The Field Studies Centre at Leeson House in the parish and the Langton Matravers Local History and Preservation Society have produced a large number of booklets on Langton Matravers, including a Village Trail, a History of the Parish Church, a History of Leeson House, the Village School, the Stone Quarries, The Ancient Order of Purbeck Marblers and Stonecutters, Smuggling at Dancing Ledge, the local Dialect and many historical documents relating to the parish, including the 1841 and 1851 National Census Returns, the Parish Registers prior to 1837 and Commercial Directories. These may be purchased either at Langton Post Office Stores or at the Museum.
The shield is quartered by the Cross of Saint George, Patron Saint of the Parish. In the centre the flaming torch of progress and learning represents the educational establishments and the Clubs and Societies. In the upper quarters appear the Arms of the mediaeval lords of the two great Manors which bear their names (Wallis or Le Walleys on the left; Mautravers or Maltravers on the right). In the lower quarters are represented the two ancient occupations of the parish, Farming and the Stone Industry.
Situation and Acreage
The Parish of Langton Matravers contained 2,215 acres of land. Originally it was larger, but in boundary changes of 1933 it lost a neck of over 1,000 acres stretching eastwards into what is now the Parish of Swanage. Langton Matravers is situated in the south-east of the Isle of Purbeck, between the Parishes of Swanage and Worth Matravers.
The population in 1086 was about 120. At the taking of the Protestation Oath in 1641 it was about 283. By the time of the 1801 National Census it had increased to 510. By 1901 it had risen further to 827; and by 1998 it had reached 1,050. A survey undertaken by pupils of the village school in 1968 produced the following statistics: 38% of the population then went out to work, 25% of the inhabitants were retired, 25.5% of them were under the age of 18, and there were 70 dwellings in the parish with but one occupant.
A line of ‘Celtic’ or pre-Saxon fields along the north side of the present village High Street proves that this settlement was sited at its present location before the Roman Conquest and before the Christian Era. The outlying settlements of Acton, Blacklands, Coombe and Knitson have been proved by archaeological finds to be of similar antiquity. The village itself is sheltered from the prevailing south-west winds by being just north of the summit of the limestone plateau, without being far enough down into the valley to be in the muddy clay vale.
The settlements are situated where spring-lines occur, the principal line being from Acton to Coombe, along which they are still some thirty known wells. The most reliable of these wells was at the bottom of Coombe Hill (where the present A351 road joins the B3069), though Street Well (the common well in the centre of the village, the cover of which can be seen in the stone pavement a few yards west of the Post Office) seldom ran dry. The wells at Acton were unreliable and were prone to pollution after 1700 owing to the proximity of so many underground quarries.
There are seven named streams within the parish, though their names do not appear on Ordnance Survey maps. In order of diminishing size they are: La Trencheye (which flows in a trench along the clay vale to reach the sea beside the Mowlem in Swanage, where it is known as The Brook); Knaveswell which issues from the greensands near the northern boundary of the parish and flows southwards to join La Trencheye; Puck Lakes, arms of which come from west and south to join La Trenceye at the same confluence as Knaveswell; The Gully, which drains the central eastern sector of the parish; Broadwathe, Severallwathe and Bitakenwathe, which rise on the southern scarp slope of the limestone plateau and then flow southwards over the cliff together with some smaller un-named streamlets. Knaveswell, Puck Lakes and The Gully have given their names to farms or small settlements.
In 1851 there were 174 dwellings in the parish. There are now some 711 homes, though some 50 of these are holiday residences only. There are 41 flats. The oldest cottage, once a ‘longhouse’ farmstead, probably dates from the Fifteenth Century. There is one cottage (now only half its original size) dating from the third quarter of the Sixteenth Century. There are several farmhouses and cottages dating from the mid-Seventeenth Century, when wattle, daub and thatch were replaced by stone, but all of these have been modified in some way. There are many cottages dating from the Eighteenth Century, some with date-stones or original deeds, and an equal number from the Nineteenth Century. Bungalows and semi-bungalows appeared soon after the First World War. Larger detached houses appeared soon after the Second World War.
Of the two great houses in the parish, Durnford House, which was probably first built in the Sixteenth Century, was rebuilt in 1725 (as the date-stone on the architrave of the front door records), but was completely demolished and rebuilt, using the 1725 ashlars, in 1952; whereas Leeson House, originally built in 1805, has not been greatly altered, apart from lateral additions.
Originally the village had but one street, now known as the High Street. Later several sideroads were added: North Street in 1852; Garfield Lane in 1900; Malthouse Lane in 1906; Steppes in 1913; The Hyde in 1924; and the others after the Second World War – Durnford Drove, Gypshayes, Steppeshill, Tom’s Field Road, St George’s Close, Serrell’s Mead, Mount Pleasant Lane, Three Acre Lane and Capstan Field. Steppes, Capstan Field and Three Acre Lane contain Council Housing Estates. The architect of the latter won a national award for the sensitive design of the cottages.
The oldest occupation is farming, but since Romano-British times farming and stonequarrying have been of equal importance.
There have been several Cottage Industries undertaken in the parish: shale armlets during the Roman Occupation; stocking-knitting in the Eighteenth Century, Dorset Buttony, Straw Millinery and Embroidery (Broderie Anglaise) during the Nineteenth Century.
Several schools have been founded in the parish during the past 230 years. Education and its ancillary services now employ more Langtonians than any other occupation.
There are now six farms in this parish, as well as several ‘small holdings’. Coome Farm and Putlake Adventure Farm are part of the Encombe Estate. Wilkswood and Spyway Farms are tenanted from the National Trust, which now owns the greater part of the parish. Other farms include Knitson and Knaveswell.
Some of these farms retain their original Saxon names: Knitson is ‘the farm settlement of Cnightwine’; Knaveswell is sited where a youth found a spring of pure water; Putlake (originally Puck Lakes) is situated on a mischievous stream prone to flooding the area (Puck being a sprite and ‘lake’ an early Saxon word for ‘water’, commonly used in this part of Dorset to mean a stream); Wilkswood was reclaimed from a section of the royal hunting warren managed by a Saxon called Wilic; Coombe is situated in a short valley in the side of a hill; Acton was and still is a sheep-farm (‘taca-ton’).
Knitson and Knaveswell are on the greensands belt between the chalk hill and the wealden clay vale. Wilkswood and Coombe lie in the wealden, whilst Acton, Putlake and Spyway are on the windy limestone plateau.
Some of the stone quarries were situated at the cliffs, where the prized white non-shelly Purbeck Portland Stone was extracted. Most quarries were, however, inland quarries, both underground and surface ‘ridden holes’, extracting the durable Purbeck Stone for building, paving, roofing and other uses. During the mid-Nineteenth Century there were more than one hundred family quarries in the parish. From about 1670 these were worked by families bearing the names Norman, Lander, Harris, Corben, Phippard, Brown, Harden, Burt, Benfield, Bonfield and Bower. There were so many families called Bower that subsidiary surnames were used in place of the common one; these included Gad, Whistler, Ivamy, Sugar, Cake, Short, Mouse, Coffin, Tite, Corben, Thorn and Trink.
Remains of the capstans or winches, especially the’ crab-stones’ which held them upright and the ‘quarr’ sheds in which the masons cut and shaped the stone, can still be seen, sometimes still within remains of the dry stone wall which enclosed the mine-shaft or ‘slide’.
Nowadays there are some eight open-cast quarries being worked in the Acton region, in the south-west sector of the parish, though the sophisticated machinery employed means that not many workmen are involved.
In the latter part of the Eighteenth century there were several Dame Schools in the village, attended by the sons of local farmers and stonemasons. The Parish Church Sunday School was founded in 1818 and this became a Day School in the 1830s, though still assembling in the church. The National Schoolroom was built directly opposite the church in 1845, but the School moved to its present premises in 1872 to accommodate considerably increased numbers of pupils, due to the Education Acts which required all children between the ages of five and ten to attend school, and which fixed fines for non-attendance. The former National Schoolroom is now the Village Hall. The former National School is now St George’s Church of England Voluntary Aided Primary School. On the same premises there is a PreSchool.
A Methodist Sunday School was established in 1842 and a Methodist Day School existed in a cottage between 1850 and 1872. Between 1893 and 1929 six Boarding Schools were established in the village: Durnford House Preparatory School for Boys in 1893, Leeson House School for Girls in 1903, The Old Malthouse Preparatory School for Boys in 1906, Spyway Preparatory School for Boys in 1927, Garfield School in 1929 and Steppeshill Domestic Science School (actually a Girls’ Finishing School) in 1929.
Leeson House is now a Residential and Day-Visit Field Studies Centre run by Dorset County Council. Secondary School pupils may travel to the Purbeck School in Wareham, or can choose the Swanage School on a site at Herston. Further Education Colleges are in Poole and Bournemouth and the nearest University is also in Bournemouth.
St George’s Parish Church is certainly the third, and possibly the fourth building to be erected on the site for Christian worship. Evidences of the previous two churches can be seen on the interior of the back wall of the present building, which was completed in 1876, though the little west tower dates from c.1390. The Patron of the living was formerly the lord of the Manor of East Langton or Langton Mautravers. The living was originally a Rectory and there is an unbroken line of Rectors from 1320 to 2003 displayed just inside the main door of the church. The Anglican Electoral Roll of about 150 elects a Parochial Church Council, the Chairman of which is the Assistant Priest, who lives in the New Rectory, built in 1976. The Assistant Priest also has responsibility for the churches of St Nicholas of Myra at Worth Matravers, including the Chapel at St Aldhelm’s Head, and St James Kingston, as part of the wider St Aldhelm’s Benefice, which includes parishes in the Corfe Valley.
The first Wesleyan Chapel was built in the cottage style in 1842. Its date-stone has been built into the wall of Wesley House which now stands on the site. This early chapel was demolished in 1972. The second Methodist Chapel, built on a larger scale and a more church-like style in 1875, now forms part of Wesley House. A small Baptist Chapel was built in 1831. Its date-stone is preserved in the Parish Museum, but the building has been converted into a cottage (No. 24 High Street). A tiny Independent Chapel existed in a former butcher’s shop between 1898 and 1910, but this is now part of the cottage called ‘Seacombe’.
Before the advent of shops as we know them there were three kinds of Workshop, where goods made on the premises were sold: Blacksmith’s, Carpenter’s and Cordwainer’s or Shoemaker’s. Langton had two blacksmiths, one in each of the two great manors, and the sites of these workshops were at Anvil Cottage and Forge Cottage. The Carpenter’s Shops have all been demolished. There were three Cordwainers, but two of their shops have been demolished and the third converted into a tiny dwelling called’ Street Well Cottage’ .
There are now five shops within the parish: the Post Office Stores in the very centre of the village, which is also a Newsagent’s and which has an Off-Licence; a General Stores at St Michael’s Garage on the A351 Main Road in the valley; a shop within Tom’s Field Road Camping Site; a Pet and Garden Centre at Putlake Adventure Farm; and a farm shop at Wilkswood Farm (just off the A351, opposite Knitson turn) selling cheese and it’s own fresh meat from the farm.
There were until recently two Public Houses, which have existed for over 200 years. The King’s Arms is still open, and is situated in the village centre, two doors from the Post Office. It was originally called The Masons’ Arms, but the name was changed for patriotic reasons in 1803. The inn-sign therefore displays the Arms of King George III, who was also Electoral Prince of Hanover. The Ship Inn, now closed, stands on the summit of Steps Hill. The original Eighteenth century Inn was the low cottage which now leans against the present premises. They therefore share a flue. A suicide within the older building caused the new building.
The Parish Council consists of nine members, one of whom is the Chairman and another the Vice-Chairman. Regular Council Meetings take place in the Village Hall on the second Thursday of each month. There is a paid part-time Clerk to the Council. There is a Parish Council Office at Putlake (No. 1a High Street). The Council owns and manages a Cemetery in Crack Lane, where it employs a part-time Caretaker. The Council also employs a part-time Internal Auditor and appoints a Public Rights-of-Way Officer, a Tree and Hedgerow Officer, and an Emergency Planning Officer. It appoints representatives on the Timson Trust Management Committee, which oversees two almshouses in the village, and the Purbeck Association of Parish and Town Councils.
The Parishes of Langton Matravers and Worth Matravers elect a Dorset Councillor for the area ward. Dorset Council sits in Dorchester, the County Town.
Five of the old Saxon hidage boundaries can still be traced, running in straight lines from the village street southwards to the cliffs. By the Thirteenth Century these strips of land, each of which had originally been allocated to a family, had developed into three manors, remains of which still exist. In the east the Manor of Langton Mautravers stretched westwards as far as the church. In the west, stretching far beyond the confines of the parish, lay the great Manor of Langton Wallis. Between these lay the tiny one-hide Manor of Durnford.
The Manor of Langton Mautravers is named after its mediaeval lords who had arrived with William of Normandy in 1066. They also owned Worth Matravers for a short time, but they lived at Woolcombe Matravers and later at Lytchett Matravers, further north in Dorset. Remains of this manor now belong to the Encombe Estate which purchased it in 1875. The huge western manor was also named after its mediaeval lords, the Le Walleys family, who came from Brittany in 1066. From the early Seventeenth Century this manor was owned by the Bankes family of Kingston Lacy until 1982, when it was bequeathed to the National Trust. Together with Corfe Castle, it now forms part of the Trust’s Purbeck Estate. The lords of these two large manors were always absentees (the le Walleys family lived at Chickerell) so there were no manor houses in their Langton lands. However, the lords of the tiny Manor of Durnford, who were called De Derneford, resided in the village.
Clubs and Societies
There are several Clubs or Societies in Langton Matravers, including a Folk Club, a Folk Dancing
Club, A Local History and Preservation Society, Explorers, Rainbows, Guides and Brownies, an Art House Cinema, Short Mat Bowls, a Microscopical Society, a Parent-Teachers’ Association, Table Tennis, a local branch of the Dorset Wildlife Trust, and, in conjunction with Corfe Castle and Worth Matravers, a Conservative Association.
Besides the regular meetings of the above there are also the meetings of the Parish Council, the Parochial Church Council and the Village Hall Committee, so there is almost always something happening in the village: lectures, exhibitions, recitals, concerts, drama, stalls, coffee-mornings, committee meetings, fetes, organized walks, outings, rehearsals, choir practices or community projects. Sometimes there are several things going on at the same time.
Halls and Public Rooms
There are three halls in the village which can be hired for public meetings: The Village Hall, St George’s School Hall and the Scout and Guide Headquarters. The most often used, the Village Hall, includes a Billiard Room and a Memorial Room (a comfortable committee-room or lounge) as well as the main hall which has a stage and a kitchen. This complex is owned by the community and is managed by a Committee of which half are elected by the parish and half are appointed by the various organizations which regularly use the premises. A small committee-room or dining-room can also be hired at The King’s Arms.
Banks, Doctors, Dentists, Clinics, Opticians, Lawyers, Hairdressers, Restaurants, Theatre, Cinema, Caravan Park, Supermarkets, Estate Agents, Hospital, Ambulance, Youth Centre, Sports Centre, Clothes Shops, Shoe Shops, Hardware Stores, Furniture and Furnishings, Photographic Supplies and Dispensing Chemist must all be sought in Swanage, Wareham or Poole. The nearest Rail Station is at Wareham, ten miles away.
Although Swanage, two miles to the east, is the nearest shopping centre, for Department Stores or wider selection of goods one must travel to Poole or Bournemouth, which are both slightly over an hour’s journey away by bus. Crown Offices are at Poole or Dorchester. However, Langton’s Post Office Stores is extremely obliging and stocks a wide range of goods, although obviously limited by the size of the premises.
There is a Community library at the village Hall, which is open fortnightly on Wednesday mornings in place of the defunct County Library Mobile Service. At the moment refuse is collected once a fortnight and certain goods for recycling once a fortnight. The village has mains drainage, water-supply, gas, electricity and telephone. There is a public telephone kiosk outside the King’s Arms. Meals and bar-food
may be obtained at the King’s Arms and there are some bed-and-breakfast establishments in the parish.
There is a tented Camp Site at the south end of Tom’s Field Road, ten minutes walk from the local beauty-spot known as Dancing Ledge, the scenic cliff-side path and the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. There is also a caravan park at Knitson and other tented camp sites at Acton Field and Putlake Farm for certain weeks in the year.
The Parish Museum’s prestigious collection of over 19000 items is in store until suitable premises can be found to display it, but certain Special Exhibitions from this collection, which last for several months, are displayed in the Lecture Room of the present Parish Museum. The Museum’s ongoing display concerns the local Stone Industry. The Museum is situated in St George’s Close,
behind the Parish Church. It is open from 10.00 to 12.00 and from 14.00 to 16.00 daily, except Sundays, from April 1st to the first week of October each year.
The Parish Church produces a monthly magazine called the ‘Dubber’, which is delivered free of charge to every home in Langton, Worth and Kingston. It contains a monthly ‘What’s On’ diary and also reports of events which have taken place in the parish and neighbouring parishes during the preceding month. A few copies are usually available in the church for visitors.
A horse-drawn Omnibus was in existence in the village in 1880 to take folk into Swanage. Wagonettes also plied their trade until 1920. In 1922 a Langton-based private Bus Company called the Blue Comfy Cars was founded. A rival, called the Langton Bus Company, was founded in 1926. The Wilts & Dorset Bus Company now provides the only public transport to Swanage, Worth Matravers, Kingston, Corfe Castle, Wareham, Poole and Bournemouth.
No 40 buses run through the village in either direction every hour.
Maypole Dancing and Country Dancing are still practised in the village. In the past, particularly in the 1920s and 1930s the Langton Matravers Country and Morris Dancing Teams regularly appeared at the Royal Albert Hall in London and in the Bournemouth Competitions, where they won many certificates and medals.
The Company of Marblers and Stonecutters meets annually on Shrove Tuesday in Corfe Castle, where several age-old ceremonies are kept up. Most of those employed in the stone industry are Members of this Company and this, of course, includes Langton men.