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St Stephen's History

Bettiscombe does not appear in the Domesday Survey of 1086 although it is believed the following is referring to it: "Scrubland at ‘Haucombe’ belongs to Burstock (Bradstock) in such a way that in the time of King Edward, two parts of it were in the King's revenue and the third part or the third oak was Earl Edwin’s which now belongs to Frampton, a manor of St. Stephen's of Caen." Frampton is a village near Dorchester, and it is believed that Haucombe was part of the Frampton Estate which extended to the northern end of the Marshwood Vale where Bettiscombe is situated. A cell of Benedictine Monks from St. Etienne in Caen established themselves at Frampton after it had been granted to St. Stephen's of Caen by William the Conquerer. Bettiscombe, we believe, was established by a further cell of monks coming to the Great Wood of the Marshwood Vale to turn a pagan altar into a Christian Church.
Before this the Combe was most likely a sacred place from the ancient past because of the presence of a standing stone beside a spring of never failing water in a grove of oak, ash and thorn: these are three features of ancient worship. Dr Anne Ross, a Celtic scholar and archaeologist, has put forward a theory that Haulcombe was the oakwood of the Marshwood Vale which may be the remaining trace of a great Celtic druid sacred forest, through which a known Celtic treasure was brought from Europe in Roman times.This gives credence to the suggestion that Bettiscombe is a Celtic name, meaning ‘sacred place or chapel’. A good enough reason for the twelfth century monks to establish a home in order to Christianise a secluded spot where pagan rites were still being practised.
It is from the fourteenth century that the earliest traces of the existing building date. These are the mullions and lights of the three windows in the north and south walls of the Chancel and the west window under the tower, all of which were incorporated from the pre 1860 church into the largely rebuilt present church of 1862. The early church was described by Hutchins as ‘small and dark’ even though the chancel and nave had the same ground plan as in the present building.
The tower of the earlier church was of brick covered in ivy and probably of the 18th century. In 1862 the brick tower was replaced with the present tower, a broader stone one. The original east window became the west window, with the present glass dating from 1910.
The north wall was replaced with an arcade of arches leading to the aisle which was a wholly new addition along with all the stone work and windows of the nave and aisle. The headstone of the fourth chancel window was removed to enable the Vestry to be built and is now over a gateway into the garden of Pilsdon Manor.

The east window mullions and lights are of 1862 and the glass was painted by Reynolds Stone, the well known Dorset artist and engraver. It is vigorous in colour and drawing, more so than most Victorian glass. It was given in 1864 by John Tatehall Bullen, owner of the Marshwood Manor estate.
Whichever of the two architects Hicks or Ferrey, who did extensive rebuilding of Frampton Church in the same period, this church is a remarkably well proportioned and complete example of Victorian building. The chancel arch and the arcade of arches are well proportioned and delicate. The Victorian brass altar rail and the sanctuary tiles are worthy of note, as are the many plaques in the windows, in the walls, and even on the pews which add so much to the history of the church and its people. The memorial on the lectern is worthy of special note. Frederick Williams was Rector of Bettiscombe and Pilsdon for 52 years from 1866 to 1918, a remarkable period of service. His family had connections with New Zealand and the tall conifers that once surrounded the Church were grown from seeds from New Zealand.
In recent times we have had to raise some £20,000 for major repairs to the tower, to the windows and to the organ. This lovely little organ, built in 1852 has been given a new lease of life. To commemorate the millenium a more modern etched window was created, designed by the artist James Denison-Pender, which has four panels recording scenes around the village at that time.
It is our fervent wish that Bettiscombe Church will continue to be a living memorial to the glory of God for many generations to come.


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