Weymouth-Dorset.co.uk Local History

West Knighton

The ancient parish boundary of West Knighton at its southernmost point is astride the main road through Broadmayne and contains the tithing and hamlet of Little Mayne or Little Maine. It was anciently a manor and farm, the latter of which still exists. Between 1326 and 1428 it was in the possession of the Shirad family and afterwards came to the Newburgh family of East Lulworth. It passed by sale to Thomas Kirton and then to William Middleton who was the abbot of Milton. He settled it on a free school at Milton Abbas, which was later removed and held at Blandford. The farm was leased to William Talbot, the grandfather of Stephen Talbot, gent and when the latter died in 1734 the lease expired and all profits went to the school.

At Little Mayne there was a free chapel, dedicated to St. Stephen of whom the patrons were the holders of the farm. The last rector of this chapel was William Elyot who was instituted in 1491 when the farm was in the possession of John Newburgh. The chapel contained a bell that was removed to Fordington.

Close by there was a stone circle of which the stones are said to have been quite large. According to Mr Conyers Place of Dorchester who saw them, there were two which resembled children in swaddling clothes standing about 3 feet high. Unfortunately, Talbot, the landowner broke them in pieces. There were two avenues of stones, one from the south and one from the east and they were said to be similar to those at Avebury. Pictures of these stones can be found at The Megalithic Portal (external link)

St. Peter's, the Parish Church of West Knighton, Dorset

The parish church of St. Peter, West Knighton

The parish church of West Knighton is dedicated to St. Peter and stands on a hill above road level just before the main part of the old village. Built of stone rubble, it dates in part from the 12th century. In the 13th century the nave was extended, the chancel was rebuilt and an aisle was added. In the 14th century came the addition of a north porch. During the next century the upper part of the tower was completed having been started in the 13th. During the 16th century the south aisle was enlarged and formed the south chapel. During the 18th century some of the arches were blocked and part of an aisle destroyed. The church underwent a restoration of 1893, overseen by the famous local author, Thomas Hardy.

Of the monuments within the church there is in the chancel one to Elizabeth, the wife of Richard Ward, 1635 who left three daughters, Elizabeth, Frances and Jane. The Ward family was of West Knighton Farm, which at that time was the Manor house.

West Knighton Farm lies immediately opposite the church and is a large Grade II Listed Building. Originally built in the 17th century with 19th century additions and alterations. A large farmhouse constructed of brick with slate roof, once having a cheese room and dairy. This old building was the manor house of the Manor of West Knighton.

The Manor of West Knighton, with the farm being the principal seat, passed through many families. In the 17th year of the reign of James I it was in the possession of Sir Nicholas Smyth whose family was of Exeter, Devon and he leased it for a term of 99 years to Stephen Ward. Later, in the reign of Charles I, George Smyth conveyed the manor to Stephen Ward and so it continued in the Ward family until 1690. At this time, John Ward and his wife Elizabeth the daughter of John Salter of Coombe Keynes, conveyed it to James Richards, a merchant of the City of London. It is he who is said to have built the house. His wife was Mary, the daughter of Daniel Arden of Dorchester. Their son, George died unmarried in 1739 and so the estate passed to his sisters and co-heiresses, Anne and Mary. In 1741 at Stinsford, Anne became the wife of John Floyer of Upwey who later held West Stafford House in the neighbouring parish. Thus the manors of both West Knighton and West Stafford were at the same time in the possession of the Floyer family.

Interestingly, there are documents that show another possible manor in West Knighton, although its exact location is unknown. The first mention of it appears to be in 1678 when it was in the possession of Charles Croke of Bonham, Somerset and tenure of William Pount. Croke's daughter Katharine was about to marry John Lisle and his mother Alicia Lisle appears on an indenture wherein Charles Croke and his daughter conveyed it to John Lisle in fee in consideration of their forthcoming marriage. In 1695 this 'manor' was conveyed by John Lisle of Moyle's Court (Hampshire) to James Richards of West Knighton. This then formed part of the inheritance of the Manor of West Knighton Farm as mentioned above.

A later deed of 1689 between Stephen Ward, gent and Robert Pount, yeoman, mentions an earlier deed of 1609 regarding lands and messuages in West Knighton that were said to have been part and parcel of the possessions of the "dissolved guild or fraternity of Weymouth in the parish of King's Weeke" (Wyke Regis).

The old School House and School and the Cottages, West Knighton, Dorset

The Old Schoolhouse and School and old cottages across the road

Round the bend from the farm and church lies the old village. There are no pavements, the cottages fronting onto the road at the extremity of their porches. The first cottage was the old smithy and called as such today. Built in the mid 18th century, the row of cottages, consisting of Smithy, Middle, Angel and Steps Cottage are all Grade II English Heritage Listed Buildings. Their walls are of rubble stone with rendering and colour wash under thatched roofs.

Across the road, the Old School House and School date from Victorian times when education became compulsory. Built in church style, they bear initials and a building date of HB 1865. The charming little school has a bell tower to the front and an entrance porch with a clock. Dr. Hawkins of Lewell Lodge paid for the school to be built, while John Floyer, Lord of the Manor, gave the land.

The New Inn at West Knighton, Dorset

The New Inn, West Knighton

At the northern end of the old village is the New Inn public house, effectively making a boundary between the buildings of the village and the open countryside beyond with the gravel and chalk pits that surround the parish. This was once farm cottages dating from around the early 19th century and built of brick. It is now one of the many English Heritage Listed Buildings in West Knighton.

It would appear from study of the census and directory entries for West Knighton, that George Voss, the blacksmith was perhaps the one who 'founded' the pub. In the 1851 census his occupation is described as 'blacksmith' but in the directory for that year he is described as a 'blacksmith and beer retailer'. At this time he was aged 75. In the next census of 1861, by this time aged 85, he is a publican and the name of the pub is the 'Three Horse Shoes'. His daughter, Eunice, aged 46, wife of Charles Bishop, a Chelsea Pensioner, is recorded in the same household. Ten years later on the 1871 census we find Eunice to be an innkeeper at the 'New Inn' and she appears in subsequent directories up until at least 1889.

The old Ordnance Survey map of 1890 shows a group of buildings, seemingly attached to the New Inn. To its southern side, were buildings much as they are today where it goes over the little lane leading to the car park. To its north-eastern side lay another part, probably more farm cottages.

Within the parish, beyond the New Inn is Lewell, otherwise known as East Stafford. Lewell was anciently a manor and lies in the tithing of Friar Maine. It was anciently held by the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem (see below about the Knights Templars) and in 1533 was granted to John Gerard of Tincleton along with the tithes of the chapel there. This land, like much in the area went through the families of Long, Freke, and Williams. The Williams family was of Tyneham and the last to own it was John Williams from whom it descended to Dame Jane Lawrence, the wife of Sir Robert Lawrence of Grange and daughter of John William's. Jane Lawrence thereafter conveyed Lewell Farm and a watermill called East Stafford Mill to her uncle, Robert Williams. A mill is known to have existed on this site as early as 1338. Robert's son and heir, John Williams sold it for 5000 in 1699 to John Richards of Warmwell. Later, in 1792, William Richards of Warmwell sold it to Adair Hawkins.

Lewell Lodge stands nearby, though not part of the Manor of Lewell. It was once the seat of Bisset Hawkins M.D., built by his father, Adair Hawkins around 1796. Adair Hawkins had purchased the land on which it stands in 1790 from Mr. Pount.

Hutchins, in his 'History and Antiquities of Dorset' says that West Knighton gets its name from the Knights Templars or Hospitallers who held land in the parish from around the late 13th century and at Friar Mayne they established a preceptory.

To read more about the Knights Hospitallers at West Knighton there is an article on British History Online: Houses of Knights Hospitallers - The preceptory of Friary Mayne (external link)

Historical Parish Information


Parish Registers begin:


Hundred or Liberty:

Culliford Tree

Poor Law Union & Registration District:


Online Parish Clerk Project (external link)

West Knighton OPC


West Knighton Directories: 1851, 1855, 1859, 1875, 1889, 1895 transcriptions


Nearby Parishes and Places





West Stafford


Winterborne Came

Winterborne Herringston


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