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Charlton Marshall Village HistorySun, 21st July 2019

Charlton Marshall Village History

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1895: Church Restoration

Throughout the summer and autumn of 1895 there was a major refurbishment taking place in Charlton Church and services were held in what we now call the Church Room. Incidentally in the same year Blandford church was also having major changes made.

The architect’s report on Charlton includes the following ‘the structure … is simple, but the fittings are elaborate and magnificent for so small a building. The whole thing is almost unique and so full of interest that the greatest care should be taken to preserve it intact’. The pews were 4’ 7½ inches high (nearly 1.5 metres). The walls were panelled to the same height with finely figured English oak and the pews had doors on them. The wall panelling is still the same height but the present pews were made from the old ones. The interior is still considered magnificent; what a pity it is that at present it cannot be kept open for all to enjoy.

We may smile at the following piece that appeared in the Parish magazine for March 1895.

‘With the growth of devotion amongst Churchmen which has been so marked a feature in the latter half of the present century, the old box pews have almost become extinct in our Parish Churches. Charlton is, we believe, the only church in this neighbourhood, which still retains them, a distinction it is happily soon to lose. The following extract refers to the time when Charlton Church was last restored, and offers a curious explanation as to the reason why pews of the kind now so universally condemned, were first introduced … Bishop Burnett … found that “the gallants would ogle the ladies of the court” “and that these likewise would look about them instead of attending to what Queen Mary called” “his thundering long sermons”. “He persuaded Queen Anne to have all the pews in St James Church raised so high that his captives could see nothing lower than the pulpit, an example which was shortly adopted by many of his dry and long-winded brethren, to the lasting disfigurement of our churches”. We cannot tell whether Dr Sloper shared the sentiments of his contemporary Bishop Burnett of Salisbury … when he constructed the box pews for Charlton Church, but we have every confidence that the removal of these obstructions will be a benefit for which every Church going parishioner of Charlton will be devoutly thankful.’

When the writer referred to ‘this neighbourhood’ I don’t know whether he was being very parochial, or more likely that he didn’t actually know all the churches in the neighbourhood, because as I’ve said before, the little church at Winterborne Tomson, only a few miles away, still has its box pews today, and is unique in so many respects that it’s a ‘must’ for a visit.

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