In the charter of Cerne Abbey, A.D. 987, it was stated that 'Aschere be the ancient name of this village'. In the Domesday Book, Simondesberge belonged to that abbey 'the same church holds Simondesberge'. In this abbey it remained until the dissolution. Soon after, the manor, with the tithe of blade, grain and hay of the demesne lands, were granted to Edward Duke of Somerset. During the reign of Elizabeth I it was granted to Edward Earl of Hertford and his heirs male. In 1660 or 1670 it was sold to the Strangways of Melbury, whose descendant, the Earl of Ilchester then held the Manor until the Colfox family bought the estate in the 1880s and the manor house in 1922. The Manor House and grounds were sold to Mr. Peter Hitchin in the 1970s, and it is still in his ownership at this present time, though the Estate is still owned by the Colfox family.
Parish Church of St John the Baptist
including a description of the Lethaby Stained Glass Window and the Barnes Tapestry.
St. Pauls, Broadoak & St. Peter's, Eype
Built, or more likely rebuilt, in a half H structure in the early 17th century, with additions in the later 17th century and the 18th century. Among the residents of the Manor was the famous folklore and coin collector and circuit judge John Symonds Udal who lived here and is buried in the churchyard, in 1898 he was also Attorney General of Fiji.
The Old Rectory
This was the rectory unitl 1951. The main part of the house was built in 1730 whilst the two wings were addd in 1814. Inside the basement, apart from the wine cellar and meat store, there is also a dungeon. It is stated that one of the Rectors hung himself down in the cellar, and a footman at a later date, hung himself up in the attic!
In 1920 the Rector, Dr. Domville of Shutes House and Mr. Walker of the Manor, formed a private electric company - in fact Symondsbury had electricity before Bridport! In 1951 Shutes House became The Rectory until 1983, when a new Rectory was built in its grounds.
Symondsbury House was lived in by a Mr. Alfred Johnson who was one of the greatest local contributors to farming. He was famous for his development of the Dorset Horn Sheep and was the first to export rams to Australia, and also the first person to sell a ram for 100 guineas. A world-famous haematologist also used to live here. Now this is the home of Sir John and Lady Frederica Colfox. One of the earliest records of a Colfox was of a Robert Colfox of Bridport in 1280 and a William Colfox of Symondsbury in 1394.
This 14th century Tithe Barn is the third largest in Dorset and the second oldest. It used to be thatched but was re-roofed in the 1930s at a cost of £500. 'God Save the King' was painted on the beams commemorating a royal occasion but we are not sure to which King it refers. In 1977 for the Queen's Silver Jubilee, a big party with a spit roast was held here and another inscription was painted saying 'God Save the Queen'.
Symondsbury C of E Primary School
Originally a charity school, it was built in 1868 with money provided by the cousin of the late Gregory Raymond, Rector from 1806-1863. The school, when it was first built, had trouble keeping its headmasters so a missionary just back from Australia was persuaded to take on the challenge. With him he brought an Aborigine and a Kangaroo (both of course had never been seen in this area before). He soon realised that the older members of the community had had litle or no education so he arranged evening classes to help with reading and arithmetic. A little later woodcarving and needlework were also taught and put to excellent use in the church. In fact one chair, carved by a Mr. Hutchings, is in the British Museum.
This headmaster was one of the first white men to explore the Northern Territory of Australia, his work being referred to in a missionary book called 'In his steps'. The kangaroo was buried in the school orchard and the aborigine in the churchyard.
The school used to ahve an orchard and allotments for the boys and girls to learn gardening and the school was also one of the recognised stations for taking daily rainfall records for the Meteorological Office of the Air Ministry. It also participated in an investigation into fog and mist.
It was built in the 16th century and named after the Earl of Ilchester, the Strangways of Evershot having leased the Manor of Symondsbury from the Seymours since the 1660s. In 1848 John Best was the publican and he was also a baker and shopkeeper. In 1859 it became a butchers as well as an inn, and in 1889 it was a coal merchants as well as an inn.
People and Places of Interest
Towards the end of the last century many English villages had their Christmas Mummers. A number of young men would form themselves into a company of from five to eleven members, according to the size of the play. Some plays were much longer than others. The meaning of the word Mumming is 'to make diversion in a mask'. The Symondsbury Mumming Play is the most complete of any of these plays. This play has eleven characters, Father Christmas, Room, Anthony King of Egypt, St. George, St. Patrick, a Doctor, four warriors and Dame Dorothy. One of the strongest mummers takes the part of Tommy the Pony. The traditional dress of the warriors was usually a solder's uniform with scarlet tunic, decked with ribbons, streamers and sashes. The head-dress was in the form of a helmet with ribbons falling to mask the face completely from view. After the play had been rehearsed and mastered and Christmas time arrived, they would stroll to the more important houses in their parish headed by an accordion and tambourine. Symondsbury Mummers are still in existence today, their play being performed on New Year's Day every year in the car part of the local village inn.
Thomas Hardy, the famous novelist and poet, was a friend of John Symonds Udal who lived at the Manor and would often come to visit, both of them having a mutual interest in folklore.
William Barnes, the famous poet, was a friend of Thomas Hardy and the Rector of Symondsbury Henry Rawlinson. It is mentioned in the school log book that 'William Barnes, the Dorsetshire Poet' visited in1870.
Paul Nash, the painter and illustrator, visited the village in the 1930s and painted a local scene.
The dance teacher of Moira Shearer, the ballet dancer, lived in Symondsbury.
To bring us more up to date - Fred Cuming, the famous artist and a Royal Academician, regularly stays in the village.
The Colfox Family
The Colfox family has a long history in this part of Dorset with the first mention of the name of Robert Colvox appearing inrecords dated 1280. They lived in Bridport until their move to the Symondsbury Manor in1922. The clsoe relationship with Symondsbury has been over a long period. In 1394 the name of William Colfox occurs in a document concerning the Abbot and Convent of Cerne and 'premises which are parcel of the manor of Symondsburgh'. In the 1880's they purchased the land which forms the Symondsbury estate. After 50 years they moved to Symondsbury House which is their present residence.
Colmer's Hill, which overlooks Symondsbury, although only 400 feet above sea level can be seen from many locations, not least from the centre of Bridport. Colmer's Hill was named after the Rev. John Colmer, Rector 1805-6. the trees were planted on the top of the hill around WWI. It is an extremely popular subject for artists and photographers alike. From the air it is triangular in appearance.
During the 800s there were two great battles between the Saxons and the Danes in this area - the first was in the 830s and the battle took place near Charmouth. The Danes went away to come back in 840. it is suggested that the second battle took place here on Sloes Hill - so it should be 'Slews Hill' as the locals have always pronounced it - the place where the Saxons slew the Danes.