boarding school had been opened, having 7 pupils aged 8 to 15 in 1841.
A National school was built in 1872, having 172 children: 98 in the mixed school and 74 infants. Average attendance declined to 130 in 1925, but this had improved to 153 by 1935.
The current St Nicholas C of E primary school became voluntary controlled in 1952. The number on the register as at October 2008 was 43.
With acknowledgements to British History Online and "A History of Henstridge, Somerset" by FC Wakeford. This book is now back in print, and copies may be ordered from the Village School secretary at a cost of £3.50 (contact Ann Frost on (01963) 363340 for further details)
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