On 13th June 1999, after Parish Communion, the congregation of St James’ gathered outside the Porch and counted down the chimes of the single bell of the Church as it was rung 150 times. Not exactly a peal, nor on this occasion a summons to speed the faithful up the hill, but followed as it was by the strains of Happy Birthday sung by the more tuneful members of the congregation, the casual observer might have guessed we had cause for celebration. Indeed we did, it being our 150th Anniversary.
On 2nd June 1849 the church was consecrated by the Bishop of Salisbury, and dedicated to St James the Greater, Apostle and Martyr. The new parish was created, for church purposes, out of Cranborne parish (the largest in England) and approved by the Privy Council on 6 November 1849, but it was not until 1894 that the administrative parish of Alderholt was formed by the Local Government Board, comprising Alderholt, Crendell, Cripplestyle and Daggons.
There had been a church in Alderholt before, its whereabouts thought to be somewhere on the Sandleheath Road but now no trace of it remains. It was dedicated to St Clement, Bishop and Martyr (who is mentioned in St Paul’s letter to the Philippians). There was a period in which the modern “Alderholt Parish News” was described as the “Parish Magazine of St James and St Clement”. It had had no priest of its own since the early 1600’s and was a ruin by the end of the 17th century. Some say that it was destroyed by Cromwell’s men during the 1640’s .
Alderholt – along with Verwood and West Moors – was part of the parish of Cranborne, until the 2nd Marquess of Salisbury gave the land and provided much financial support for the building of the present church.
The foundation stone was laid in 1841, but it took until 1849 for the Church to be completed and dedicated to ‘St. James the Greater, Apostle and Martyr’. The consecration took place on the 2nd of June 1849, presided over by Edward Denison, Bishop of Salisbury. It was a little later that same year, that the formalities were completed that established Alderholt as a separate parish in its own right.
The new Church was a homely construction, made of local sandstone quarried and hewn by voluntary effort. Its design is unpretentious yet very appealing. After 1849 people here no longer had to walk to Cranborne to be married, or baptise their children, or bury their dead. The Church was set somewhere near the centre of the newly-established parish (though of course subsequent village development makes it seem rather more at the edge).
To visualise how long ago 1849 was it may be helpful to recall that Queen Victoria was still only 30, having come to the throne 12 years before. Prince Albert was still alive, as was the Duke of Wellington, of Waterloo fame; and the Crimean War (1854-56), the Indian Mutiny (1857) and the American Civil War (1861-65) had not yet taken place. It would be another 17 years before Alderholt had a railway line!
In the Census of 1851 there were 391 people living in “the tything of Alderholt” but this does not include those in Crendell, Cripplestyle and Daggons. It is interesting that the Census includes many names which are still well-known in the area today, though possibly not their occupations. For example Charles Nicklen, hurdler; William Lockyer, dealer in Brown Ware; David Brewer, independent preacher and labourer. Other names still well-known include Beale, Bailey, Harris, Hibberd, Lane, Mouland, Rose and Woodvine.
The village seems to have been well provided for in most of the trades necessary for everyday life – agricultural labourer, baker, blacksmith, brickmaker, carpenter, dairyman, farmer, potter’s labourer, teacher, woodman and so on. But what was a cordwinder? Some were listed as paupers, others as being on parish relief and there was one Greenwich pensioner who must have been an old sailor. Eliza Bulling, aged 14, was described as a teacher – she would have been a pupil-teacher which they had in those days.
Jonathan Key, who was one of the two original church wardens of St James’, was the owner of Alderholt Park and is listed with his wife and 4 daughters, together with one male and 4 female servants and a coachman and his family. It is interesting that one George Churchill was listed as a house servant and one wonders if he was the same George Churchill who later owned the property.
Over the years, the church has been extended, but still retains much of the character of the 1849 building. The chancel and vestry were added in 1922/1923.
Repairs and alterations were carried out in 1885. The present bell was purchased in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Year, though not hung in its present position till 1889.
Through a succession of Vicars and a succession of generations, worship and prayer have been offered here day by day, Sunday by Sunday, year by year.
St. James stands in the geographical center of the parish, but despite being displaced from the centre of settlement, we hope that our Church remains very much at the centre of the village community. This is reinforced by the annual St. James festival, when people from throughout the village come to share in our celebrations.
There are many happenings and people who will be remembered from the life of our church over the years. Perhaps the ones we should especially think about are those who gave their lives in two World Wars.They are commemorated on the War Memorial outside St James’, around which many gather each Remembrance Sunday.
Today the door remains open (for this Church belongs to all). The bell continues to toll. The swallows still find a home to nest in the porch. And, despite all our failings and sins, God continues to use this Church to bring the Gospel of Christ close to all.