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      Early History of Verwood      

It is thought that Stephen's Castle, Mount Ararat, Wild Church Bottom and Boveridge Heath were inhabited during the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages because of evidence found in the area of Stephen's Castle, T.W.W. Smart said: 

"We cannot believe that a Christian Sanctuary ever reared its head on this lonely spot but if a worship of a people be traditionally recorded in the name, we would suppose that people to have been a colony of the original inhabitants of this country and this spot, the site of a Druidical temple or altar".

The Ancient Britons have left tumuli on many hills in this area, some are called 'Robin Hood's Butts', probably because of their use as 'butts' or 'marks' when archery was universally practised. Dorset tumuli are distinguished by the simplicity of their contents.

In 1828 a barrow was opened on Stephen's Castle above Hill Hole, a sand-stone quarry. One foot below a triangular rough course of sand stone, stood an inverted urn filled with fragments of burned bones. When found the urn was perfect but when exposed to the atmosphere it cracked. It was found to be made. of clay and coarse sand and had not been fired; it was of 'rude construction' and was decorated with several rows of indentures, possibly made. with a fingernail. The urn measured 19.5 inches high (495 mm) and the diameter at the rim was 12 inches (35 mm), it "dilated internally" and had two holes in its sides.

In the same year a tumulus was opened on Pistle Down and excavated to five feet (1.5M). No burial urn was found, but four flint arrow heads were; these were beautifully chipped, convex in the middle of one side and very sharp at their points and edges.

In 1940 a tumulus was opened at the highest point of Boveridge Heath by men of the Royal Observer Corps, who were digging a ''dug-out" from where to observe enemy activities during the Second World War. A one and a half gallon earthenware urn was found surrounded by pieces of sand stone. The urn contained human bones, close beside this, was found a brick on which a crucifix was indented.

While digging footings for a house in Edmondsham Road in 1939, some workmen found a late 'Bronze Age Socketal axe', so it seems possible that people of the Bronze Age inhabited or passed through the area.

To the north east of Stephen's Castle lies an enormous block of sand stone called "Stephen's Stone". Legend has it that a golden casket lies buried beneath this and it is presumed that it is the same "Wur" stone mentioned by T.W.W. Smart.   This was an ancient boundary stone called a Hore (Hoare) stone, Wur being the local pronunciation or Hoare.   Many years ago the local inhabitants regarded it with a sort of superstitious reverence and told weird tales about the impossibility of removing it. In recent years much of the land from Boveridge Heath to Ringwood has been leased to the Forestry Commission.   While working the foresters re-discovered Stephen's Stone and attempted to dig to its base, they found that it measured approximately twenty feet (6.1 M ) long, ten feet wide (3 M) and nine feet high (2.7 M), but they did not find a golden casket.   In 1280 it was recorded that "le. Horestone" was a boundary point of Cranborne Chase in this area.

No Iron Age or Roman finds have been made in Verwood, the nearest Iron Age occupants seem to have been at Badbury Rings. Evidence of habitation at this period has been found at nearby Horton, where a collection of pots and broken pottery dating from the first century B.C. were discovered together with one hundred and thirty nine Roman coins.

Cranborne was of some importance during Roman and Saxon times as on Castle Hill there is a circular fortification with a well within.   Knowlton Rings, near Wimborne St. Giles, had a special significance in Anglo-Saxon times and is surrounded by barrows. The church within the centre ring was built in the 14th century.

In the Saxon period flax was grown for linen in East Dorset. Charters of several Kings refer to lands in East Dorset as :- 

  • in 946 as Lindeue, 

  • in 1019 as Flaxcumbes and 

  • in 1033 as Lineage.

Verwood was formerly part of the Manor of Cranborne, the earliest recorded Lord of Cranborne was Aylward Sneaus or Aylward the Fair :- "a Saxon of Royal lineage and a renowned warrior". He lived in the reign of King Athelstan and died in the year 980 A.D.

In the same year a Benedictine Priory was founded at Cranborne, the Domesday Book records that Cranborne was among eleven most important monastic foundations under Tewkesbury Abbey.   The monastery and priory came to an end in 1540 when they were surrendered to the King.

Actual settlement in the Verwood area. is recorded in a Domesday record which reads -

"The king holds Cranborne -------- there are two ploughs, ten serfs, eight villeins, seven cottages with eight ploughs; - four mills which return eighteen shillings; twenty acres of meadow" etc.

These mills included Romford (see picture), Potterne and possibly Holwell. The old water wheel at Romford can still be seen today, although it is no longer used for grinding corn as it was at the beginning of this century.   

The name Romford is a derivation from :- 

  • Roughford as it was named in 1407,

  • Rougeford in 1417 and 

  • Runggeford in 1490, the earliest names suggesting
     a rough ford.

The Drawing by Clive Daniels shows the track going down to the River Crane at Romford bridge, for the use by animals and the soaking of cart wheels in hot weather. It also shows the inevitable steam engine refuelling. The River Crane track has now been filled in but the bridge still carries the B3081 as can be seen in the photograph. 


Of Holwell it is said that, it was the site of a Holy well in the bed of the River Crane below Cranborne, to which cripples and lepers came from Cripplestyle to be cured.   The well was filled in in the nineteenth century by a man who reported that "by joining two rakes together he reached its bottom, which was smooth all over" which offered suggestions of masonry. The picture shows the poor state of Holwell Mill House on the route from Verwood to Cranborne many years ago.

Eastworth and Westworth on the present northern Verwood boundary were originally known as manors under one title of Horsych, or Horpyth, sytch meaning water course boundary.   In 1841 they became know as Worth or Wur and belonged to the Newburgh family in the Liberty of Bindon Abbey founded in A.D. 1172.   Robert Newburgh had a licence to erect an oratory there. In 1521 Henry VIII granted lands and tenements in Eastworth and Westworth to Robert Bartlett alias Robert Hancock. It was recorded in the Augmentation office that:-

"Eastworth doth lye nigh none of the Kyng's Majestie's houses reserved by a keeper, and from his Highness's Chase Cranborne four miles".

In 1551 Edward VI granted to William Place , "a tenement for the maintenance of a camp here". In 1788 the Eastworth property passed to the Broucher family and in 1868 was sold to the Earl of Normanton for 24,000.   The present Eastworth Farm was known in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as the Heath Poult Inn and was mentioned in connection with smuggling in the area (see picture).

One of the romantic episodes associated with Verwood was the capture in 1685 of the Duke of Monmouth on Horton Heath, after the massacre at Sedgemoor . It is said that the Duke of Monmouth parsed through Cranborne Chase, and as he was a friend of the Earl of Shaftesbury spent a night near Woodyates Inn. He reached the Horton area and hid in a ditch under an ash tree from where he was betrayed by an old woman.   He was taken, by Magistrate Ettrick to Holt Lodge, and from there to Ringwood where he was kept for three days.   Many of his followers were tried at Dorchester and many executed. He was hung from the scaffold later the same year by command of James II.

Copyright P Reeks.     


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