DODINGTON

[the following is perhaps from: "Quantock Country" by Berta Lawrence]

 

“Dodo tenet Stawe,” wrote the Domesday scribe at a time when Dodo’s house and the hovels of serfs who cultivated his land had not been thought of as a separate village from Stowey, then undivided into Nether Stowey and Over Stowey. Dodo the Saxon held an important office—he was forester of the huge forest of Exmoor which the Stogumber—Crowcombe valley separated from the Quantock forest, and he does not seem to have been immediately ousted by any Norman newcomer, for in later years the tiny settlement about his house—which stood on or near the site of the present Dodington Hall—took on a separate identity and was called Dodeton or “Dodo’s tun”, this name turning into Dodington and being assumed by de Cunteville, owner of the manor in Edward I’s day, whose descendants the Dodingtons occupied the manor-house until 1740. To the old Saxon thane they owed their armorial device of three forester’s buglehorns sculptured in the worn stonework of the porch.

 

From this peaceful corner of Quantock territory, sheltered under Danesborough’s oak woods where the charcoal-men built their domes, various Dodingtons sallied forth on adventurous excursions. A Dodington whose career held plenty of excitement, although far from admirable, was the Royalist Sir Francis who hanged fourteen Parliamentarians near Frome after promising quarter and had to flee to France for safety. He is supposed to have supported himself by selling cutlery and at one time by becoming a priest, but “at last”, writes Collinson “a French widow took compassion on him by whom he had two sons bred up in the French army”. His first wife was Lady Anne Sydenham who, because of her second husband’s unchivalrous conduct, had to suffer the confiscation and damage of her lovely house Combe Sydenham near Stogumber. Years later a traveler wrote that he saw the house half-ruined with ivy growing through the staircases. Under Charles II’s amnesty Sir Francis came home, and died fairly poor a few years later, his name smirched by many deeds of cruelty.

 

A Dodington of the fifteenth century built Dodington Hall, the beautiful but decaying manor-house found at the end of a lane winding away from the main Stowey—Minehead road and the hills. A great deal of money would need to be spent on the repair and restoration of this house for it to regain its former dignity, but its lines have so much grace and harmony, its grey façade with stone mullions and a stone porch where a grotesque and mutilated stone head grins above the door, appeals so strongly by the simple artistry of its design that it seems a thousand pities such a house cannot be rescued. The wealth of dark oak timber in the Elizabethan great hall suffices in itself to tell us that this house is a tarnished gem—but the beetle has attacked these oak beams. Yet even in its most prosperous days this house was pre-eminently a country house and combined homeliness and rusticity with its dignity. Unlike most manor-houses it has the approach to its front door straight through the farmyard so that moss-encrusted sheds and thatched barns came dose to its own grey walls. The house itself stands on a small terrace above the farmyard, to which it is linked by two flights of steps, and any Dodington owner looked out on his geese, his hay-wagons, his plough-horses.

 

Opposite the old building towers a gaunt and florid Dutch barn where the hay from Dodington meadows burned in one enormous blaze a summer or so ago. The chief feature of the house is its Great Hall, very tiny to be so-called, but so absolutely typical that many schoolchildren are brought to look at it, for nothing could give them a clearer picture of the stately layout of a rich man’s home in Tudor days. The hall remains complete with its oak screens and minstrels’ gallery under which runs a narrow passage-way flanked on the other side by kitchen and buttery behind a partition of hewn oak. The dais for the master’s table at the chimney end of the hall has disappeared, but to the right of where it stood an arched doorway leads into the “withdrawing-room” and close to this is the master’s little parlour or “oriel”. The craftsman’s work in the Great Hall and these adjoining rooms all betrays the country hand, skilled but unrefined. The dark beams of the hall roof have a wavy line showing they were roughly hewn from curved branches, and the carpenter who shaped the roof-panels made them of uneven and unmatched shapes according to the shape of each piece of timber he handled. The corbels are carved angels.

 

A certain rusticity also characterizes the very pleasing plasterwork of cornice and chimney-piece. In the withdrawing-room the plasterwork shows the forester’s bugles of the Dodington device and the panel over the fireplace displays the arms of Dodington, of Trivett who lived at Durborough near Stogursey (a tripod or trivet), of Sydenham of Combe Sydenham, and of Warre of Hestercombe (a lion). On each side of the fireplace the plasterworker set a stiff and grotesque caryatid, half-human, half-lion, a jewel hung around its neck. He added the date 1581. This fireplace may have been brought down from an upper room. It is slightly newer than the fragments of heraldic glass in the windows—this dates from about 1460—in whose faintly glowing colours we see the arms of Stourton and again the arms of Dodington and of Warre.

 

In the fifteenth century this house and its estates went to George Bubb Dodington, member of Parliament for Bridgwater, then they passed from the old family into the possession of the Duke of Buckingham, hence Duke’s Plantation on a hillside above the house. A still lovely house-but one that places a heavy burden of housework on a farmer’s wife, for it was built in days when a dozen servants clattered about buttery and kitchen.

 

“Walked to the Miner’s House,” wrote Dorothy Wordsworth when living at Alfoxton. I wonder which house in Holford or Dodington she referred to? It seems impossible to find live and interesting information about the men who worked the Dodington copper-mines over a period of about fifty years, during the time of the Duke’s ownership and up to 1820, by when the returns of ore had not proved rich enough to justify the expenses. Ivy clings thick to the stone ruins of the “old copper-wurrks”, as they are called locally, standing forlorn in Dodington fields half a mile apart. The mine was in two parts, its levels and galleries passing beneath the Bridgwater—Williton road; one level lay west of the Castle of Comfort, but the other and most productive part lay east of it in the hill behind Dodington Hall. This last section of the mine had an adit close to the church, and its main gallery reached for a length of three-quarters of a mile. Mr. Hamilton of Blue Anchor after seeing a plan of the mine dated 1801, writes:

"The mine had a powder-house, two charging-houses, two pumping-houses, an account-house, blacksmith’s shop, miners’ cottages, and an ore floor where the ore was sorted, cracked up, weighed, and loaded into horse-drawn wagons for transport to Bridg’water for the South Wales."

 

According to tradition, Jack Walford, who carried on his charcoal-burning in the oak woods above Dodington, tried to throw his wife’s body down the mine-shaft by the Castle of Comfort. Some attempt was also made to mine copper at Broomfield. Deeply hollowed lanes, cool-bedded with fern, fall downward to Dodington, often flooded by the quick silver runnels flowing down the side of Danesborough. Perhaps the sinking of mineshafts affected the water-flow. But all around this well-watered village the wild flowers grow, gay and prodigal so that a botanist declared the footpath from the Castle of Comfort to Over Stowey was scarcely surpassed in beauty by the mosaic of a Swiss meadow. Holly-bushes and holly-hedges enclose the Dodington lanes.

 

The tiny church is shabby and time-stained, a gate connecting it with the garden of Dodington Hall. Its walls are covered by roughcast, the groins of Quantock stone left red in contrast. The great stone porch, where again the forester’s bugle-horns are sculptured, contains a stoup like a font, set on the grey stone bench and roughly canopied, its sides sculptured with quatrefoils enclosing a flower-motif. At one time the forest flowed down to and around this austere little church which would hold a hundred people, and although it has been patched and added to, its oldest feature, the west window of the tower, is over five-hundred years old, decorated with the head of a king and the head of a lady wearing headdress of the period of Henry IV. Very possibly this church was little more than a hunting-chapel where medieval huntsmen heard mass before the chase. Dodingtons lie buried inside.

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1 In 1644 a Royalist, Sir Francis Dodington, meeting a minister on the road near Taunton, asked him: “Who art thou for, priest?” “For God and his gospel,” replied the minister, whereupon Sir Francis immediately shot him dead. Victoria County History.