The ancient Church of All Saints is a small building consisting of Chancel, with Vestry, Nave and North Porch. The West end of the Nave is surmounted by a wooden bell turret.
"The Church is not aligned true East and West, but points to where, before 1752, the sun would rise on All Saints Day. This was the means of recovering the dedication of the Church, which had been lost locally, and the conjecture was confirmed later by documentary evidence".(a)
It is supposed that a Church stood here in Saxon times and that it was replaced by the present building in the 12th Century, materials from the original building being re-used.
THE PORCH The Porch is of fourteenth Century date, with interesting wood carving over the entrance. It was restored in 1900 by the Lieut Colonel R Bramble V.D. F.S.A. whose family lived at Bramble's Farm for many generations.
On the West side of the porch is placed a large flat stone, bearing a cross in relief, said to have been brought from near Cross Pond, by the side of Church Street, half a mile North of the Church.
THE DOORWAY The North doorway is of early date, but, although believed by some to be Saxon, does not possess any distinctive features to afford definite proof. The lintel is a single block of hard ferruginous sandstone, such as is used in many parts of the Church, and is locally called "heath stone" from being found on the Heath.
On the left post, but barely discernible, is perhaps a "Pilgrims Mark".
The fine door hinges are possible 12th Century (b))
THE FONT Entering the Church, the Font is seen opposite the North door. It is composite, really consisting of two fonts, one above the other. The lower, ornamented by a carved and raised design of arches and pilasters is c. AD1100, and is particularly noteworthy, for though the design is Norman, it shows traces of Saxon influence and workmanship. The upper font is plain and hexagonal and is dated about A.D.1400
Behind the font may be seen traces of a South doorway.
THE PULPIT The Pulpit, a striking feature with its massive sounding board, and the Reading Desk are Jacobean, about 1610. The interlaced design on the Desk, which occurs also round the bottom of the pulpit, is known as "Guilloche".
Above the sounding board, let into the wall, is an earthenware pot, intended to improve the acoustic properties of the nave.
THE PEWS The old-fashioned pews date from 1841. The square pew in the northwest corner of the nave, is that of the Patron, and the one next to it, marked "Choir", is oblong and roomy, to accommodate the village musicians who accompanied the singing before organs were introduced into village Churches.
Little flap seats may be seen at the ends of some of the pews. These are "stools of repentence". The parish clerk used to admonish refractory boys during service, and place them on these stools. An old man still living in the incumbency of the Revd. R.A. Chudleigh, told him he had been the last boy to suffer this penalty.
THE ROOF The roof of the nave is concealed behind a plaster ceiling, although nine carved bosses are visible at the intersection of the beams, while another which fell from the roof, is placed in the Vestry. The triangular one in the north-east corner of the Roof is only a rough imitation. The designs are, in some cases, purely ornamental, while others may have a symbolical meaning. Sketches of the designs may be seen in the Vestry.
THE CHANCEL ARCH The chancel arch is of the transitional period (c. A.D. 1180), when Norman architecture was changing to Early English. The workmanship is rough and was probably carried out by local masons. The stones were cleared of many layers of whitewash in 1925.
The two arched openings on either side of the chancel arch were cut during the incumbency of the Revd. H.J. Buller (1839 - 1874).
THE CHANCEL In 1896, the Chancel was rebuilt and enlarged, the original 'decorated' East Window being replaced in the new wall, which is some 5 feet further out than the original.
South of the chancel arch, and in the East side of the wall dividing the chancel from the nave, is a recess, arched by a Saxon window head, found built up in the wall during the re-building of the chancel. It has a broad splay inside.
In a note regarding the old wall the Revd. R.A. Chudleigh says: "A projecting portion (probably a stand for an image) had many layers of whitewash. The architect foretold that if these were removed an ornament in ochre, blue and black would be revealed. He scaled off the line with his penknife, and it proved to be as he said" This projection was probably one of the two brackets mentioned as being on either side of the East Window in Hutchin's "History of Dorset" (3rd Edition, 1868). It was unfortunately not preserved.
The Sanctuary Chairs were made out of an old Parish Chest by the Revd. H.J.Buller in 1852.
THE LADY'S URN Outside the East Wall of the Church is seen a glazed and barred recess with the following inscription :-
"Until 1896,when this Chancel was restored the Urn, said to have held the Heart of the Lady of Lydlinch who endowed this Church, lay under the stone on which it now stands"
THE LADY OF LYDLINCH The Legend of the Lay of Lydlinch is as follows :-
She is said to have been the Lady of the Manor, but on her marriage was compelled by her husband to live at Lydlinch (near Sherborne.) She said however, that as her heart was in Parley during her life, she wished it to go there after her death, and on her deathbed she made her servants promise that her wish should be carried out. She is supposed to have endowed the Church with her glebe and the tithes of her lands, except part of those derived from land at Dudsbury, which she reserved for Lydlinch, to which parish they are still paid.
Such is the tradition, and the story receives support from the fact that just outside the porch of Lydlinch Church is a tomb bearing this inscription :-
"Here lie the remains of a lady who gave to the rector of this Church for ever one portion of tythes arising out of Duds Bury farm in West Parley and another out of Knowle farm in Woodlands"
Tradition had always stated that the Lady's heart was buried under a flat circular stone, 5 feet 2 inches outside the old East Wall. When the Chancel was enlarged, the line of the new wall came exactly over the stone and the ground was very carefully excavated on 28th May 1895 by the Rev. R.A. Chudleigh who has left an exact account. A trench was dug to a depth of over four feet down to undisturbed ground at a safe distance from the stone, and from this an excavation was made under it, beginning low down and carefully loosening the earth upwards. "At 3 feet from the surface and directly under the middle of the stone an earthenware urn was revealed. A little more loosening of earth allowed the urn to drop into the excavator's hands. It proved to be a large vessel, imperfectly closed at the top by an irregular mass of stone; all over its outer surface, were zigzags such as might have been made with a sharp flint or bone; traces of a greenish glaze were plentifully visible and all around the base were depressions made by a human thumb, the spirals of which were, in a favourable light, distinctly visible. The urn was filled with earth, somewhat stony at the top, but mostly fine below, as if it had been sifted. It may be that the heart was buried in fine earth within the urn, but no trace of it could be found, tho' the earth was turned out very carefully. This was clearly a case of interment not cremation. There were no ashes or remains of bones." Eight skulls and many bones were found buried around the urn: they shewed signs of violent inflammatory diseases of the bones, but the teeth were remarkably sound. Coins were found in the eye sockets of one skull, copper, about the size of a penny and deeply coated with verdigris.
It was remarked that so large a number of bodies were buried close to the Urn, it seemed as if every one wanted to be buried near one whose fame was so great.
The Urn is 15 inches high and the same in diameter. It is of 14 Century date(c) The practice of separate burial of the heart was common one in mediaeval times(d)
THE SUNDIAL AND ITS STORY In the Churchyard, near the entrance gate, stands a sundial, the gnomon of which is broken off. The post on which it stands formed part of a gibbet, which formerly stood at Gibbet Firs on East Parley common. In the register of Christchurch Priory occurs the following burial entry :-
"1803, Dec. 5th. William Harbin, who was murdered by his son and John Guppy, who were both hanged and gibbeted"Harbin lived at a farm on Parley Green, which is just over the Hampshire border, in the parish of Christchurch. The story has variations, but one version says that he was much displeased at his son's evil ways and threatened to disinherit him, whereupon his wife urged the son to kill him before he had time to alter his will. He objected because of the risk. "Upon me be the risk, only murder him" replied the unnatural wife. At last he yielded, and giving his mate half-a-crown to help him, they made two attempts, the second of which was successful. Both the murderers were caught and tried and executed at Winchester, their bodies being gibbeted in chains at the place where the first attempt was made.
The mother became insane and spent days and nights at the foot of the gibbet, scaring away the birds and trying to feed the bodies by throwing potatoes into their mouths.
In time the Gibbet became a favourite resort of picnic parties, which so disgusted the owner of the land, that he cut it down and gave part of the post to the Rector of West Parley, who set it up, where it now stands, and placed the sundial on it.
On account of the dreadful use to which the post had been put, it was popularly believed that the sundial never gave the right time.
It is believed that this was the last case in which criminals were hanged in chains in the South of England, although a case occurred in Derbyshire as late as 1815.
THE CHURCH PLATE The Chalice and Paten are of foreign workmanship, and of early date, the Paten, which forms a cover for the Chalice is inscribed with the date 1574.
The alms dish was the gift of the Rev. H.J. Buller.
A pewter Tankard with a hinged cover is inscribed with the date 1729, and a cypher with the initials T.K.R. reversed and interlaced.
THE BELL The Bell is 1 ft. 7 ins. high and 1 ft. 9 ins. in diameter. It bears (amid a design of cherubs' heads and wreaths) the inscription, T. PYKE, B.WATER at Bridgewater, 1892. Pyke was head of a well known foundry, which provided five other Dorset Churches with bells.
(a) Notes made by the late Revd R A Chudleigh
(b) Authority Department of Metalwork, Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington
(c) Authority - Department of Ceramics, Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington
(d) See Heart Burials and Heart Shrines by Dr G Dru Drury. Proceedings of the Dorset Field Club Vol. xiviii