St Mary’s, Long Crichel church vested with the Friends
St Mary’s, Long Crichel is our only Dorset church. Its future hung in the balance for some time and we have been in contact with local friends there for many years, holding a ‘fabric fund’ in its name. In fact, it was declared redundant in 2003 but did not come in to the Friends’ care until 2011.
Set in to the chalkland of the Cranborne Chase, Long Crichel, has ancient origins, derived from the Celtic word crug, which means barrow. St Mary’s was a medieval church, however, apart from the tower, it was largely rebuilt following a devastating fire in the mid-19th-century. The nave, transept and apse built in stages between 1852 and 1875 by a trio of distinguished architects.
Both peculiar and picturesque, Pevsner described St Mary’s as ‘… a Georgian space in Perpendicular form, long, uniform, well-lit – it might be a schoolroom.’ And the unusual collection of ceilings at St Mary’s is one of the clues – timber panels with reticulated tracery that appear straight out of a fashionable drawing room.
MacVicar Anderson, an architect better known for his houses, is credited with creating the two transepts – to the south, the family chapel of Crichel House, and to the north, the larger, screened space, intended as a school-room.
The school-room may explain the presence of the playful Noah’s Ark, complete with animals peeping through windows, set into a Gothic niche and over a piscina, immediately adjacent the school-room on the north wall of the nave. The Old Testament story of Noah and his Ark, which is an allegory for judgement and salvation, has been a popular story for children for centuries.
Upon vesting we undertook emergency repairs to the 15th century tower, which was in parlous condition and the roofs. The building is now secure and water-tight. More repairs are needed, which we will schedule for the coming years.
We’re thrilled now to be able to share St Mary’s with our supporters. The church is open daily at weekends; at other times a keyholder is nearby. Visitors to St Mary’s should also pay a visit to The Famous Hedgehog Bakery, which operates from the outbuildings of the adjacent old vicarage.