Dorset Thatched Cottages

The picturesque thatched cottages of Dorset villages are are beloved of grockles or tourists from around the world. Often sought after as the ideal country retreat thatched roofs were common place in towns as well. In 1721 a massive fire swept through the market town of Sturminster. The White Hart built in 1708 was lucky to survive, (indeed it survived another major fire the other side in recent years) it continues to thrive and has recently been re thatched.


Still a genuine working pub for locals and welcoming to visitors from all over. The Hart has been witness to punishment whippings on the cross and the spontaneous mountain of flowers upon the death of Princess Diana over the centuries. Seen here at the start of its second Royal Diamond Jubilee weekend.



Across the road is the former town hall of Sturminster, now an excellent free museum, well worth a visit. A mix of local stone, timber frame with cob infill.



Still a working rural town with thatched cottages as farm workers homes as evidenced by the tractor in the drive, despite the loss of its calf market once the largest in Europe. Sturminster is now back at the heart of the Blackmore Vale with its new cultural Exchange building on the site of the old market. Community values being very strong here.





The kind of devastating fire that destroyed much of Sturminster to the north of the brick built cottages in the above picture was common across the country from the well known Great Fire of London, to fires that dramatically changed townscapes across Dorset including Wareham and Blandford where the Bastard brothers famously remodelled the town centre in Georgian times. Thatched premises eventually were not rebuilt in more built up areas after fires as they had been before, once clay tiles, and slates became commonly affordable. In amongst the cottages found in villages the modern materials of slate and tile were also used as alternative due as much to fashion and durability. Many gaps exist in village streets of thatch not due to fire but simply the cheaper cob built dwellings have rotted and gone.

A rural row of cottages mainly cob in construction with brick repairs and additions. Often the cob cottages were of the poorest construction, the durable heart woods of Oak and Elm timbers have survived mainly with probably all the Ash and other cheap less durable timbers long since gone.

A large Oak framed village centre thatched cottage, with brick and flint construction over several generations, probably several cottages now linked together.

In the foreground a painted brick cottage showing later construction by way of the regular build style over all, same size windows and brick use throughout. Behind is an older property with stone and flint construction, an irregular pattern with render protecting the more exposed face, and an end which is of looser construction.

Again a miss match of vernacular styles in a street, this brick built farm house in the heart of village itself shows miss matched windows, perhaps again the result of subdivision. The stone and part rendered end wall shows wrought iron tie straps. The best face showing off the more expensive local hand made brick. And the later ‘lean to’ back extension constructed when brick and clay tiles were cheaper options than thatch.

Part of a large brick farmhouse with Flemish bond courses, uniform windows and construction. However there is a brick and tile extension on either end in the same local brick, and the blocked doorway in stretcher bond shows when a pair of cottages were joined together into one dwelling.


The same cottage seen from further back with the alterations blending in perfectly.






Painted brick cottages.

 And round the side a thatched double garage blending in perfectly with the other structures along the street.






The rural dream of many, a Dorset cottage with climbing Roses.



Another mixed brick, stone and flint thatched house on the edge of a village. But this one is deceptive and perhaps the acceptable face of HRH Prince Charles’  Poundbury legacy which has inspired a more fitting county plan where new homes blend in harmoniously with existing building.


As an example of a new development blending in above is an old roadside cottage with exposed brickwork, a high wall leading to a farm yard which has modern thatched cottages adjoining in a small development which people pass without batting an eye. Only the standardised chimney tops reveal a modern pattern.


Brick, stone and flint used in a valley that in the mid 1970′s had a number of run down properties looking for new owners. Today homes here as in much of Dorset are highly sought after.

In the same valley another old cottage blending in to the surroundings and peoples perception of a traditional Dorset cottage. But like other homes this in reality is a relatively new building, meeting modern regulations but pleasing to eye and selling superb eggs!


Agricultural buildings were also thatched, and to the same high standards as they had to protect the livelihood of villagers. But now few survive, expensive to upkeep as new materials and farming methods were introduced, above is a very rare pound. One near the Dorset border was beautifully restored by a master thatcher who stored his materials in it, and gave it a new lease of life. Unfortunately vandals came over the border from Yeovil and senselessly burned it down destroying an important part of the country’s heritage.


Whilst few thatched agricultural buildings have survived, those that have are well built, and well loved. Often part of manor farms which are more likely to be private dwellings now than bustling working farms with large machinery and few labourers. The thatched hay stacks once seen in fields across the country are truly objects of days gone by, replaced by giant plastic wrapped bales.

Perhaps as farming methods changed with automation, and firms like put up bigger and bigger barns across Dorset many more old thatched examples could have been destroyed. However farmers anywhere hate to throw things away, and to destroy an old barn to build a new one where space permits is more cost. Small businesses and craft units moved into redundant barns and the steel erectors replaced the thatchers by applying wriggly tin to many ancient structures. The roof shape often revealing the history.

In that unseen turn of fate, new barn type buildings are even constructed with the steel erectors fitting modern insulated secure roofs. Small successful businesses thrive across Dorset in rural locations tucked away saving many farms from housing development.

A rare Dorset thatched agricultural building still in use, note the brick foundations and protective corners for the rubble stone walls.

Dorset Post Boxes, Green Phone Boxes, Red Sign posts and warning signs

A small selection of some of the more interesting and unusual pieces of street furniture to be found around Dorset. Again a post I will revisit as there are a few unusual items I know of but haven’t got around to passing by yet.


Inset into a cottage wall a nice bright King George Post box used by Lawrence of Arabia at the end of a track across Moreton common.







Outside Guys Marsh Prison this post box is all that remains of the Military Hospital that once occupied the site. The distinctive black and white paint being a vestige of the blackout regulations when this box would have been virtually impossible to see at night on a remote hillside during the war with just shielded lights to guide your way.






An ornate Victorian pillar box on Bournemouth East Cliff. Most of the Gothic and Romanesque Victorian Villas have gone now from this area on the town. One is derelict, and others have left only parts of garden walls or gate posts amongst the modern Art Deco period, or later hotels and apartments.






At first glance this may be taken as just another post box, on a post! Many in Dorset in rural areas or on the outskirts of villages are like that but they are marked ER and on metal posts. Often they replace smaller ones like this rare King George box mounted on a sturdy Oak post. This location has no new houses since the box was erected and thus little call for a larger replacement. Note the lengths of electric fencing to keep the cattle out of the ditch on their way to milking.



Little change in a rural location has not just led to a pillar box not being replaced, it has meant that the village of Holwell has in fact the oldest Post Box in use in Britain.The vertical slot, with a cast iron flap inside to keep the weather out only worked to a degree. The horizontal shielded opening we are familiar with seems obvious with hindsight, but these were early says. A postcard exists of the centenary of this Post Box, with our then local Postie, dressed half in period uniform and a pair of yellow flares, too short and soon to be out of fashion!



Dorchester Steam Roller

Generations of children have played on the old steam roller in the Kings Road play area in Dorchester. Some passers by have commented that it is not a real steam roller, but indeed it is. One made by the Eddison Steam Rolling Company in late Victorian times.

While the Eddison company had a long history and association with Dorchester, the company had a policy of donating old rollers to towns all over the country for play grounds. Much of the original play equipment has been removed by horrified fearful later generations, and most of the rollers have disappeared also. Once field guns and tanks adorned war memorials and parks, perhaps rollers were also hauled away in the desperate scrap drive in the last war?


Those that did survive post war have been hit by the perhaps sensible fear of accidents, for many years outside the Tank Museum in Bovington children clambered all over Tanks in the play area, sliding down frontal armour, swinging from gun barrels and even having races up and over the studded metal decks of armoured bridging tanks. Adventure now denied.



The heritage lobby may bemoan the lack of adventure in adventure play grounds today, but that same movement has meant that many of the now vintage rollers that were once a common sight have been removed and restored to their former glory. A roller abandoned in the village of Hazelbury Bryan when it broke down in the 1960′s is now undergoing restoration. At least one roller at the Great Dorset Steam Fair has been removed from concrete in a London Park to join the masses of machines at the worlds greatest gathering of Steam in Dorset every year.

The Great Dorset Steam Fair, near Blandford.  no one picture can do this event justice.










Tyneham Ranges

A pair of Chieftain Main Battle Tanks lead an engineer tank along the edge of the hill side on the Tyneham ranges. Once costing millions of pounds and a vital part of the British Army’s defence in Europe during the cold war, they are now little more than scrap.

Today they now provide training targets for Tank gunners not even born when the Berlin Wall stood. Older relics have been moved from the ranges, and there is often an out cry that part of military history can be so treated, but the Army needs ranges and targets. The local Tank Museum at Bovington is the biggest and best in the world and has many restored examples saved from ranges, and if they were not placed on remote hill sides as targets they would have gone for scrap decades ago. Fascination with the wrecks is a problem for the Army as people risk death or serious injury to see them up close or look for mythical rare models from the war. A few Comet, Cromwell, Churchill and Conqueror tanks exist on other ranges, without any public access and long since little more than battered rusty hulks, but there are none at all on the Tyneham range. A dozen or more Chieftains can be viewed safely from the road and footpath on days when the ranges are open, to risk injury simply isn’t worth looking for ghosts.

The road from Lulworth Castle toward Swanage along the hillside affords spectacular views over Poole and the county from the coast. Not always open,ring to find out if it is safe. Dropping down over the ridge of the hill there lies the abandoned village of Tyneham. Like the tanks, battered but preserved. Commandeered in 1943 to provide a larger training area for the longer range weapons and greater size of forces preparing for the D Day invasion the public can visit at times and usually through August.  A separate blog will cover my visit there in more detail.


View from a deserted house in Tyneham village, the tanks are situated on the other side of the ridge. And on a final note please remember that long after the war five young boys from the Forres School in Swanage found a tin of Spam on the beach 13 May 1955, and when they attempted to open it they were obliterated. Many mines and shells are still unaccounted for, in the fear of invasion in 1940 many were not properly recorded as they were laid in haste.

Art Deco Dorset

There are many examples of Art Deco architecture around the county from Bournemouth westwards. Although Bournemouth has only been part of Dorset since 1972, I feel enough time has passed to now include it! Relatively young as a town, it was for centuries grazing and heath land next to the town and port of Poole. This late development, as a dominant and high quality sea side resort contributes to the type and number of Art Deco style buildings around Bournemouth, and which survived the war and ‘developers’. Many towns were only to see perhaps a Cinema in the style, only to lose it again as fashions changed.


By way of example I include the now sadly gone Tower Cinema, West Bromwich, redeveloped in 1970 where Madeleine Carroll, the beautiful star of the famous Hitchcock film The 39 Steps, attended the première in 1935 as a local born girl, then an international star of a still highly rated British Film.   Madeleine Carroll.     West Bromwich born film star, one the first glamorous Hitchcock blondes, she outlived the then new Tower Cinema. The Compton Organ which once rose out of the floor survives at Fentham Hall, in Hampton in Arden, Solihull.     Hopefully this post in the blog shall be revisited,and other examples will be included such as cinemas and stores. I cannot pretend all the pictures are going to be the best as many lovely properties have sadly but understandably lost original fittings, and gained hoardings, satellite dishes etc. Change of use is inevitable, and now many of these buildings have gained more admirers, recognition and legal protection. I have resisted the temptation to sepia tone pictures and try to make them more ‘dated’. They are what they are now, old black and white postcards with vintage cars were of their day, ugly cars and vans of today will also be nostalgic vintage in time, the buildings are largely as they were seen in their day still looking great. Please feel free to contact us at intrinseca and tell us of interesting Art Deco sights, we have more but are always interested to hear of others.   The famous Cumberland perched on the Bournemouth East Cliff, is still the best Hotel in the town. Truly stunning views out over the sea from the balcony rooms, quiet and within walking of the centre of the town. Afternoon tea, a pool on the sun deck and an excellent bar are notable features, also there are a lot on imaginative functions put on here by the friendly staff through the year. I have used this as a convenient base for nights out in Bournemouth for several years, well worth a visit to the website to see what is on.   A block of flats or apartments with original windows, in a leafy road behind Bournemouth’s East Cliff.     The rear of another block of flats, perhaps better termed apartments overlooking the Sea and beaches below the cliff.     Grove Mansions on East Cliff, tucked further back from the sea, the new windows of the apartments are fairly harmonious and the central stairwell glazing is intact preserving the overall 1930′s appearance.   Over the border almost in Poole a private house I was lucky enough to view inside. Much of the interior had gone with so called modernisation but the owners had sourced period fittings, and commissioned craftsmen to put the house back to much of it’s original    condition. Another view of the above house, one of several in the area of Sandbanks.               Close to Boscombe pier is the Iona building, with a bar, apartments and holiday flats.   The original door to another apartment block on the sea front at Bournemouth. Sadly now the symmetry of this building is not what it was with new windows and sun rooms fitted to the balconies. I shall return later to get a better picture when my mate has taken his scaffolding down!           For comparison I have included this picture of a very important building in Dorset on the cliffs above Studland beach. Built by Canadian Army Engineers in 1943 and named after their Ontario base Fort Henry had a very short intended lifespan. Treacle the Border Terrier has just climbed through a very Deco styled vision slit. Built in great speed, and entirely functional perhaps the builders were influenced by other constructions they had made in peacetime. As a child in Hampshire I played in a large air raid shelter with distinct Deco detailing, and the name Plaza cast above the door. Through this vision slit King George VI, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Supreme Commander Eisenhower, General Montgomery and other senior officers gathered to watch and safely endure the largest live ammunition exercise ever held in the UK, including an area carpet bombing as preparation for the invasion back into Europe.   Again functional, the rear steps to an apartment block in Bournemouth are still an Art Deco styled feature in concrete, the lines would have been enhanced in their day with the modern narrow glazed steel framed windows as retained on the house seen below.               In Dorchester the county town, not a great deal of Art Deco styled building can be found amongst the largely Georgian and Victorian town centre. There is a Cinema still in use, but if you head to the outskirts, a lovingly maintained example can be found. As the suburbs developed along with greater use of the motor car in many British towns, amongst the nostalgic half timbered detached villas of the 1920′s and 30′s developers often took a chance with a striking modern building.   The lovely people in this house have retained the original features such as the Deco styled hoppers on the guttering. The windows have also survived the ravages of the “improvement” rage.     Another common feature seen on the modern styled houses of the 1930′s was the Sun deck or balcony. Getting away from the grime of many town centres sun bathing was in vogue. Here on the edge of town with clear views of the countryside a modern couple could enjoy increased leisure time in a quiet leafy road.       A simple boundary wall on one of the Bournemouth East Cliff Hotels, showing the geometric patterns and proportion that could have been otherwise simple and boring. Here the styling catches the light and casts shadows.                   Pendennis , a spectacular apartment block. The curved crittall windows may have gone but the central glass tower still stands out and provides a head turner for people heading down to the beach. Miami may have Palm trees, but the Dorset Pines provide a unique scented backdrop. Fittingly a new block of apartments has grown up recently next to Pendennis inspired by the architecture of East Cliff.             Pendennis.

Lulworth Castle.

Starting out as a mock Castle and hunting lodge in the early 17th Century, the beautifully situated Lulworth Castle was fortunate to be purchased by Humphrey Weld in 1641. The Weld family were still in possession on the 29 August 1929 when the interior was destroyed in a massive fire which all but finished the Castle. Without a roof, and with the collapse of the floors it looked as though the the elements, and nature would turn what was left into a picturesque romantic ruin. In the 1970′s restoration began with English Heritage which did not finish until 1998.  Today the interior is sparse with pictures of it’s former glory, and burned out walls that lets the visitor truly appreciate the hard work of the builders hundreds of years ago. From the Castle roof there are spectacular views along the Army ranges and the countryside all around.

The Arishmel Gap looking toward the sea from Lulworth Castle. In 1942 a Focke Wulf 190 ‘nuisance’ raider (which plagued the whole Dorset coast with attacks on civilians in village streets as well as the nearby Lulworth Army camp and major towns) misjudged his flight under the radar through the gap and made perhaps the largest explosion the ranges have seen.


Another good base point for walks in Dorset. Not just with the wrecks of Chieftain Tanks on the nearby ranges, which can be viewed from a path only when there is not live firing! (Best to ring 01929 404819 before setting out for open dates). Within the danger area, where it is essential that you adhere to the warning signs, you can also visit the deserted ghost village of Tyneham. Evacuated to provide a training area for the Army in 1943 as it practised for the invasion of occupied Europe. Difficult to find now if you rely on a Sat Nav as the existing village isn’t there! I shall cover that in a separate blog entry. Dorset is Tank County and you are not far from Bovingdon Camp and Museum if you want more armour.

At Lulworth Castle there is great food available at the Weld Arms pub across the road and the estate to explore, with the delightful chapel and 15 th century Church within the grounds. You are not far from stunning scenery anywhere on the Purbecks. Worbarrow Bay, Lulworth Cove Man of War Bay with the world famous Durdle Door along just one short section of the World Heritage Jurassic Coast.

Indeed now the Castle is not just a good base for a day out, much more than a romantic ruin you can also get married there. An excellent setting also for Medieval Fairs and Jousting, as well as the famous Bestival Music festival. is the estate website to give you the latest information and events and show some of the local Dorset delights. Listing local B&B’s, Pubs and attractions.

One of the carved faces on the walls of Lulworth, perhaps a Green Man. Not to be confused with the Dorset Ooser, (pronounced oss as in boss) the mysterious arch-fiend of which I shall return to in a later blog!






Lawrence of Arabia

A quiet walk across Dorset heathland took me from the Moreton graveyard, where the author, furniture maker and soldier T.E. Lawrence is buried, over the road from the isolated church of St Nicolas to his tiny Cottage at Clouds Hill. There is a circuitous walk of about six miles but it was getting dark and some portions are on fast roads over the heath. So I took the Snakehound just along the track over the heathland for a few miles from the ford to Clouds Hill.

Currently the National Trust has the Lawrence cottage closed while it clears the Rhododendron bushes which have encroached and altered the appearance so much from 1935. Well worth popping in when it reopens in 2012. 

Few pictures do justice to the work of Sir Laurence Whistler in his engraved windows at Moreton Church. I don’t fiddle with photoshop or filters myself but you can probably get some good results if you are a keen photographer. As it is part of a public building there are no copyright constraints. A booklet available in the church is available for those who flinch at the challenge. The reason for this unusual work is due to the Luftwaffe, who managed to virtually destroy this isolated church on the 8 October 1940.  Possibly it was an attempt to hit the nearby RAF Warmwell station, revealed in some of the first ULTRA intercepts as a high priority target for the Nazi regime, but also it could have been a fluke hit from a jettisoned bomb. Largely unreported this was a tiny event in an ever larger war, Jozef Frantizek the Czech ace died on this day hours previously after scoring the highest number of victories in the Battle of Britain. 28 Indian Pilots also arrived to help in the

Either way, the inside of this surprisingly bright little church is worth a visit. You follow in the footsteps of amongst many friends and admirers of this very British hero, Sir Winston Churchill, Field Marshall Viscount Allenby, sculptor Eric Kennington, the brilliant Basil Liddell Hart, Nancy Astor MP, E.M. Forster, Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon MC. Who knocked the camera out out the hands of a photographer trying to take a picture of the coffin in the grave, before the paparazzi name was coined they were a menace in life and death.


The effigy of Lawrence carved by Eric Kennington, (the illustrator of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom), is not in Moreton church but at the much smaller church of St Martins Wareham high on the ancient wall in the Saxon church which was then being restored. The Moreton rector refused for various reasons to have the effigy in St Nicholas’s church. Public notoriety was the reason given for the refusal to have it in placed in Turners Puddle church, so it ended up at the suggestion of the Bishop of Salisbury in Wareham. Today the concerns of those who felt it would become a shrine, given the crowds his grave attracted in a tiny rural location may have been justified, as Lawrence continues to attract visitors. Some who follow the old ways hold him in great regard, and feel his being close to the resting place of Saxon Kings dressed as a Prince of Mecca is entirely suitable.

Sherman the Snakehound resting on his travels. Happy Christmas and all the best for 2012.