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View of the Louma Vineyard from Above_ dorset

Stone Age to the Norman Conquest

Discover the deep history of our West Dorset, from the time of the building of Stone Henge, to the Norman Conquest that shaped England.
A misty morning over the valley

West Dorset: a district of England renowned for its golden cliffs, sweeping pebble beaches, fossils, and spectacular views. Located in the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and stretching for almost 30 miles of the South West Coastal Path and the world-famous Jurassic Coast, the history of this county is everywhere you look: steeples paraded high on the hill tops, country lanes meandering through the farmland, ancient hollow ways, deep in the earth and carved with artworks, vibrant country gardens, chocolate-box cottages at every turn and traditions, as old as the hills themselves, living on amongst those who wish them to.

Louma is situated in the Marshwood Vale, overlooking a magnificent view down the Charmouth Valley. The heritage of our working farm is visible in the landscape and echoes of the previous inhabitants of this land vibrate through the valley, with each knock of a hammer, chop of a hatchet, call to the cattle and motion of a spade.

From the Stone Age

In the Dorset County Museum are three incredible objects; a perforated stone axe or hammer, lost or abandoned between 2300 and 1800BC, a stone pendant in the form of an axe head (3700-2200BC) and a stone loom weight (2200-650BC), all of which were discovered within miles of our farm. Although small in number, we can gather from these, and other artefacts, evidence of people settled in this area around the same time as the building of Stonehenge, a time we know very little about.
Relying on the surrounding forest to supply much of their needs, early inhabitants hunted deer, bear, wolves, and wild boar, which together with nuts and fruit of the forest, provided essential food. Over a long period, they began to farm, using oxen to pull their primitive ploughs, and cultivating wheat and barley, as well as keeping domesticated cattle and pigs. The diet was augmented by shellfish from Charmouth, a valuable source of protein, and many shells were found at Fishpond as evidence of this.

Louma _The View of Coneys Castle from Wootton Hill

The population increased considerably in the next five hundred years. More land was cleared of trees, especially around Coney’s Castle, which was used as a place of safety and to store provisions for the winter by local tribe, the Morini. Sheep were introduced, and pigs grazed in the surrounding forest, which persisted as the wooded area of Wyld, which in 700AD, still extended from Chard to Charmouth and across the Marshwood Vale.

Through the passage of time, the inhabitants of Wootton integrated with the largest tribe in Dorset, the Durotriges, who built one of the largest Iron Age forts in Europe, at Maiden Castle near Dorchester. Their territories stretches from Dorset into Somerset and Hampshire. Along with the two hillforts that reside within miles of Louma, there were at least thirty more in Dorset, many of which had to be strengthened to counter the sling, a new weapon which appeared in Britain in the first century BC. It is said that a good man with a sling could kill at sixty paces and fortunately, the local beach provided an abundance of ammunition. A large hoard of slingshots was uncovered at Coney’s Castle in the 1930s.

Invasions of West Dorset

In 43AD, after the Roman armies had landed in Kent for the invasion of Britain, the Roman 2nd Legion under General Vespasian fought their way down the South Coast. The Durotriges put up a fierce resistance but were overpowered by the highly trained Romans and the hilltop forts became outposts for the Roman Empire for almost the next four hundred years.

These were not the last invaders of the Dorset coast: after the end of Roman rule provoked a wide range of civic and military responses, Viking raiders, in 35 ships, landed at Charmouth in around 830 AD and were met in battle by King Egbert.

In 1066, William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy defeated King Harold at Hastings, after claiming that King Edward the confessor had promised him the English Throne. The inhabitants of Wootton were now to get new masters, with the arrival of the Normans. Local towns, such a Bridport, suffered badly for their resistance, and as such, had many of their houses destroyed.

 

In 1086, the Normans made survey of all the land in order to assess tax and ascertain the value of crown lands in a book named, Domesday, derived from the belief that the day of reckoning had arrived. There were three entries for Wootton, but the exact areas to which they refer has not yet been identified, though it is believed by many locals, that the vineyard listed was once below our own, on the land which is now the vegetable gardens at Five Penny Farm, in a field named ‘Vines’.

 

It reads:

Aiulf the Chamberlain holds Wootton himself. Brictsi, a man-at-arms of Kind Edwards, held it. It paid tax for 12 hides. Land for 16 ploughs, of which 4 carucates are in lordship; 13 ploughs there; 6 slaves; 12 villagers and 11 smallholders with 9 ploughs. 2 mills which pay 15s; vineyard, 2 arpents, meadow. 50 acres; woodland, 40 acres, pasture, 1 league in length and as wide. The value was £10; now £20.

 

Though much time has passed between that which we know well, and that of which we know little, the remains of each of era of our West Dorset History are entrenched in the roads we travel, the paths we walk, and the fields on which our animals graze. As we tend to our flocks, and meander these ancient tracks, we are blessed with a view over the Charmouth valley to the sea beyond, and one can be easily pleased to imagine that over 2 millennia ago, there were folks right here, doing the very same things and appreciating the very same place that they, too, called home.

 

Thanks to the late Guy Bryant who, in collaboration with the Wootton 2000 group, wrote the book ‘Wodetone: a Wooded Place’, which heavily informed this Journal.

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