Standing tall behind the Quay of this Ancient market town of Wareham is the Parish Church of Lady Saint Mary. Its tower has dominated the surrounding skyline for many centuries acting not just as a marker for the town across the surrounding marshes but for shipping from Pool Harbour approaching the town via the River Frome.
Probably like all churches that we see today its location was probably dictated by the use of the site by early religious groups for worship. Lady St. Mary was built by St. Aldhelm in 705ad the then Bishop of Sherborne in what was known as the Kingdom of Wessex. It was an Anglo Saxon construction with the tower being added later in 1500 and occasional increased in height.
The Nave looking East to the Chancel
As you enter Lady St. Mary you are struck by both the height and bright modern style of the interior. Wooden beams, solid supporting pillars and arches and a dominant East Window. It is relatively modern…. the main body of the church and roof were reconstructed in 1840’s. Not really surprising as like most religious buildings it has been involved in turmoil and war over the many centuries since it was founded back in 705. Invading Danes completely destroyed the church in 876 and Civil Wars and other incursions left there marks. (It is a wonder any of our historic churches are still standing) Despite all the rebuilding’s and repairs it is still much the Anglo Saxon Style.
The Chancel is the on its own both colourful and dominant. The East window was constructed in the 1300’s and the Coloured glazing added in 1886. The Organ Pipes add another dimension. Next to the Chancel on the south side you drop down some steps to the small St. Edwards Chapel one of the oldest parts of the Church still much as it was, dating back to 1100’s a dedicated place for quiet reflection and prayer.
The Church also has a proud boast in so much as its Church Bells have been rung to mark just about every major event in the History of the UK.
The history of Wareham matches that of Lady St. Mary’s. Looking at the Quay which is the draw for todays Tourists with its waterside Pub and Tea Rooms, river trips up and down the River Frome it conveys a very different picture than its past importance. The fact that the Quayside Pub was once a Granary is perhaps one clue. In fact the River Frome and its direct link, across the surrounding marshes, to Poole Harbour made this a major Port of Dorset, trading across the maritime world and centre of trading commerce. Wareham was strategically located on some of the only higher dry ground above the marshes and between the two rivers of Frome and Piddle that flow on each side to the town.
Today it is still a busy market town, full of interest for any tourist… and to emphasis the national importance to the country in times past, Wareham has been the home of two Royal Mints.
Next Sunday we will travel to another ancient Dorset Religious location with links to Lady St. Mary.
(C) David Oakes 2018