The Church of St. Martin stands on a small plateau on the south side of Brook Street and it is visible from almost everywhere in the village. It retains its original early 15th century tower with an elaborate doorway, but the remainder of the church was rebuilt in 1862 in what was described as a rather cold style. The architect at this time was John Hicks of Dorchester, for whom Thomas Hardy was then working. The contractor, from a village of masons, was one of the Swaffield family. The church has a 13th century font, which is unusual in that it has seven sides.
From the earliest times Shipton church was a "chapel of ease" to Burton Bradstock but it is now independent, although the link remains as it is served by the Bride Valley Team Ministry led by the Rector at Burton Bradstock.
The Parish of Shipton Gorge is in the Lyme Bay Deanery, which is in the Diocese of Salisbury. It is one of 460 Parishes in the Diocese. The Church of St. Martin is funded purely by voluntary donations, collections etc., and by fundraising events. The fact that Gift Aid allows the church to claim income tax back from the government is a great help. As well as the upkeep of the church, payments are made to several charities each year as well as a Share to the Diocese. The Share is calculated according to the number of clergy in the Bride Valley Team Ministry, the number of regular churchgoers, and the ability to pay. This amount goes towards supporting the Parishes, Diocesan administration, clergy stipends, pensions and many other items.
The church is floodlit every evening in the winter and weekend evenings in the summer. Parishioners who pay a fee, currently £5 for a week, sponsor the lighting.
The following description is taken from the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments "Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Dorset", dated 1952:
Parish Church of St Martin, formerly a chapel of Burton Bradstock, stands on the south side of the village. The walls of the tower are of local rubble with dressings of the same material. The West Tower was built c1400 but the rest of the church was entirely rebuilt in 1862. Architectural Description €œ The West Tower (10 feet by 9 feet) is of two stages with an embattled parapet and gargoyles; there is a stair-turret on the South side. The tower-arch is modern. The West doorway has chamfered ...
And from "The History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset" by John Hutchins in 1861
The chapel is a small fabric, containing nothing remarkable, situated on a high ground, and consisting of a chancel, body and a small north aisle, all tiled; and a low embattled tower, in which are three bells. It is dedicated to St Martin, on whose festival, or the Sunday following, is the wake. The rector of Burton Bradstock officiates here every Sunday. Between 1620 and 1650 the inhabitants buried in the chapel yard; they have since buried at Burton, for which they pay to the rector 4s. per annum as an acknowledgement. This church has lately been rebuilt, and now comprises, besides the parts above named, a vestry on the north side of the chancel, and a south porch. The details of the style adopted (perpendicular) have been very judiciously carried out, and the arcade of the aisle (four bays) is an excellent rendering of a pattern greatly prevailing in Dorset churches of this date. The roofs have the framework open to the interior; the principal timbers of that of the aisle are supported upon carved corbels of stone. The fittings of the interior include a stone pulpit with handsomely carved panels, and open benches are provided for the congregation. The original font is preserved, and has on the bowl a sunk arcade of pointed arches. The tower was not reconstructed, but has been carefully repaired.
The return to the commission, 1650, was that it was a distinct parish from Burton Regis, to which belongs Upper Stirthill and Broad Stirthill; that Henry Lamb is now minister, by order of parliament, instead of Nicholas Ridgway, delinquent; that the rectors of Burton have, time out of mind, found a minister to supply here at their own charge; that the tithes of Shepton and the Stirthills are worth 50l. per annum, which Mr Lambe receives; that the inhabitants are not able to go to Burton Church, the ways being unpassable in winter. Shipton itself is fit to be divided from Burton, and be entire of itself, there being 250 persons in it, and not one house with a mile of Burton. In 1652 certificate was made by Thomas Gollop of Strode esq. to the committee for plundered ministers, that Mr Lam the rector had agreed, on his first entry into the rectory, that the minister who should officiate at Shipton should have the whole tithes of the inhabitants thereof, who in consequence kept out Lamb from officiating at Shipton, and paid their tithes to one Mr Clarke, who served the church.
The Lych Gate
The Lych Gate was refurbished in 2000 to Commemorate 2,000 years of Christianity. A plaque by the gates reads:
These gates were restored in
Thanksgiving for 2000 years of
2014 Harvest Festival flower, fruit and vegetable arrangements.
Further information about the church can be found at the Dorset Historic Church Trust Website