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St Mary's History

There has been a church on this site since 1337. However the present 'chapel style' building dates from 1857 when the church was rebuilt to a design by J.L. Pearson of London, perhaps best known as the designer of Truro cathedral.
 According to the list of Catherston rectors in 'Hutchins History of Dorset' the first rector of the Chapel of St Mary as it was then called, was Adam Payn in 1337. The Payn family held the manor of Catherston from the time of Edward 1st (1272).
St Mary's church as it now stands is described by Hutchins:
"Remarkable as being one of the most beautiful edifices in the county, having been entirely rebuilt at the expense of R.C. Hildyard Esq who laid the foundation stone in 1857. The architecture corresponds with that of the Early Decorated period. The plan comprises of a nave and chancel under one roof, externally divided by a gable parapet. The chancel being distinguished by enriched stonework consisting of a deeply carved eavesed cornice and an empanelled band.
On the north side a vestry building is attached containing an organ chamber. The masonry of the nave is composed of split cherts contrasting with the Bath stone dressings. The details have been selected and arranged with great taste and pure effect. The whole of the accessories internally and externally are of high substantial and beautiful character.
The entrance is through a deeply recessed and moulded doorway at the west end, above which is a four light window and a bell gable enriched with gablets and terminating in a foliated cross. There is one bell with a diameter of 17 inches cast from a piece of brass cannon captured from the Russians at Sebastopol during the Crimean War.
The chancel arch is supported by columns, the capitals of which are carved in foliage. Before the footpace of the altar a brass plate is inscribed in Latin: 'This church dedicated to Our Lady collapsed through age and its rebuilding was undertaken to the Glory of God in the year of our Lord 1857 by Robert Charles Hildyard Esquire, Barrister of the Inner Temple, Queens Counsel three times elected to the British Parliament by the Borough of Whitehaven' The windows are filled with stained glass. Those in the chancel representing the agony in the garden, the betrayal and beaming of the cross, the entombment and resurrection. The west window is illustrative of the life of St Mary the Virgin, to whom the church is dedicated. In the chancel is a monument tablet 'consecrated to the Memory of Catherine Hildyard, relict of the late Rev Wm Hildyard rector of Winestead in the East Riding of the County of York. Died May 6th 1855 aged 86.

St Mary's is one of two churches built by the Victorians in Dorset that used oak both for the roof and pews, whereas the normal was pine (the other church is Frampton). The beautifully carved roof is supported by angel capitals. The pulpit is of Beer stone richly engraved and supported beneath by small polished marble pillars. Similar marbles appear supporting the arch of the east end window behind the altar and on each side of the windows in the north and south walls of the chancel.
The font is of the same Beer stone as the pulpit and engraved around the sides are scenes depicting Christ blessing the children, the three fishes, the miraculous catch of fish, the Good Shepherd and Joseph and Mary with the Babe and sheep. Around the top the engraved inscription in Latin states that Frederick Hildyard gave the font in memory of Robert Charles Hildyard.

Over the pulpit is a brass plaque to Colonel John Symes Bullen 1847-1936 who restored the manor; it was placed in his memory by his wife. Below is another plaque to the memory of his wife, placed there by their children.
 Outside the church under the east window is a double grave being the the burial place of Robert Charles Hildyard Esq Q.C. M.P. who died in 1857 and that of his only son Robert Henry who died whilst out shooting at Westhay in 1876 aged 40.
Note the stone shoe scrapers outside, one on each side of the door as you enter.
 The small plaque over one of the side lights commemorates the Silver Jubilee of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II in 1977 when the residents of this parish made repairs to the church, including rewiring.