The Knowlton’s of England
The ruin of a 14th
Century church in the centre of a pagan earth circle, built in the Bronze Age,
makes Knowlton unique. It is located about 2 miles south of Cranborne and
6 miles north of Wimborne, Knowlton was once a thriving village and the capital
of a Saxon Hundred. Today it can scarcely be called a hamlet in the parish of
Woodlands. Its name simply means a tun by a knoll.
Knowlton is part of the ancient complex of Knowlton Rings, which consisting of 4 earthworks: the North Circle, Church Circle, Southern Circle, and the 'Old Churchyard'. In addition to these sites, to the east of the Church Circle is the Great Barrow, the largest round barrow in Dorset. Within a one mile radius of these earthworks there are also a large number of barrows and ring-ditches.
The location of the Church within the central henge at Knowlton is
clear evidence of the "Christianisation" of older pagan sites. This
"Christianisation" was widespread in the British Isles from the time
the earliest Papal missionaries arrived. In an attempt to "convert"
the local populace many sacred sites were "adapted" as well as
centuries old customs.
The Truth of Knowlton Church
The church was built sometime in the twelfth century and underwent several modifications through to the fourteenth century. It is widely believed that if megaliths (standing stones) were ever a feature of the surrounding henge they were broken up and used in the construction of the church.
Although the area around the site is now somewhat desolate, the village of Knowlton was once a thriving community, even to the extent that it held its own annual fair. In 1485 the village suffered the fate of so many other settlements and was virtually wiped out by the spread of the Black Death (bubonic plague). All that remains of the village today are the vague traces of foundations in a field located a few hundred yards to the west of the church. Despite this dreadful epidemic the church itself continued in use until the early part of the eighteenth century. In or around 1747 the church was given a new roof which promptly fell in! The church was abandoned and left to fall into ruin. Mystery always surrounded the fate of the bell from the church tower and gave rise to one or two local legends.
click to enlarge
|So as to give you an idea of what the Knowlton Church would of looked like when it was complete and in use, I have taken some pictures of a 12 century church in the Parish of Almer, Dorset (aprox 20 miles away from Knowlton Church) This is not an exact historic comparison but hopefully will give you an idea as the layman will notice the strong similarities. Though you may not see it but the stone layout and type is similar on close inspection.... at least from an unqualified eye.|
The Legend of Knowlton Church
The disappearance of the bell sparked many a rumour and counter-rumour. Some claimed that it ended up in the church tower at the nearby village of Shapwick. Others say it found its way to Sturminster Marshall, a little further away.
Local legend would have it that the Devil himself stole the bell and threw it into the River Allen. It is said that the villagers attempted to retrieve the bell but could not overcome the Devil's strength as he held on tightly to it. When a villager suggested they yoke a team of pure white oxen it seemed they were about to retrieve the precious bell. Pulling hard the oxen drew the bell close to the surface and the villagers cried, "Now we've got out the bell, in spite of all the devils in hell!" only to see the ropes part and release it. Their bell sank to the bottom once more and was never seen again.
A more plausible story is that thieves took the bell with the intention of selling it abroad. The thieves were pursued as far as an old bridge crossing the River Stour, just downstream from White Mill. Realising they could not escape with their booty the thieves heaved it into the river. Attempting to rescue the bell villagers found that every time they managed to secure it their ropes would mysteriously break, leaving the bell to rest in the river bed for ever. This story gave rise to the following rhyme;-
bell is stole
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Revised: November 03, 2010