Extracts from C.J. Bailey's Book "The
(with grateful thanks to the author and to the Dorset Natural
History & Archaeological Society for allowing us to re-print the pages on
our web site. ) The complete book, published in 1982 and re-printed in 1995
describes the archaeology and history of the parishes in the valley of the River
Bride in South West Dorset; Littlebredy, Long Bredy, Litton Cheney, Chilcombe,
Punknowle, Swyre, Shipton Gorge and Burton Bradstock; and of the deserted mediaeval
settlements of Kingston Russell, Sturthill, Bexington and Ashley. The book is
still available from the DNHAS. We have taken just a small extract from this
very interesting and enlightening book that concerns Burton Bradstock.
The Natural Setting.
The dictionary definition of a river as a 'copious stream
flowing to the sea' seems hardly appropriate for the little Bride, yet, with
nine tributaries along its six and a half mile course from source to mouth,
it presents a complete river system in miniature. Moreover, just as Dorset as
a whole has landscapes representative of three great geological epochs, so does
the 15 square mile catchment area of the Bride.
East of the source at Littlebredy a cap of geologically recent
gravel lies over the chalk and forms a small area round Blagdon Hill resembling
that of the heathland of East Dorset. It is, in fact, an isolated remnant cut
off from the same gravel sheet which once extended much further to the west.
The chalk hills that form the head of the valley reach westwards
along half its length and rise to the great undulating downland that forms the
heart of the country. The chalk, and the greensand beneath it, has a steep slope
from the base of which the springs which feed the river rise where water-bearing
sand lies against the valley clay.
Just as the chalk, which also extended far to the west, has
mostly been removed by erosion from that part of the country, so the floor of
the valley has been cut down to the earlier limestones and clays. The limestone
hills which flank the western end of the valley are lower and have gentle slopes.
Any romance in the name must be at once ruled out. River names
are generally far older than place names so that our forbears - Celtic, Romano-British,
Anglo- Saxon and Norman and their descendants no doubt used a word sounding
something like 'Bridda'. Place name experts suggest that it originally meant,
in the Celtic, gushing or boiling, aptly describing the little stream which
falls more than 200 feet in its first three miles.
The earliest documented reference to the Bride, is in 1288
when it is referred to as the 'aqua de Brydie' though for the villages of Longbredy
and Littlebredy we have 'Bridian' recorded as early as 987. The Domesday Book
spelling of Langebride for Longbredy (1086) causes some confusion. It would
have been in fact pronounced 'Langabridda'. By the 15th Century we
have 'Bredy' though it would still have been pronounced to rhyme with 'ready'.
That form of the names is used on the 1811 Ordnance Survey Map. It is significant
that the old pronunciation is still used by older people with deep roots in
the valley who will say 'Longbriddy' rather than the modern 'Longbredy'.
The long 'I' of Bride and the long 'e' of Bredy are relatively
modern developments of the word. Indeed Bridehead as a name is no older than
1797 when Robert Williams bought the manor of Littlebredy and as well as rebuilding
the house, dammed the nearby source of the stream to form a lake, and surrounded
the whole with a landscaped park. The name chosen for the new estate was Bridehead.
The Valley in Prehistoric and Roman Times.
The Neolithic and Bronze ages.
Where there is no written record our knowledge of man in the
past depends largely on the interpretation of the evidence from archaeological
excavation. However some of the more substantial results of his activity in
prehistory can still be seen. Earthworks such as the long communal burial mounds
of the ruling classes of the New Stone Age (about 3500 to 2500 BC), the individual
round barrows of the Bronze Age (which lasted for the next 1000 years or so)
and the earth and stone circles and field banks have in many cases by their
very nature survived; they are a prominent features of the hills around the
east end of the valley. The importance of the area in the second and third millennia
BC is shown by the fact that the density of barrows north and east of Longbredy
and Littlebredy is as high as that round the great prehistoric centre of Stonehenge.
In our area, as on Salisbury Plain, they are associated with ritual earthworks
and stone circles. Unfortunately we have yet to find their occupation sites.
Important monuments still to be seen in the valley area marked A to G on the
map and are illustrated and described in the text under individual parish headings.
Iron Age and Roman Britain
The last half of the first millennium BC saw the establishment
of the Celtic Iron Age in Britain. By the time of the Roman Invasion of AD 43
Dorset formed the greater part of the territory of the Durotriges, a tribe whose
hill forts are still a feature of the county. Their occupation sites, which
rarely have visible remains above ground, are found by intensive field study
and/or aerial photography followed in some cases by excavation. Excluding the
four fortified enclosures (14-17) the sites numbered on the map were, with a
few exceptions, found and followed up (in some cases with excavation) by the
writer over many years field work in and around the Bride Valley.
Nearly all were Durotrigian, running on until well into the
4th century AD. The Roman occupation seems to have made little impact
on the pattern of rural life in the valley. Burton Freshwater (1), Burton Village
(2), Sturthill (4), Higher Coombe (5), Longbredy Village (8), Stonyhills Littlebredy
(9), Ox Close Swyre (12) and Greenhill Burton (13) all produced occupation debris
typical of the period. The Iron Age/Romano-British farmstead on Pins Knoll,
Litton (6) was found and excavated in 1965-69. Evidence from the site of the
reservoir at Litton raises the possibility of a possible Roman Villa in the
vicinity and Shipton Hill (14) has produced material from very early in the
The excavated sites are illustrated and discussed here under
the relative parishes. More detail can be found in the Proceedings of the
Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society wherein all the above
sites are recorded.
The Ancient Parishes
The parish boundaries as established over 1000 years ago were
probably little changed over the first 500 years. The period from 1450 - 1550,
however, saw the decay, over much of the country, of many once-thriving villages
and the Bride Valley was no exception.
Bexington had been a village, certainly from well before the
11th century. By 1451 it had suffered so much from poverty and from
the raids of French pirates that the Bishop ordered its church of St. Giles
to be abandoned. It was further decreed that the parish should be united with
Puncknowle, which was thus extended to reach the sea.
Of the mediaeval village of Sterte (Sturthill) there is today
little trace. We know from documentary records that the chapel of St. Luke was
served by parsons from 1240 to 1545 when it became so impoverished that the
living was left vacant and the few remaining inhabitants had to use the Burton
Church. Although united with the latter ecclesiastically, physically the parish
was divided between Burton and Shipton.
Kingston Russell village, with records from 1280, lost its
church at the same time. The village having become so depopulated the cure of
souls of those left was transferred to the Rector of Longbredy and its chapel,
dedicated to St. James, fell in ruin. The civil parish, however, still remains
As the map shows, Litton (Lideton) was a large parish made
up of three distinct parcels. To the north an isolated area, known in parish
records as'Loderland', reach as far as Eggardon Hill; to the south in the triangle
formed by Parks farm, Gorwell and Ashley formed another outlier; in the centre
was the village and church. This untidy state of affairs was not tolerated by
modern civil administration so that when Local Authorities were set up in 1889
changes were made. Loderland was shared out between Askerswell and Loders, Ashley,
Gorwell and Parks Farm were transferred to Longbredy and the central block became
Litton of today.
The ancient manor of Look (Luk), first record 1230, was in
fact an outlier of Abbotsbury parish. Until 1889 Abbotsbury thus extended right
down into the valley with the Bride as its northern boundary. This anomaly was
tidied up by giving Look to Puncknowle and by compensating Abbotsbury with part
of the old Bexington manor. This was done by moving the boundary line of Abbotsbury,
which originally passed through the hill-fort and down to the sea, further west
to pass through Tulks Hill.
It is not known precisely what factors determined the positioning
of the parish boundaries. It was once obvious from the map that use was made
of natural as well as man-made landmarks; hills, coombes, streams, hill-forts,
barrows and the Roman road all serve a purpose. Moreover the patten seems to
show fair distribution and land resources. This Puncknowle and Swyre, both hill
top villages, have boundaries so contrived to reach and include a length of
river in the valley below. Each could thus have a water-mill which was so vital
a part of mediaeval village life. The Domesday Survey of 1086 recorded mills
for both manors.
Burton Bradstock - Early Settlement
Three round barrows were noted in the parish by the Royal
Commission but, without excavation, there is some doubt about their identification.
Bind Barrow, overlooking the beach is the most familiar but the second element
of the name could equally refer to the hill itself. A mile or so to the east
of Bind Barrow, Greenhill is a limestone spur jutting out from the coastal ridge,
northwards towards the valley. This was the site of another of the Durotrigian/Romano-British
settlements in the area (Fig 3, No 13). It was first noted towards the end of
the last century when burials were dug out of the workings of a quarry, together
with their accompanying food vessels. Further finds, including Samian ware,
have been found but the site is now ploughed out. In the village itself, near
the anchor Inn, building trenches in 1963 exposed similar burials and pottery
while, at Freshwater, yet more evidence has been found in soil eroded from the
low cliffs (Fig.3, Nos. 1&2)
Brideport and Brideton
There are seven Burton places in Dorset and
more elsewhere in the country. The word, as a rule, signifies a farm (ton) near
an earthwork (burh) but our Burton is an exception, the first element of the
name coming from the river Bride. Thus it is the Anglo-Saxon 'farm on the Bride';
Bradstock comes from Bradenstoke, a mediaeval priory in North Wiltshire, which
once held a church and, probably, some lands in the parish.
A fascinating problem is presented by the relationship
of the town of Bridport to the River Bride. Settlements along a river often
take their names from it; along the Bride we have Brideton (Burton), Bredy,
Longbredy, Littlebredy. Bridport seems, at first glance, to be named after the
river Brit or Brid on which it stands; there are, however, no 'Brid' place names
up the valley of that little river. Instead the names are all derived from the
old name of the river which was Wooth (e.g. Aqua de Woth, the Wooth Water of
1287). They include Watton, Wooth Manor, Binghams Farm (which was Binghams Worth)
and Camesworth. Place name experts agree that the name of the River Brit came
from the town name and not, as usually happened, the other way around.
It seems certain, therefore, that the 'Brid'
element in Bridport is, as shown by it's early form of 'Brideport', really that
of the River Bride. We should remember, as well, that the extension of Bridport
Borough down to the sea is relatively recent and that Burton Bradstock's western
boundary was with Symondsbury along the Brit, at what is now West Bay. Recent
work by the Rev. Basil Short, has identified the original Saxon Brideport as
a small town, probably 'walled' with an earthen rampart, built across the river,
its harbour one and a quarter miles up-stream from the later one at the river
mouth. The most likely explanation seems to be that Old Warren, at Littlebredy,
was the original hill top 'burh', its defences, perhaps, never completed before
it was moved to a defended harbour-site in the Wooth Valley. Keeping its name,
Brydian or Bride, it soon became Brideport to distinguish it from its older
neighbour Brideton and, later, gave its name to its own river.
Burton Bradstock -The Manors
At the time of the Domesday Survey, Bridetona was divided
into a large manor which was a part of a group held by the King and a smaller,
including the Church, which was held by the abbey of St. Wandrille in Normandy.
Early in the 12th century, the crown land was given to Henry I to
the abbey of St. Stephen in Caen, also in Normandy, partly for the redemption
of his soul and partly in return for the handing back of the crown and royal
ornaments which his father had given to the abbey.
Burton thus became attached to the Benedictine Priory of Frampton,
which was a cell of the Norman abbey. Like some other mediaeval landowners in
the valley, as we have already seen, the Prior had his troubles, as in 1287
he had to take Peter, parson of the church of St. Mary at Bridport, and Thomas
de Lodres to court for 'taking growing corn at Brideton'. The priory held Burton
until 1437 when, the foreign monasteries having been suppressed, it was given
by Henry VI to the Royal College of St. Stephen, Westminster.
Hutchins says that St. Wandrille held only the advowson of
the church but records show that land was included with it. In 1286, these were
exchanged for lands held in Normandy by the Wiltshire Priory of Bradenstoke
which explains the second element of the name of the village. In 1292, the lands
held by its Prior were valued at £4.6s.8d., which may be compared with the £12.
13s. 4d. of old crown manor lands then held by the Priory of Frampton. The last
presentation to the church by Bradenstoke was in 1469, after which the patrons
were the Dean and canons of St. Stephens, Westminster, so that it seems that
about this time, the two parts of Burton came together.
After the Dissolution it was held briefly by the Crown and,
in 1579, Christopher Hatton is recorded as holding the advowson. By the end
of Elizabeth's reign, together with the manor, it had passed to Sir Thomas Freke
and then, via the Pitts, to Lord rivers in the 1700s. These families were all
related by marriage and eventually Burton, in the later 1800s, became part of
the estate of Augustus Henry Lane-Fox-Pitt-Rivers which extended over 2762 acres
in Wiltshire. In fact, it was said that he could, before it was in part sold
off, have ridden from his house at Rushmore in North Dorset to the sea at Burton
without leaving his own land. He died in 1900, internationally regarded as the
modern archaeology and was succeeded by his son, whose death in 1928, much of
the property was sold. Burton, however, survived until 30 years later, when
it was put on the market and, what was described as 'one of Burton's golden
ages' came to an end.
The ecclesiastical parish of Burton has always included Graston
and Bredy, both distinct mediaeval manors. The end of the village of Sturthill
led to a complicated division of its tithes as well as its land, some of which,
as we have seen, was added to Burton. Until the late 1700s, Litton was the largest
parish in the valley, both in population and in acreage but by 1839, although
the sizes remained the same, Burton's population had increased almost twofold
to over 1000, mainly because of the introduction of spinning mills; today, the
differential is maintained and the rateable value of Burton is far and away
higher than that of any of the other villages.
Burton Bradstock -The Village.
The Anglo-Saxon Brideton followed a Romano-British settlement
on the higher ground just north of the river. Just how the manors of the two
priories were divided is not known for certain, but an ancient boundary appears
to run southwards from Bennett's Hill Farm down to Shadrach Farm and then straight
on as the High Street and Cliff Road. The land between this and the mediaeval
Graston may have been the original Bradenstoke manor.
Like the other villages along the coast, the main occupation
of Burton was with the land, combined with the seasonal fishing from the beach.
From the 17th century, Burton had the reputation of providing men
both for the Royal Navy and for ships trading with the newly established colonies.
This local association with the sea-going may have been further influenced by
the fact that west Dorset, with Bridport as centre, had, from the 13th
century, grown and manufactured hemp and flax for cordage and sails. Burton
has always been associated with the cottage netting industry and, indeed, an
attempt was made in the early 1500s to set up ropewalks, but this did not succeed
because in 1530 an Act of Parliament prohibited anyone living within five miles
of Bridport from making rope.
From 1794 to 1840, however, the quiet association of cottage
industry farming and fishing was rudely interrupted by the Roberts family, who
combined the former with the manufacture of flax. It was Richard Roberts who,
having married a well-to-do Burton widow, set up water driven spinning mill
in 1794, just south of the church. In 1803, further up the river, he built Grove
Mill, near Grove House, which had been brought to him by his wife. This was
a swingling mill replacing the age-old industry of separating the fibres by
hand. His third mill, built near the first in 1813, was intended for finer spinning.
Their products ranged from sailcloth to table napkins and from hammocks to tea
towels. Some 50 men and women from the village were employed, but Roberts also
used child labour, seeking boys and girls from workhouses, both far and near,
preferring the younger girls as being generally the best workers and more obedient
to command. These pauper apprentices were housed and fed in sheds which have
since disappeared; they worked' not more than twelve hours a day' and were sent
to the parson for two hours every Sunday to be 'taught to read and say their
catechism'. All this seems very harsh, but Roberts appears to have been a just
employer at a time when child labour was an accepted practice.
By 1840, the unrestricted import of raw materials, together
with a lack of real interest by his sons, brought the Roberts' business to an
end. By 1843, the Grove Mill was converted to grinding corn and continued to
do so for another 100 years, the spinning mills carrying on with a succession
of owners and varying output, the final closure coming in 1931. Meanwhile, at
Burton, as elsewhere in the Bride Valley, the womenfolk supplemented the family
income with their cottage netmaking as out workers for the Bridport factories.
In 1958, the sale of the Pitt-Rivers Estate marked the beginning
of a change and period of growth. The village's charm, for the ever-increasing
number of holidaymakers, lies in the number of 16th and 17th
century thatched cottages which still remain, albeit much modernised, as its
nucleus. They contrast with the modern housing estates, but like them, are now
mostly occupied by older, retired people from far afield.
Burton Bradstock -The Church of St. Mary.
Very few churches are mentioned in the Domesday Survey but
Burton was one of them and was recorded, with Bridport, as held by the Norman
Abbey of St. Wandrille. It may not be mere coincidence that both have Norman
cruciform plan and both dedicated to St. Mary.
At Burton the oldest part of the existing church is the north
wall of the nave with two original 14th century windows. The corresponding
south wall was demolished in 1897 when it was replaced, by E.S.Prior, with an
arcade and south aisle added. The tower and two transepts were built in the
15th century and the chancel some 100 years after that. The roofs
of the nave and transepts have barrel-vaults with carved bosses.
Hutchins' list of Rectors begins with Robert de la Wyle being
presented in 1295. He also suggests that the grant of the church to St. Wandrille
was in respect of the advowson only but 13th century records show
that land was also involved. Thus in 1302 a jury had to decide whether 67 acres
of land (i.e. ploughland), seven acres of meadow and a dwelling house belonged
to the parson as a free gift pertaining to the church of Brideton or whether
it was part of the lay fee of the Priory of Bradenstoke.
Shipton, as we have seen, was served from Burton and was recorded
as a chapel-of-ease in the Return of the Church Commission in 1650. No mention,
however, is made of a St. Laurence's chapel said to have been just to the north
of the church where, according to tradition many human bones were dug up. It
does seem unlikely that Burton needed two churchyards almost side by side since,
in mediaeval times, burial ground was used over and over again. Hutchins, moreover,
himself wrote around 1730 'the church of Burton is dedicated to the Blessed
Virgin Mary or, as inhabitants say, to St.Laurence,' There are only two records
relating to the chapel of St. Laurence, both of them in time of Elizabeth and
within a few years of each other. It is just possible that they refer in fact
to the parish church under an earlier dedication.
There was certainly, a mediaeval chapel-of-ease at Bredy,
which must then have had a sufficient population to warrant its own little church.
In the early 1300s Roger Kyngeton was 'Rector of Brideton with the chapel of
bride annexed to the mother church'. Soon after there was a protracted legal
argument between the Prior of Bradenstoke and Thomas de Bonevill as to who should
present the parson to the church of Bryde Bonevill - from the latter name it
will be seen that Thomas was Lord of the Manor of Bredy at that time. The jury
found in favour of the Prior and so the attempt to make Bredy Chapel a rectory
in its own right failed and it remained united to St. Mary's at Burton. There
is, however, no further mention of it and it is likely that, with the decline
of the population following the plague, by the end of the century it was no
Yet another chapel is mentioned, albeit briefly, in Burton
parish in the 17th century - St. Catherine's which traditionally
gave its name to St. Catherine's Cross on the Shipton Road. Whether the latter
marks the site of a chapel, a wayside cross, or just the name of the former
crossroads is a matter for conjecture.
Burton Bradstock - Graston and Bredy
Graston Farm, on the little stream running down to the Bride
from Shipton, marks the site of the hamlet of the mediaeval manor. It is the
Gravstan of the Domesday Book, the second element of the name meaning stone;
the first, though uncertain may indicate the grey colour of the stone, perhaps
used as a boundary mark. In 1086 it was held 'of the wife of Hugh' by the same
tenant as held Sturthill, paid geld for two and a half hides and had land for
two ploughs. With its mill and 16acres of meadow it was valued at 60 shillings.
By the 13th century part of it at least was held
by Abbotsbury Abbey; at an inquest in 1268 as to its rights and privileges of
the Abbott, a gift to the monastery of one ploughland in Graveston was recorded.
With additional land in nearby Shipton it continued to be held by the Abbey
until the Dissolution, when, in 1545 it was granted by Henry VIII to none other
than John Russell, the Berwick farmer's son who was now Lord Russell, Comptroller
of the King's Household and second only in seniority to the Treasurer. From
then on Graston followed the usual pattern of succession of tenants and later
owners. In the 18th century it was bought by the Strodes of Parnham
and 100 years later belonged, together with its neighbour Bredy, to the Hussey
For some reason Hutchins overlooked the Domesday Book entry
for Bridie which was held by Berenger Giffard 'of the King'. Somewhat larger
than Graston it was taxed for four hides and there was land for three ploughs.
Around 1300 the manor was held by the Bonvil family who gave Bredy its old name
Bonvil's Bredy. We have already noted the argument between them and the Prior
of Bradenstoke over the chapel at Bridie. In 1320 it was recorded that, 'the
sherriff has several times to cause to come here twelve of the view of Brydyebonevill,
who are not related to the Prior of Bradenstoke, to recognise the right the
said Prior has in the advowson of the church'. The Prior eventually proved his
point and the attempt by Thomas Bonvil to make his Bredy Chapel a separate church
was short-lived. In Tudor times the farm was held by the Mores of Melplash and
their successors, the Paulets, most likely lived at Bredy in the 17th
century. Hutchins wrote that the Paulets built the house 'as appeared by their
arms on the side of it'. One hundred years later it was described as 'long since
reduced to a farmhouse and much of it pulled down'
Francis and Mary Roberts's son, Francis, took over Hembury
Farm over the hill in the Asker Valley and later moved back to Bredy, having
married well into a Loders farming family. One of the sons of that marriage
was the Richard Roberts who was responsible for Burton's short venture into
spinning and weaving industry; his brother Robert, having farmed elsewhere in
the Bride Valley, eventually leased Cogden Farm on the ridge between Bredy and
Traces of the mediaeval hamlet of Bredy can still be seen
and the old road, with its ford over the river, is marked by a hollow-way on
the east side of the Bride. The site of the mediaeval chapel is not known. Like
others elsewhere it was probably used as a farm building before becoming altogether
The reader will have been aware of a gap in the story of the valley.
Here, as elsewhere in England, the archaeological sequence seems to end abruptly
with the end of the Roman Occupation, so that how and where people were living
during the so-called Dark Ages is one of archaeology's intriguing problems.
It would seem, however, that the discovery of so many Iron Age and Romano-British
sites close to or within the Anglo-Saxon villages must point to some form of
By the Domesday Survey of 1086 the village pattern was already
firmly established and we have a picture of small communities whose life was
intimately bound up with, as well as dominated by, the agricultural economy
of the mediaeval manor. It is likely that the landscape as we know it was already
emerging by the end of the 12th century. The lynchets and abandoned fields on
slopes where cultivation seems impossible are evidence of the need to feed the
expanding population of the next 150 years. This was followed by the decline
brought about in the main by the Black Death which we know struck heavily in
the valley. In the following years sheep farming increased at the expense of
arable land and the valley must have carried many of the 6000 strong flock owned
by Cerne Abbey in 1535.
The years following the dissolution of the monasteries saw the
rise of new land-owning families, some of them former tenant farmers who now
had the opportunity to buy land they had once rented. Such were the Hurdings
of Longbredy and the Hodders of Litton. Other older-established families moved
into the valley to acquire land and this continued into the 18th century with
the Napiers at Puncknowle, the Michels at Longbredy and the Mellors at Littlebredy.
The slightly later Williams estate which followed the Mellors is the only one
to survive intact.
The last century saw village life reach its peak. Each community
was inward-looking towards its own craftsmen - brewer, baker, blacksmith, shoemaker,
butcher, wheelwright, carpenter, schoolmaster - all these were represented at
Litton in 1859. The beginning of the present century brought little change until
the impact of the First World War and the subsequent rapid development of the
motor car had their effect.
The decades following the Second World War, well within living
memory, have been marked by the acceleration of change common to the whole of
the country and this still continues. Mechanisation of farming has taken the
place of the workforce once necessary and the few younger people living in the
villages find work mainly in the towns. With the modernisation of old cottages
and the building of new houses, particularly where mains drainage has been provided,
the drift of working people away from the villages has been compensated by an
influx of retired couples seeking refuge from city life. Happily a new kind
of village is emerging combining the old and the new; sadly it lacks that sense
of interdependence which was once the hallmark of village life.
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