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Cerne Abbas

Coordinates: 50°48′34″N 2°28′52″W / 50.8095°N 2.4810°W / 50.8095; -2.4810
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Cerne Abbas
The village centre
Cerne Abbas is located in Dorset
Cerne Abbas
Cerne Abbas
Location within Dorset
Population820 [1]
OS grid referenceST662012
• London112.5 miles
Unitary authority
Ceremonial county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townDorchester
Postcode districtDT2
Dialling code01300
FireDorset and Wiltshire
AmbulanceSouth Western
UK Parliament
List of places
50°48′34″N 2°28′52″W / 50.8095°N 2.4810°W / 50.8095; -2.4810

Cerne Abbas (/ˌsɜːrn ˈæbəs/)[2] is a village and civil parish in the county of Dorset in southern England.[3] It lies in the Dorset Council administrative area in the Cerne Valley in the Dorset Downs. The village lies just east of the A352 road 10 km (6.2 mi) north of Dorchester. Dorset County Council estimate that the population of the civil parish in 2013 was 820.[1] In the 2011 census the population of the civil parish, combined with the small neighbouring parish of Up Cerne, was 784.[4]

In 2008 it was voted Britain's "Most Desirable Village" by estate agent Savills.[5] It is the location of the Cerne Abbas Giant, a chalk figure of a giant naked man on a hillside.


Abbey Farm House

The village of Cerne Abbas grew up around the great Benedictine abbey, Cerne Abbey, which was founded there in AD 987[6] (Abbas is Medieval Latin for "abbot"). The Domesday Book of 1086 recorded cultivated land for 20 ploughs, with 26 villeins and 32 bordars.[7] The abbey dominated the area for more than 500 years. It was surrendered to Henry VIII in 1539 with the Dissolution of the Monasteries and was largely destroyed; a portion of the Abbot's Porch and Abbey guesthouse remain. St Augustine's Well, reputedly blessed by the saint, also remains. St Mary's Church, built by the abbey for the parish in the late 13th century, is in the heart of the parish and retains many original features.

In the centuries after the Dissolution, the village thrived as a small market town. Its wealth was partly generated by brewing, its underground water making it famous for the quality of its beer, which was sold as far away as London and was even exported to the Americas.[8] At one time, Cerne Abbas had 14 public houses, serving visitors and a population of about 1,500. The availability of water power also gave rise to milling, tanning, silk weaving, glove and hat making and many other small industries.

The coming of the railways in the 19th century bypassed Cerne and the village went into decline. By 1906, the population had halved and many of the houses had fallen into disrepair. In 1919, the village was sold by the Pitt-Rivers estate, which had owned it.[9] The village now has a local school, a post office, three remaining historic public houses, tearooms and a number of other shops.

In Buildings of England, Nikolaus Pevsner claims that the Abbey Farm House, which was rebuilt after a fire in the mid-1700s, was formerly the main gateway to the abbey. When rebuilt, the central window of the former gateway projection was given an unusual "Gothic Venetian" window.[10]

In 2023, archaeologists began digging to find the long lost ruins of Cerne Abbey.[11]

Tourist attractions[edit]

The pitchmarket doorway
Parish church of St Mary

Cerne Abbas attracts many tourists, who are drawn by the Cerne river, streets lined with historic stone houses, the Abbey, the Giant, and various events including a classical music festival. The church of St Mary is of 13th-century origin but was largely rebuilt in the 15th and early 16th centuries and partly reconstructed in the 17th century. Features of interest include the 17th-century pulpit and the great east window which probably came from the abbey.[12]

Cerne Abbas Giant[edit]

The best known attraction is the Cerne Abbas Giant, a 55-metre (180 ft) naked figure carved into the chalk hillside. The giant, owned by the National Trust, is thought to be an Iron Age fertility symbol but, as it is unlikely that the monks of Cerne Abbey would have tolerated such a figure, and with no records before the 17th century, this cannot be confirmed. Many scholars think that it was created in the mid-17th century, although there is evidence of Iron Age settlement on the downs nearby.


Each June, the Cerne Abbas Open Gardens can attract over a thousand visitors.[13] Other events include horticultural shows,[14] the annual village fete, the Cerne Abbas Music Festival, and the Wessex Morris Men often perform in the village on Bank Holidays.[15][16] The four-day music festival began in 1990 and hosts classical artists of world renown.[17]

Notable people[edit]


  • Cerne Abbas features in Thomas Hardy's Wessex as "Abbots Cernel".
  • School of the Night, a mystery by Judith Cook set in Elizabethan England, contains scenes set in Cerne Abbas, and mentions the Cerne Abbas Giant.
  • Unconquered, a historical novel by Neil Swanson set in pre-Revolutionary England and America, describes Abigail Hale's upbringing in Cerne Abbas.
  • In John Le Carré's A Murder of Quality, the murder occurs in "Carne Abbas" in "Dorsett".
  • Australian authors Kate Forsythe and Kim Wilkins collaborated in 2017 on a book of short stories, The Silver Well, all set in Cerne Abbas. Each story is set in a different time in the village's history, with the book spanning AD 44 and 2017.


  1. ^ a b "Parish Population Data". dorsetforyou.com. Dorset County Council. 20 January 2015. Archived from the original on 18 January 2016. Retrieved 27 February 2015.
  2. ^ Wells, John C. (2008). Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (3rd ed.). Longman. ISBN 978-1-4058-8118-0.
  3. ^ Grid reference: ST665012 OS grid reference
  4. ^ "Area: Cerne Abbas (Parish). Key Figures for 2011 Census: Key Statistics". Neighbourhood Statistics. ONS. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 17 January 2014.
  5. ^ Osborne, Hilary (14 February 2008). "Cerne Abbas voted Britain's most desirable village". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 6 April 2010.
  6. ^ "A history of the village of Cerne Abbas". Cerne Abbas Historical Society. Archived from the original on 27 August 2008.
  7. ^ Powell-Smith, Anna. "Cerne [Abbas]". Open Domesday. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  8. ^ "A village history" (PDF). Cerne Abbas Historical Society. Archived (PDF) from the original on 11 December 2009.
  9. ^ "Ownership of the village and its sale in 1919". Cerne Abbas Historical Society. Archived from the original on 27 August 2008.
  10. ^ Newman, John; Pevsner, Nikolaus (1972). Dorset: Volume 44 of Buildings of England. Michigan: Penguin. p. 134. ISBN 0140710442.
  11. ^ "Cerne Abbas: Archaeologists dig for medieval abbey". BBC News. 30 July 2023. Retrieved 31 July 2023.
  12. ^ Betjeman, John, ed. (1968) Collins Pocket Guide to English Parish Churches; the South. London: Collins; p. 173
  13. ^ Cerne Abbas Open Gardens, retrieved 29 July 2017
  14. ^ Cerne Valley Upcoming Events, retrieved 29 July 2017
  15. ^ May Day Dawn at Cerne Abbas 2009, retrieved 31 July 2017
  16. ^ "Attractions". Cerne Abbas Stores. Archived from the original on 29 July 2017. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  17. ^ "History of the Festival". Cerne Abbas Music Festival. Archived from the original on 13 September 2016. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  18. ^ "Clark, Joseph, (4 July 1834–4 July 1926)". Who Was Who Volume II, 1916–1928 (5th ed.). A & C Black. 1992. ISBN 0-7136-3143-0. Member of Institute of Oil Painters, Born Cerne Abbas, Dorsetshire, 4 July 1834
  19. ^ "Dorset History, Heritage and Media". West Dorset Leisure Holidays. Retrieved 30 April 2023.

External links[edit]