History of St Wolfrida

A Short History of St Wolfrida, Horton


This brief History of Horton Church has been compiled by taking extracts from “The short History of Horton Church” by the Reverend Theo. F. Brewster - 1959 and “A short History of Horton and the Church of St Wolfrida” by the Reverend E.J.F Heap CBE - 1967; to both we are greatly indebted. Reluctantly, we can no longer produce their Histories in full, because of the cost.
G.M. Hobbs 1986


In the year 1401 the Parish Church of Horton was built upon the site of the Priory Church. It appears to have consisted of Chancel, North Transept and Nave. It was dedicated to Saint Wolfrida in honour of Wolfrida, once abbess of Horton Abbey.

By 1720 the once fine church had, through misuse and neglect, been reduced to a ruinous state. What part of it remained appeared to be very ancient and a part of the original Priory Church. In 1722 it was almost totally rebuilt.

THE TOWER with five bells which stood between the body and the chancel was pulled down, and all but one of the bells, together with other materials of the old building, were disposed of to pay for the restoration, and the present tower was built. The remaining one bell is inscribed; :Love God - 1684”. The architecture of the present tower is interesting. Professor H.V. Colvin has drawn attention to the fact that the general design, and especially the pointed roof and heavy cornice, bear a remarkable resemblance to the plans drawn by the famous 18th century architect Sir John Vanbrugh (1664-1726) for the unfinished Eastbury Manor House at Tarrant Gunville. The resemblance is so striking and so numerous that it leads to the conclusion that the tower of Horton Church was designed by the famous Vanbrugh, or else the tower was built by a master-mason who worked under Vanbrugh and had therefore imbibed much of his master’s style.

UNDER THE BELFRY of the old church was an aisle belonging to the Hastings family in which is a monument to the Honorary Henry Hastings, 2nd son of George, 4th Earl of Huntingdon, who died on October 5th 1650; and to Dorothy his wife who died in 1658. Also in this aisle were the two effigies which are now beside the screen in the north transept, or porch. One, Purbeck marble, is of Sir Giles Braose; the other in Ham Hill stone is of his first wife Beatrice. He died in 1305.

THE BRAOSE EFFIGIES are a fine example of marbler’s work of the Purbeck School. The Knight lies cross-legged with his feet on a lion. His head rests on a square cushion; his right hand is in the act or drawing his sword. His family descended from William of Braose near Falaise in Normandy who received large estates in England from William the Conqueror. The father of this Sir Giles came into possession of the manors of Woodland and Knolton which then were both in Horton parish through his marriage to Agnes, his second wife, the heiress of the Moeles of Cadbury, Somerset.

The lady’s effigy, carved in Ham stone, is thought to be of Beatrice, the first wife of Sir Giles. She wears the costume of the late 13th Century. Her head rests on a lozenge shaped cushion under a canopy; her feet on a pair of lap-dogs with long tails. The date of her death is unknown. Female effigies of the period are uncommon.

OTHER MEMORIALS in the 1722 reconstruction of the church, many of the memorial appears to have been removed or covered up.

A stone recording the death of Victoria Uvedale, 6 years 9 months, was found upside down in the floor of the Manor Farm Dairy. The Manor Farm which became the Vicarage in 1920 was sold in 1961 and a new Vicarage was built. The Memorial was restored to the North wall or the chancel, behind the priest’s stall.

The other Memorials which have survived are two grave slabs on the South side “without altar rails”. One, the inscription of which is almost unreadable, has, according to the historian John Hutchins, the words :-“Here liveth the body of Mr Daniel Debreau, minister of this Parish, who departs this life October 15th, aged 84 years, 1719”.

The other grave slab is to a young woman aged 23, Ann Hopper; it bears the inscription;- “Here liveth interred the body of Ann Hopper, daughter and cohere of Mr Thomas Hopper, and Ann his wife, of the parish of St Botolph, Bishopsgate, London, who departed this life the 7th of April AD. 1680 acetate 23”

THE REREDOS is early 18th Century raised plaster work, coloured and gilded. The Dove in the centre symbolises the Holy Spirit; the four cherubs are said to be the four children of a vicar of the parish who died as infants. The “Pelican in her Piety” above is an emblem of Jesus Christ “by whose blood we are healed”.

THE L-SHAPED PLAN OF THE CHURCH is strange. At the time the pulpit was against the South wall of the nave opposite the main door and all the box pews were arranged so as to face it. In about 1924 the pulpit was moved to its present position. The seating was rearranged and the screen was erected. To fill up the nave some of the pews were taken from what is now called the “porch” and this accounts for the empty space on the right by the two Braose effigies and the remaining pews opposite them.

OUTSIDE THE CHURCH on the wall of the North side of the chancel, there are the remains of a pointed window of two lights without cusping of the Early English period. Also in the same wall is a fragment of Purbeck marble with a much defaced inscription reading:-

******centu Anno dpi M
******anime p’picket; deus A******

On the South side of the church is a stone sundial in a wooden frame with the following inscription;-

“Post est occasio calva” G Young 1791 Fecit.
A literal translation would be, “Opportunity is bald at the back”.

The reference is to the traditional figure of Father Time who is bald except for a lock of hair in front. Therefore, if you want to grasp your opportunity, you must catch him by his forelock as he comes towards you. Once you have let him pass it is too late, for “Opportunity is bald at back”.

THE CLOCK is the work of J Smith & Sons of Derby, it was a gift of Mr W.J Carter (who also gave the Village Pump) and was placed in the tower in 1900.

THE CHURCH REGISTERS were begun in 1563. About 1560 some marriages are entered in the parish register as having taken place before magistrates after banns called at the “morning exercise” in the “meeting house commonly known as Horton Church”. All registers which are not now in current use have been deposited for safekeeping with the County Archivist, County Hall Dorchester, where they may be inspected on application.