History of Dodington Hall

The text below was seen in December 1998, posted on the wall of the little church adjacent to Dodington Hall (which is in the village of Dodington, slightly west of Nether Stowey).  There was no indication of the source or the author.

In the time of Edward the Confessor, Dodo, Almar and Godric were the three royal forestors for the Exmoor district. Dodo had a house at Dulverton. After the conquest of 1066 and by the time of the Domesday, the aforesaid Dodo held the manor of Stawe (Stowey) and now had his residence at Dodington, which was named after him. He was the head forester and keeper of the king’s venison in the forest of North Petherton on whose edge lay Dodington.

Later Dodington became part of the manor of Stringston and Adamde Gunteville, by his marriage with the daughter of Ranulph de Stringston in the reign of Henry II, came into the estate and gave Dodington to his son, William, who took the name of Dodington.

This family of Dodington, still holding certain rights in the forest, took as their arms three hunting horns and as their crest, a stag. These arms may be seen both inside and outside the church and also in the glass and plaster work in Dodington Hall and over the fireplace in the great hall.

They built the house, possibly on the site of an older one, in 1591 and they no doubt built the church for the foresters and the few local inhabitants of the parish. There never seems to have been more than about 15-20 houses in the parish.

Sir Francis Dodington, who was Sheriff of Somerset, ventured his all on the side of King Charles in the civil war. There are many stories about him. Some Parliament soldiers surrendered on promise of quarter. But he hanged them at Frome and he was known as (a) man of no honour. He is also reported as meeting a minister of religion in Shervage Wood. Sir Francis stopped him and demanded if he was for ‘King or Parliament?’ The reply was ‘For God and the Gospel’, and Sir Francis shot him on the spot. No doubt apocryphal but evidently he was a man of some character.

He fled to France and sold knives and buckles to eke out a living. He did, however, manage to captivate a rich French widow and, at the restoration, he returned to England and ‘though his estates had been greatly wasted yet he could never be prevailed upon to ask everything of the Crown, having engaged himself as he always declared on a mere matter of conscience’.

The last Dodington <ed note: George Bubb Dodington> was created Baron of Melcombe Regis in 1761 and, dying without issue, the manor came by family settlement to Richard Earl Temple and thence to the Duke of Chandos and Buckingham. The duke had his seat at Stowe and his agent ran the copper mines of Dodington. The ruined engine houses are still visible. They were never a profitable venture. The Castle of Comfort was the miners’ pot house.

The manor house became a farm house and in need of repair. The Acland family of Fairfield House acquired it in Victorian times and did an extensive restoration. It still belongs to the Fairfield estate. The great hall with its angel roof, minstrels’ gallery and fireplace, survives more or less in its original form. In the cellar is a water wheel which once drove the spit in the kitchen above. There is some fine plaster work incorporating the Tudor rose, the fleur-de-lys of France and the pomegranate of Katherine of Aragon.

(The interior may be seen, if convenient, on request.)

The church has a feeling of great antiquity and piety. There is a fine font and cover. Some charming pieces of original glass in the East window (one longs to have seen it as it must have been, probably a crucifixion). The altar is the original of the Jacobean period and carved on the spandrels are either bishops with wings or angels with mitres. There is some good modern oak woodwork, and a fine holy water stoup in the porch.

The population is about 40 souls and the upkeep of the church is something of a problem, as much work needs to be done. It is a legacy from the past which we will try to pass on to future generations in the hope that, one day, the faith it enshrines will once again capture the hearts of the men and women of England – if it ever did!

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