Saturday, 22 October 2016

Topless beach babes in a remote Dorset church

I like historical places, and one of my personal axioms is that in any locality the parish church will be the most ancient and history-laden building, and therefore worth a look. You sometimes find surprising things. And this was so in a particularly hard-to-reach Dorset church in the hamlet of West Chelborough. Here's a location map:

As you can see, West Chelborough lies at the end of a narrow minor road west of Evershot (where The Acorn Inn is). The whole area is north-west of Dorchester, in the deep countryside west of the A37.

Did I say 'narrow minor road'? I had to retract Fiona's door-mirrors to avoid clonking them on side-hedges as I drove along. Incidentally, I've found that it's best to attack dubious roads and tracks in a large, powerful car. The bulk of the car - and Fiona is no midget, believe me - may fill the entire width of the road, but this oddly helps to bestow a sensation of invincibility, that come what may the car is big enough to get through. A powerful engine (and permanent four-wheel drive) ensure this anyway. Really there is very little that Fiona can't tackle. She is, after all, built for winter conditions on the gravel roads of north Sweden. I do quite often encounter cars and tractors coming the other way, but I can be cool and unflappable in Fiona. Her reversing camera and parking sensors obvously assist.

But I didn't actually meet another vehicle. And (to my mild surprise) I even found a place to park Fiona at the far end of the road, near the church I'd come to look at.

It was small, with a squat tower. Absolutely nobody was about. I went in.

Despite its very out-of-the-way position, the interior was well-kept and attractive. The church was dedicated to St Andrew, one of the fishermen that Jesus encountered, who became an original disciple. So the church ornaments and fabrics had a fishy theme:

A nice bit of embroidery there.

There was a twelfth-century font curiously carved:

Also a couple of early eighteenth-century wall plaques:

S   G
Look here, my friends behold and see
This house of clay in which I be
Pray do you not lament for me
But scan your own Mortality
For I am here in earth comfind
To leave my little ones behind
As now I be you surely must,
Be here with me and lodge in dust


Presumably she would have died in childbirth. Death from one cause or another was so common. I have to say that the exhortation to contemplate one's own mortality struck me as very gloomy! Didn't she hope for a happy resurrection?

Near this place lieth the body of Mary the 
Daughter of Thomas & Bridget Wellman, who died
October the 2nd 1722 in the 12th year of her Age.

Like as a bud nip't off the Tree So death hath parted you & me
Therefore my friends I you beseech: Be sattisfid for i am Rich.
Grieve not dear Friends for that my days with you have been few:
Where I am gon there is more joyes than i could have with you.


Well, this young lady certainly anticipated a better life in heaven. Odd that the parents called the next daughter to come along Mary like the first. And so tragic that she too died. Surely they didn't name their third daughter, if there was one, Mary as well? Perhaps they did. You know, third time lucky.

Thus far, a fairly ordinary set of country church memorials. But then this.

Something out of the ordinary here! 

A young woman sleeping on a fat pillow, under a warm duvet that also enveloped a baby child all wrapped up against any possible chills. No inscription. Not even a hint of religiosity about it. Strange! The framed notice near the door said:

The 17th Century Monument in the north wall bears the Kymer arms and commemorates a Lady Kymer who died in childbirth. The Kymers were lords of the manor from the 14th to the 17th Century.

There you are. Feudalism survived here until the 1600s! Who was this particular Lady Kymer? I searched the Internet afterwards. She is likely to have been Joan Kymer. See: 


And, on the reason why this memorial features a 'sleeping' woman with an infant in swaddling clothes: 

So the monument was carved in the new fashion of the early 1600s, which reflected a changed view of women. It was being recognised that a pregnant woman faced dire risks that should not be taken for granted. 

And yet, as it was the early 1600s, Puritanism would be on the rise. And with it, a censure against immorality and indecency, and anything lewd and unspiritual. So, glancing upwards, I was highly surprised to see, at each end of the top edge of the monument, a topless lady in a classic beach pose!

No getting away from it. These are nude, sexy women (the towels around their tummies don't conceal anything) with proud, provocative breasts and a 'come-and-get-it-boys' look on their faces. The left-hand lady especially. In fact, am I imagining it, or do her breasts have a much-touched look to them? As if - in times gone by - the male youth of West Chelborough had to clamber up there and 'pay their respects', as a coming-of-age ritual? Who knows what local lads used to get up to in rural Dorset. Maybe they still do. 

Both ladies are anyway thoroughly pagan and sensual, not at all in the modest, prudish Christian tradition. Originally they'd both have had one knee bent (long since knocked off) - possibly exposing their naughty bits, if the mason had given them any (which he might well have done). 

Well! This is a monument erected in the 1610s, not the swinging permissive 1960s or later. I'm thinking that the travelling masons who were commissioned to carve these things had a singular love of the naked female form, both carved and the kind they'd find upstairs in taverns. Maybe the lord of the manor shared that appreciation. In fact, as he was paying, he'd have to. As regards negative comments from god-fearing parishioners with strict views, it's possible that Lord Kymer's authority was absolute, and that pursed-lipped Puritans were banned from the church and not permitted to come near and criticise. 

But it's hard to believe that in later years, during the Civil War say, these ladies weren't noticed by stern and godly men of the Puritan persuasion, who couldn't abide shameless beach babes. How did they survive? Perhaps the locals covered them up, and kept their fingers crossed that The Girls escaped attention. As they clearly did. Apart from those missing legs, raised in invitation. Perhaps The Girls were uncovered in glee when the Commonwealth fell, and the Monarchy was restored, only to incur the wrath of an up-tight Victorian incumbent two centuries later.  

It was only a whim that brought me here. Just shows what hidden-away gems can be found if you look around!


  1. Hello Lucy. I confess, I dip into your blogs periodically, but have to agree what a delightful pastime "church crawling" can be. My first visit yesterday was to Deane Church in Bolton, a churchyard in which I often used to waste time as a student over 40 years ago. Our afternoon motorised ramble took us along the road to Wigan Pier, which I recalled as having been redeveloped as a tourist attraction. Sadly we arrived a year and a half too late as the project had failed financially and the buildings been repossessed by the council landlord! All was not lost as my husband Julian is a Sussex boy and life-long supporter of Brighton FC. It happened they were playing against Wigan so I decided I didn't want to invest £25 in a ticket for myself so dropped him at the football ground whilst I went off to Ormskirk for some more church crawling, and an afternoon coffee and flapjack.

    I'm pleased to catch up with you by blog and began posting this long rambling comment when I spotted nobody else had so far commented and to provide grateful thanks that your blog continues and to assure you there are readers.

    Kind regards, Mel.

  2. Hello, Mel! Extremely nice to be in touch again. I'd love to meet up with Julian and yourself if you are ever my way, and it can be fitted in.

    I've become an inveterate seeker-out of country curiosities, of which there are always plenty around, often little-known. May they stay that way!

    Yes, the blog carries on, now entirely concentrating on my low-key life and experiences, with a bias (of course) towards those frequent caravan holidays. the blog usually gets less visitors than it once did, having dried up on regular posts of great interest to the community; but the grand total of viewings keeps mounting up, so I must be offering something that other people want.



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