History of Fordington and St. George’s ChurchFriday, March 19th, 2010
Fordington lies just to the East of Dorchester town centre and could be considered to be a suburb of the town. However, this beautiful area has long been established as a village and to this day retains its own special character. Here’s an insight into the history of Fordington and St George’s Church that is one of the most visible landmarks in the area.
Fordington was, until well into the 20th Century, a separate entity from Dorchester, as well as being considerably larger in area. It was also distinguished from the town by belonging to the Duchy of Cornwall. The Romans called it ‘Durnovaria’ and the importance to them of Fordington can be gauged from the standard of work on the Romana Stone found beneath the aisle of the church in 1908, (it bears an inscription commemorating one Carinus, probably a Roman noble, whose widow, Romana, caused it to be carved) and other foundations of Roman origin which have been unearthed around the church, suggest that a Roman temple may well have stood on the site.
The Royal Manor of Fordington
After the Romans left, Fordington became a Royal Manor, and it is rumoured that Alfred the Great spent Christmas there every year. The first church was built there in about 857A.D. and St. George’s was the royal church of the Kings of Wessex. After the Norman Conquest the manor was given by William the Conqueror to St.Osmund who became the first Bishop of Salisbury, he added the porch, which contains a fine tympanum dating from Norman times depicting the Battle of Antioch. St. George’s became one of the churches of the diocese of Salisbury and several of its priests in due course became famous, including the founders of All Souls College Oxford and Winchester College; Henry Morton, Henry VII’s Chancellor of the Exchequer and the originator of Morton’s Fork, (a system of taxation that outstrips even the most ingenious of modern Chancellors!) was also from St.George’s.
Thomas Hardy Connection
One of the more notable of the rectors was Henry Moule (pronounced ‘mole’), who not only fathered eight sons, one of whom, Horace, was a close friend of Thomas Hardy, but also battled for the health of his parishioners in the cholera outbreak of 1856, he still had time to invent, patent and champion the cause of the earth closet, considering the water closet to be considerably inferior and the cause of illness, as well as being a waste of natural nutriments available to fertilise the soil. He tirelessly, but unsuccessfully, sought to convince the Government that the future lay with his invention (Queen Victoria had one installed in Windsor Castle in preference to a water closet.) For some years he was chaplain to the troops in Dorchester Barracks, and from the royalties of his 1845 book ‘Barrack Sermons’ he built a church at West Fordington.
Thomas Hardy was a member of the St.George’s Parish Council, until he resigned in protest over the alterations made when the church was enlarged in the early part of the 20th century, apparently his principal objection, in which he was not alone, was the addition of the small tower on the North-eastern corner of the tower, described as looking like a pepper pot.
St George’s Church in Fordington
The church has a quantity of interesting features, including a 15th century font, a 16th century pulpit and a stained glass window by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, which is surmounted by angels designed by William Morris. The chancel roof is a fine example of a barrel roof, made in Oregon pine, at the West end is a pair of Baroque doors, possibly of Bavarian origin.
Fordington’s Fair on the Green
St. Georges Day is commemorated by the Fair on the Green on the nearest Saturday to 23rd April every year, with the permission of the Duchy, and although the lamb roast has been replaced by the a hog roast, the Fair retains all the atmosphere of a village fair. Fordington Green has the distinction of being the only ‘village green’ designated under the Commons Act 2005, in Dorchester.
Article kindly written by John Ungley