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Minster church of St. Cuthberga, Wimborne Minster, Dorset


The collegiate church of St. Cuthberga belonged to a college of secular canons founded here in 1043 by Edward the Confessor, on the site of the nunnery of St. Mary, founded by Cuthberga, sister of Ina, King of the West Saxons, in A.D. 705, and destroyed by the Danes in the reign of Ethelred the Unready about 1016. The church was subsequently refounded, apparently by Edward the Confessor, as a secular foundation with a college of dean and canons. The list of deans is almost complete from 1085 to 1547, in which year the college was dissolved.

The church is a cruciform structure, consisting of choir and presbytery, with aisles, transepts, central tower, nave of six bays, with aisles, north and south porches, crypt below the choir, sacristy and a western tower containing a clock and 10 bells in the key of D: in 1911 the old bells were recast and rehung and two new ones added: the total interior length is 186 feet; width, 51 feet; length of transept, 102 feet: the finest part of the building is the Early English choir and presbytery (1220), an addition to the Norman choir, one arch of which remains next to the tower piers: the clerestory of the choir was several times altered and finally removed: the fine east window consists of a triplet of lancets with foliated openings above; inside, these are divided by clustered shafts of Purbeck marble, supporting foliaged caps and elaborate mouldings round the head of each light: the arched ceiling is of wood: on the south side are three graduated sedilia, with canopies, continued over a piscina: the high altar was presented in 1930 in memory of the late Gertrude Countess of Moray: fourteen of the eighteen stalls, dating from 1610, remain, but the screen and canopies have heen removed: below the choir is a crypt, partly Early English and partly Decorated, vaulted and divided by columns into three aisles, lighted by four windows and with openings above into the choir aisles this crypt, which was originally the Lady chapel, has been restored and put to its former use: on the south side is a small piscina: the presbytery is considerably higher than the rest of the church and is approached by fourteen steps; on the south side is an altar-tomb, with alabaster effigies, to John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, 1444 (grandson of John of Gaunt), and Margaret (Beauchamp), his wife; and opposite, another altar-tomb to Gertrude (Blount), wife of Henry Courtenay, Marquess of Exeter, 1557; near this tomb is a floor slab of Purbeck marble, with a copper plate bearing an inscription to King Ethelred, eldest brother of Alfred the Great, who was buried here in 871: the north choir aisle, also called St. George's aisle, retains a piscina in the east wall and a chest with six locks containing muniments belonging to the trustees of Collett's charity, founded in 1621; here also is the parish chest, the records preserved in which include accounts from 1475; recently other accounts have heen recovered, dating back to 1425; there is a fine mural monument in the Renaissance style to Sir Edmund Uvedale knt. 1606, with effigy in plate armour recumbent on a high base; and also the mutilated effigy of a knight, bearing a shield with the arms of Herbert: the south choir, or Trinity aisle, has a piscina and contains a chest, formed out of a solid oak trunk, with six locks; in this aisle is a quaintly worded brass, which reads. "To William Smith D.D. fellow of Eton College, schoolmaster, and nowe vicar of Sturminster Marshall and preacher here, 1587;" and a tomb, with arms, to Anthony Ettricke, first recorder of Poole, before whom, as a magistrate, the Duke of Monmouth was brought after the rebellion; he prepared his own coffin, inscribed with the date 1693, but he lived 10 years longer and the date was altered to 1703: here also is a chantry chapel founded by Margaret, Countess of Richmond, in 1496; in 1895 this chapel of the Holy Trinity was again brought into use: on the east tower pier is a brass to Eleanor Dickenson, 1571, and there remains in the chancel a portion of the tomb of John de Berwick, dean, 1312.

The transepts are unequal; the north includes Bembre's chantry, an addition in the Decorated period to the original Norman work, and it retains a Decorated piscina; the south transept has an altar recess and anmbry, and in the south wall a fine Early English piscina; at the intersection are the massive Norman piers and arches sustaining the central tower; these constitute the oldest portion of the existing church and formed part of the original fabric: the lantern has triforium and clerestory, and with the exception of the topmost storey is open to the church; the exterior exhibits interlaced arcading, and over this a corbel table, surmounted by a heavy embattled parapet and pinnacles, added alter the fall of the spire in 1600; the total height is just over 80 feet.

The nave is of six bays, the easternmost being the smallest; the next three are Transition Norman, and the two westernmost Perpendicular: the clerestory is Perpendicular, 1448-64, and has square-headed lights: the nave aisles are Decorated, c. 1350: the north porch of two bays, early in the same period, is vaulted and has a parvise over: a turret stair was removed in 1856: the south porch is small and plain: in the north aisle is a mural monument of white marble to Thomas Hanham, 1650, and Margaret (Doddington), his wife.

The western tower, erected at intervals between 1448 and 1464, is 87 feet in height, disposed in four stages, with an embattled parapet, having at each angle an octagonal turret, pinnacled; on the restoration of the church the tower arch was opened, and a western screen reconstructed in part from the remains of the ancient screen; the ceiling of the lower stage is vaulted, and here is placed the font, a plain octagonal basin of Purbeck marble, standing on eight small shafts of the same material; on the south wall is a curious old orrery on the Ptolemaic system, with the earth in the centre, worked by a rod from the clock, and dating from c. 1320.

Attached to the south choir aisle is a vaulted sacristy in the Decorated period, and over is the library, reached by a turret stair; the books, given in 1686 by the Rev. William Stone, for the free use of the townsfolk, are about 243 in number, many having chains, and include Walton's Polyglot Bible, 1657, 7 vols. a Black Letter "Breeches" Bible, 1595, Raleigh's History of the World, 1614, a MS. dated 1343, which contains Arabic numerals, and a collection of manuscript sermons by the Rev. A. Swan, incumbent of the Minster from 1680, presented to the library in Sept. 1897; portions of alabaster sculpture, a Purbeck marble cross and an ancient alms box are also preserved here.

The brass eagle lectern was given by Anthony Wayte in 1623: the hexagonal pulpit of Caen stone and Derbyshire marble was presented by Lord Alington in 1868, and bears fine carvings of the Beatitudes by Earp: thirty-six of the windows are filled with stained glass, including the eastern triplet, which retains some 15th century glass, brought from a Belgian convent, and a memorial window, erected in the north aisle in 1884 to Dr. Druitt M.D.: the organ was entirely rebuilt in 1899; it contains 2,318 pipes, some of which are over 200 years old: the choir and presbytery were restored in 1855, and the nave and western tower in 1857: there are sittings for 1,000 persons.

The church of St. John the Evangelist, built at a cost of £2,500, and partly endowed by the late Rev. Carr John Glyn M.A. of Witchampton, is an edifice of red brick with stone dressings, in the Early English style, from designs by Mr. Walter Fletcher, architect, of Wimborne, and consists of apsidal chancel, nave, transepts, north aisle, south porch, vestry, and a double bell-cote at the west end containing 2 bells: the church was enlarged in 1897, at a cost of £1,000, and has since been further enlarged by the addition of new choir and clergy vestries in 1926, at a cost of £628: there are 600 sittings.

The Roman Catholic church of St. Catherine's, situated in Leigh road, was erected in 1933: the site of the church is approximately that of a former church of St. Catherine, dating from the 15th century.

The presbytery was erected in 1927.

The Congregational chapel, in West Boro, founded in 1670, will seat 400 persons; the building was enlarged in 1907: in 1919 a choir stalls memorial screen and a new organ were installed: a school room was added in 1889.

The Baptist chapel, erected in 1885 in Grove road, will seat 190 persons.

The Methodist chapel, King street, erected in 1869, has sittings for 650 persons.

Church Records

The parish register dates from the year 1635, that of St. John the Evangelist from the year 1876. The original register books are now deposited with the Dorset Archives Service, but have been digitised by and made available on their site (subscription required).

Minster church of St. Cuthberga
Wimborne Minster

Denomination:Church of England