The village in history
Men lived on the site of present-day Potterne for thousands of years. The
earliest evidence we have comes from the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age
period - that is about 8,000 to 4,000 B.C.. Axe heads and other
characteristic flint tools from this period have been found.
The next real evidence of habitation in the village comes from the Iron Age
– between 700 and 500 B.C. – lies close to Blackberry Lane. It was possibly
a small village or hamlet set on a low promontory of land. The occupants
used finely made and often elaborately decorated pottery. Some, at least,
were made of bone.
Roman finds including pottery, coins and even four skeletons have come to
light around Blounts Court. What form the settlement took here is unknown,
but the evidence is that it was more than a native farmstead. It is said
that there was another small Roman settlement, perhaps a farmstead at
We now jump a few hundred years to 705 when there is a record of Potterne
being granted to the see of Sherborne. Sherborne and the see of Ramsbury
were united in 1058 to form the Bishopric of Salisbury, and thus began
Potterne’s connections with the Bishopric of Salisbury, which continue to
this day. By 1254 the Bishop had become Lord of the Manor of Potterne,
prebendary, rector and owner of the advowson.
By the end of the twelfth century the Dean of Salisbury had a house in
Potterne, and probably sometime in the middle of the thirteenth century a
manor house was built in the village for the Bishop of Salisbury, possibly
on Court Hill to the West of the present high Street. This building brought
Potterne into the streams of national life, with not only the comings and
goings of a great medieval bishop and his retainers, but even on occasion
visits by royalty.
But by the middle of the fifteenth century, the bishops were ceasing to use
their manor house at Potterne, and another two hundred years later we begin
to hear of part of the house being demolished. Now nothing remains to tell
the untrained eye that Potterne’s most important building once stood where
cattle and horses graze. But Potterne’s connections with the bishops
continue. The Bishop of Salisbury is patron of the living of Potterne and
holds the prebend of Potterne in Salisbury Cathedral.
Church and village
It is likely that the first church was built in Potterne in the tenth
century. What is thought to be the site of this building has been excavated,
to the South of the present church, in the garden of the Porch House. It was
constructed from timber and a major part of the building consisted of a
baptistery, appropriate for a time when the country was being converted to
the Christian faith after the turmoil of the previous century.
Sometime around the middle of he twelfth century this church may have been
abandoned and so fall into disrepair, to be replaced a few years later by a
stone building somewhere near the present church.
St Mary’s Church
The present church, built of local stone, dates from the middle of the
thirteenth century. The main part is all one period which leads Sir Nikolaus
Pevsner to describe it as ‘an Early English parish church of exceptional
purity and indeed classicity’. The connections between the Bishop of
Salisbury and Potterne would account for the fine building, and there are a
number of similarities with the cathedral at Salisbury which was coming to
completion as Potterne church was begun. The church was restored in 1871-2.
To stand in the nave near the entrance and look toward the east is to
experience something of the simplicity of Early English architecture. The
lancet windows are tall and plain – later there would be decoration. Here
the only decoration the builders allowed themselves can be seen in the
Purbeck marble pillars at the east end, an echo of Salisbury Cathedral, and
in the mouldings above and below the windows and on the pillars which
support the tower. A bird’s eye view of nave, chancel and transepts would
show the cruciform shape of the building.
The pulpit dates from the fifteenth century. There is some beautiful and
elaborate carving to be admired, and you can still find traces of the
The fonts. There are two fonts. The one in use, between the entrance doors,
dates from the fourteenth century, although there is a suggestion that the
base and stem may be slightly earlier.
Below the west window is an Anglo-Saxon tub-shaped font of the same date as
the timber church described earlier. This is one of the earliest known in
the country and came to light during the Victorian restoration of the
church. Round its rim is an inscription in Latin, which is reproduced both
in the west window and on the historical frieze nearby. It comes from the
opening verse of Psalm 42: in English ‘As a deer longs for the running
brooks, so longs my soul for you, O God’.
The painted wooden panels to be seen on the walls at the west end all formed
an alterpiece which was given to the church by William Grubbe in 1723. the
figures are Moses and Aaron.
The door leading to the north porch may be original. After a chequered
history it has been heavily restored.
The porches may be of a slightly later date than the main part of the
building, but they still reflect the basic simplicity and lack of
decoration. Look up at the tower though. Here you see something completely
different. Added one or two hundred years later, it is in the Perpendicular
style when the masons would go to town with rich ornamentation. It invites
comparison wit contemporary church towers in Somerset, with decorations on
the bell-openings, the pierced battlements topped with pinnacles and the
turret to the stairway. Atop this turret the vane bears the date of the
Victorian restoration. An earlier vane, dated 1757, is preserved in the
porch, where you can also see a holy-water stoup.
Around the north porch is a dole stone. This looks like a tomb but bears no
inscription, Here the village doles, or charities, were distributed.
Scratched on the church wall, at the south-west corner, is a small sun dial,
to mark the times for mass.
The village today
In the second half of the twentieth century Potterne has grown, with the
building of a number of new housing developments, both local authority and
private. But it retains much of its character, partly because of a number of
delightful thatched cottages dotted around the village and also a number of
interesting houses. Through them can be traced some of the developments in
the use of building materials. Porch House and the cruck cottage in Coxhill
Lane are good examples of timber-framed buildings. Then came the use of
Stone in Church House. By the beginning of the eighteenth century locally
made bricks were a cheaper and more convenient alternative to use in the
Georgian houses at Court Hill and Whistley. Here stone is still used as a
dressing for doors and windows, although by the time the George and Dragon
was rebuilt later in the century only brick was used.
Porch House, a late fifteenth century timber-framed house, stands in the
High Street. It may well have had connections with the bishop’s manor house
nearby, but also served as inn, bakehouse, brewery and even possibly
Written by Keith Hugo circa 1990