Rodden Row, Abbotsbury
Abbotsbury shown within Dorset
|OS grid reference|
|- London||139 miles (224 km)|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|EU Parliament||South West England|
|UK Parliament||West Dorset|
- This article is about a village in England. For the suburb in Sydney, Australia see Abbotsbury, New South Wales
Abbotsbury is a village and civil parish in the English county of Dorset. It lies in the West Dorset administrative district, and is known for its swannery, subtropical gardens and historic stone buildings. It is a gateway village on the Jurassic Coast, and consequently is popular with tourists.
The village of Abbotsbury comprises a long street of stone houses, many of which are thatched, with some dating from the 16th century. The street broadens at one point into an old market square. Parts of the street have a raised pavement. The village is surrounded by hills on all sides, except to the east; in 1905 Sir Frederick Treves described Abbotsbury as being "very pleasantly situated among the downs". The village has two public houses, The Ilchester Arms and The Swan Inn, and several tearooms, small shops and businesses. Nearly a hundred structures within the parish are listed by English Heritage for their historic or architectural interest. Dorset-born broadcaster and writer Ralph Wightman described the village as "possibly the most interesting in Dorset".
Abbotsbury lies in the West Dorset administrative district, about 7 miles (11 km) north-west of Weymouth. It is situated amidst hills about 1 mile (1.6 km) inland from the English Channel coast at Chesil Beach, an 18 mile (29 km) barrier beach which south of the village encloses The Fleet, a brackish coastal lagoon. The main road running through the village is the B3157, connecting Abbotsbury to Bridport and Weymouth. Abbotsbury is located 6 miles (9.7 km) from Upwey railway station and 35 miles (56 km) from Bournemouth International Airport. In the 2011 Census the parish, which includes the hamlet of Rodden to the east, recorded 256 dwellings and a population of 481.
One and a half miles northwest of the village, at the top of Wears Hill, are the earthworks of Abbotsbury Castle, an Iron Age hill fort. The earthworks cover a roughly triangular area of about 10 acres (4.0 ha), of which about 4.5 acres (1.8 ha) are inside the ramparts.
In the 10th century a charter of King Edmund records a granting of land at Abbedesburi, a name which indicates the land may have once belonged to an abbot. In the 11th century King Cnut granted land at nearby Portesham to the Scandinavian thegn Orc (also Urki, Urk), who took up residence in the area with his wife Tola. The couple founded Abbotsbury Abbey and enriched it with a substantial amount of land. The abbey existed for 500 years, but was destroyed in the dissolution, although the abbey barn survived and today is the world's largest thatched tithe barn. The barn is a Grade I listed building. Stone from the abbey was used in the construction of many buildings in the village, including the house of Abbotsbury's new owner, Sir Giles Strangways.
In 1664, during the English Civil War, Roundheads (Parliamentarians) and Cavaliers (Royalists) clashed at Abbotsbury. Parliamentarians besieged the Royalists in the church of St. Nicholas; two bullet holes from the fight remain in the Jacobean pulpit. The Strangways house which had replaced the Abbey after the dissolution was also the scene of a skirmish, as the Royalist Colonel Strangways resisted the Parliamentarians, who besieged the house and burned it. The house gunpowder store exploded in the fire and the house was destroyed, together with the old abbey records which had been stored there.
In the late 17th and early 18th centuries Abbotsbury experienced several fires, resulting in the destruction of virtually all its medieval buildings. Most of the historic secular buildings in the village today were built from stone in the 17th and 18th centuries.
County historian John Hutchins (1698–1773) recorded that fishing was the main industry in the village, and 18th-century militia ballot lists reveal that husbandry was also particularly important. Ropemaking, basketry and the manufacture of cotton stockings were other notable trades within the village, with records indicating hemp and withies being grown in the area.
In the early 19th century Abbotsbury's population grew steadily, from about 800 in 1801 to nearly 1,100 sixty years later.
Between 1885 and 1952 Abbotsbury was served by the Abbotsbury Railway, a 6 miles (9.7 km) branch from the main line to Weymouth. It was primarily designed for freight, in anticipation of the development of shale oil deposits and stone at Portesham, as well as iron ore at Abbotsbury which would be shipped to South Wales for processing. The Abbotsbury terminus of the line was inconveniently sited 1 mile (1.6 km) east of the village because the railway could not buy the land needed to build the station closer to the village.
During the Second World War, the coastal front was fortified and defended as a part of British anti-invasion preparations of World War II. Later, the Fleet lagoon was used as a machine gun training range, and bouncing bombs were tested there, for Operation Chastise (the "Dambuster" sortie).
The Parish Church of St Nicholas dates from the 14th century but has had various revisions over the centuries. The tower contains three bells dating from 1773 and made by Thomas Castleman Bilbie of the Bilbie family in Cullompton. The chancel was classicized in the 18th century and still has its plastered barrel roof and fine altarpiece. There are also some 15th-century painted glass, a stone effigy of one of the abbots and a Jacobean canopied pulpit. It has been designated by English Heritage as a grade I listed building.
Places of interest
Abbotsbury is well-known for its swannery, subtropical gardens, Abbey and abbey barn, castle, St Catherine's Chapel and the nearby Chesil Beach. The swannery, subtropical gardens and an estate of some 15,000 acres (61 km2) in Dorset covering Chesil Beach and Abbotsbury is held by the Ilchester Estate owned by Mrs Charlotte Townshend, the daughter of Viscount Galway, a descendant of the first Countess of Ilchester and owner of the Melbury Estate.
Situated south of the village on the shore of the Fleet lagoon, Abbotsbury Swannery is over 600 years old, having previously been owned by the abbot and managed, using decoys, to provide meat for the abbey. When the abbey was destroyed the swannery passed to the earls of Ilchester, and today the decoys are used for monitoring and recording purposes. The swannery has a large colony of Mute Swans, as well as other waterfowl, and is open to the public. The site is an important nesting and breeding ground for the swans and, from May through the summer, cygnets can be seen at close quarters.
The subtropical gardens at Abbotsbury were founded in 1765 by the Countess of Ilchester, as a kitchen garden for the nearby castle. Since then, the gardens have developed into a 20 acre (81,000 m²) site filled with exotic plants, many of which were newly discovered species when they were first introduced. There are formal and informal gardens, with woodland walks and walled gardens. In 1990 violent storms damaged many of the rare specimens, which have since been replaced by younger plants.
St Catherine's Chapel
To the south of the village, on a bare hill about 80 m (260 ft) high, stands St Catherine's Chapel, a small 14th-century pilgrimage chapel used by the monks of the abbey as a place for private prayer. It is built entirely of stone, including the roof and even the panelled ceiling. The walls are 1.2 metres (3.9 ft) thick and buttressed. The chapel overlooks the English Channel, and may have served as a beacon for sailors, warning of the nearby Isle of Portland.
Abbotsbury is a gateway village to the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which stretches over 155 kilometres (96 mi) from Orcombe Point near Exmouth in the west, to Old Harry Rocks on the Isle of Purbeck in the east. The coastal exposures along the coastline provide a continuous sequence of Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous rock formations spanning approximately 185 million years of the Earth's history. The B3157 road between Abbotsbury and Burton Bradstock is notable for its fine coastal views.
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|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Abbotsbury.|
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- Abbotsbury village website, produced by Abbotsbury Tourism & Traders Association
- Abbotsbury in the Domesday Book
- Old photographs of the village