History and Geography of the Parish
The Parish of Worth Matravers is an area of outstanding natural beauty. It was created by the sea, a large river and massive earth movements millions of years ago. This landform has dictated how the Parish would develop over the last 7,500 years. There is ample evidence to show its past from dinosaurs to modern man.
How the Parish has developed
Early settlers began to arrive on the south coast of the Parish in approximately 4000 to 5000 BC. These nomadic hunter-gatherers moved along the western edge of the Parish towards Nine Barrow Down. Later in the bronze and iron ages, settlements appeared and field systems were set up. During the period of the Roman occupation the area became the industrial region of Roman Dorset; Kimmeridge shale was worked to produce pennies and armlets, stone was dug for buildings and clay for pots. There was also extensive agriculture. Purbeck marble was dug in the 1st century and there is much evidence of the Roman occupation throughout the Isle of Purbeck, especially at Gallows Gore. Worth was a large Saxon settlement; there was plenty of water, and agricultural systems were developed. Renscombe was acquired by Cerne Abbey in 978 AD.
The tilting and folding of the rock formations left a layer of Kimmeridge clay at the edge of St. Aldhelms headland overlayered with Portland limestone (a marine deposit), Purbeck limestone (a freshwater deposit) and then the Wealden clay beds. At Winspit and Seacombe, the sea cut into the valleys revealing the Portland beds. Where the Purbeck stone beds meet the Wealden clay, a thin layer of Purbeck marble was formed along the spring line.
Today there is a landform of sheer cliffs in the south, undulating up to a ridge (which for thousands of years formed the main route way in Purbeck) and a deep wide valley between it and chalk of Nine Barrow Down.
St. Aldhelms Chapel
Over the next few hundred years farms and estates were developed at Renscombe, Weston Eastington, Quarr, Downshay and Woodyhyde. In 1220 Alice De Buerre gave Purbeck marble and stone to build Salisbury Cathedral from the grounds of the manor of Worth at Downshay. Over the next two centuries, hundreds worked the marble and stone beds for the churches and cathedrals of England. At about the same time a chapel was built at St. Aldhelms Head where there had previously been a lookout post.
The St. Nicholas of Myra church in Worth
The St. Nicholas of Myra church in Worth was first built in about 1100 and over the next few hundred years it was changed and added to before being completely restored in 1869. The Parish of Worth included Swanage until 1487 when Swanage became a parish in its own right.
In the 13th century the open field system and strip lynchets were set up on East and West Man. The villagers had rights to work these lands for the next 500 years. However, these rights were lost at the end of the 18th century which led to great hardship. At the end of the 14th century ownership of the manor changed and Worth, ‘worth’ meaning an enclosure (of land), became known officially as Worth Matravers after William Matravers, constable of Corfe Castle – In the 17th century large dwellings were built at the farms at Renscombe, Eastington, Downshay and Quarr using local stone. The 18th and 19th century saw a new stone age. Scores of quarries were worked at the Portland stone beds at Seacombe and Winspit.
Worth Matravers Village
A large amount of building took place in the village of Worth Matravers, so much so that in 1861 there were 75 dwellings in the Parish of which 55 were in the village. These included a school and school house (now the village hall) and a public house named The Sloop (built in 1752) later (1830) to become The Square and Compass which still thrives, hardly changed, today. By 1838 two thirds of the present village was already in place.Building continued to the east of the village and down the road to Winspit. Today, because it is such a beautiful village, many properties in Worth Matravers have been bought as second homes which are only occupied at weekends and certain times of the year. The village shop has now closed but there are still Post Office facilities available three mornings a week.
After the First World War, building began in Harmans Cross. Until then the only buildings were at Quarr and Old Caplestone. Houses were built in Haycrafts Lane and many wooden army huts and asbestos buildings were transported and erected along the new road. Later more substantial properties were built at North Instow, and then South Instow. A village hall was erected in Haycrafts Lane and the development had a small shop, a small chapel and very thriving garage. Harmans Cross continues to grow and today, it has a thriving shop incorporated into the garage and a new village hall, which opened in 2010.