Tolpuddle Village Website

History of St John The Evangelist Tolpuddle

History of the church of
St John the Evangelist

"Tolpuddle is a main-road village, which does not make for comfort. By the church however, and the aged trees east of it, where the shelter of 1934 commemorates the Tolpuddle Martyrs, one can get a little peace" so writes Pevsner (1902-83) in his architectural guide. The village is much changed and now is by-passed by the busy A35 and edged with pristine thatched new-build, but the ancient church of St John Evangelist stands where it always was, surrounded by its burial ground, missing only some of the great trees that have given way to age.

The church of St John the Evangelist, the oldest building in Tolpuddle, is of 12th Century origin but believed to stand on the site of a much earlier church. It was enlarged in the 13th and 14th centuries and today incorporates into its structure many of its first architectural features. Probably even the general aspect of the original building is the same and the lower storey of the tower could have carried a low pyramid shaped spire. Inside the church, remains of the original bell mountings can be seen alongside a 12th century carved stone effigy bearing an inscription to Philip the priest. A Grade 2 listed wall of cob on a brick base probably from the18th century, marks the boundary between the mid 17th century manor house and the churchyard.

In the time of the Anglo-Saxon king Edward the Confessor (1003-1066) the manor of Tolpuddle was in the hands of the Benedictine monastery at Abbotsbury until the succession to the throne in 1100 of Henry 1 the youngest son of William the Conqueror when revenues passed to Bishop Roger of Sarum. It was after this time that the church was established.

In 1855 the church was restored by T H Wyatt, a London based architect with an extensive practice as a result of his official position as consultant or honorary architect to a number of eminent and diverse bodies including the Church Building Society, the Salisbury Diocese and the Lunacy Commissioners.

In 1901 the census population of Tolpuddle was 282, more than 80 souls fewer than had been recorded in the first census of 1841. Church records show that in the early years of the 20th century communicants numbered around 50 with on average six confirmations a year. There were two church wardens, three day school teachers, one organist, 22 choristers and two bell ringers with 80 free seats in the church and 60 appropriated ones.

In her book Pidela - An account of the Village of Tolpuddle, from early times, Audrey Wirdnam tells of a visit to Tolpuddle by Bishop Secker in 1767, when the incumbent was John Plowman and the village consisted of some 70 families with communicants numbering around 20. The bishop records a large parish with no papists, a church three isles deep, with a tower and four bells and regular divine Sunday service. Two hundred years earlier, there had been a disagreement over the patronage of the living at Tolpuddle which had ended in the law courts. Vicarage premises, in which the wife of the evicted incumbent one Mary Rogers reportedly kept vagrants, were broken into, the door broken down and the building vandalised. The court decision resulted in the appointment of the new incumbent William Turner in 1581. Trouble again broke out on his death while he was being buried, when possession was again taken of the vicarage and the church door locked by villagers who wanted their own choice of incumbent.

Incumbents of the Parish

1315Henry de Lodres1338Galfrid de Wermansworth
1348 Richard de la More 1361 John De Weye
1361 Nicholas de Damerham 1386 Thomas Weye
1428 Edward Beaudewyn 1464 Oliver Saunders
1469 William Ewen William Chychen 1523 Augustine Horsey
1530 Robert Joseph 1543 Thomas Wallis
1560 John Birkhill 1572 Matthew Rogers
1581 William Turner 1614 William Maycock
1654 Samuel Bragg 1719 John Plowman
1768 Edward Salter 1775 Bernard Hodgson
1805 Thomas Warren 1852 G L Nash
1893 J L Bowley 1897 J M Alcock
1900 R de Crespeigney Thelwall A F Acton 1902 Maurice A Dasent
1905 Harold R Long 1933 Henry Gilbert
1951 Edwin Girling 1954 Baden P H Ball
1960 H A Johnson 1977 James Mitchell-Innes
1982 Ronald E Hancock

Church Detail
The earliest part of the church is built of a mixture of flint and rubble stone with ashlar dressings. There are copper roofs to the nave, aisle and transept and slate roofs with coped gables to the chancel and porch.

The Nave
The nave and south doorway are 12th century. The south doorway has been restored. The north arches are 14th century and the south arch leading to the shallow south transept is 13th.century. The south transept itself was built in 1885. The window in the south wall between the south transept and door is 15th and a good example of trussed rafters.

The Chancel
The chancel was built in the 14th century and restored in the 19th century. It does however retain a restored 14th century arch and the 14th century door from the north wall was reset in the south wall during the 19th century restoration.

North Aisle
The north aisle is 14th century and the 12th century north doorway was reset in the north wall. This doorway is now blocked up. It was originally called the sin door and was reputed to let out evil spirits at christenings.

North Transept
The north transept has a blocked squint to the chancel. There is a piscine in the east wall. The west and east windows are 13th century and the north window is 15th century. There are also steps which would have led to the rood screen. The 12th century Purbeck marble tomb of Philip the priest (details below) has been reset in the church.

The 14th century porch has walls of flint and a segmental pointed arched doorway with a 12th century inner round arched doorway. The roof is of similar construction to the nave roof.

The tower is of two stages with the lower part early 13th century built of flint and ashlar with a 13th century arch and the upper part 15th century built of rubble. The corbel table is at the junction of the two. It has a 16th century west window and a battlemented parapet topped with an 18th century weathercock.

The Bells
There are four bells. The treble is a 15th century bell from the Salisbury foundry, inscribed in black, spread out around its circumference. The second is dated 1665 and again comes from Salisbury while the third is one of a small number of Dorset bells reputed to have come from a medieval foundry in Reading and believed to date from quite early in the 16th century. The fourth tenor, also from Salisbury, probably dates from the 14th century. All but one of the four bells were recorded in a 1552 inventory and today it is considered remarkable that they have survived. In 1878 the Revd T A Turner made rubbings and wrote "bells in good trim" in contrast to a report in 1968 stating that the decayed condition of stocks rendered the whole installation "virtually derelict". Until 1983 they retained their old fittings mostly dating from before the 18th century when, following a long period of silence, they were rehung. Steel joists were installed between the upper and lower frames in situ with the bells hung on these with trigger-type clappers for stationary chiming. The pre-Victorian ringing frame of the mid-17century has survived and the original crown on which the bells hung is exhibited inside the church next to stone fragments of a 15th century stone fireplace that formed part of a chimney piece in the vicarage house.

The Organ
A two manual organ built by Alfred Oldknow of London and installed around the turn of the 19th century. Oldknow was an eminent church organ builder particularly well known in the Channel Islands and Normandy. The organ was later restored by Geo Osmond and Co of Taunton.

The Windows
The windows are 19th century, mullioned and transomed with curvilinear tracery, cinquefoil lights and trefoil-headed, in centred arches. The reset west window behind the organ, has13th century origins.

The Burial Ground
Of the many ancient gravestones, the oldest readable one is that of Sarah Pope, aged 21 years, dated 1669. In the north east corner of the churchyard are two Grade II listed monuments, a headstone to the Standfield family dated 1788 and a headstone inscribed to John St Helier dated 1755. The curved top of this has carvings of a book, a winged hourglass, crossed bones and a trumpet. To the west of the church is a commemorative headstone by sculptor and engraver Eric Gill, to mark the grave of James Hammett (1811 -1891) the only Tolpuddle martyr to return to live and die in the village after transportation. In the north east corner of the additional burial ground opposite the church on the right of the bridle path to Dewlish, is a Commonwealth Gravestone dated October 1942. There is no War Memorial in either burial ground or in the village of Tolpuddle itself. In neighbouring Bere Regis the Memorial in the grounds of the church of John the Baptist has a Roll of Honour with 28 names from World War 1 and four from World War 2.

Sources: British Listed Buildings: Church of Saint John Tolpuddle (RCHM Monument I Dorset Vol III) The Bells and Belfries of Dorset – Part III Christopher Dalton Pidela: An account of the village of Tolpuddle, Dorset from early times – Audrey Wirdnam, 1989 Pevsner Architectural Guides: The Buildings of England – Sir Nikolaus Pevsner 1956 National Trust Dorset: 1987

The 12th Century Effigy of Philip the Priest
Situated in the north transept, the Purbeck marble slab on which this figure is carved measures 6 feet 4 inches in length by 30 inches at the head, tapering to 21 inches at the base and it is over 8 inches in thickness. The edge is hollow-chamfered and bears a rhyming Latin inscription. The stone has been cemented together, where it was broken about the middle. The recovery in 1911 of this very early effigy was due to the perseverance and enthusiasm of the late Mr W de C Prideaux, ably seconded by the Rev H R Long, vicar of Tolpuddle. The upper portion of this massive slab had lain embedded in the turf to the south of the chancel for many years, while the lower half which is better preserved had been built into the north end quoin of the chancel*. The reunion of these fragments in a worthy position in the north transept of the church was made possible by a contribution from the Dorset Field Club.

The figure is carved in low relief and has an extremely flat appearance, the details of costume being fairly deeply incised. It is in fact a good instance of the early efforts at carving in relief as distinct from the incised slab proper. The majority of the marble surface of the upper half of the figure, including the face and hands has flaked off, but it is plain that the priest is represented as though lying in his stone coffin with the usual circular receptacle for the head, which must not be mistaken for a specimen of an early canopy. Here, as in the other 12th century effigies there is no cushion supporting the head. The hands were probably joined in prayer, and it is noticeable that the maniple, which is about 20 inches in length is hanging from the right wrist, a rare arrangement but not unique, and it would seem to be debateable whether the change is intentional or a mistake on the part of the carver**.

Special points to be noticed about the costume are:
1. The vertical position of the amice. 2. The manner in which the wide folds of the Chasuble on the shoulders and arms are carved. 3. The very narrow pointed end of the Chasuble in front. 4. The widely splayed feet.

These four points furnish extremely valuable evidence as to the approximate date of the memorial which may be arrived at by comparison with other effigies of similar style and material, if such can be found.

Fortunately we have not far to look in this case, for we shall find all these points even more clearly demonstrated at Exeter Cathedral in the earliest of the series of Bishops’ effigies lying in the Lady Chapel. Formerly this slab was thought to represent Bishop Bartholomew Iscarnus circa, AD 1180, but it is now realised that the work must be considerably earlier in date, the carving being Byzantine in treatment. The descriptive label now attached reads "Tomb of an ancient Bishop possibly Leofric, first Bishop of Exeter 1050 - 1072", at a conservative estimate therefore, the date is probably round about 1100 AD and one likewise feels justified in assigning the Tolpuddle effigy to the early years of the 12th century.

The Inscription
Here again the evidence points to the early date of the slab, the letters being Uncial (large capitals) rather than Lombardic (ordinary script). The customary use of contractions does not make elucidation easy, but in full the lines would run as follows:-





"If any lover of Christ should see this tombstone, Let him say, Grant rest, O Christ, to Philip the priest".

We know nothing more of the history of this priest, but it is very interesting to note that for Christum in the first line, the Greek letters XP are used; while in the fourth line Christe is in its full Latin form. The Greek form appears as late as 1518 on the inscription of a brass to Christopher Rawson in the church of All Hallows, Barking London, but it must be rare to find both the Greek and Latin form occurring together, as in this case.

*Vide Dorset Field Club Proceedings Vol. XXXI p.XXIII Vol. XXXII p.LVI Vol. XXXIII p.XXII

** Vide Haines Manual of Monumental Brasses, part I p. LXXVIII and Druitts Costumes on Brasses p. 60.

The Church and the Tolpuddle Martyrs
George Loveless, was a local Methodist preacher and the leader of the six farm labourers and if there was any rift between Methodism and the Church of England in the early19th century, it widened to such an extent that, on 19th March 1834 the day the men were sentenced to seven years transportation, the windows of the vicarage at Tolpuddle were broken by stones.

Dr Thomas Warren, the vicar of St John's had previously been a witness to an agreement on pay levels when first approached for support by George Loveless, promising to see it upheld, yet later going back on his word by denying any understanding.

In 1818 when the first Methodist Chapel was opened in Tolpuddle there is a report of a violent disturbance involving around 100 protestors following visiting Wesleyan dignitaries as they travelled along the road as far as neighbouring Puddletown.

An Anglican-Methodist Covenant
April 2010 The Vicar's Letter: the church magazine for the villages of Puddletown, Tolpuddle, Milborne St Andrew and Dewlish

Dear Friends
On Wednesday 15th April at 6:30pm, almost 200 years of divided Christian witness in Tolpuddle will be brought to an end! In the Methodist Chapel on that evening, a Covenant will be signed by representatives of the Methodist Church and the Church of England, committing us to work and worship together in our witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Covenant will enable regular Methodist worship to resume in the village at the Parish Church, and three services each year at the Chapel around particular themes. There will be six Methodist led services each year at St John‘s on a Sunday morning in place of our normal service, and we hope that many villagers will want to join our regular congregation there.

The Bishop of Sherborne, Graham Kings and Rev Dr Andrew Woods, the Chair of the Southampton District of the Methodist Church will be helping to lead our celebration. The relationship between the Chapel and the Parish Church has not always been a cause for rejoicing of course. As in many parishes, the emergence of Methodism was highly controversial, and the Church of England frequently made life very difficult for these dissenters as they were called. In Tolpuddle, this acquired greater significance with the story of the Martyrs.

In the year 1832, the Vicar of Tolpuddle, the Rev Thomas Warren betrayed the agricultural workers of Tolpuddle. He did this by first acting as a witness to an agreement between farm labourers and land owners for a fair wage, and then denying any such agreement, when the land owners went back on their promises.

This betrayal was especially bitter as a number of the men who were to become the Tolpuddle Martyrs were Methodists, and George Loveless was a gifted and intelligent Methodist Lay Preacher. Feelings undoubtedly ran high at this betrayal, and it is perhaps symbolic in Tolpuddle that the Parish Church and the Methodist Chapel are at opposite ends of the village! Indeed to add insult to injury, George Loveless, after his release and return to England found himself repeatedly maligned by Anglican Clergy resulting in his famous letter to the Vicar of Hazelbury Bryant, A Church Shown Up which provided an incisive and swingeing account of the failure of the Church of England of the time to minister and care for ordinary working people. Much time has, of course passed since then, and any animosity has long gone within the village. Since I came in 2005, I have been very pleased, as the present vicar, to be involved in the Martyrs Festival in any way I could, but I have sometimes detected some suspicion or ill feeling towards the Church of England as I welcomed Trades Unionists into the churchyard for the wreath laying at Hammett‘s grave. As a result, I took part in the wreath laying for the first time in 2008 (facilitated by our Methodist brethren) laying a wreath of repentance for the Church of England‘s betrayal of the Martyrs and local labourers.

Time has also passed for the Methodist Chapel, and last year it was decided that regular monthly services at the chapel could no longer be sustained. Indeed a number of our own congregation at St John‘s had been supporting the services there for some time to help make them viable.

But Tolpuddle and the story of the Martyrs is deeply rooted in the soul of Methodism, and as such it seemed a tragedy that this might be the beginning of the end for Methodist worship in the village. So discussions began between myself and Rev Paul Arnold, the Methodist Superintendent and the idea emerged of a Covenant between St John's Parish Church and the Methodist Circuit. We would promise to work together as Christians to ensure the continuation of Methodist worship in the village, and seek other opportunities to celebrate our fellowship together. As a result, both the PCC and the Circuit have agreed to such a Covenant, which in many ways builds on the National Covenant signed between the Church of England and the Methodist Church in 2003 by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the President of the Methodist Conference.

So on the 14th April, we will make our promises to each other, to work and worship together, and celebrate all that God is doing among us, and we warmly invite everyone in the Benefice to join us on a momentous day in the life of Tolpuddle.

Signed: Reverend Benny Hazlehurst

Useful websites:

The 2003 National Covenant

George Loveless —Church Shown Up (and search for =Church Shown up)
God is our Guide – The Tolpuddle Martyrs and their Methodist Roots, Lloyd Thomas 2007