Portland Churches, Buildings and Views


St Andrews Church - Portland

The old churchyard enclosed in the grounds of Pennsylvania Castle is one of the objects of greatest interest in the Island, and is, perhaps, the most romantic feature of the views of Church Hope.

The old church, of which only the barest ruins now remain, was dedicated to St. Andrew in 1475, in the reign of Edward IV. Hutchins' in his "History of Dorset," says "It was a large, ancient, but, rude fabric, situated at the Southern extremity of the Island, so near the sea that, to prevent it from encroachments, the islanders were obliged to wall the banks to an incredible height. At the time of taking the Nona Inquisition it appears to have been burnt and destroyed he the enemy.

It consisted of a chancel and body very low and tiled, which seemed to have been built at different times. The tower was plain and moderately high, but had no bell in it and was detached nearly a yard from the body. The inconvenience of its situation was owing to a pretended want of depth of earth elsewhere. The churchyard being made ground gave rise to traditions that it was anciently the centre of the Island which extended to the Shambles. In 1756 (29 George II) an Act was obtained for building new church.

Mr. J. Merrick Head, the present owner of Pennsylvania Castle in a paper read before the Dorset Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club in 1891 said that "an examination of the ruins appears to disclose the existence of the earlier church and that the present ruined church was built within the site of the older building." Mr Head supports this view by an allusion to the grave-stones in the old churchyard. He says " From the shape and general description some of them appear to be of the 12th century. On close examination one of them showed a floriated cross upon the face of it, and on another there is a plain cross.

Excavations, which have been made by Mr Head, have revealed the bases and portions of the columns of the first church, which. from their style would place the date of the building or the first church as far back as the year 1109 A.D. That is if this surmise is correct the first church would he built at the same time as Rufus Castle.

Mr Head's opinion is that the old Bow and Arrow Castle was really a royal castle, and that the church and Castle medieval. In the excavations that were made a number of the stones of the chancel arch were discovered, as also corbels with fantastic heads : portions of a corbel table, and a small piece of carved work of a capital, all of the same period as the column bases that were found. The main wall of the second church on the South side is built within the first church. In the stall of the second church are arched stones of an older date, built into the form of a zig-zag moulding. It is strange that the workmanship in connection with the first church should have been so much better than that of the second, the workmanship of which seems to have been very indifferent. There are indications at the east end and within the aisle that the first church was destroyed by fire. The pavement and part of the walls are red and blackened.

In his paper read before the Dorset Field Club Mr Merrick Head quotes the following in support of the contention that the first church was destroyed by fire from the Nonarum Inquisitions compiled in the reign of Edward III.

Parish (Poch) of Portland " The same Parish " (Paroch) Portland was burned and destroyed by enemies of England, and sheep with other cattle carried away.

Leland says : "There is but one streete of houses in the isle, the residents lie sparkelid (scattered about). There is a castele or pile not far from the Streete, and is set on an high rock hard by the se cliff', a little above the est end of the church.

" The paroche chirch there is but one at this tyme in the isle is longe and somewhat low builded in the hangging roots of an hille by the shore. This chirch and paroche is about a mile distant to go the next way to it from the Kinges new castelle in the isle, and to go to it by cumpace of the shore it is three miles or more. Sum say that in tymes past, there was another paroche chirch in the isle, but I thene lerned no certente of it."

When the excavations referred to here going on it was found that the doorstep of the chancel consisted of gravestone turned upside down and partly broken. It is made of Portland stone and on the face there is a cross, well preserved and of good workmanship. Portions of two other grave-stones were found, each having crosses. Mr Head holds that they belong to the 12th century. It is a most interesting fact that two stones forming the arch of one of the first churches of St. Andrew were found in a garden in Easton Square.

Upon the arch the following is engraved :

Psalm 122. " I was glad when they said unto me, "Let us go into the House of the Lord"

Phil Dorenth        Alex Pearce,
church        wardens.

The tombstone of Phil Dorenth is near the chancel end.

Among the treasures is the Common Prayer Book presented to the Church by Queen Anne. On the title page this doorway is engraved with the accompanying notification of its presentation by the Queen to the Royal Manor of Portland. There is also affixed the following note

"This book is presented to the Dorset County Museum by the Rev. David Hogarth, rector of Portland."

Mr Robert Pearce in his book "Methodism in Portland " (Page 22) says that this precious book was sold at a vestry meeting held in the old church on the 30th of November, 1730, for four shilling, to a William Hinde. In some strange way it got to a London book-stall, and was there discovered by the Rev. W. Niven who presented it to Mr. Hogarth, who in turn presented it to the County Museum. The same institution treasures also the bible used in St. Andrew's Church. Its date is 1634. It was sold at the same sale for ten shillings and sixpence to Daniel Andrew, the parish clerk. It would then be 96 years old. Daniel Andrew and his family deserve well of the parish for the loving care with which he and they preserved the relic in their family for one hundred and twenty years. In it there is written: "Daniell Andrews, his book and pen. This was the Church Bibell". Captain Manning obtained the book from the Andrew family and presented it to Dorchester Museum in 1856. The Dorchester Museum also contains a print of the Old Vicarage house at Wakeham. It adjoined the Tything Barn. Leland says: " It is the best building in the Isle." With regard to the two churches dedicated to St. Andrew, Mr Head says:

"The result of the excavations discloses the first church to have been one of considerable beauty and importance and the second church to have been one of the rudest description. They both together form romantic ruins at the foot of a peaceful dell. It has been suggested that a portion of the walls remaining on the north-east side are of Saxon origin. There are some of the characteristics of that time but do opinion is ventured on this matter."

The doorway now used as an entrance to the churchyard is of later date and probably belonged to the second Church. The doorway has evidently been removed from its former site to its present position, it is stated by the then Governor of the Island (William Penn).

The Old Churchyard of St. Andrew

The opinion of Mr Merrick Head is that several of the gravestones date as far back as the Twelfth Century. The year 1670 is the earliest date that call be deciphered and this bears the name of --- Attwooll, who died August. Anno Domini 1670.

One of the oldest is that of Abel Flew (headstone), who was buried October 25th A.D., 1676. This stone bears the following peculiar epitaph:

In life I wroath in stone,
Now Life is gone I know
I shall be raised
By a stone and B
Shuch a stone as giveth
Living Breath and Saveth
The Righteous from the
Second death.

Abel Flew, it is evident, believed that there was nothing like stone either in this world or the next.

A stone raised to Abel, son of Robert and Alice Pearce, who died July 25th A. D., 1737, bears the following epitaph:

" Grieve not for me nor be sad,
The shorter time I lived the fewer sins I had. "

Either he or his friends were philosophers. They lived before the day when the law of the compensation was a doctrine of both the theological and scientific schools. But he nevertheless anticipated the doctrine.

In the same year "Susannah, the daughter of Silas and Elizabeth Comben died ye 25 June, 1737, aged 31 years." 0n the headstone are the following lines:

My friends and lover left behind
I pray for me no longer weep,
I am espoused to Christ in
Heaven with God my
Marriage day to keep.

Susannah, who was a lover at the age of 31, would be shocked did she live in these degenerate days, when girls are lovers at 13 and lads at 14.

In his paper, Mr Head gave the following names and dates of those who sleep.

" Each in his narrow cell for ever laid."

To Agnes Attwooll, who was buried December 18th, A.D. 1674.

To Robert Mitchell, who departed this life ye 9th day of June, 1680 Etatis su? 63.

To Robert Pitt, who deceased the 20th day of January. A.D. 1699.

To Julan, the wife of Robert Biett, who departed this life the 2nd May, 1691.

To Mary Ferly who departed this life ye 10th day of March, 1692, aged 24 years.

To John Flew, who died August ye 15, 1698, also of Grace his wife, who died July 11th, 1740, aged 89 years.

To Elizabeth Gilbert who died 16th August, 1720.

To M. P., 1729.

To Robert, Chiles, who died the 15th June, 1733

To B. S., 1741

To John Stone, who died in the year 174I.

To Henry Hellar.

To Andrew Stone, who died July 30, 1764

To M. M. 1760.

To Edwin Pearce, superintendent of His Majesty's quarries in Portland, who died the 12th June 1745, abed 58 years.

To Lucretia, wife of William Andrews, who departed this life ye 5th April, A.D. 1710.

To Abell, son of Robert and Alese Pearce, who died July 25th A.D. 1737.

To William Attwooll, died 1717.

To Sarah Flew, died December A.D. 1729

To Philip Durenth, A.D. 1713.

To John Ayles who died 3rd June, 1723.

Mr Head is of the opinion that no burials have taken place in the old churchyard for upwards of 120 years.

Source: Portland Year Book for 1905

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Paul Benyon