Last Updated on October 9, 2019 by Sophie Nadeau
Time seems to have stood still in the small village of Compton Chamberlayne. It’s located in the attractive Nadder Valley, an area that is a well-kept secret and extends from Wilton in Wiltshire right through to the small market town of Shaftesbury in Dorset. Compton Chamberlayne itself lies within close proximity of Wilton and the rural church was built at the same time as nearby Salisbury Cathedral, both in the Early English Gothic style.
The village of Compton Chamberlayne
The small village was first listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 as ‘Contone’ and had a population of thirty-two comprising of 28 villagers, 2 smallholders and 2 slaves. This meant that it was in the largest 40% of places on record at that time. The entire population of England at the time comprised of less than 1.5 million people with most living in the south and east of the country.
The name ‘Compton’ is derived from the two words coombe and ton both early English/Saxon words that combined mean an ‘enclosure in a wooded area’. The Chamberlayne was an addition during the Middle Ages when the village became the property of a Robert le Chamberlayne. This is a very similar scenario to another Compton that is found in Somerset and which became known as Compton Pauncefoot.
The Penruddocke family became the eminent family in the area during the 16th century and built Compton Park, adjacent to the church. The family were to inhabit the house for over four hundred years including a Colonel John Penruddocke who led an uprising during the English Civil War.
In 1655 John Penruddocke, a Royalist, became the leader of the doomed Penruddocke Uprising. He was to pay the ultimate price for his beliefs and was defeated in South Molton, just north of Exeter. He was beheaded in Exeter in May 1655.
Compton Chamberlayne and World War I
During the First World War, the farmland around Compton Chamberlayne was used as a large military training area known as Hurdcott Camp. By 1917 it was inhabited by the Australian Imperial Force and became a convalescent camp for Australian soldiers who had been discharged from hospitals but unfit enough to go back to the Front. In fact, a number of them died from complications from their wounds and others succumbed to Influenza.
There is a Commonwealth Graves Commission Cemetery in the village where twenty-eight Australian soldiers are buried along with six British and Irish soldiers.
St. Michael’s – The 13th Century Church at Compton Chamberlayne
There are no records about the existence of a church prior to the construction of the existing building. It was built at the same time as the new cathedral in Salisbury, just nine miles away, during the 13th century in the same Early English Gothic style.
There are two fonts in the church, one just inside the door and dating to the 13th century. However, the other, which was in the churchyard for many years is most probably late Norman. Is it possible that this is in fact from an earlier church in the village? This attractive font is now propped somewhat unceremoniously in the church porch.
The Old Yew and Churchyard Cross
As you approach St. Michael’s from the path you pass a pretty ancient Yew tree to the right and the base of a churchyard or preaching cross to the left of the entrance porch. The cross itself is now missing and was probably destroyed by iconoclasts either during the Reformation or perhaps slightly later during Cromwell’s Interregnum.
Interior of St. Michael’s
The small church was extensively restored in 1878 and the north and south transepts were rebuilt. The floor of the nave was relaid and a gallery was removed from the west end. Galleries were popular additions during the 17th and 18th centuries and fell out of favour during the Victorian period. A rather magnificent 17th-century example can be seen in St. Saviour’s at Dartmouth.
The church is much brighter than many owing to the lack of coloured stained glass in the large tracery windows. Was the stained glass also destroyed at the same time as the removal of the churchyard cross? The Penruddocke family vault is situated under the raised chancel and a memorial to the family is sited on the north wall.
The choir seats were gifted by the Penruddocke family in the 19th century and all bear the family coat of arms embedded within beautifully carved pew ends. Although this tranquil little church is somewhat off the beaten track it is well worth a visit if you are in the vicinity of Wilton.
SALISBURY CATHEDRAL – the cathedral is one of the most important examples of Early English architecture and is also home to one of the four remaining Magna Carta. The cathedral and water meadows were immortalised by the great English landscape artist – John Constable.
OLD SARUM – Just oozing with history! It is the site of Salisbury’s original cathedral. Originally built as an Iron Age hillfort it was then modified by the Normans and used to build a motte and bailey castle. Climb to the top and you will be rewarded by magnificent over Salisbury.
WILTON & WILTON HOUSE – Dating back to the 8th century Wilton was by the end of the 9th century the royal seat of the Kingdom of Wessex. It was also important ecclesiastically as home to the important Benedictine nunnery – Wilton Abbey.
The Abbey was closed during the Dissolution in 1539 and the land granted to Sir William Pembroke who eventually became Earl of Pembroke. The magnificent Wilton House was constructed on the site of the Abbey and today houses a world-famous art collection.
STONEHENGE – At just a twenty-minute drive away from Compton Chamberlayne to Stonehenge, you won’t want to miss the UK’s most famous Neolithic site if you’ve never been before. Stonehenge is essentially a prehistoric monument whose stones were erected (for an unknown reason) around 5000 years ago. Purchase your Stonehenge tickets here in advance.