Church House is located in the North Dorset village of Shillingstone, sitting on high ground in the valley of the River Stour.
Shillingstone inhabited for 6000 years
When you look across the river valley from Church House you’ll see Hambledon Hill. It’s a natural chalk hill but has an unusual outline. On top of the hill there is a Neolithic burial chamber dating back to 4000BC – which makes it contemporary with Stonehenge. The hill was fortified during the Iron Age and a large community of people lived within the safety of the enclosing ramparts – this was from around 800BC into the first millennium AD. Communities continued living on many Dorset hill tops like Hambledon Hill up to and beyond the Roman Conquest in AD43.
Today the hill is under the stewardship of the National Trust and is a beautiful place to walk and enjoy the far reaching views of North Dorset.
The Romans land at Poole Harbour
When the Romans invaded England in AD43 they landed a large army close by at Poole Harbour. The native settlements were quickly overrun by the superior forces of the Romans and villages and their inhabitants became part of the Roman Empire. When new houses were built in Shillingstone in 2004, excavations revealed that a Roman villa had once stood on the site. The present day county town of Dorchester was a large Roman town and you can see artefacts and mosaic floors in the museum.
Shillingstone as a Saxon settlement
The Saxons arrived in England from Northern Europe sometime after the fall of the Roman Empire and it was during this era that the village of Shillingstone was established. It’s likely that the Saxons arrived in the area by boat navigating up the River Stour from the coast. Shillinstone’s Holy Rood Church has origins in this time, though the present building was founded in the 13th century.
Shillingstone has changed its name in the past
When the Normans invaded in 1066, defeating King Harold they surveyed their new dominions, recording the details in the Domesday Book. At this time the village was called Schelin Oakford. The Oakford part of the name is derived from its position near a ford over the river – perhaps amongst the oak trees! Schelin is the name of the Norman baron who acquired the manor and lands – some say from King Harold himself. Over time the name changed to Shilling Oakford, and then to Shillingstone sometime after 1881.
A railway for 103 years
Shillingstone Railway station on the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway opened on 31st August 1863. This new connection with the outside world brought many benefits for the people of Shillingstone. The line connected the City of Bath to the north-west with Bournemouth on the south coast and also had a junction with the main London-bound line. Villagers were able to travel to work and school and venture further afield for leisure than had ever been possible before. The railway carried goods as well as people. The Shillingstone Creamery shipped cream to the Bournemouth seaside hotels and moss gathered on the hills to London’s Covent Garden Flower market. Today the railway track has been converted to a walking and cycling path with access to the local towns of Blandford and Sturminster Newton. A railway preservation society have restored the station building and some parts of the track. You can visit this small museum on Wednesdays and weekends.
A Poet and a King
King Edward VII was occasionally to be seen at the station en-route to visit friends at nearby Iwerne Minster House. It’s said that the station acquired its unusual and ornate canopy to keep the King out of the rain!
The war poet Rupert Brook and his Naval Battalion based at Blandford Camp, boarded a train at Shillingstone on 25 February 1915 bound for Avonmouth and Gallipoli. Brook died on a hospital ship in the Aegean later the same year.
Shillingstone on foot
For the major part of the second millennium residents of the North Dorset countryside travelled on foot – or by horse if wealthy enough. This only began to change when toll roads were built in the 18th century and the railways in the 19th century. The network of footpaths and bridle tracks established back then still exists today. These ancient rights of way, along with the former railway line, give walkers and cyclist’s unrivalled access to the countryside, hills and villages of the area.
In the Second World War
Late in 1943 The Grange and other houses in village that had been commandeered by the British Army were passed to the US Army who were assembling troops and equipment in preparation for the D Day landings. Leading up to the 6th June 1944 large numbers of US troops were camped in and around Shillingstone until they departed for Normandy from the various ports on the south coast. Older residents of Shillingstone who were children during the war, remember the excitement of the GI’s presence to this day.
The Shillingstone of today is typical of many English villages. We have a long history and houses built through the many centuries that people have inhabited the area. Agriculture is still important in the area with farming and associated activities employing many people. Others commute to larger towns to work and it’s also a popular place to retire. All the villagers value the history of the village, its houses and the Church and the beautiful meadows and hills that attracted the first residents so long ago.