Bere Regis Village Website

The History of St. John The Baptist Church

The 16th Century

The Church in 1500

In about 1500 work was begun on the new west tower and the east end of the north aisle or Morton Chapel.
Although at opposite ends of the building, these two items were connected, insofar as it is supposed that the original llth century north transept had been heightened in the 13th or 14th centuries to form a tower, and that this tower would have been retained until replaced by a new one.
15th Century Clerestry walling & windows
At about the same time the old narrow north aisle including its westward extension carried out in the previous century, was taken down and rebuilt to its present width with new cinquefoil headed windows (left photograph below) in the north wall and an unusual triangular headed window (right photograph below) in the west wall.
The roof at this period was probably a shallow double pitched roof, the supporting corbels of which still remain, but it has since been replaced by a single pitched roof at a slightly higher level.
Pre 1875 engravings and plans show that there were several more buttresses on the north wall than at present, and that the north doorway was further east.

Early 16th Century Floor Plan

The work carried out on the north aisle and nave at the end of the previous century must have been completed several years before 1500 as there is a distinct difference in the style of the work.
This is particularly noticeable in the north aisle and nave clerestory where the earlier 15th century windows have cinquefoil and trefoil headed lights, and the later windows of the Morton Chapel and the associated nave clerestory window have plain heads .
Morton Chapel window & associated Nave Clerestory window
The old west wall of the nave seems to have been rebuilt, or at least thickened, as it now encroaches into the nave to partially obscure the springing of the older western arch of the north arcade.
In this new or thickened wall a large arch with tracery panelled soffite and reveals was constructed, and at its apex an attempt seems to have been made to reach a compromise where the central axes of the tower and nave do not coincide.
Apart from the adaptation of the west wall of the nave, the tower was treated as a simple addition. It is a splendid tower in three stages externally faced with chequered ashlar and flint-work, with battlemented and pinnacled top, and the brown ferruginous stone used in the upper stage gives the tower its distinctive appearance.
The stair turret is on the north west corner and there are buttresses on each face near the angles which terminate as attached pinnacles in the upper stage.
A pierced stone belfry window occurs on each face and there is a large window (below left) over the west door (below right) flanked by canopied niches which would have originally contained carved figures.
The West window & the West door (click to enlarge)
At the east end of the north aisle most of the old tower was taken down, leaving its south wall below the nave eaves level to form the new section of clerestory walling, and into which was inserted a new clerestory window.
It matches the remaining late 15th century clerestory windows in size but not in detail, being constructed in early 16th century fashion with plain headed lights, as were the two new windows in the north and east walls of the Morton Chapel.
At the same time a new stair turret was formed to gain access to the existing rood loft, previous access to which could have been by way of an upper chamber in the old tower. In the chapel there are two semi-octagonal stone brackets flanking the east window, and a further stone bracket decorated with a carved angel attached to the east reveal of the north window.
The roof was a shallow double pitched roof continuous with that over the remainder of the north aisle, and when the whole aisle was later re-roofed in monopitch form, the old portion over this eastern bay was retained beneath it and still exists.
In Cardinal Morton's will, proved in 1500, it was directed that a chantry chapel should be founded in Bere Regis church, with a priest to say Mass for the souls of his parents for twenty years.
The south porch is thought to have been added early in this century, but as it was almost entirely rebuilt in 1875, its date is difficult to determine.
At least it seems to have been added after the widening of the south aisle as there are unbonded joints at its junction with the main wall.Early in the 16th century the 14th century east window of the south aisle was replaced by a five light square headed window presumably to admit more light.

It was again replaced in 1875 but may be seen in a pre-1875 photograph.In his will of 1535 John Turberville directed that his body should be buried "in my own aisle before the image of Our Blessed Lady, in one of the tombs wherein Sir Richard and Sir Robert Turberville my ancestors hath been buried".
In addition, he directed that the east window of the aisle should be rebuilt and reglazed. It is thought that the `Turberville window' (below left) was the result of this direction, and presumably also the canopied altar tomb memorial below it (below right).
The Turbeville window & the canopied Altar Tomb (click to enlarge)
Another apparently older altar tomb (See photograph below) occurs in the east wall of this aisle, but in both cases the identifying brasses have disappeared, leaving the rivet holes, as Thomas Hardy put it "like martin-holes in a sand cliff".
One Turberville brass does however remain, that to Robert Turberville who died in 1559, although it is now fixed in a less vulnerable position on the wall near the floor slab to which it was formerly attached.
Altar Tomb (click to enlarge)
Two further canopied altar tombs formerly existed at the east end of the north aisle, but the brasses were already missing by about 1770 when Hutchins visited the church, and he considered them to have been memorials to the Willoughby family of Turnerspuddle.
Sir William Willoughby, Nicholas Willoughby and Leonard Willoughby, between 1512 and about 1570, all ordered their bodies to be buried in this church.
The remains of one of these canopied tombs are built into the north wall of the north aisle, consisting of the back with its housings for brasses, and the carved soffite of the canopy.
A carved fragment now built into the wall in the porch could also have originally formed part of this tomb.
The Skerne canopied altar tomb  on the north wall of the chancel is similar in design to the others, but it is in white free-stone and in an almost perfect state of preservation.
The brasses are all intact bearing the date 1596, and around the edges of the slab are mortises which originally held iron trefoil guards, one of which remains in a flattened condition. The Skerne family held land at Winterborne Kingston, and had descended from a branch of the Spanish kings of Castile and Leon.
They were established at Winterborne Kingston at least by 1458 when Robert Skerne held the manor there, and John Skerne, whom this monument commemorates, seems to have been the last of his line, dying in 1593.
The Skerne Canopied Altar Tomb
Some 16th century bench ends still exist (See below - click to enlarge), and had been incorporated in the reading pew prior to 1875, but they now form panels in the backs of the front blocks of nave pews.
They are beautifully carved with arabesques and tracery, and one depicts an eagle feeding its young, whilst another bears the date 1547 in Roman numerals-McccccxLVII.
Some include carved initials, and another bears the inscription ION DAV WARDEN OF THYS CHARYS, the last word appearing to be a compromise between church and parish.
Ion Dav was John Dau or Daw who occurs in the Bere Regis muster roll for 1542, and a namesake who was churchwarden here in 1656 was doubtless one of his descendants.
16th Century Pew Ends & Pew End Detail
The 17th Century

With the completion of the west tower and Morton Chapel early in the 16th century, the church was brought to its full development, and all subsequent work has been concerned solely with repairs, renewals, and the installation of fittings and various amenities.
Many of such items have also been removed at various times, and the Reformation of the mid 16th century caused the removal of many of the church's ancient fittings including the old rood loft, various carved images, church plate and ceremonial robes, besides the stone altar top which in 1875 was rediscovered and restored to its original position.
At the Reformation it had been effectively concealed by being disguised as a paving slab in the floor.
When the old 17th century pulpit was removed in 1875, its six panels, together with others from the readers desk and box pews, were retained and mounted as panelling on the north wall of the vestry.
The pew panels are quite plain, but those of the pulpit are intricately carved with semi-circular arches and columns, decorated with strapwork patterns.
The Pulpit
Many details of 17th century repair work and other items are referred to in the old churchwardens accounts which cover the period from 1608 to 1740, and the following information is extracted from them.In 1608 there is an item concerning the font-"A cover for the vante given to the Church by John Hony".
John Hony was a carpenter, and the present visible damage to the top of the font is probably the result of fitting this cover.
In 1610 the bells and frame were completely overhauled and repaired, Thomas Kinston from Salisbury being employed on the work for 14 days with local help, which cost altogether over £11.
The workmen appear to have originally underestimated the cost of the work, for there is this odd item-"pd them over & a boufe or else they wold a loste by ett for I promised them befcr thaye tocke ett thay shold nott losse by ett or eles thay wold nott tacking ett att so lowe a prise ... 6s. Od.".In 1624 £9 ls. 6d. was spent in repairs to the leadwork on the roof, and in 1628 a further £39 was spent when almost 52 tons of lead was used.
A plumber named John Gaylard was employed for this work.In 1632 and 1633 these items occur:
It paid unto Mr. Davies for painting of the Kings Ma : es Armes and for other worke done about the Church ......... £ 4 Os. Od. It.
Paid unto a Painter of Sarum that came to view Mr. Davies worke ....... 7s. 8d. It, In our hands to Pay Davyes .............................. £ 4 Os. Od.
It appears that Mr. Davies was paid £8 altogether, and in view of the largeness of the sum for this period, his work might well have included painting the nave roof, especially as supervision from Salisbury seems to have been necessary.
Hutchins, writing in about 1770, observed: "About a century subsequent to its erection, the roof appears to have been painted by some uneducated artist with rude conceptions of Italian character."
In 1656 the whole of the tower, bells and frame were again overhauled and repaired, when the present second bell was cast, and in 1685 much carpentry work was done, which included repairs to the pews and apparently re-roofing the porch.In 1688, after severe gales, these items occur:
paid Nicholas Huchings for minding the windows and ponting after the great wind .............................. £ 0 3s. 4d.
paid Edward mores for minding and pinting after the wind ......... £ 0 Is. 6d.
paid David Guy and men when the Church foundred ... £ 0 4s. 6d. for beere ............................................................ £ 0 Os. 6d.
A large re-roofing job seems to have been undertaken in 1692 when Thomas Turberville was one of the churchwardens.
Among the more expensive items we find:
pd, Tho : Meader for 500 foot of Oaken board ......... £ 3 15s. Od.
pd. Bernard Maber for 140 Bushells of Lime ............ £ 2 6s. Od.
pd. Tho: & James Lockier towards their worke ......... £ 4 Is. 8d.
pd. Wm : Woolfrys for fetchinge 7000 of bricks ...... £ 1 3s. 4d.
pd. Robt. Strangman for 7000 of bricks .................. £ 4 4s. Od.
pd. for Timber bought at Clenston & marking money ... £ 4 18s. Od.
pd. ffor Lead & the Plumbers worke ..................... £13 6s. 7d.
As a result of this heavy expenditure Thomas Turberville seriously overspent on his year's account, causing him to remark somewhat apologetically at the end:
"So that there is disburst by Tho : Turbeville Esqr., more yn. recd. £13 7s. 9d.", besides which he had not paid for the plumber's 'Dyett & Horsemeat' and a number of other items.
Bere Regis has suffered badly from fires on several occasions, the worst ones being in 1633, 1717 and 1788.
The Fire Hooks below  were used to strip thatch from roofs to act as a firebreak. These particular ones were stored in the Church and were used from the 17th Century onwards.
17th Century Fire Hooks
The 18th Century

Again details of some of the work carried out in this century can be found in the churchwardens accounts which cover almost the first half of the century up to 1740.
In 1708 these items occur:It. Pd. for White-liming of ye Church .. £1.2s.0d.

It, Pd. Edward Meader & John Ash for building the seats .. £5.l0s.6d. It. Pd, for 60 deal boards to Mrs. Seaward ..£4.10s.0d.
It appears from the 1711 account that about £14 worth of leadwork was carried out on the roof and roof of the tower, and in 1712 over £28 was paid to Richard Ham, a plumber, for recasting and relaying lead on the roof.
He was paid a further £14 for similar work in 1715, and £19 in 1719.
The parish chest (See below - click to expand) which stands in the north aisle was made in 1716, and it bears this date and the names of the churchwardens Lawrence Harris and Robert Spear.
The names are carved in the wood, and many of the letters are back to front. In the account for this year there is this item: "It. George Smethe for ye Coffer ............... 12s. Od."
The Parish Chest
This chest has three locks, numbered 1, 11 and 111, and long bolts incorporated in the back presumably for fixing to a wall.
Separate keys were held by the Vicar and each church warden so that the chest could be opened only in the presence of all three.
The old church clock (See below - click to enlarge) now in the County Museum at Dorchester, was made in 1719 by Lawrence Boyce, a Puddletown blacksmith, and it bears this inscription on the frame: -
By referring to the account for this year we find: -
"Pd. Mr. Boys for the Clock ............ £14 Os. Od.".
The Old Church Clock
This was a very large sum indeed in the 18th century, and in addition Mr. Boyce was paid five shillings each year when he came to clean and service the clock, at least until 1740 when the accounts end.
This clock continued in use until 1878 when the present one was installed, but an earlier clock existed before 1719 as there are items in the accounts regarding it as far back as 1608.
There seems to have been further gale damage in 1734:
Paid Benj. Moors for Glasing and Cleaning of the Northside of the Church windows just after the great storm £ 1 Os. Od.
Paid Porters Bill for work about the Monument & theTower and Cleaning all the Body of the Church and Walling up the east end of the Church and for plaistering of it also and for Hair for all the work .................. £ 2 is. 9d.
In 1738 more repair work was done:
Pd. James Burges for 600 paving brick for ye Church Porch ...... £ 0 12s. Od. Pd. for 120 bushels of Lime for the Church ............ £ 2 Os. Od. for the Carriage of 2 load of Lime ........................ £ 1 Os. Od.
Paid Henry Porter and His son their bill for plaistering the Church .... £ 4 16s. lOd.
Pd. Henry Porter for 10 bushels of white hair ......... £ 0 15s. Od.
Paid Hen. Porters wife for helping to clean the Churchand for use of his poles for Scafling .................. £ 0 2s. 6d.
Paid Benjamin Moores for helping Hen. Porter 8 days £ 0 8s. Od. Paid Benjamin Moores for Cleaning & Oyling the Apostles ....... £ 0 4s. Od.
There are further items bringing the total on this occasion to over £20.
The vestry table which is still in use, was made by the Rev. Henry Fisher, vicar from 1725 until his death in 1773 aged 90.
It is reputed to have been made from a yew treewhich grew in the churchyard, and as it is unlikely to have been made in Mr. Fisher's later years it probably dates from between 1725 and 1750. It bears the gilt painted inscription HFV Dedit Dedicat q.
Some rebuilding work to the south aisle would appear to have been carried out in 1760, as a stone on the east end bears that date and the initials MS.

The 19th Century

The Church in 1875

In the county museum at Dorchester there is an early 19th century barrel organ formerly used in Bere Regis church.
It was purchased second hand from the churchwardens of Puddletown in 1852, and continued in use on a gallery at the back of the church until about 1865 when a small conventional organ was installed in the chancel. Somehow or other this old barrel organ found its way to Upwey, and in 1908 it was offered to the parishioners of Bere Regis, but no one seems to have been interested in recovering it.
The organ was used by turning a handle on the front which both rotated the barrel inside and operated the bellows.
Tunes were produced by a system of valves at the ends of the pipes actuated in a set order by metal projections on the revolving wooden barrel, and the tune was changed by moving the barrel sideways.
There were ten different tunes on each barrel, and three barrels survive, but originally there were probably more.
Due largely to the effects of the Industrial Revolution the early part of the 19th century saw a great decline generally in the population and prosperity of country districts, with the result that village churches no longer received the care which had been formerly given to them.
Bere Regis church was no exception, and by 1870 it was in a very poor condition indeed after years of neglect.
The roof leaked in many places, the woodwork was in consequence suffering badly from rot, stonework was crumbling, and most of the windows were broken.
Late 19th Century Floor Plan
It was therefore decided to thoroughly restore the church, and in March 1873 the Rev. Francis Warre sent out a circular letter appealing for funds, and a committee was formed to arrange the restoration of the nave and north aisle.
Mrs. Lloyd Egginton as chief proprietor of the parish undertook to restore the chancel and south aisle at her own expense. Sir George E. Street, R.A., one of the foremost national architects of the day, was commissioned to prepare a scheme and supervise the work and Messrs. Hale of Salisbury were the building contractors. £2,485 was spent on the chancel and south aisle, and £2,605 was collected in subscriptions for the remainder of the work.
The restored church was re-opened on Thursday, 7 October, 1875, when the Bishop preached at morning service, and lunch and tea were provided for 1,700 parishioners and guests.

Another thanksgiving service was held at 6 p.m. on the same day, and for many years afterwards a combined thanksgiving and harvest service was held on the first Thursday in each October to commemorate the restoration.
Although Sir George Street ensured that as much as possible of the old work was retained, a large amount of rebuilding was nevertheless carried out, and as a result the church lost much of its mediaeval character, especially internally.
It is fortunate, however, that two pre-1875 photographs survive, one internal and one external, and with Street's plan of the building as it existed, now housed in the Diocesan Registry at Salisbury, a good idea of the church's pre-restoration appearance can be formed.
The following work was carried out in 1875:


The unstable north wall was underpinned with a concrete foundation, and the upper part of the east window was renewed together with the apex of the gable.
At the same time the whole of the chancel roof was renewed, and it is unfortunate that no record seems to exist of its form before this date, although the new roof was claimed to have been a copy of a former mediaeval roof deduced from one or two remains found at the time.

The old organ which stood on the north side was removed to the east end of the north aisle, and the clergy stalls and one bay of choir stalls were put in.
The altar and rail were removed and replaced, with the old pre-reformation stone altar top incorporated in the new work.

North Aisle.

The whole of the north wall, except the eastern bay, was rebuilt, the original 15th century windows being repaired and re-used, and the north doorway was similarly re-used some ten feet (3m) west of its former position.

South Aisle.

The 15th century square headed east window was removed and replaced by the present one , and the east gable was largely rebuilt.