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Church of St Mary, Dorchester

Description: Church of St Mary

Grade: II*
Date Listed: 8 May 1975
English Heritage Building ID: 104255

OS Grid Reference: SY6873990074
OS Grid Coordinates: 368739, 90074
Latitude/Longitude: 50.7095, -2.4441

Location: Edward Road, Dorchester, Dorset DT1 2LX

Locality: Dorchester
Local Authority: West Dorset District Council
County: Dorset
Country: England
Postcode: DT1 2LX

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Explore more of the area around Dorchester, Dorset at Explore Britain.

Listing Text

738/7/171 EDWARD ROAD
08-MAY-75 WEST FORDINGTON
CHURCH OF ST MARY

II*
Dates of main phases, name of architect: 1910-12, by Charles E. Ponting.

Materials: Rock-faced coursed and snecked Purbeck limestone from nearby Swanage, with window surrounds, tower facing and internal facings of Bath stone from Hartham quarry. Brown clay-tiled roofs.

Plan: Four-bay nave with clerestory and lean-to aisles, south-west tower base, north and south transepts, (organ chamber in the north transept). Two-bay chancel with vestries and gallery to the north; apsidal south chapel separated from the chancel by a narrow passage aisle.

Exterior: Pevsner called it large and lavish. The style is Free Late Gothic, i.e. Neo-Perp with freely interpreted tracery, some in extravagant curvilinear forms. The nave and chancel are under one unbroken roof. Double west windows divided by a central buttress under a tall gable. On the south side the base of the intended tower, with its own west window filled with a temporary wooden frame, and the unfinished head and tracery interrupted by the roof slope. In its south side, the porch entrance, with florid decoration around the arch of the door and in the spandrels. Above is a statuary niche with the Virgin Mary, framed by a band of four shields with symbols of the Evangelists. The south side otherwise is dominated by the transept with big four-light south window. It has a projecting buttress from its east face, against which is a shallow porch for the priests' door, its gable forming an asymmetrical accent beneath the south window. Pevsner calls this the most original feature of the design. The south chancel chapel is lower, with an apsidal east end and single-light windows. It stands almost separate from the chancel. The chancel east wall has a gable flanked by buttresses from which rise two slim pinnacles. The east window is under a depressed arch, of seven lights arranged 2:3:2, with curving tracery of complex form with much cusping. Over the chancel arch on the roof ridge is a leaded octagonal base to a fleche (Ponting called it a Sanctus bellcote), the rest of which was removed in 1998.

Interior: Nave and chancel are roofed in one sweep, with a segmental wagon vault of dark stained timber panels against white plaster. The main trusses are tie-beams with slim turned king-posts. There is decorative brattishing with shields at the wall plates. Floors of red quarry tiles and oak blocks in the nave and aisles; black and white geometric floor of Derbyshire fossilstone marble in the chancel. The main entrance leads into the base of the intended tower, a kind of transeptal space at the west end of the south aisle, with a tall and elegant panelled arch opening into the nave. Opposite, the northern arcade has in its western bay a distinctive double arch; on the trumeau is a richly decorated niche with statue of St George. The aisles are low and quite dark, with moulded depressed arches to the nave. They die into octagonal piers, which have slim attached shafts facing into the nave; these are carried on up as wall shafts to the roof corbels. The clerestory windows have four Perp lights under square heads, with segmental rere-arches. The aisle windows are similar but simpler. In the chancel is a triple sedilia with ogee canopy, and adjacent piscina. Adjacent, an arcade of three half-sized arches opens through a narrow vaulted passage aisle into the south chapel - a device borrowed from J.L. Pearson.

Principal Fixtures: The font is square and plain, on four short marble colonnettes, with an openwork Gothic oak cover. Pulpit designed by Ponting, 1912, of oak, octagonal and quite open. The angles defined by heavy posts which rise from the floor, and are encrusted with elaborate carving. The top rail has angels¿ heads; the main panels have slender traceried piercings. The sounding board is an octagon with convex sides, similarly rich in carving. The rood screen was presented in 1914; exceptionally tall and with vaulted coving to a full rood loft above. The screen has five divisions of three lights, and a transom band at half height with tracery beneath. The simple choir stalls and priest's stall are of oak, with angled vertical mouldings, 1955. Altar rail of 1966, an unobtrusive post-and-lintel design. The organ of 1976 was installed here in 1990; a light oak case with overtly modern details within a traditional composition with angled wings for the pipes. The original oak chairs were replaced by upholstered seating, c. 1980-5. In the south chapel is a fine reredos, a stone Pieta in relief by Herbert Palliser, 1940. A grid-form lighting gantry of steel and oak (c. 1990-2009) hangs over the crossing, visually disrupting the rood figures and screen. The chapel has a low wrought-iron rail and gate, probably by Barkentin & Krall, 1933. Stained glass: the earliest, at the east end of the passage aisle, is a small light by C.E. Kempe & Co., c. 1912. The chapel apse has three lights of 1925, by George Parlby. He also designed the three windows in the south aisle, 1933-5, and the south transept south, 1943-5, maker Powell & Sons. In the west end of the north aisle, a four-light window in vibrant colours, by Francis Skeat, 1959-61.

History: A temporary church was built 1896-7 (also by C.E. Ponting) on a different site. It was a significant building in itself, 112 feet long, and with some features of the present church explored in basic form. A building fund for a replacement was begun in 1901. Ponting designed a new church in 1907, for a site on Bridport Road which was rejected by Bishop Wordsworth of Salisbury. After intense disagreement, the present plot was agreed with the Bishop in 1909, and deeds exchanged in January 1910. Ponting¿s plan was recycled, though with the tower and transept on the south side rather than the north to suit the orientation of the roads east and south of the site. The foundation stone was laid on April 21, 1910, and the church was opened on July 11, 1912. The cost was estimated at £10,000 excluding the tower. The architect Charles E. Ponting (1850-1932) of Marlborough was diocesan surveyor for the Wiltshire region of the diocese of Salisbury 1883-1928, of the Bristol region 1887-1915, and the Dorset region 1892-1928. He also worked elsewhere in England, and in Wales, Ireland, Australia, Bucharest and Oporto. He restored or repaired some 225 churches, always sympathetically and harmoniously. St Mary, Dorchester, is the best of his fifteen new churches and chapels. He never became a member of the RIBA.


Sources:
Newman and Pevsner, Buildings of England; Dorset (1972), 180-1
Ponting, C.E., obituary in The Builder (93) (1932), 272.
Potter, R., Passing Through The Fire; the Churches of West Fordington (1998)

Reasons for Designation: The church of St Mary, Dorchester, is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

* A large and lavish church in Free Late Gothic style with some Arts and Crafts influences, 1910-12

* The magnum opus of C.E. Ponting, a fine architect capable of both subtlety and originality

* The unfinished tower base forms an impressive porch at the south-west. Secondary porch with priests¿ door in the south transept, a most original element of the design

* High quality of finish, with carved decoration inside and out, and costly materials such as a Derbyshire fossilstone pavement in the chancel

* Lavishly carved pulpit and rood screen, and good 20th century stained glass.

This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.