St Mary - Netherbury - History
Nave has 14th Century arcades north and south

Netherbury was once one of the largest parishes in Dorset and the size and prominence of the church reflects its importance in the locality.

It is possible that Netherbury had an earlier church than the present building. The font is late 12th Century and a drawing in Dorchester Museum shows it with longer pillars and without base and step. The Piscina is 13th Century.

C12 Font
C13 Piscina

The tower and chancel are 15th Century. A view of the church before 1848 hangs in the vestry, in this the east window is shown lowered. The porch was rebuilt in 1848, the design being more elaborate than the older one, but matching in very well. The Victorians chose angels for the corner carvings rather than the grotesque heads of the 15th Century.

The ground plan of the church has been little altered: a vestry added circa 1850 and an organ chamber, costing £256, in 1894.

The first vicar known was William de Vicumbe, 1295. The present church is two or three generations later. Two glass panels in the new floor beside the north pillars show that fine tooled stones were used as foundations. Whether they were brought from near or far is not known.

There are no known records of the interior when first completed. The three metal hooks in the chancel arch would have carried the Rood, and the mark of the doorway to the rood-loft can be seen on the north chancel wall. The floor was probably stone and one remains in the west end of the south aisle.

The chantry was, it seems, at the east end of the south aisle, where the piscina, which is older, remains. This chantry was founded by Thomas Powlett and the priest's duty was to say masses for the soul of the founder. The squint enabled him to follow what the priest was doing at the main altar.

The More monument is an altar tomb of Alabaster and is dated mid 15th Century. The identity of the knight commemorated is not known. The carving is fine though badly damaged. The canopy of freestone is almost certainly of later date and the inside of this on the east shows that old stone was used. The painted arms are "Moor of Melplaish".

More Monument

Frescoes once existed on the spandrels of the nave arches, one side had the seven corporal works of mercy and the other seven deadly sins. Over the chancel arch was an angel with four wings. These were uncovered in the 1850 restoration and a local lady sent a careful drawing of them to the Cambridge Ecclesiological Society, before they were obliterated. Our efforts to trace these drawings have so far failed.

Like most parish churches the interior has been altered at different periods to meet the changing needs of the worshipping community. A few signs of the changes remain. Reformation influence under Edward VI caused the chantry to be suppressed and the endowment given to the free grammar school. The frescoes would be covered and the Rood taken down, under Puritan influence.

The pulpit (see above) is Elizabethan and comes from a time when there was a renewed emphasis on preaching in church. It is inlaid oak, Italian in feeling, and the unhappy monk, carved on it, reflects the spirit of the age. Harry Hems restored it in 1908 and it has moved a few feet. The steps and brass rails are 19th century.

The Royal Arms over the south door are Stuart (repainted in Victorian days), a reminder of the new national spirit of the 17th Century.

Royal Arms

The benefactions on the north wall reflect the teaching for the care of the poor. Netherbury land was very valuable, and the largest charity is supposed to have been founded by Sir Nicholas Smith is Edward1's reign.

The churchmen of the 17th and 18th Century also enriched the church with Communion silver and six bells. These are dated 1610, 1656, 1748 (2), 1750 and one is of unknown date, being re-cast in 1814. The clock in the tower may be as early as 1700 and still works. An ingenious system installed in 1964 winds it by electric motor.

In 1813 the Vestry meeting agreed to a gallery on the south side at the expense of the individuals having the same, and in 1814 the Vestry agreed to a gallery on the north side. The population was much bigger than now, from 1765 - 1780 (15 years) 600 were baptised and 410 buried.

The Evangelical revival is further reflected in the building in 1852 of a chapel for divine services at Coles Ash, now Salway Ash school. The oxford Movement is reflected in the consecration of a new church at Melplash, in 1846, founded and endowed by James Bandinel, of the Foreign Office, in memory of his father, vicar 1789 - 1804. In Netherbury church there was a complete restoration with new roofs added. The porch is dated 1848 and a faculty of 1851 permitted the removal of the galleries, repewing and repaving and a new vestry. The curate, Rev. Richard Paultney, gave a bond of £400 for this work. Payments were made from the church rates, which were then compulsory.

The tower has seen several changes. An organ was there once, and apparently a special place for the Sunday school. The present ringing chamber was made in 1906, when the bells were rehung. The wall of the tower stairs shows where earlier doors were. When the clock chamber was refloored in 1964, two scraps of 15th Century manuscripts were found. One was rare music, being an early example of two notes sung together.

The chancel screen was given by Robert Usher, vicar 1907 - 1912, in memory of his father-in-law. It shows the Edwardian idea of having a large choir distinct from the congregation on the model of cathedrals. A photo of a picture shows the church before this, with the old vicar's stall. Two carved heads on a screen appear to be portraits.

The east window has glass of 1844 by Wailes. Three good memorial windows were given after the 1939-45 war.

East Window by Wailes
Chancel Memorial Window
The ancient churchyard has been extended at least twice. Two owners of Parnham gave land, Sir Henry Oglander, Bart 1868 and Dr Hans Sauer, 1914.