The Lost Cottages of Fontmell Magna

October 1, 2005
Fontmell in autumn

Fontmell in autumn

Fontmell Magna, a small village in the county of Dorset, lies some 80m above sea level on the eastern side of the Blackmore Vale. The presence of many springs and streams (used as a source of power for mills) was responsible for the development of the village whose origin can be traced back to the 7th century. Early dwellings were almost invariably constructed of rubble limestone for the walls and thatch and stone-slate for the roofs. The ground floor consisted of two rooms – a living room with a fireplace and a second room used for general purposes with an entrance lobby and staircase, often to just two small attic bedrooms.
Of the still-remaining early cottages, four date from the fifteenth century, one from the sixteenth, three from the seventeenth, four from the eighteenth, and ten from the nineteenth. There are also several houses (rather than cottages), especially farm houses, that date from the late sixteenth century onwards.
19th-century surveys of the village suggest that several cottages disappeared in the period 1870-1900.

Simplified map of Fontmell Magna

Simplified map of Fontmell Magna

As the population declined, several cottages were listed as derelict or unoccupied, and were almost certainly later demolished. But we do have pictorial records of some of the cottages which were demolished during the 20th century. The map shows four locations of such cottages marked in red.

Old forge and cottages opposite to the chapel and post office.

Old forge and cottages opposite to the chapel and post office.

Number 1 is at the junction of Lurmer Street and Church Street where there stood a terrace of three cottages with the village blacksmith’s workshop attached at the northern end. Owing to frequent flooding by the stream adjacent to the southern end of the group, they were all demolished in the early 1960s as unfit for human habitation. Occupants of these dwellings during the early 1940s included the Roberts family, the Conway family and Joe Crocker. Earlier occupants included Knobby Bradley, Bill Bridle and George Jenkins, the blacksmith.

Three cottages opposite to the chapel

Three cottages opposite to the chapel

The cottages were of stone rubble construction with thatched roofs, whereas the blacksmith’s workshop was of traditional Dorset brick and flint with a tiled roof.

The malthouse

The malthouse

This photograph, looking northeast from the church, shows in the bottom left-hand corner, the maltings with its ventilation shaft and the manager’s cottage. The malthouse was associated with the brewery in Crown Hill (now converted into private dwellings) and the Crown Inn. Both of the maltings buildings were destroyed by fire in 1942 whilst occupied by the Army. The last known occupant of the manager’s cottage was a Mr Reeve who, it is believed, lived there until the Army moved in soon after the outbreak of war.

Three cottages in Lurner Street

Three cottages in Lurner Street

There was another group of three thatched cottages on the west side of Lurmer Street, believed to have been built in 1874 and demolished in the mid-1950s. Post-WW2 occupants of the cottages included Dolly and Ada Lawrence, the Misses Faulkner, and Mr Reeves. In the background of the photo part of Middle Farm House can be seen. Three modern detached houses now occupy the site of the cottages.

Mill house, Middle Mill

Mill house, Middle Mill

The cottage shown in this picture was located by the millpond and weir in Mill Street and formed part of the Middle Mill property which stood on this site. The cottage, which was burnt down in 1907, was occupied by Richard Bishop in the 1880s. (See the article on Mills.).

It is of interest to note that some of the old cottages now demolished, and many of those remaining, were built in pairs or terraces of three. During the 19th century each individual cottage probably housed large families sleeping three, four or more to a room, whereas today those same groups of dwellings have been converted into single houses occupied by, perhaps, one or two persons.

Author: Derek Marchington