Fontmell Magna, Dorset, England

Fontmell Magna is recorded in the Doomsday Book as Fontemale, belonging to Shaftsbury Abbey.

Fontmell Magna is a pretty village with mills and thatched cottages set in the Blackmore Vale, Dorset. Taking its name from the Fontmell Brook which flows through the village joining the river Stour at Child Okeford and rises in a lake beside a place called Springhead, its name derived from the Celtic ‘Font’ for spring or stream and ‘mell’ - a bare hill, which today is covered in woodland. It is believed that the name ‘Magna’ is attached to Fontmell due to the existence of several large houses including a Fontmell Parva and farmhouses in nearby Child Okeford on the Fontmell Brook.

The Fontmell Brook is mentioned in a very early Dorset Charter of about 670-670 when a member of the Wessex royal family, Cenred, granted land along the brook to the Abbot of Shaftsbury. Later, King Alfred and his grandson King Athelstan granted land in Fontmell to Shaftsbury Abbey, which it held until the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Now, the brook is a haven for wildlife, including Kingfishers.

Fontmell has buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries, and has one ancient 15th century ‘Gable Cottage’ that is timer framed and thatched. The impressive ‘Cross House’ is in the centre of the village, built in the reign of Elizabeth 1st and was the home of the Glyn family, Lords of the Manor, from 1809 to 1926.

Four watermills have survived since the 18th century, Woodbridge, Pipers, Higher Mill (now Springhead) and Middle Mill. The Flower family started up a brewery in the village during the 18th Century.

Until the 19th Century, Hartgrove next to Fontmell was part of East Orchard, and the home of many of our ancestors including Blachford, Pinhorne, Hunt, Ralph, Kimber, Curtis, Lemon and Seymour. These ancestors also were born, lived, worked and buried in Fontmell itself.

The Church : Dedicated to St. Andrew, the parish church is mainly Victorian, restored as the original dating back to the 15th century was in a state of decay. Only part of the original tower remains together with the 12th Century font. The restoration was mainly paid for by the then Lord of the Manor, Sir Richard Plumtre Glyn in 1862.

Fontmell boasts more surviving Parish Records than most Dorset Villages, some of which are still kept by John Enderby the Churchwarden who lives opposite St.Andrew’s in the delightful ‘Fosse Cottage’ in Church Street.

A small Methodist chapel originating from 1796 is present in the village. The chapel, made larger in 1831, exists today in this later design.

Famous Inhabitants: Sir Newman Flower b. 1870, a publisher and Philip Salkeld V.C., the Rector’s son, a military hero to whose memory a cross has been erected in St. Andrew’s churchyard. Philip Salkeld, a Royal Engineer lost his life blowing up the Cawnpore Gate in Delhi, India, allowing the British to recapture the city during the Indian Mutiny.

Nobility: One of the important noblemen who had attachments to Fontmell was Sir Thomas Arundell. Originating from a Cornish family, he had a castle on the Wardour estate, Wiltshire, not far from the village. He had been awarded Fontmell and some other manors in Dorset at the Dissolution during the reign of King Henry VIII. Marrying Margaret Howard, sister of the doomed Katherine Howard - wife of King Henry, put him in grave danger. However, he survived, becoming a supporter of Edward Seymour - protector to Henry’s son Edward.

Arundell joined the conspiracy to rid the Duke of Somerset of his chief enemy, the Duke of Northumberland, being eventually beheaded at the same time as Somerset in 1551/2, for backing the wrong side. His estates were seized but eventually restored, during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary, to his widow Margaret and his son Matthew. Matthew was created 1st Baron Arundel at Wardour by King James 1st in 1605.

The 9th Baron Arundel sold the whole Fontmell estate to Sir Richard Carr Glyn in 1809. After WW1, in May 1926, Sir Richard Fitzgerald Glyn was forced to sell most of the village due to financial problems.

Misc: Fontmell once had a 250-year-old Elm tree, known as the ‘Gossip Tree’ , where villagers used to gather. Sadly, the tree died of ‘Dutch Elm Disease’ and was cut down in 1976.

Fontmell Magna now has a women’s cricket team.

NB. Book of interest - ‘Fontmell in Retrospect’ by Ian Lawrence pub.1988 by Brambleton Press of Fontmell.