Being just south of the A35 and only 3 miles west of Bere Regis, Briantspuddle is easy to find even though sign-posting was a bit of an afterthought when the new dual carriageway was built! As you approach from the north, glimpses of thatched cottages appear tantalisingly through gaps in hedges on a high-banked country road and then suddenly past the bridge you are at the village crossroads, into another world! From the south, the approach is from the heath down through the tall tree-lined Briantspuddle Hollow. Oddly the main part of Briantspuddle is east of the crossroads leading to Throop and Turnerspuddle with a main street barely able to let two cars pass. To the west, the road leads off to Affpuddle passing the War Memorial at the head of Bladen Valley.
For most of its past Briantspuddle was little more than a couple of farms with their attendant cottages, much the same as the outlying farmsteads at Rogers Hill, Brockhill and Pallington still seem to be. However in the early part of the 20th century this changed dramatically through the efforts of Sir Earnest Debenham to build a model farm and thereby creating a new centre of population between the ancient villages of Affpuddle and Turnerspuddle. More than anything else Briantspuddle is a striking legacy of that experiment, though you would have to be reminded of that when looking at the buildings that were left behind.
Standing at the crossroads with your back to the 17th century cottage (with an iron re-enforcing cross on the front) the view is of a mixture of old Dorset cob and thatch interspersed with sympathetically built Debenham block and thatch. One or two more modern tiled roofs appear here and there but do not detract. Emerging from the cottage lined street the Village Hall, converted from a 200 year old barn, is to the left and next door is the tiny shop and post office sitting on its arched base. This was originally a granary, then a youth club, and lastly a village club before being turned into its present day shop and post office! On the left hand side of the village hall is the Bladen Social Club, built some 50 years ago for all the best of reasons, but not entirely in sympathy with the host it leans on. Opposite the Hall, in a semi-circle, are sympathetically designed modern Housing Association bungalows echoing the dairy “ring” further down the road.
The Braintspuddle Dairy “Ring” is perhaps the most obvious example of the Debenham farming experiment. Built around three sides of a quadrangle to accommodate a vehicle loading bay, what was once a dairy production facility and lodgings for its workers is now four private homes. The ring is completed on the opposite side of the road by the 15th century thatched cottage of cruck construction. Behind the ring the byres and stables of Briantspuddle Farm have also been converted into private dwellings.
The crossroads were also created as part of the farming experiment and what remains of the original entrance to Briantspuddle can be seen about 100 metres to the west and looking down School Lane leading north. The school building, now a private house on the corner, was once on the edge of and part of Affpuddle. Continuing on towards Affpuddle and just over the rise you come upon the impressive War Memorial created by Eric Gill. This stands at the head of the other main example of the Debenham hand, Bladen Valley. Along a private gravel road twenty three houses, originally built to house estate workers, are constructed of the same locally made block as the central dairy (the ring). All but two are still thatched. They were designed as a group in the Arts and Crafts style with large cottagers’ gardens and broad open areas. Although now enveloped by mature trees and bushes the idea was to encourage a sense of community and self sufficiency which still exists today.
To the north, but still part of Briantspuddle, although on the other side of the A35, is the only remaining working farmstead of Rogers Hill. To the south, just along the heath road at the top of Briantspuddle Hollow is Culpeppers Dish, a quite famous and astonishingly deep conical pit or sinkhole formed by ground subsidence, though carrying legendary tales of mystery.
Briantspuddle has few pretensions. It is not twee; it does not compete with the likes of Tolpuddle, Cerne Abbas or Corfe Castle for a place in the British Book of villages. There is no car park, souvenir shop or summer crowd in shorts with cameras; it is simply a bit of relatively unspoilt old England.
Written by Diana Holman
The peaceful and timeless small village of Affpuddle lies to the south of the river Piddle, and just east and west of the B3390.
The line of the village follows the gentle meanders of the river through its water meadows.
The church, the earliest part of which dates from about 1230 has been described by local historian, the late Joan Brocklebank, as one of the most beautiful of the small Dorset village churches. A stone seat situated at the eastern end of the church in the Peace Garden commemorates her life as a musician, artist, historian and woodlander.
The church is built mainly of Portland stone. Its most interesting and beautiful feature is the carving of the pulpit and the bench ends. There are two Norman fonts, the round one having been brought there from Turnerspuddle church when its roof was in danger of collapsing.
The Peace Garden to the east of the church with its shrine commemorates the men who fell in the second world war. Inside is a large wooden crucifix, the whole designed and by Loughnan Pendred. This was a gift to the village from Sir Ernest Debenham who bought substantial local land in 1914 and set about developing an ideal farming estate, centred around nearby Briantspuddle. Sir Ernest maintained that the village of Affpuddle had too much natural beauty for further building at that time.
Standing in the Peace Garden and looking across the river, you will see the old mill which was at one time a flourishing bakery, making wonderful bread and cakes. Each February, the banks of the river to the east of the mill are carpeted with snowdrops of many different varieties.
On the south side of the road just east of the church is West Farm yard. It was in the then thatched barn here that John Lock of Affpuddle met James Brine and James Hammet, and was invited by them to the fateful meeting off the Tolpuddle Martyrs. This barn still stands, but its thatched roof, deemed a fire risk to stored agricultural machinery, has been replaced.
An early water-colour shows Affpuddle with cottages continuously along both sides of the road, but many of these have since disappeared as a result of fires and other misadventures.
As you stroll west from the church, you will pass Luck’s Cottage on your right. Just two generations ago, Luck the bootmaker’s shop was here. A few yards further on to your left, you will notice a little square of land between Parva Cottage and Greatfield House. This was once a public house called The Four Bells.
Further west again, The cottage where the house Heronmead now stands was destroyed by Affpuddle’s only bomb of the second world war.
Several new houses have been added since the 1960’s on the south side of the road including Greatfield House, where Joan Brocklebank lived for much of her adult life. However, the north side of the road with the water meadows stretching across to the river, is designated to remain open farm land. This is the habitat for all sorts of wildlife and interesting birds.
Written by Jane Courtier
East of Brianstpuddle, by about 3/4 of a mile, lies the hamlet of Throop. Leaving Briantspuddle behind you the road follows the course of the river through open meadows; the first houses you come across were originally a pair of farm workers’ cottages built in the 1950s. Opposite the cottages is a piece of land known as Bat Willow Nurseries, now used for horses but in its past for market gardening and smallholding. The willows still grow alongside the River Piddle, which forms the site’s northern boundary. Over the years many applications have been made for a dwelling to be built on this site but the local council has steadfastly refused permission. The stable block, however, sneaked through by default when the council failed to take action against it in sufficient time!
The track to the left immediately past Bat Willow leads over Red Bridge towards Kite Hill; continue straight on and you will come to another track leading to Turners Puddle. Down this unmade road is the Glebe House, at one time the home of the rector of Turners Puddle church. In the early 1800s this was Reverend William Ettrick, who hired a local woman called Susan Woodrowe to work in the house and garden at a rate of 1 shilling a day. A series of misfortunes then befell the rector’s family “farm animals went lame or died of mystery illnesses; crops failed, and the Rector’s newborn son fell prey to a “peculiar and most vexatious illness….like a Demonical Possession”. Reverend Ettrick and his wife became convinced that Susan Woodrowe was to blame, attributing all their problems to “the vile witchcraft of a bad neighbour…a hag and reputed witch….an ill-looking and worse-tempered wretch. We have now traced home to her the whole of the Miseries and Misfortunes that have fallen so thick and heavy on us ever since her first engagement. After several months of increasing troubles, Susan Woodrowe was given “a sharp and final discharge from ever being employed by me any more” and the rector declares in his diary “I was once incredulous about the power of Witchcraft, but have no doubts remaining”.
Leaving Susan’s reputed malevolent powers behind us and retracing our steps to the road, on the left we find Piper’s Cottage – first on the left in the photograph – a typical thatched longhouse which in the old days would have housed the family in one half and the livestock in the rest (an early form of central heating!) Next to Piper’s Cottage are two houses which were originally built as one dwelling in the late 1600s, the house of a prosperous yeoman who could afford a heated parlour for genteel entertaining. It was converted to two dwellings many years ago, however, with a long procession of rather more humble agricultural labourer’s as its occupants.
On the opposite side of the road is Throop House, for many years the main farmhouse of the village. The brick front and tiled roof was a Victorian gentrification of the earlier cob and thatch construction which can still be seen at the rear. Next to Throop House is Well Cottage. Not the only well in the village but certainly more visible than most, being in the front garden rather than at the back. The little house next door, called The Owl Box, was until recently a small barn belonging to Well Cottage and used as a garage.
Opposite Well Cottage is Starmoor, originally a bungalow built in the 1940s in a meadow of that name, and above Starmoor is Throop Farm, built as a pair of farmworkers’ houses by Sir Ernest Debenham as part of his great agricultural experiment.