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 Rangbourne.

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.

The interior

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 original colouring.

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 barracks.

Written by Keith Hugo circa 1990