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Listed Building
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Dorset (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
ST 64626 16814



II* Parts of the nave may date from a rebuilding of 1601. Rebuilt with north and south aisles in 1715, the design attributed to William, 5th Lord Digby (c. 1662-1752). Lightly restored by Slater, 1860 and 1865.

Materials: Ashlar limestone, some dressings of Ham Stone, stone tiled roofs.

Plan: Four-bay nave with half bay to the west (lobby with gallery over) and short chancel recess to the east. Aisles slightly shorter than the nave at the east end. North-east vestry.

Exterior: The church is most unusual, both for its date and for its indeterminate style; 17th century mullioned, mixed with Gothic and early Georgian. More of the 17th century fabric may survive than has been suggested (see History, below). The west end is composed of three equal gables, that at the centre with a big bell cupola in stone, of 1715. It is square on plan, with an arched opening on each side, ogee-curved dome and ball finial. The aisle gables have obelisk finials. There are three doors symmetrically arranged, with slightly cambered openings in square frames. This is very old-fashioned for 1715; they are either re-used 17th century doorcases, or perhaps the flanking aisle doors were made in 1715 to match the older nave door. The windows are high up, one over each door. The centre one is of four lights with uncusped heads of depressed arched profile. There is a square hood mould with label stops. Above the aisle doors are large oculi in moulded frames, with leaded lights and no tracery. The aisles have Gothic arched windows of two lights with Y-tracery, seemingly of 1715 as the east window is of this pattern and it was blocked in 1733 for the reredos. The windows at the east end of the aisles match. The ashlar facing of the west wall was much repaired and replaced in the late 20th century.

Interior: The dominant feature is the Gothic nave arcading of Ham stone; is of 1715, since the church of 1601 was apparently not aisled. They have octagonal piers, moulded capitals and single chamfered two-centred arches; Pevsner suggests they may be Slater's work of the 1860s; if not, then they constitute an exceptionally early work of Gothic Revival. The chancel is a shallow recess with side walls projecting slightly westward to separate it from the aisles. Over the west end of the nave is a gallery on turned timber posts, 1715. The roofs are plastered wagon vaults without ribs, and with moulded cornices at eaves level. The floors are stone flagged, with 19th century red and black quarries in places. The three west doors have six raised and fielded panels, probably of 1715.

Principal Fixtures: The fine oak reredos was installed in 1733. It has an open-bed pediment, pilasters with raised and fielded panels, capitals of no classical order (but with volutes over foliage) and flanking half capitals. The centre contains two panels with the Commandments, under curving shaped heads; between these and the entablature are carved palm branches and a central gilded motif of a dove in glory. The sides of the reredos have supporting scrolls standing on the top rail of the panelled dado. Mounted to the sides are the Lord¿s Prayer and Creed, in panels again with shaped curving tops (1722). There is a polygonal oak pulpit on a stone base, doubtless c. 1715. Two tiers of raised panels, otherwise completely plain. The font is early 18th century, of stone, with a slim baluster stem and gadroons on the underside of the bowl. The gallery front is panelled in similar fashion to the dado, and is surmounted in the centre by a panel with the Royal Arms of Charles II, 1671. Under the gallery are 18th century benefaction boards. The gallery stairs in the north aisle west end are early 17th century, with turned balusters and newel posts, acorn finials and a decorative frieze of scrolling foliage etc., on the handrail. The rail on the eastern side is a late 20th century replica made by John Elliott. Near the east end of the north aisle is a 19th century organ. The seating is plain oak benches with panelled bench-ends; they reportedly contain 17th century material, and some stopped chamfering may suggest 19th century alterations too. They are set out in blocks seemingly as per the 18th century arrangement, including at the east end of the aisles (where often the 19th and 20th centuries installed altars). Monuments include one (now illegible) to the architect and sculptor Benjamin Bastard (d. 1772), of the well-known Blandford family, and his son Thomas who died in the same year. Also one to Jonathan Beaton d. 1717, in a Baroque cartouche with urn finial, cherubs¿ heads, and memento mori. Beaton gave the fine two-tier brass candelabrum in 1714, with a dove, and dolphin masks on the suspension ring. Above the blocked east window (outside) is a plaque, in a pilastered frame dated 1601. The inscription reads 'This church being very ruinous/ was Rebuilt with the Addition of/ the two Side-Isles &, together with the/ Churchyard then first enclosed/ was Consecrated Anno Dom. 1715/ Soli Deo Gloria'. Over the south west door is a tablet recording the gift of £20 for the church in 1716, from Margaret Barnard, a servant to the Earls of Bristol.

Subsidiary Features: Churchyard walls probably of 1715 with some ramped sections, and tall gate piers with moulded caps, ball finials and a 19th century wrought-iron overthrow and lamp. Some sections of the walls are topped by wrought-iron spear-headed railings, perhaps late 18th or early 19th century.

History: Castleton was created a borough separate from Sherborne in the 13th century, and had a Norman church of St Mary Magdalene adjacent to the 12th century castle, "on the isle where the castle stands". This was demolished by Sir Walter Raleigh, who then built a new church on the present site, dedicated in 1601. Raleigh also built the core of the present Sherborne Castle, known then as Sherborne Lodge, in 1594, and Simon Basil, Comptroller of the Royal Works, embellished it with corner turrets to plans made c. 1600. There is no evidence that Basil was also involved at the church, although given the coincidence of date it must be a possibility. The church was 'very ruinous' when it was 'rebuilt' in 1715 (reconsecrated 7th September 1715). At that date both terms could mean something less absolute than they do now. The work of 1715 perhaps retained the nave of 1601 with alterations, and added two aisles. It was paid for largely by William, 5th Lord Digby, of whom Alexander Pope wrote 'My Lord modestly told me he was glad I liked it, because it was of his own architecture'.

Sources: Colvin, H., A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840, 313 Newman and Pevsner, Buildings of England: Dorset (1972), 379-80. Pitman, G.H.D., The Church of St Mary Magdalene, Castleton, Sherborne, 1996. Sherburn, G(ed.), The Correspondence of Alexander Pope, ii (1956), 239. National Monuments Record: Record of Ecclesiastical Monuments, St Mary Magdalene, Castleton, June 1939.

Reasons for Designation: The church of St Mary Magdalene, Sherborne, is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons: * A fine though modest church of 1601, rebuilt and enlarged in 1715: a very unusual date range for a church. * Some 17th century elements, e.g. the west window, gallery staircase, and Royal Arms. * The 18th century work includes Y-traceried windows, an unusually early example of the Gothic Revival, and the near-complete early 18th century fittings on the lines of a preaching-box, including oak reredos (1733), pulpit, font, benches, west gallery and brass candelabrum * Associated with the building of Sherborne Lodge by Sir Walter Raleigh c. 1592-1601, and with the Digby family who owned it from 1617, and who were very closely involved in the rebuilding.


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This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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Date: 14 Mar 2007
Reference: IOE01/16019/27
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Alec Howard. Source Historic England Archive
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