Ancient Monuments

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Early Christian enclosure on St Aldhelm's Head

A Scheduled Monument in Worth Matravers, Dorset

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Latitude: 50.5798 / 50°34'47"N

Longitude: -2.0568 / 2°3'24"W

OS Eastings: 396070.917356

OS Northings: 75560.868106

OS Grid: SY960755

Mapcode National: GBR 347.GT3

Mapcode Global: FRA 67LJ.LHW

Entry Name: Early Christian enclosure on St Aldhelm's Head

Scheduled Date: 15 October 1924

Last Amended: 7 July 2000

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017308

English Heritage Legacy ID: 33165

County: Dorset

Civil Parish: Worth Matravers

Traditional County: Dorset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Dorset

Church of England Parish: Worth Matravers St Nicholas

Church of England Diocese: Salisbury


The monument includes an early Christian enclosure situated on the crest of
St Aldhelm's Head, a coastal headland with panoramic views. The centre of the
enclosure is occupied by a stone built chapel which is Listed Grade I.
The early Christian enclosure has a sub-circular plan, with a maximum diameter
of 46m. It is defined by a bank about 3m wide and about 0.5m high, with a
possible entrance to the north east. The central area of the enclosure forms a
slightly raised platform which supports the stone chapel, which is of 12th
century origin. This has walls of coarsed rubble with ashlar dressing and a
pyramidal roof covered with stone slates. The building could overlie an
earlier timber structure. A gully within the south western area of the
enclosure leads towards the chapel entrance; this may have resulted from
drainage improvement work. The two small quarries on the inner edge of the
southern bank are likely to be the result of post-medieval prospection. Two
rectilinear terraces which occupy the south western area of the enclosure
could represent building platforms, although no details are known.
The Dorset historian J Hutchins records that human bones were discovered
within a square hole in proximity to the chapel. A second grave identified
402m to the NNE of the chapel, lay beneath a large slab of Purbeck stone with
a large cross carved in relief. This grave contained the remains of a woman
and was associated with possible structural foundations which may also have
related to the enclosure.
The 12th century chapel was named after St Aldhelm, the first Bishop of
Sherbourne, demonstrating an important link with a major religious centre in
Dorset, where a comparable early Christian enclosure has also been identified
(lying beneath Sherbourne Old Castle). Following the Dissolution the structure
was retained as a `seamark', prior to 19th century restoration and reuse as a
The chapel, which is in ecclesiastical use, is excluded from the scheduling,
although the ground beneath it is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Early Christian enclosures are a rare class of monument nationally, and are
characterised by an enclosure which is roughly circular in plan. These were
often located in remote or isolated areas and served a small religious
community (or cell). Some enclosures were associated with a chapel building
and/or a cemetery.
Despite some limited disturbance by quarrying, the early Christian enclosure
on St Aldhelm's Head represents a rare earthwork survival and will contain
archaeological and environmental evidence relating to the monument and the
landscape in which it was constructed. The enclosure represents one of few
such features known in Dorset. At least one burial has been identified
close to the chapel (with another Christian grave lying outside) and it is
possible that the enclosure contains a cemetery. The close association with
the 12th century chapel is notable and the single compartment design, square
plan and pyramidal roof of the structure are unusual features for a chapel of
this date. These features might reflect the rebuilding in stone of an earlier
timber building. The dominant position of St Aldhelm's Chapel means that it
has become an important feature of the local landscape.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Historical Monuments in the County of Dorset: Volume I, (1970), 411-412

Source: Historic England

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