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The FOCUS magazine with local news and Events is published monthly and available at local churches, Post Offices and by subscription. Please contact our Parish Office Tel: 01747 871697 for further details.


Tisbury, which is often called the capital of the Nadder Valley, is set in a secret area amid beautiful scenery. Steeped in history, Tisbury is the largest village in the Nadder Valley and has been a settlement for over 2,000 years. Although a village, Tisbury has many of the aspects of a small town, and is the commercial and service centre for a large rural area. It is set among the chalk downs but here the chalk has been worn away to expose the underlying limestone. Tisbury is slightly unusual for a large Wiltshire parish, with early settlement, in that no main road crosses the parish, and no road in it was turnpiked. The only road through the village was that from Chilmark to Fovant, which was joined at Tisbury by a minor road from the west.

As the largest settlement for some ten miles round, Tisbury lies between the A303 and A30 trunk roads and is on the main railway line from London to the southwest. The railway arrived here in 1859 and is ideal for travelling to and from Salisbury, London and Exeter. There were 1158 residential properties in its two parishes in 1999, and the village is enlarging steadily.

Tisbury is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, on the north edge of ancient Cranborne Chase. Most of the villagers take pride in our countryside, and the local footpaths offering varied vista s are much used.
The photograph shows the High Street and many of its twenty shops, looking up-hill northwards from The Square, with the Railway station a hundred yards behind us. Visible (or out of sight) are the Post Office, fish & chip/oriental takeaway, butcher, a Coop supermarket, greengrocers, newsagent, two hairdressers, delicatessen, florist, shoeshop, DIY shop, draper and clothing shop, chemist, pottery studio, cycle shop, etc., plus a garage with its petrol station.

Most of the older houses in the village are built with locally quarried Chilmark stone, contrasting with the Victorian red brick found on the High Street.

Tisbury is an excellent base from which to explore the surrounding countryside, including the Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Picturesque villages such as Hindon, Dinton, Fonthill Bishop and the Donheads can be explored nearby.

Stay here and you can head for local towns such as Wilton and Shaftesbury, and attractions such as Longleat, Stourhead and Old Wardour Castle - the latter, in the care of English Heritage, is just a few minutes drive away and is a fine example of a 14th century castle, although now without a roof courtesy of the Civil War.

Parking is free in the nearby carpark, though restricted in the narrowness of the High Street.There are modern surgeries for doctors and for dentists, besides a twice-weekly veterinary attendance, a Fire station with retained Firefighters and a Police station.

There are several specialist mechanics premises, and two engineering works which employ many people.There are four pubs; three churches and four halls used for village events. Schools comprise Wardour Primary School, Tisbury First School, and Tisbury Preschool.

The leisure centre caters for the surrounding area, and the swimming pool ensures that all our schoolchildren learn to swim. The list of village organisations, societies and clubs is a long one, so evenings can be busy.

For an excellent article on Tisbury, see the Wiltshire Tourist Board website.

St Andrew's Chapel
St John The Baptist Church

The 12th century parish church of St John the Baptist sits on the northern bank of the River Nadder. Its churchyard boasts a 4,000-year-old yew tree.

Sunday School at St Johns is in the nearby Hinton Hall, from 9:15 AM to the end of the 9:30 AM Church service. All ages are welcome! We hold a FAMILY SERVICE at 9.30 AM on the first Sunday of each month. St Johns also organizes events and adventure days for children and young people during school holidays.

For any enquiries about Sunday School or youth activities, or to register your child, please contact Janie Green on 01747-870033.

St John’s Church


Mrs Leone Dalton 01747 871047
Mr Anthony Lovell-Wood 01747 871121/871110

Organist and Choir Master

Stuart Robinson 07831 827701
email: stuart@stuartrobinson.co.uk
Website: Stuartrobinson.org.uk

Please see the Rota page for details of services.


There is evidence of prehistoric activity here. There was a possible henge monument, stone circle or chambered tomb, probably of Neolithic date, near Place Farm. The remaining three central stones were removed c.1792 to form part of the grotto at old Wardour Castle, and a skeleton was found when the centre stone was moved. The stones were in one of three fields that are now called Cemetery Field. There is however one stone that can still be seen built into the corner of the front wall of David Powers house Standing Stone in Duck Street.

Castle Ditches, (so called in 16th century,) lies to the south east of the village, is an Iron Age multivallate hill fort of 24.5 acres. The ramparts are still up to 10 metres high and there is evidence of an inner ditch. A substantial hill fort such as this would indicate a reasonable sized settlement, both in the fort itself and probably also of people in the surrounding area. Mixed farming would have been practised in small rectangular fields with a wide range of cereals grown. Livestock was mainly sheep, goats and oxen, with pigs in the wooded river valleys. This way of life remained little changed during the Roman period although the hill fort would have fallen into disuse shortly after 43 A.D. as this area came under Roman control. The Romans quarried stone at Chilmark, and probably Tisbury, and some remains and earthworks have been found to the north of the village.

The first known settlement of the village site of Tisbury came in Saxon times. This was probably a defensive site and was part of King Alfreds Burghal Hidage, providing one of the fortresses prepared for defence against the Danes. Tisbury was certainly occupied by the West Saxons who, by 759, named it Tissebiri Tysses Burh. A monastery was here by 700 and may have been established by 674. In 705 the Synod of the Nadder was held here, which was attended by a young monk named Winfrith, better known, in continental Europe, as St. Boniface. The fact that Tisbury hosted this synod is a good indication as to the importance of the monastery here. The monastery was probably one large building, with a separate church and outbuildings. It was razed to the ground in the 9th century during the early Norse raids and the monks were slain.

When King Alfred founded Shaftesbury Abbey, c.880, the lands of Tisbury were given to the Abbey. It is at this time that the village is first mentioned although it is likely to have already existed for 150-200 years. It is most likely that the village had a stone church, probably on the site of the present one. The grange, or administrative headquarters, of the estate was at Place Farm, where the medieval buildings of the Abbeys farming operations can still be seen.

By the time of the Norman Conquest Tisbury was a reasonable sized village and the Domesday Book (1086) gives us some idea of this. It would seem that over 300 people lived on the estate and interestingly there were no serfs listed. The village itself is likely to have been in the lower part of the present High Street and around the church. There was a Saxon routeway between Ebbesbourne Wake and Warminster and this was on solid bedrock in Tisbury. The upper part of the High Street follows this line and so you may still walk where Saxon traders travelled.
13th Century Stone Altar
The return of the St. Johns stone altar to its rightful place in 2002 deserves a mention in these contemporary annals of the village that FOCUS has happily become. I do not know whether such altars date from Norman times when St. Johns first rose beside the already ancient yew which we still have with us today, but it would certainly be safe to claim that it was in situ by the time our magnificent Early English building was finished in the early 13th century.

There it will have remained until the mid 16th century when the iconoclastic excesses of the Reformation on the Continent hit the British Isles. In 1550 Bishop Nicholas Ridley of London, martyred not long after by the Catholics in Queen Marys reign, ordered in his Protestant zeal that all stone altars should be removed from his churches; so that would been about the year that ours was thrown out into the churchyard, but mercifully not smashed up as the vast majority were. Maybe some Tisbury man or woman who loved the old order made sure it was carefully buried in the hope of better times. In came instead, all over England, the plain wooden tables to put away the false persuasion of the people which they have of sacrifice to be done upon the altars; table or Gods board (a beautiful phrase used in the First English Prayer Book of 1549) were now thought to be the appropriate term for the place where the memorial of Christs Last Supper is celebrated by the minister.

Meanwhile Let them preach, let them peach was the cry of the German Protestant reformer Martin Bucer (1491-1551), so into a commanding position in the centre of the church, up and down the areas where Protestantism was gaining round, went the pulpit for in the sermon lies the only source of piety. But the Church of England, settling down after Bloody Marys five year reign into the First Elizabethan Era as both Catholic and Reformed, never embraced this total theological change of emphasis. The pulpit and altar/holy table were seen to be equally important in the formation of the Christian, and Anglicans began to take their cue from a Queen who was every bit as devout as ours is today, and could herself write;

His was the Word that spake it,
He took the Bread and brake it,
And what the Word did make it,
I do believe and take it.

It is a simple and profound verse I frequently use myself as I receive the sacrament brought from the altar, a fine slab of Chilmark stone, consecrated with its five crosses centuries ago and reconsecrated by our Bishop this Spring. It gives me no qualms about St. Johns harking back to an Old Testament view of sacrifice constantly needed to be repeated, rather than one made once for all by Our lord on the Hill of Calvary. Rather does it remind me, beautifully mounted as it is, of the long, constantly, evolving, history of the Church of God into which we are privileged to have been called. So thank you, Chancellor (home-grown!, His Honour Sam Wiggs), who will have given permission for it in the first place, thank you Rector and Churchwardens, and hard-working Fabric Committee; and to the sermon in stone itself, which could tell us so much about the goings-on in our greatly loved church over the centuries, I say: Welcome back.


On a February evening in 1974 Reverend Richard Hurford, Philip Skinner and Rex Galpin were searching for a crypt which they believed must be somewhere under the floor of St. Andrews Chapel. Their efforts were rewarded and they found three Arundell tombs and a pile of skulls in one corner. In the process, they found the stone altar, set in the floor under the plain wooden table (see above).

History does not relate when it was placed there. Was it hidden in the churchyard and later brought back into the chapel or incorporated in the floor under the wooden altar after Bishop Ridleys decree?

The Arundell Family Connection with St.John's Church
Until Shaftesbury Benedictine Abbey was dissolved in 1539 and the estate bought in large part by Thomas Arundell, St. Johns belonged to the Abbey. In many parts of the country abbeys had bought up the Advowsons (become Patrons of the living) of local churches to obtain their revenues (tithes) and installed a vicar at a much lower stipend; St. Johns may have been one of them. The advowson belonged anyhow to the Abbey as early as 1299 tho the Abbey dates from 890.

The politico-religious disturbances from 1530 onwards were outlasted in Tisbury by John Biggs who was (joint) incumbent from 1502 till 1566 covering the reigns of Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary & Philip and Elizabeth, and in doing so avoided losing his living and inconveniencing his parishioners! He must have been a well-loved man, as there would have been many opportunities for his parishioners to have got rid of him in those 64 years.

Catholics and Anglicans wee buried in the churchyard till the Catholic graveyard was opened at Wardour in 1836. The Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829 allowed the Catholic Church to own land and license a graveyard; promiscuous disposal of human remains was and still is an offence. Members of the Arundell family continued to be buried at Tisbury until will into C19th.

The first Arundell patron was Matthew in 1566; Thomas’s son, he was the one who beautified the castles interior described in the Latin inscription over the door, and installed the C16th doorway at the foot of the stairs which looks so incongruous in the mediaeval hall.

After the destruction of the castle in the Civil War (1640s) the family moved to Breamore and in 1699 till 1858 the advowson is shown in other but still local names, presumably tenants or agents of the estate who had a direct interest in affairs at Parish level. From the arrival of the first Jesuit in 1643 known to have served at Wardour until the building of All Saints at Wardour in 1776, it is reasonable to surmise that religious observances other than simply funerals were carried out in St. Johns by Jesuits from Wardour who were no less in the protection of the Arundells than the Anglican Incumbent.

The ownership of the advowsons of St. Johns and many other churches in North Dorset equipped the Arundells with a solid core of Anglican clergy dependent upon them, hence ready to swear to their Anglican Orthodoxy if anyone were minded to question their sectarian soundness: the advowsons carried over from the Dissolution must have saved from expropriation many recusant families who are still with us today.

The advowson is shown in Arundell hands once again in 1858 when Francis Edward Hutchinson was appointed Incumbent by Lord Arundell. Before remarking that there is anything unique or contrary in a Catholic appointing an Anglican clergyman in a Church of England parish, reflect that the (Catholic) Rimingtons of Fonthill Abbey until 20 or 30 years ago appointed the vicar of Fonthill Gifford, and that the first three King Georges were all entitled Electors of Hanover (being electors of the Holy Roman Emperor) whilst swearing in their oaths of coronation in England that they would uphold a Protestant Church, thereby safeguarding the existing ownership of monastic land and the Arundell tenure at Wardour with it. Kings, like Members of Parliament - Charles I and James II to the contrary will abandon any principles to reassert possession of the furniture upon which they sit.

In 1913 Francis Hutchinson bought the advowson from the estate then being administered by trustees who were much overwhelmed by Lucy, widow of the12th Lord Arundell. She overawed the trustees into selling much of the estate property, and indeed sold St. Johns in which her deceased husbands family tombs for nearly three centuries were situated. Her (childless) marriage may have been an unfulfilling one and perhaps she felt fate owed her a debt.

It was Francis Hutchinson who demolished all the houses behind Church Street (what was till last year Bobby Gillinghams coal yard) so that he had an uninterrupted view of St. Johns from his Vicarage near the top of Church Hill (since 1950 called Churchill Estate), and relocated the houses in The Quarry. He installed the West window and cut the porch off at the knees so that it does not break the line of the window giving the porch its peculiar squat appearance.

Charles (Hutchinson) inherited the advowson from Francis and it reverted at his death to the diocese in 1953 after 95 years of Hutchinson custodianship. Advowsons may now not be bought or sold.

Anthony Harriss


Designed by Canon Scoles of Yeovil, the foundation stone was laid on Oct 13th 1897 and the sponsors were Lord and Lady Arundell and Mr & Mrs Horace Chapman of Donhead. Mr Chapman had been the Church of England incumbent at Donhead St Andrew until his conversion to Catholicism when he was removed by Sir John Grove, and with impressive generosity he had punctuated his conversion by contributing a sum of 500 (worth almost 40,000 in todays money) without which neither the Sanctuary nor the Lady Chapel couId have been built. His daughter married Captain (later General) Allenby who took Jerusalem, and Damascus in 1917.

The church was opened on November 3rd 1898 by Bishop Brownlow of Clifton and a large number of clergy both Jesuits and secular - at least 28 - assembled for the event, The sermon was preached by the Jesuit Provincial. After Mass a luncheon was held in the Victoria Hall. and the Bishop proposed a toast to the Pope and the Queen and another to the numerous subscribers. Fr Graham replied for the clergy and Mr Chapman who had been intermittently unwell but was judged now to be in remission, replied as a convert for the laity saying If the Catholics wanted to find out what the benefits of the Catholic religion were, they should go over to Protestantism for a month.

A very large and costly crucifix and statue of Our Lady were it seems, presented by Mr & Mrs Chapman for which a further 500 was rumoured to have been paid.

Throughout the 1920s Lucy Lady Arundell (born 1843, widow of the 12th Baron) interested herself with trying to make All Saints at Wardour a private chapel and for the role of parish church be taken over by the Sacred Heart at Tisbury. Steps were taken, numbered amongst them , failing to appoint a new organist at All Saints, refusing to pay promised money to the priest, appealing to the Bishop of Clifton, and when he confirmed Wardours status as the parish church, appealing to Rome in 1924 and when Rome too confirmed Wardours status enlisting the help of Mussolinis embassy in London to browbeat the Pope in 1926.

A parallel and equally costly campaign was being fought with her deceased husbands family during which in 1913 she had sold St John the Baptist church in Tisbury where her husbands family tombs had lain for three centuries.

The Pope was subjected to another legal guerrilla raid in 1930 but then the Jesuits replaced the Pope as targets for the formidable and idiosyncratic old woman, (her brother in law who briefly succeeded her husband as 13th baron had been a Jesuit), but the Jesuit Provincial terminated this vexatious and time consuming relationship in September 1933 by writing to Bishop Lee at Clifton saying he intended no longer to provide priests for Wardour.

At once Lady Arundell scenting not only a new and unwary target but the opportunity to keep the opposition split offered to move in Redemptorist priests, but Bishop Lee decided to move in his own diocesan priests and in doing so to keep control of half the battlefield.A full discussion (which may have been frank) took place between Lady Arundell and the Bishop in February 1934 from which witnesses were absent and a truce was put in writing during the summer. On October 25th 1934 Lady Arundell died aged 91 leaving the Bishop in possession of the field....and the estate cruelly impoverished.

Under the agreement in February 1934 Trellis House was bought to accommodate a priest at Tisbury effectively splitting the parishes and inflicting on the Bishop (as it was meant to do) the necessity of staffing two separate establishments. Trellis House had been a convalescent home during the Great War when it belonged to Lady Octavia Shaw-Stewart of Fonthill Abbey (died 1920). But it had changed hands more than once in the 1920s - Lady Arundell had herself bought it in 1925. Sold it again in 1928 when tactical advantage in the in-fighting with the Bishop was to be gained by doing so, and contributed to its repurchase in 1934. The Jesuits returned to Wardour in 1946. and in 1966 the parishes or Wardour and Tisbury were reintegrated under a complicated arrangement with the diocese by which the Jesuit presbytery was closed and Jesuits moved into Trellis House which at present along with the allotment behind the church belongs to the diocese of Clifton

Fr Payne SJ (retired early 1960s) was a keen football coach of the Catholic Football Club and is indulgently remembered for the seasonality of some of his qualifying conversions of talented young players: after his retirement the Catholic and Church of England teams were combined as Tisbury United FC

Anthony Harriss

For further reference The History of the Parish of Tisbury and Wardour published in 1998 with a foreward written by Fr Richard Randolf SJ

A letter to the Editor comments......

My main reason for writing is to clear up a minor point that could be misleading. AH writes that in 1913 Lucy, Lady Arundell sold St John the Baptist church in Tisbury in order to meet her legal bills. In point of fact the Parish Church is at law the inalienable property of the Incumbent of the day and therefore could not have been sold by Lady Arundell or anyone else. What perhaps was sold was the Lay Rectorship, which carries with it certain property rights in respect of the Chancel (under which, of course, is situated the Arundell vault). Lay Rectors date back to the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, when they took on (by grant or purchase) the rights and duties formerly exercised in some Parish Churches by local Religious Communities.

Being a Lay Rector in the modern age brings with it more responsibilities than rights as Lay Rectors can have enforced upon them the payment of certain repair costs for Chancels, so maybe Lucy's sale was in the long term interests of the family, after all! From our point of view, we are delighted that the Lay Rectorship of our Parish Church is now in the hands of the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury Cathedral, who are the most punctilious of stewards.


The following article appeared in a Victorian publication 'Hardwicke's Science Gossip' in 1868. It was sent to us from an unusual source, a doctorate student working in Firenze, Italy!

In the churchyard at Tisbury stands a venerable yew of immense size, well worthy of a place among the celebrities so pleasingly recorded by Mr Spicer. The trunk, which is hollow, with a large opening towards the north, measures thirty feet six inches round. By a calculation made from the appearance of an exposed surface, it must be at least one thousand five hundred years old. Britton, in "Beauties of Wiltshire," says of it: "In the churchyard is a large hollow yew-tree 8 or 10 yards in circumference, from the roots of which, near the centre, eight young stems have sprung up,
twisting themselves together in a curious form, and at about the height of two yards, struck into the centre of the principal remaining trunk of the parent tree, the hollow of which they entirely fill up."

Tradition tells that a former vicar, who, from motives of economy, used to pasture two cows in the yard. On one occasion they were lost for three days, at the end of which they were found in the tree. I fear however, especially after what Mr Britton says about the young stems, that the story needs to be received with caution. I regret to say that the tree is decaying fast, a great many roots having been destroyed about twelve years since, in lowering the level of the grave yard - A.G.

[The tree continues to flourish and was estimated by David Bellamy and Kew Gardens experts to be in the region of 4,000 years old]


The first nonconformist congregation met in a barn adjoining he house of Samuel Combes in 1669. Nothing more is known until 1726 when the first congregational chapel was built in the High Street, opposite the Boot Inn. Faithful men of the cause built it from stone quarried at Chilmark and they laboured under great difficulty. These men, who were themselves employed in the Chilmark quarries, built by night, often to find that during the day jealous people of other views had pulled down what they had built overnight. To overcome this their women folk took their sewing and weaving to the site during the daytime and kept guard day by day until completion. The form of Church government was Presbyterian but in 1796 the Independent Congregational form was introduced.

In 1782, because of dissatisfaction with the teaching in the old building, a new chapel or meeting house was built on the left hand side of the High Street entrance to Weaveland Road through the efforts of a Mrs Thomas Turner who came to Tisbury from Trowbridge. In 1797 however the two chapels united and the building erected by Mrs Turner was sold for business purposes. Today it is a dwelling called Turners Chapel.

It is interesting to note that Rev William Jay, one of the most popular ministers of his day, was a native of Tisbury. He grew up in a cottage near the railway bridge in Tisbury Row which today, though much altered is called Jays Cottage. The minister at that time was Rev John Morgan and the old chapel in the High Street is now a dwelling called Morgans Chapel. One of the early ministers was John Rogers a descendant of Prebendary Rogers a canon of St Pauls one of the first translators of the Bible who was one of the first to suffer martyrdom in Queen Marys reign.

The church, named Zion Hall, built on a field called Little Hill Close, was opened for worship on June 1st 1842, the preacher being the aforementioned Rev William Jay of Bath. The church is built of stone, quarried from the north side of the hill on which the church stands. Because it is built on solid rock no foundations were needed. The manse was built in 1854. The church closed for worship in the late 1970s. Today it has been converted into beautiful flats and is owned by a housing association. A burial ground surrounds the church and is still in use.

In 1844 a few Wesleyan Methodists met to worship in the clubroom of the Crown Inn in Church Street. A Mr John Jukes purchased a small plot of land in the quarry and built a chapel. This building continued to be used until 1902 when it was sold as a storeroom. The present church in the High Street, costing about 1850, was built by public subscription. The site was purchased from Hugh Morrison MP who generously sold the land below its market value. The foundation stores were laid by members of the Morrison family or the congregation. These named stones can be seen on the side of the buildings. The stone used for building was obtained from the site on which it stands. A primitive Methodist chapel was built at Tuckingmill in 1871.

In 1933 the various branches of Methodism united to form The Methodist Church. In the late 1970s when Zion Hill United Reformed Church closed, the members of the congregation joined the Methodist Church. This church continues as part of the North Dorset circuit of churches.

This is a brief outline of the past. What of the future?

Well praise Him for all that is past
And Trust Him for all thats to come

Rt Rev John Bickersteth

For more information on the history of this fascinating village, please visit the Tisbury Local History Society

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