ONE of Dorset’s smallest but most historic buildings is a tiny chapel that dates back to Norman times.
St Andrew’s Church, in the little-known hamlet of Winterborne Tomson, near Blandford, was built of flint and stone early in the 12th century and has hardly altered in 900 years.
The wagon roof is said to be unique in that it curves around the apse, with finely carved bosses where the oak ribs intersect. On top is a small, weatherboarded bell turret.
Inside is bright and exudes a beautiful simplicity, with its lime-washed walls, flagstone floor and bleached oak box pews.
The early 18th century oak fittings were provided by William Wake, then Archbishop of Canterbury, whose family lived nearby.
The pews, pulpit, screen, communion rails and matching table, font cover and the west door all date from his refurbishment.
The lowest point in the little church’s long history came less than a century ago when the building was deemed no longer suitable for prayer and ‘given over to donkeys, dogs, pigs and fowls’ of a neighbouring farm.
It avoided total ruin in 1931 when the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings sold a collection of Thomas Hardy manuscripts to fund the necessary repairs.
Hardy was once an architect’s assistant in this part of Dorset and a regular visitor to St Andrew’s Church.
The restoration work was supervised by the architect Albert Reginald Powys, secretary to the Society. It is thanks to him that this lovely church has survived in such a wonderfully unspoilt condition, and a plaque in the church commemorates his role.
The journalist and writer Simon Jenkins recently ranked the church as one of the most significant and lovely in Dorset in his respected work ‘England’s Thousand Best Churches’.
Candida Lycett Green featured St Andrew’s in her book ‘Unwrecked England’ as one of her 100 gems that are mostly off the beaten track.
Today St Andrew’s is cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust, the national charity protecting historic churches at risk. Although no longer used for worship, it remains consecrated and open to visitors.