Parish History

Dorset’s largest Village

Marnhull in on a ridge overlooking the heart of the Blackmore Vale in North Dorset, 3 miles to the north of Sturminster Newton. It comprises several hamlets, namely, Gannets, Haines, Moorside, Nash, Pilwell, Pleck and Walton Elm and this is almost certainly why the village has no clear centre. There are two main arteries, namely New Street and Burton Street cum Church Hill that join the B3092 at the junction next to the 12th century St Gregory’s Church on the south side of the village. The River Stour forms most of the Parish’s northern and western boundaries whilst to the south it abuts Manston and Hinton St Mary with Todber to the East.

There are indications of an Iron Age settlement circa 600BC at Ashley Wood on the east side with indications that the Romans used it as a staging post when occupying the south west following their invasion between 43AD and 400AD. They were followed by the Saxons for the next five centuries, a period known as the Dark Ages in British history, in that little is recorded during the period.

In William I’s Domesday Book of 1086 Marnhull comes under the influence of the Sturminster Newton Manor owned by the Abbott of Glastonbury but became the property of the State in 1544 the Reformation. Henry VIII donated Nash Court Manor to his sixth and last wife Catherine Parr and she remained there for the rest of her life under successive monarchs. After Catherine’s death the house passed through the hands of several noblemen until it was occupied by John Hussey and his descendants between 1651 and 1884 with the family name recorded for posterity by the Hussey chapel at St Gregory’s Church and the houses at Mounters.

This is Rural Britain at its best and Marnhull is an intensely agricultural environment where farmers originally focused on sheep and arable crops, but slowly switched to dairy cattle that became widely acclaimed for the excellent quality of the milk resulting from the rich pastures of the Vale. In more recent times though the low prices of mass marketing of milk have forced many of them to dispense with their dairy herds and return to previous activities.

The construction of St Gregory’s Anglican Church began on the site of a former Saxon church around 1150 but the first Rector was not appointed for another 100 years. During the 755 years since there have been 52 incumbents, 3 of them all related with the surname Place who served for 107 years in total. In recent times other faiths have come and gone Quakers, Congregationalists and Wesleyans amongst them, whilst the Roman Catholics built their Church in 1832 in Old Mill Lane just three years after the Catholic Emancipation Act and a new Methodist Church was completed in 1899 to replace the Chapel in Pilwell.

But in the late 19th century interest in Marnhull really changed when Thomas Hardy, the author, set his novels in Dorset and, amongst similar adaptations, gave this village the name Martlott and the Crown Inn nearby The Pure Drop Inn. Marnhull was the birthplace of the subject of his book Tess of the D’Urbervilles [probably Tess Cottage at Walton Elm] and she lived at the Inn after her family took it over during the years that followed. Certainly Dorset owes a lot to Hardy whose works continue to stimulate tourism and the economy.

Since the Second World War Marnhull has expanded in size considerably as can be seen with the Corner Close, the Crown Estate and a host of new properties along New Street from past St Gregory’s and more than doubled in size in terms of population.

The Village is a strong Community with some 30 different organisations and clubs all of which are very active providing ample opportunities for everyone to become involved. The youth section of the Cricket Club has remarkably strong support of boys and girls while the Pop Up Café has an attendance of over 100 each month and two new initiatives of the Village Hub and Mens’ Shed has been very well supported. There is an immediate project to expand and improve the Hall. Stalwarts like the British Legion, Mother’s Union and Women’s Institute are matched by a proactive Garden Club just to name a few.

Apart from the Churches, the facilities include a Post Office cum General Store as well as a Spar shop both of which are Newsagents; Haberdashers; Hair Dressers; Car Servicing Garage; Pharmacy next to the Surgery; Village Hall and Recreation Ground with well equipped Children’s Playground and skate park plus the Cricket, Football and Tennis Clubs, and a quirky and challengingly short 9 hole Golf Course at Henstridge nearby.