Shipton Hill and Hammiton Hill

Shipton HillShipton Hill, north of the village itself, is an important landmark that is visible from almost everywhere in the parish and beyond. It is 588 feet in height and is a steep sided mass of upper greensand chert, isolated by landslips which have left it surrounded on all sides by an irregular tumbled surface of Fuller s Earth clay. There are some lovely footpaths that take you up to and around the hill but none actually to the summit.   The land at the top is private property but can be accessed through the Right to Roam regulations, but take care as there are often livestock grazing on the hill. A number of footpaths lead from the village to the hill which is covered in bluebells in late Spring, making it a very enjoyable walk.

Hammiton Hill is similar but smaller at just 394 feet high. It is a less dominant feature in the village but just below the hill is the only substantial wood in the parish. There is a round barrow on the top of the hill but no public footpaths to either the hill or the wood, which are private property.  Walkers are reminded to keep to footpaths and to treat the land with respect and to follow the Countryside Code at all times.






Neither hill is man-made but records show that Shipton Hill is likely to have been the site of an ancient village. The flint arrowheads that have frequently been found in the vicinity substantiate this.

The following information comes from a number of reference books where the hills are mentioned and which can be found in Bridport Library.

Ancient Dorset, The Celtic, Roman, Saxon and Danish Antiquities of the County
By Charles Warne, F.S.A. published in 1872:

Shipton Hill The natural configuration of this hill renders it a very singular object from many distant points of view, giving it the resemblance of the hull of a ship inverted; from which circumstance it was considered by some antiquaries of the last century to be a "Ship Barrow" a fancy, for I can call it no better, on which was wasted much ingenuity in                                                                                                                                   attempting to establish it on a substantial basis.

Perfectly isolated, this hill rises to a considerable height, with such abruptness that I had much difficulty in leading my horse to its summit by the only practicable path. This at length accomplished, it was found to be ovate in form, and about four acres in extent, with its weakest side scarped the simplest method of fortifying such a hill; and by which a fosse and vallum were easily constructed. But so great are its natural advantages that little assistance from art was required, and that little rendered it an impregnable fortress. The ascent to this ancient citadel was made by a diagonal path on the north-east side.

The area is intersected by a fence, on the West side of which there is a slight elevation, perhaps a barrow, yet not clearly defined. On the East side are the remains of a small quadrangular earth-work, with its banks slightly raised, but its antiquity seems doubtful.

At the base of the hill, in a field on its north-east side, there are many irregular disturbances of the soil, and so strongly marked as to indicate apparently the site of an ancient British village.

Turning southward, the eye looks down, at no great distance, upon a comparatively small eminence called Hamel-Dun or Hammer-Dun (now Hammiton Hill); on closer inspection it appears to have had some artificial treatment of its sides; if so, it may be reasonably regarded as an out-post to the hill-fort; a tumulus stands within its area.

An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Dorset, Volume One by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments in 1952:

Earthwork on Shipton Hill (565 ft. above O.D.), ¾ m. N.E. of the church, forms an enclosure of about ¾ acre. The hill-top has been artificially steepened on the N. and S. sides and the two ends form natural ramped causeways leading up to the summit. At the base of the hill on both the N. and S. sides is a ditch with outer rampart of no great strength, and at the present time, for part of their length, both have almost disappeared. Both the ditch and rampart stop short of the E. and W. ends of the hill.

Between the base of the mound and the outer ditch at the eastern half of the S. side is a berm, but it seems probable that it is merely a natural outcrop of rock. The two pathways leading up the slope on the N. and S. are probably modern. On the top of the enclosure near the middle is a cross hedge-bank which appears to have been formed along the eastern scarp of a ditch to an earlier bank, traces of which can be seen immediately E. of the existing hedge-bank. Near the middle of the enclosure is a circular mound, of about 28 ft. diameter and 14in. high.

Beyond the rampart on the N. side, and to a much lesser degree on the S. also, are a series of rough terraces. They would seem to be a natural formation though their surfaces in one or two places show signs of disturbance. Warne (see above) mentions the disturbed nature of the N. E. part of the field immediately to the N.E of this camp and suggests the possibility of its being a Celtic village. This disturbance is still visible but is quite indeterminate.

Below is a rather nice line drawing from this book.

Shipton Hill line drawing

Geology of the Country around Bridport and Yeovil
By Wilson, Welch, Robbie and Green
Produced by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research 1958:

Shipton and Hammiton hills outliers are of interest owing to their peculiar mode of formation. Shipton Hill, the more striking, has the appearance of an upturned boat. The summit is a plateau 220 yd long and 50 yd broad, sloping gently north-east. On all sides this plateau is bounded by very steep cliffs of Foxmould sand which extend down to the 500 ft contour. At the base of the cliff a broad gently sloping plateau slopes down to the 400 ft contour. The hill is a residual core of a once large Greensand mass which has slipped and foundered along more or less concentric belts, the steep cliffs being slip scarps. The broad basal plateau is the actual slipped material.

Hammiton Hill is of similar formation though the slipping has not reduced the central core to the same extent as at Shipton Hill. A small pit 100 yd N.E. of the summit showed Chert Beds and Exogyra Sandstone, while Foxmould sands are visible in most of the steep scarp faces.

Where is the Gorge?

Many visitors ask this question and indeed come to the village especially to find the gorge!

Although there are a number of old lanes in and around Shipton Gorge with high banks on both sides, which may appear like small gorges, there is in fact no geological gorge in Shipton Gorge!

The name of the village has like most villages altered over the years, but the first reference seems to be in the Domesday Book of 1086 when the village is referred to as Sepetone, from the Saxon meaning sheep farm. It was a manor both before and after the Norman conquest - one of the six royal estates in Dorset. The other part of the parish, now known as Sturthill, was then called Sterte or Sterta and had been given to the first Norman sheriff of Dorset, Hugo Fitz Grip, but by 1086 had passed to his widow. In 1212 Sterte was held, along with other manors, by Alured of Lincoln.

In 1231 Thomas Gorges, Sergeant-at-Arms to King Henry III was granted the tenancy of Powerstock Castle, the hunting lodge restored by Henry's father, King John. On Thomas's death the tenancy was granted to his wife Joan together with a pension other allowances. There has been some speculation that Joan was the illegitimate daughter of King John, a frequent visitor to Dorset. The de Gorge family owned both Litton Cheney and Shipton Gorge having come originally from Normandy. So it was that some time before 1285 the manor of Shipton came into the possession of the Gorges family, who had originally come to England in 1066 with William the Conqueror, although at that time it continued to be known as Shipton Maureward after the previous owner. In 1461 the Gorges family found themselves without a male heir and the estate went, with the marriage of an only daughter, to a Devon family, the Coplestones. From this time the village of Shipton Maureward became known as Shipton Gorges. It was the Coplestones who built Court House in the field just south-west of the church, still called Court field, and a branch of the family lived there for nearly two hundred years. No trace of the house remains today but there is a splendid wall just inside the field.

No other specific details are known about Shipton as it was part of the royal estates, but later another Norman family, the Maurewards, became tenants-in-chief of the manor of Shipton when it was given to Thomas Maureward in 1260.

Meanwhile, Sterte had become Stertell and there were three farms and several smaller holdings as well as a village in the southern part of it. Again, nothing remains above ground today but the site is still known as Chapel Close. The village did linger on but that too has now gone, although there was just one house still standing in 1839. The name is still preserved by two farms, Lower Sturthill and Higher Sturthill which are both still working farms today.
During the English Civil War the Coplestone family supported the King and their lands were confiscated and it was about this time that Shipton Gorge became the property of the Strangways family, also Royalists, who later became the Fox Strangways and Earls of Ilchester. They continued to own the village until 1910 when it was sold off in lots.

Many of the old names still survive - a bungalow on Church Path known as Coplestone, the Sturthill farms and the field names mentioned. Innsacre House which was built by George Samways in the 1930s is reputed to have been built with stone from the old Court House.
During its ownership by the Ilchester estate all the houses were painted in green and yellow and until 2017 just one house, Virginia House, continued to have the old estate colours. When a new sign was erected at the New Inn in the 1980s the owners, Palmers Brewery in Bridport, researched the coat of arms of the Gorges family and erected a new sign with the distinctive red and white swirl which gave a link back to the origin of the name of the village. The sign was on the New Inn until 2006 when the pub was reopened by the community and a new sign, painted by Shipton artist John Rabbetts, was put up, this was later replaced with the current grey and white sign depicting a deer. The previous sign with the Gorges coat of arms was retained by Palmers Brewery.

So the name Shipton Gorge has been inherited from the Gorges family who left the village with the name it still has today.

Shipton in the 1940s

As a little girl, born and brought up in London, the move to Shipton Gorge was quite a culture shock. It was May 1938 and the trees and hedges were full of blossom and green grass - I had never seen anything like it! My father, in business in London, had decided to follow a dream and move to the country, which he and my mother had always loved, though he knew nothing about farming. They found Bonscombe Farm, near Shipton Gorge, a Victorian farmhouse and stable and 25 acres, and my parents, brother and I moved in after some refurbishment had been done. Trixie, a one-eyed pony, came with the property and with the onset of war my father bought cows, pigs and chickens to meet the Government's demands for more food production. He was thus able to earn enough money to support the family.

As I was almost six I was sent to the village school, my brother joining me a year later. My mother dressed me in a short blue and white flowery frock with matching knickers, which was the London fashion. The Shipton mothers were shocked - showing your knickers was indecent! Arriving at school we hung our coats in the large porch and sat in one big room at old-fashioned, shared desks. Mrs Osborne, the teacher, was a kind but firm lady - my mother always said she was a good teacher, because she looked after the needs of the individual children. I remember her big desk at the front of the class, next to the tall coke boiler, and the piano to one side.

We had all the usual lessons, including reciting spelling from the blackboard. Drawing was done on toilet paper, drawing paper being in short supply. On fine spring days we would be taken for a nature walk, which was a treat. Sometimes the vicar, the Rev Dittmer, used to come and talk to us. When there was a funeral at the church we were all told to sit quietly in the classroom while the funeral procession passed.

At lunchtime Mrs Osborne used to let the boys make a terrible noise playing the piano and pretending to be Spitfires having a dog-fight. At other times she would send us all home because, she said, she had a headache. One event in the year was the visit of the school dentist. He would examine everyone's teeth and then, on a different day, would come and do extractions. He used cocaine as an anaesthetic! The mothers would make jellies for us all to eat afterwards to cheer us up but, of course, eating is the last thing you want to do after an extraction!

Outside was the playground, covered in sand and to one side the Elsan (chemical) toilets with shared wooden seats, and cut up newspaper instead of toilet paper. One of our favourite games in the playground was 'Block'. This consisted of one child standing by one of the big pillars by the gate and trying to prevent the others from touching it. If you were caught you were out and the last one left was the winner. We also played on the grass slope up to the church.

When it came to going home time one of my parents collected us in the car, a black Ford 8. As the car crept down the little hill from the school the boys used to love to push it from behind and often followed it for several yards up the road - all great fun.

After the war had started and cities were being bombed, evacuees began to arrive. I remember, in particular, the Atyeo family filing up the hill to the school one morning, all the boys dressed in smart, bright blue shorts, in contrast to the grey ones the other boys wore. As a result of the influx of evacuees a second room in the school was set up as a classroom for the little ones, and an extra teacher was employed. I think the city children were rather bemused by the country. They also brought impetigo, which displeased the village mothers who, of course, had no running water. When the 1944 Education Act came in, all children aged 11 went on to secondary schools, which depleted the numbers at Shipton school and eventually it had to close, the children going to Burton Bradstock school.

Mary Maddicks

When we first arrived I remember seeing a tall black cart arriving in the village, delivering goods. My brother and I used to spend our Saturday pennies on our ration of sweets in the village shop, by the Mason's Arms. I remember it being a poky little shop. There was also the post office, with the village well outside, where the people in the neighbouring cottages would draw their water. At the top of Peas Hill was the New Inn - my father used to leave my brother and I in the car outside, sucking an ice lolly, while he went in for a quick drink. Nearby lived Henry Bartlett and his wife, who ran a taxi service. When I was in my teens he used to take a group of us girls to dances in Bridport. We also had 'socials' in the village hall, and I remember going to sewing classes there, too. One of the evacuees to the area was a Miss Fairbairn, a rather flamboyant dancing teacher from London, and she ran ballet and other dance classes for us children in the village hall, which was fun.

For several years missionaries used to come to the Chapel. I used to go to the services and I found it quite moving sitting in the sunny chapel listening to them. At school at Christmas time we had a nativity play. I used to be Angel Gabriel, dressed in a white sheet, and my brother and the other boys were shepherds with coloured towels on their heads.

Physically, we were not really affected much by the war. We would hear the sirens going and could see dog-fights going on over the sea. At night we would hear the drone of the bombers going over, heading for the cities further north. Occasionally a bomb would be dropped on the countryside by aircraft off-loading the bombs they hadn't used. We couldn't go to the sea, of course, because the beaches were covered in barbed wire and concrete blocks. Towards the end of the war there were soldiers around doing manoeuvres, and I was warned not to talk to them. When I first started at the Grammar School in 1943 I had to cycle there and sometimes, on the way home, we were delayed by a convoy of American soldiers in trucks and armoured vehicles. We used to enjoy standing and watching them, especially as they often threw bars of chocolate out to us - a treat then, but it was actually pretty horrible stuff - probably cooking chocolate.

Life on the farm was pretty busy, and my brother and I helped with the harvesting and looking after the animals. In winter we generally had a bit of snow, but I remember the winter of 1947, when the snow was so deep my father couldn't take the milk churns to the end of the lane in the car. My brother and I pulled them there on our sledge!

When I left the village school to go to Bridport Grammar I knew the names of everyone in the village. Shipton seems rather different now with more houses built, but I am glad there is still a strong community spirit.

Mary Maddicks (nee Thorburn)

Shipton in the snow - 1963 and 1978

Shipton_in_the_SnowWe are lucky that the weather in West Dorset is generally very mild and our particular area has what is almost its own micro-climate. As a result we have very few frosts and very rarely get more than a smattering of snow. This perhaps explains why Abbotsbury Sub-tropical Garden just a few miles away is so successful for growing plants which would not normally survive here.

However, I have lived in the village long enough to remember two occasions when the snow was so heavy that many people were blocked into their houses and vehicles could not get out of the village at all. Many people say that the UK is not organised to deal with bad weather but in this part of West Dorset we rarely even think about it, let alone have any organisation or contingency plans to deal with it when it comes.

In the winter of 1962/3 I was at boarding school and came home for the Christmas holidays as usual, but then it snowed so heavily that the village was cut off for some days. There are a few things I can remember about that Christmas holiday in the snow my clearest memory is of walking up Bonscombe Lane on top of the hedges, or rather where we thought the hedges were, because the snow had completely obliterated the lane and the snow level was the same in the fields on both sides as if the lane didn t exist at all. I was with Jim Chaplin and his youngest daughter Hazel. Jim and Irene Chaplin lived at that time lived in a bungalow in Gullivers Orchard. Jim kept pigs in his field at the end of Bonscombe Lane and was naturally worried about them in the snow. We eventually managed to get to the field but there were no pigs to be seen just about four feet of snow covering the whole field. We dug about with our hands and managed to locate the pigs under the snow and dragged them out and resuscitated them one by one. As far as I can remember they all survived. The bungalow that now stands on this field, The Croft, was built by Jim and Irene Chaplin some years later and they lived there for many years until after Jim s death, Irene moved to Cumbria to be with her children until her death during the 1990's.

My other memory of that day in 1963 was of Hazel and me then making our way through the snow up to Bonscombe Farm, which was then owned by Mr and Mrs Hill who lived there with their son Michael. The snow had drifted right along the front of the farmhouse, covering the ground floor doors and windows. We helped the family to get out of the house by climbing down from the first floor on ladders, with us holding on to them in the freezing cold so that they wouldn't slip in the snowy ground. No vehicles were able to get out of the village for days and the first one that did was an old Jowett Javelin owned by Bob Chaplin, Hazel's older brother, and I remember us all climbing into it and sliding and skidding down the road to Burton Bradstock it was a great adventure for a 16 year old!

1978/9 was the winter of the great West Country freeze. It was the only other year that I can remember the village being virtually cut off from the outside world. The blizzard came during the night and in the morning a group of people were gathered in the road outside the Mounting Block looking in wonderment at a wall of snow about six feet high that stretched across the road where it had been blown by the wind. The snow was relatively light, only a foot or so in depth, up to this point and then just this enormous wall of hard packed snow. We didn t know at that time that this continued right down Shipton Road to Innsacre. Later a snow plough tried to make its way through from Bridport but even it became stuck in the drift half way up the hill past Innsacre.

The farmers in the village had been issued with snow ploughs to fit on their tractors in the event of snow, but these were useless when they too were snowed in! Very quickly a group of villagers formed an ad-hoc emergency committee and went around all the houses where they knew there were people living alone, to make sure that they were alright and to see if they needed any supplies. Of course, in most cases it was necessary to clear the snow to their houses to get to them. Then small groups set off to walk over the snow drifts into Bridport to get the emergency supplies that were needed I recall coming back with a lot of bread milk and many bottles of whisky!

At that time there was still a village shop and post office, in the centre of the village, run by David and Dorothy Dewar. This quickly became busy with people buying what they could in preparation for a siege, as indeed it turned out to be. I cannot remember how many days it was before vehicles were able to get down the road to Bridport but it was certainly quite a few days, and seemed much longer.

The New Inn became the most popular focal point in the village and probably had one of its busiest weeks ever! As nobody could go anywhere the pub was the obvious place to pick up news about what was going on, to meet other people, arrange work parties, have a drink and pass the time.

The farmers in the village became more and more concerned about how they could dispose of their milk as each day passed. The milk tankers couldn't get into the village to collect it and they couldn't get out of the village to the temporary collection point that had been set up in the coach park in Bridport. They were storing their milk anywhere and everywhere they could and so were grateful that some, albeit a minuscule amount of their total, was being collected from the farm by people in the village who were of course very grateful for it. Eventually one of the Symes' family managed to get his tractor down to the main road by by-passing the snow drift altogether, going into the field next to the Mounting Block and carrying on through the other fields until he re-joined the road below Innsacre. Once this lifeline had been established the milk could be taken into Bridport and supplies collected before the journey back.

It may sound as if Shipton Road was the only road that was impassable out of the village but all the lanes were blocked. The efforts to clear a way into Bridport naturally focussed on this road, it being the most direct and shortest way to the main road. The A35 at Askers is always one of the first roads in the south of England to become blocked with drifts when there are blizzards and the snow ploughs were out in force to try and clear this as quickly as possible but it took some days. One of our local residents, Grayham Rosamond, was at the time of the blizzard tending his horses that were kept at the Travellers Rest Pub, became trapped there and spent, what I understand was a very jolly few days waiting for the snow ploughs to clear the road. In fact Grayham recalls that it was four days and three nights in total, at the end of which the pub had run out of whisky but they were not too despondent as they hadn't yet started on the brandy when rescue arrived! When a path was finally cut in the snow to allow traffic to again travel between Bridport and Dorchester it was a great relief but rather strange driving along a narrow strip with six foot high walls of snow on both sides.

This was before the days of 4 wheel drive cars being available but Landrovers and some tractors did had have this facility. Roy Symes and his wife, Lynne, lived at Bennetts Hill Farm and just before the blizzard Roy had taken delivery of a brand new 4 wheel drive tractor. It is an indication of the severity of the snow that he couldn't get down Bennetts Hill lane, even in his brand new tractor!

I also remember at that time that Tony and I had a desperate phone call for help from Mrs Childs in Virginia House. She was an old lady living alone and we were very used to calls from her when she needed groceries bought or odd jobs done. However, this time she was only worried about her chickens. They were shut in the barn and she was concerned that they wouldn't have any water or food. Could we go and see if we could get to them and see they were alright? Of course we could! Tony spent hours digging away the snow to make a path to the barn, he finally opened the door, only to find that there were just two chickens happily clucking away and making the most of a 25kg bag of chicken corn that was beside them! Still we were all snowed in and there was nothing else to do and it was very good exercise!

The community spirit that suddenly appears when the village is isolated is quite amazing, although at that time everyone in the village knew everyone else so it was relatively easy to know who might need help, whereas now with more new people coming to live in the village and with no village shop as a meeting place, things have changed in this respect.

It is impossible to imagine now how nice it was to be able to go about the village, albeit walking very carefully, and know that there were no cars coming down the lanes. It gave one an inkling of how it would have been centuries ago. Walking across the fields was fascinating too, as it always is when there has been a fall of snow, as you can see the tracks of all the animals that have been out and about very clearly. It was eerily quiet, very beautiful and a very, very pleasant time to be in Shipton Gorge, despite the weather.

Mary Boughton

The Village School

School HouseA National School was built in 1862 for 90 children but closed in 1949 when there were just 8 children on the register. It was in a thatched building opposite the village hall on the way to St Martin's Church. The house has been privately owned by the Jones family ever since its closure and is now known as the Old School House.

The last teacher at the school was Mrs Osborne who later moved into one of the then new council flats in the village on her retirement. Her son, John, remained living in the village after her death and subsequently moved into Bridport. Mrs Osborne is remembered as a typical "school marm", well educated, fairly strict and with a love of music which she imparted to her son.

The last resident to attend the Shipton school was Fred Smith who lived in the council houses until his sudden death in 1979. He is buried in the churchyard.

After 1949 the primary aged children were taken to Burton Bradstock School by car and then bus and this continues to this day. In the mid 1970s that school also was threatened with closure but the growing numbers of children in both villages during the 1970s combined with recognition that Burton Bradstock school is one of the finest village schools in the area ensured its survival. Indeed its facilities were improved and updated during the 1990s and places are now very sought after at this popular school.

Children of secondary school age generally attend the Sir John Colfox School in Bridport, with a few also attending Beaminster and Woodroffe schools and some in private education.

Saunders Richardson Wood

Saunders Richardson Wood logoThis small woodland was bequeathed to the Woodland Trust in 1985 under the terms of the will of Nicky Richardson of Bridport, who had lived at Lower Lynch in Shipton Gorge.

She wanted to make sure that it would never be developed and to ensure its future as an open space in the parish.

In 2010 the Woodland Trust decided to offer some small woodlands under its care to local charities that could better look after these small pieces of land. Thus in 2012, and after long negotiations, Shipton Gorge Heritage obtained a 999 year lease for the woodland with the same convenants as laid down in the original bequest. Since then a 5 year Management Plan has been adopted for the wood and is being implemented.

Saunders Richardson WoodThe wood consists of 2.72 acres of land bordering Smacombe Lane and the eastern edge of the village, grid reference SY499916.

The land has high banks on all sides and there is a small stream that runs through the centre. This unspoilt wood is home to a range of wild life including foxes, badgers, deer and small mammals. The trees are mainly broadleaved woodlands varieties.

Following the violent storm of 1985 a number of the larger trees on the western boundary were blown down and have remained in situ to become covered with moss and provide a haven for smaller wildlife and birds.

The floor of the wood is particularly attractive in the Spring time when it is carpeted by primroses and bluebells. The village is extremely fortunate to have such a sanctuary so near the centre of the village and one that will remain as such for future generations.

There is no public access to the land for reasons of conservation and safety.

© Shipton Gorge Parish Council. All Rights Reserved.


Saunders Richardson Wood