Abbotsbury - Church and Village
St Nicholas Church
St Nicholas was built as the Parish Church of Abbotsbury, along side the Abbey Church of St Peter, in the late 14th or early 15th century.
Little of the ruined Benedictine Abbey of St Peter remains. Foundations of the north wall can be seen in the churchyard on the right as you walk past the west door towards the disabled access of the churchyard. More can be seen as you walk towards the Tithe Barn. A plan of the most likely layout of the Abbey of St Peter can be found in the back of the Church
The oldest parts of St Nicholas church building are the tower and the north wall. Early in the 16th century the double arcade was built and the south aisle was added. It is probable that the east window behind the reredos, the outline of which can be seen from the churchyard, was blocked at this time. The flat ceiling of the nave dates from the early 19th century when the west gallery and a north gallery were built. The north gallery was removed in 1885 but the entrance is still visible outside the north wall.
The Tower contains six bells, dating from 1636 to 1773; the bells were rehung in 1897. The panelled arch of the tower is characteristic of 15th century West Country architecture.
The Porch is part of the original building and it contains an effigy, in Purbeck marble, of one of the early abbots. The effigy was found on the site of the Abbey Church of St Peter in 1778 and is probably late 12th century.
The Reredos which covers the whole east end of the Church above the alter, was inserted in 1751 by Mrs Susannah Strangways Horner. It is of stucco, flanked by Corinthian pillars with an ornamental canopy, and displays the Ten Commandments. It is regarded as a very fine specimen of ecclesiastical ornament, few examples of which remain in country churches. It has been restored and regilded.
The barrel-vault ornamental plaster ceiling of the chancel was installed by Sir John Strangways in 1638. The lower panels display the armorial bearings of the Strangways family whilst the central panels are of angels and cherubs. This ceiling was restored in 1986.
The Organ was built by JW Walker & Sons and was dedicated on the 29th September 1886.
The Wooden Pulpit is probably Jacobean, but could be Tudor. Two musket ball holes can be seen in the back of the canopy. These occurred in September 1664 when Parliamentary forces expelled a Royalist outpost from the Church.
The Royal Arms on the west gallery are Georgian and were probably installed in the early 18th century.
The Brass Chandelier hanging in the nave, and the two smaller ones now over the chancel, are mid 18th century and were probably the gift of Mrs Strangways Horner.
The octagonal font is thought to be original, although the base is modern. The north gallery was removed during extensive alterations in 1885. At this time the barrel organ in the west gallery was removed, the pulpit was moved closer to the chancel and the old box pews replaced. At this time too the porch floor was lowered and the Church paved with tiles, the font was also repositioned.
Very little ancient stained glass remains but fragments are to seen in several windows. The memorial windows to the right of the alter were installed in 1910 in memory of the 5th Earl of Ilchester and two of his children. They were designed by Anning Bell RA, an artist whose work appears in the House of Commons and many cathedrals. Three windows are memorials to members of the Sellers family.
Among the various memorial tablets there is a brass in memory of Captain Benbow, the son of a former head gardener at Abbotsbury, killed at the end of the Great War in the newly formed RAF. A tablet also records, with thanks to God, that no men or women from Abbotsbury were killed during the 1939 - 1945 war.
On the west face of the tower is an ancient stone carving. This may date from the founding of the Abbey by Orc in the 11th century. It is of a seated figure with a smaller figure between its knees, and a dove in the right hand top corner, and is symbolic of the Holy Trinity.
Outside the north door against the churchyard wall are two medieval sarcophagi from the Abbey of St Peter. Over the last few years the churchyard has been part of the Living Churchyard Project of the Dorset Wildlife Trust.
St Catherine's Chapel
St Catherine’s is a large chapel situated on a hill which overlooks the village. The chapel used to be part of the monastery, but it is managed by English Heritage. St Nicholas PCC liaises with English Heritage on behalf of the other churches, in order to use the chapel.
No regular acts of worship are ever held here; instead occasional acts of worship take place throughout the year and especially during the summer. These short ‘festival’ services can be developed further as a focus for mission because they attract people from across a wide area. The New Year’s Eve service at 5pm is especially well attended.
Abbotsbury village has a population of just over 500 and is nine miles from the county town of Dorchester and the seaside towns of Weymouth and Bridport. Abbotsbury is part of the Ilchester Estate, and because of that it retains its traditional, country feel.
The main income of the area is engendered from Abbotsbury Tourism – the Swannery, the Tithe Barn children’s farm and the Subtropical Gardens. The main employment is tourism - although many workers travel in for these jobs – and many such jobs are seasonal. Otherwise residents are employed in neighbouring areas. There is an excellent medical centre in Portesham with a dispensary. There is one direct return bus service to Dorchester on Market Day, Wednesday, and one return bus a day from Beaminster to Weymouth; the X53 Jurassic Coast bus runs two-hourly from Poole to Exeter.
The village has two pubs plus many teashops, bed and breakfast establishments and little shops. There are a farm shop, general store and post office. The Chesil Bank Pre school meets in Strangways Hall. There is no longer a local primary school, so children of primary age attend nearby Portesham School.
Most of the housing stock in Abbotsbury is leasehold, with a small number of freehold properties, estate rental properties and a small range of social housing. There is also a large transient population of holidaymakers, so the village is busy in the holiday season and quiet out of it.