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St Gabriel's Church History

The old village of Stanton St. Gabriel lay some two miles to the southwest of Morcombelake and on the western slope of Golden Cap. Once a small but flourishing settlement, it was abandoned nearly two centuries ago. Some of the working population left their fields and went to work in the new mills and rope-walks of Bridport. Later, the old coach road from Dorchester to Exeter became endangered by constant cliff erosion and a new road was built one and a half miles inland, a turnpike connecting Bridport and Lyme Regis (today's A35).
The Chapel is also said to have something of a sad, if romantic history. It is reported that the reason it was built was because two newly weds, escaping from a storm stricken ship in a small boat, came ashore here. The husband prayed to St Gabriel for their salvation and promised to build a chapel if they were saved. Despite his wife dying in his arms on the beach, he was as good as his word. Though whether the Chapel is truly a monument St Gabriel or to love lost, who can tell for sure.
The earliest know reference to the Church or Chapel of St. Gabriel is in an Ordinance of the first Bishop of Salisbury, dated Christmas day 1240. Originally a parish church, it became a chapel-of-ease to St. Candida and Holy Cross at Whitchurch Canonicorum. By the end of the 18th century, services were only held there once a month, although some christenings and marriages were still taking place there in the early 19th century, the music being supplied by the church band from Whitchurch who "marched over with their instruments, with the Parson riding his horse.
It was said that smugglers used the old disused chapel for hiding contraband, before taking it inland by the lanes of the Marshwood Vale. By the early years of the 20th century, it had become a roofless ruin.
Today, what is left of the ruin is carefully preserved and the occasional services held there are enjoyed by all who attend.

The 'new' Church of St. Gabriel, situated on the south side of the A35 in Morcombelake was built in 1840-41 to serve the community which had been increasing since the building of the turnpike.Seating for 110 persons was provided and a grant from the Incorporated Society For Promoting the Enlargement, Building and Repair of Churches and Chapels ensured '80 seats free and unappropriated for ever' (See mural plaque in the church.)

Rescued from the old chapel, in or about the year 1883, was the simple stone font and the oak rood-screen. The latter was much damaged, both by natural decay and from its fall amongst heavy stones, but according to Collins "it was placed in the hands of an expert, judiciousiy repaired and restored, and then placed in the new St. Gabriels. To make it complete, a new cross of Jacobean design was made from some of the old wood of the chapel and placed on the screen." Thus a link between the old and the new churches have been retained.

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