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Dorset Map

St Wolfrida's is a strange little church. It was built in 1722 on the site of the ruined parish church. This was in turn built on the site of a former Priory Church.

The site was originally a Saxon Abbey founded in 961. Its first abbess was St Wolfrida (Wolfryth), to whom the church is dedicated. It was reduced to the status of a priory by Henry I after the Norman Conquest, and became a cell of Sherborne Abbey.

After the dissolution, the priory church became the parish church and the Uvedale family built a house on the rest of the site. This was rebuilt in 1718 and is now the vicarage

The brick and stone Georgian nave and chancel complete with box pews, is not particularly remarkable. What sets the church apart is the huge stone-built porch, as wide as the nave and almost half the length.

Apparently, prior to 1924, the pulpit used to be sited on the south wall opposite the porch, and there were box pews in the porch as well as in the main body of the church. After this date the pulpit was moved to its present, more conventional, position and the porch curtained off.

These has left the porch as a sort of glorified box room, and it feels a bit like you are sneaking in the back way when you first enter the church. The old box pews on the left-hand side now form the Vestry and a creche area. Those on the right-hand side were moved into the main church to fill up space where the pulpit used to be, and their place is now taken by the Victorian choir stalls. These were designed for a children's choir, and were recently moved here as they are far too uncomfortable for today's adult choristers.

Next to these are two 13th century effigies of Sir Giles Braose (in Purbeck Marble) and his wife (in Ham Stone) which used to be in the aisle of the old church. Most of the other memorials were removed in the 1722 reconstruction although some, like the one to Victoria Uvedale that was found upside down in the floor of the Manor Farm dairy, have subsequently been restored.

The Tower nestles in the corner between the Porch and the Nave and appears to be based on plans drawn up by Sir John Vanburgh, the famous 18th century architect, for Eastbury House at Tarrant Gunville. Whether Sir John was involved in the design of Horton Church tower, or whether the plans were "borrowed", history does not relate.

Outside things are even stranger. There is an odd bank that runs across the churchyard opposite the porch. Is this part of the foundations of the old priory church? And why does the porch have such massive buttresses? I can't help feeling that the porch may be part of the older building, despite the 18th century windows and other detailing, otherwise, why on earth would you create such a awkwardly shaped building? And why is the church squeezed into the corner of what is, by any standards, a huge churchyard?