Wimborne -The Minster Church of St. Cuthburga

During recent years I have fallen out of love with the motor car.  The infatuation had a good run, right from the time I bought my first vehicle in 1959  – a 10 year old, high maintenance Morris Minor. This first of many represented freedom, an ability to travel at a whim, free from the limitations of bus and train.   As life progressed, there followed a succession of vehicles, at first second hand, then sensible family cars as children arrived, followed by a couple of mid-life crisis sports cars when they flew the nest and then finally to sensible comfort.  However, over the years the joy of the open road has increasingly turned to irritation and frustration as one sits in a miasma of fumes waiting for the car in front to inch forward.   Too many cars sharing too little road, particularly here in the southern counties.

And so, for the second time, we took advantage of the ability to travel to our Dine and Divine destination by train, unfortunately not all the way, as Wimborne’s elegant railway station had sadly fallen victim to Dr. Beeching’s infamous axe and the five miles from Poole station to Wimborne had to be by taxi.

minstera

We arrived under threatening skies and, as the forecast was for rain showers, I asked BQ to go ahead and locate the items of special interest while I deployed the drone for our customary birds eye view.  From above, the scale of the building became apparent – it is more a mini-cathedral than a parish church.  Also immediately evident were the two contrasting towers.  In the centre of the building sits the original tower supported on either side by good solid Norman construction.  The western tower, built in Perpendicular style, was added in 1464 to house a peal of bells.  However, this tower has had a chequered history mainly as a result of the inferior quality of stone.  The masonry needed constant repair and in 1548 the west door had to be bricked up to avoid a threatened collapse.  There was always a nervousness about the added strain to the building whenever the bells were rung and in 1664 the church wardens recorded ‘paid in beere to the ringers for a peele to try if the tower shook – 1 shilling’.  Presumably the churchwardens stood well away when the bells rang out!  The tower was fully restored in 1881 as part of a comprehensive restoration thanks to the additional wealth brought to the town as a result of the arrival of the railway.

north elevation a

Viewed from the north, the building has an odd patchwork appearance due to the light Dorset limestone being randomly interspersed with a cheaper brown conglomerate dug from the heaths of the New Forest, presumably in the interests of economy.  Although sometimes criticised, I have to say that I find the appearance quite pleasing if somewhat unusual.

Nave 1

The nave looking east gives the most impressive view of the 13th century Norman arches with their chevron decoration typical of the period.

Nave 2

Looking west from the sanctuary the full scale of the interior can be appreciated. The choir stalls in the foreground are Jacobean from about 1610 and many are fitted with hinged misericords – narrow ledges on which the choristers could rest, whilst appearing to be standing, during lengthy sermons.

chain library

The Chained Library, situated above the choir vestry can only be accessed by a narrow, steep spiral stair, so restrictive that BQ asked if I could make the ascent and report.  It is one of the earliest public libraries in the United Kingdom and was founded in 1686 by the Reverend William Stone.  It contains over 400 leather bound volumes, half of which are more than 300 years old.  The securing chains ensured that the books could only be read within the library.

The tomb of ‘The Man in the Wall’ – Anthony Ettricke, a curmudgeonly local magistrate who, due to his dislike of the residents of Wimborne, refused to be buried either inside or outside the church, but eventually compromised by agreeing to be interred within the wall.  The date of his death has been altered on his tomb but, to my eye, therein lies a mystery.  The guide books state that, convinced that he was dying in 1693, he had his tomb inscribed with that date but he then lived on for another 10 years thus requiring the masons to change the date to 1703. However, looking at the photo it seems to me that the original inscription was for 1703, with the later alteration to 1693.  Very odd.

Corbel

The famous Moses corbel with flowing hair and plaited beard.  Dating from the 12th century it is considerably older than the arch in which it is set.  Sculptures of Moses were common in the 12th century although, rather strangely, many portrayed him with horns.

chest

Perhaps the oldest artefact in the Minster is this Saxon oak chest carved from a solid trunk.  At one time it would have been used to safeguard religious relics.

statue

The memorial to Edmund Uvedale who died in 1606 erected by his widow in “dolefull duety.”  Carved by an Italian Sculptor in the Renaissance style he is shown  in a complete suit of plate armour in a rather unusual pose, as though he were just awaking from his long sleep. Rather oddly he appears to have two left feet.   He died childless after an eventful life. 

After rising to become a captain in the Netherlands Uvedale got into difficulties with his accounts, killed the poet George Whetstone in a duel, and returned to England in disgrace.  He recovered his reputation and in 1598 he was appointed surveyor general of the forces, with a responsibility for the defences of the Isle of Wight. By 1601 he was of sufficient status to be elected knight of the shire.

Memorial 2

The tomb of John Beaufort (1404-1444), 1st Duke of Somerset and his wife Margaret.  Son of the 1st Earl of Somerset John was made a Knight of the Garter and appointed Captain-General in France.   He presided over a period during which England lost much territory, and he proved to be a poor commander, unable to control the administration of justice and finance, which led to widespread lawlessness.  After a series of blunders he returned to England in the winter of 1443 and, at the age of 40 he died, suicide was suspected. 

It seems to me that many of these grand memorials that we see so often in our Dine and Divine travels are celebrations not of ability and achievement, but of pedigree.  

Brass
Set in Purbeck marble this brass is unique – the only memorial brass effigy of an English king in the country.  Engraved in 1440 it is dedicated to King Ethelred, brother of King Alfred the Great.   Ethelred died of wounds received while fighting the Danes; his body was brought to Wimborne for burial in 871.

Grenadier 3

In addition to the peal of 13 bells, regarded as one of the finest sounding rings in the country, there are two clock bells fixed on the north face of the West Tower.  These bells are struck on the quarter hour by Quarter Jack, who was installed in 1612.  Originally Quarter Jack was carved as a monk, but during the Napoleonic wars he was changed to a grenadier.

Crypt

The Crypt, reserved for quiet prayer, was constructed in 1340. The western portion is a burial vault for a local family who would, no doubt, have funded its construction.  A lamp signifying the presence of the reserved sacrament and used for housebound communion is kept in an aumbry behind a curtain.

The Tickled Pig Restaurant, Cafe and Cookery School

‘Here at the Tickled Pig we go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that every element of our menu has been grown, reared by ourselves or sourced from local Dorset suppliers who we feel share our ideals.  Chefs Jez Barfoot and Matt Davey will aim to surprise and delight daily with produce from our kitchen garden’

When I was researching a suitable place for the ‘Dine’ element’of the day, as soon as I read the above I knew that I needed to look no further, particularly when I noticed the food had received a coveted Michelin award.  It did not disappoint. The menu was reasonably priced, utterly original and beautifully prepared.  Service by our friendly waitress was quick and efficient despite the fact that she was clearly under heavy pressure from a very full room.  An excellent meal.

tickled pig

BQ’s Impressions

Following our previous visit to three abandoned churches, the Minster Church of St Cuthberga was a tonic to my Christian soul.   Despite the good offices of the Churches Conservation Trust, there is nothing more depressing than churches that have become redundant and are now treated as historic monuments to a past civilisation.  However, here in Wimborne was a Christian church as relevant today as it was in Saxon times.   Set in the centre of this vibrant and charming town sits the impressive Church of St Cuthberga, which seems as significant to the population as the thrice weekly market.   The church interior buzzed with activity and at midday, signalled by ‘quarter jack’ on the tower, the Lord’s Prayer was recited.   All this happening in an original Saxon nunnery dating back to the eighth century which, in its heyday, accommodated 500 nuns and was the last resting place of  Saint Cuthberga , together with King Ethelred, the older brother of Alfred the Great. Now that’s what you call provenance!

All this disappeared in 1013 when the town was raided by the Danes, only for Edward the Confessor to establish a college of secular canons on the site thirty years later in 1043.  And then came the Normans whose indelible signature is evident in what we see today, a strange twin towered chequered building full of amazing artefacts which cover the full range of history.

The problem with using different coloured stone is that it squashes the visual structure and takes away the towering grandeur of the building, thereby creating a gasp of astonishment at the lofty proportions when one first enters.  At this point I would advise the elderly to proceed with caution as there are steps everywhere albeit protected by hand rails.

Inside we have a typical English church, Norman original with Gothic east end with later perpendicular additions. The Norman nave arcades have zigzag decoration with carved heads although the clerestory above is perpendicular. My father, after watching me play football in my youth, would comment on my pathetic efforts by saying ‘you have got two left feet’.  I was reminded of his comments when we came upon the 1606 memorial to Sir Edmund Uvedale as the reclining figure also appears to have two left feet!

It is typical of the legal profession that the local lawyer who, as usual was unable to make up his mind, arranged to be interred neither inside nor outside the church but instead opted to be entombed within the wall, an early case of sitting on the fence but in this case a wall.    After inspecting the spiral staircase leading to the chained library I decided not to venture up and left it to the intrepid MW. However downstairs was a modern television which revealed the contents of the library on film. It was only on close inspection that I noted that the television was also chained to the wall. Old habits die hard in the wilds of Hardy’s Dorset.

Although we travelled by train and taxi MW still refused to wear a raincoat , so I prayed that the walk to our restaurant, the Tickled Pig, would not be as long as that suffered in Arundel,  which regular readers will recall caused temporary strife.

I need not have worried as this lovely town seemed to be wonderfully compact.   On arrival, the restaurant seemed full and we must have got the last available table as, no sooner had we sat down, than a couple arrived but were turned away,  for which I was grateful – as they had a dog.  Again regular readers will be aware of my distaste for dogs in restaurants.

The meal was memorable, as being Friday I had the fish and chips with the most delicate tempura batter along with a Bulgarian white wine recommended by our waiter.The icing on the cake, if you excuse the pun, was the beetroot starter which was nothing short of sensational.  Very strange that in my dotage I have become immensely fond of beetroot, and can often be found munching one in the middle of the day.

Replete and happy the return journey was stress-free, thankfully MW made sure I did not doze off on the train and miss my station.

Our Lunch

  • Sous Vide beetroot, beetroot crisps, pickled beetroot stems and smoked beetroot puree   BQ
  • Salad of charred courgette, fennel and cucumber  MW
  • 8 Arch beer battered fish and chips, garden leaves and zesty tartare sauce  BQ
  • Pork belly, buck wheat and herb cassoulet, lemon oil dressing  MW
  • Chardonnay  (Bulgaria)  BQ
  • Shiraz  (South Africa)  MW

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2 thoughts on “Wimborne -The Minster Church of St. Cuthburga

  1. Thank goodness you have ditched the car! I had no chance of seeing these marvelous structures while you were reporting from places only accessible only by 4 smelly wheels. Now I’m looking up the train timetables to see how I can ‘follow’ in your footsteps. This Church of St. Cuthburga and pub will be my first attempt at a day excursion. Drone pics say a thousand words, don’t they! Many thanks

    Like

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