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St Andrew's History

Within the walls of St. Andrews Church are a wealth of memorials dating back through the centuries which encapsulate the history of this unique village. The Church we see today, although it looks ancient, was in fact built in 1836, replacing an earlier edifice, dating back to the 13th Century, which stood on almost the same spot. But fortunately some of the fabric and monuments from its predecessor were saved and utilised. The former church was slightly larger and had a higher steeple. It would seem that Charmouth had an even earlier place of worship, near the beach, where there must have been a settlement as the Domesday Book refers to a population of just 30, of whom 16 were Salt Workers. Salt production was common along the coast from Roman times and there is a document as early as 774 A.D. regarding a Salt House in Lyme Regis owned by Sherborne Abbey. 
A Charter at Salisbury Cathedral, dated 1240, mention the 'Capella de Cernemue,' i.e., the Chapel of Charmouth. when there is a dispute between William Heiron , Lord of Charmouth and the Parson of Church of St. Wite and Holy Cross (now Whitchurch Canonicorum). 
The Hundred of Whitchurch was one of a number created by King Alfred the Great and covered a large area including Burstock, Catherston, Colway in Lyme Regis, Pillesdon, Stockland, Symondsbury, Chideock, Marshwood and Stanton St. Gabriel. They were centred on the Mother Church which lies in the Vale of Marshwood, nearly three miles N.E. of Charmouth. and most of these villages had Chapels of Ease. This was the case in Charmouth, and the remains of the nearby chapel at Stanton St. Gabriel can give you an idea today of how this earlier building may have looked before it disappeared under the sea. 

No single owner of Charmouth had more impact on its history than Forde Abbey whose Abbots were to be it's Lords for nearly 400 years. Their Abbey had been founded in 1147 and in time was to become one of the richest and most learned institutions in England. By the end of the 13th Century they owned over 30,000 acres of land in Devon, Dorset and Somerset. It seems that land would be given to them on the understanding that they prayed for the souls of the donor.

Amongst these bequests was one in 1170 by Richard del Estre for land in Cernia as Charmouth was known then. Later his son confirmed this gift with another adjoining piece of land given by his brother Ace. With additional blocks of land the Abbey was soon the owner of the village and the Abbot was being described as Lord of the Manor in later documents. 

The present church of St Andrew was rebuilt in 1836, utilising some of the fabric and monuments saved from its predecessor. 

Within the church is a piece of carved stone which was found some years ago built into the garden wall of the rectory. It stood on the east end of the chancel of the former church. It was probably part of the Norman church which was demolished in 1503. It represents an Abbot standing in front of a cross, and by carefully studying the figure, one can clearly see the tonsure, chasuble and alb. The uplifted left hand was evidently holding a Pastoral Staff, and the right hand was raised in the act of blessing. It is to be remembered that Abbots of great Abbeys were entitled to use a Pastoral Staff as well as Bishops.This figure probably represents one of the Abbots of Forde Abbey.

It must have been depressing news when the village was told in 1835 by Charles Wallis of Dorchester, architect, that he had never seen so dilapidated or unsafe a building, and that it was necessary to build a new church. However the whole village worked with enormous energy to raise the money. The numbers of residents who subscribed, was 334 their subscriptions came to £1221.The number of friends outside the parish was 375 their donations came to £1130 making a total of £2351. Mr. Giles collected £8.8.0 from three Oxford Colleges, one hundred and nineteen clergy gave most generously. 

The school children contributed 10:6d.The largest sum was £100 the smallest 6d. The proceeds of two bazaars were £30.18.0. Collections at the laying of the foundation stone was £14 and at the opening £50.18.6. The total cost came to £3098. By grants and sale of old. material this sum was collected by 1837 with the exception of £10. 9d which was advanced by the Rector. Services during the building were held in the school and a great many people went to Lyme. 

For more of the history of St Andrews & Charmouth, go HERE