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Athelhampton Hall
Athelhampton is located in Dorset
Population 30 (2013 estimate)
Unitary authority
  • Dorset
Shire county
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district DT
Police Dorset
Fire Dorset
Ambulance South Western
EU Parliament South West England
UK Parliament
  • West Dorset
List of places
50°44′51″N 2°19′36″W / 50.7476°N 2.3267°W / 50.7476; -2.3267

Athelhampton (also known as Admiston or Adminston) is a settlement and civil parish in Dorset, England, situated approximately 5 miles (8 km) east of Dorchester. It consists of a manor house and a former Church of England parish church. Dorset County Council's 2013 mid-year estimate of the population of the civil parish is 30.


The Domesday Book records that in 1086 the Bishop of Salisbury, with Odbold as tenant, held the manor, then called Pidele. The name Aethelhelm appears in the 13th century, when Athelhampton belonged to the de Loundres family. In 1350 Richard Martyn married the de Pydele heiress, and their descendant Sir William Martin received licence to enclose 160 acres (65 ha) of land to form a deer park and a licence to fortify the manor.

Athelhampton Hall

The hall is a Grade I listed 15th-century privately owned country house on 160 acres (65 ha) of parkland. The gardens are Grade I listed on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. It is now open for public visits.

Sir William Martyn had the current Great Hall built in about 1493. A West Wing and Gatehouse were added in 1550, but in 1862 the Gatehouse was demolished. Sir William Martyn's grandson Nicholas Martyn Sheriff of Dorset in 1581 married Margaret, sister to and a co-heiress of Nicholas Wadham, co-founder with his wife Dorothy of Wadham College, Oxford. Being childless, the three sisters of Nicholas Wadham were his co-heiresses (at least in their issue). The couple's monumental brass, showing them kneeling between an escutcheon with the ancient arms of FitzMartin (Argent, two bars gules) impaling Wadham survives in St. Mary's Church, Puddletown. The three sons who predeceased them kneel behind their father. To the right is Nicholas Martyn's wife, Margaret Wadham, behind who kneel their seven daughters, of whom only four survived as co-heiresses. Among the fine stained glass both at Athelhampton and at St. Mary's Church, Puddletown are the Arms of Wadham (Gules, a chevron between three roses argent).

Sir Robert Long bought Athelhampton House in 1665 from Sir Ralph Bankes. In 1684 an attempt was made by the Court of Chancery to sequester the estate from the then owner, James Long Esquire (son of Sir James Long, 2nd Baronet), to recover a debt, but this seems to have been unsuccessful. The estate passed down through the Long family to William Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley (Viscount Wellesley, later 5th Earl of Mornington), who sold it in 1848 to George Wood. In 1891, the house was acquired by the antiquarian Alfred de Lafontaine, who carried out restoration to the interior and added the North Wing in 1920–21.

At the same time de Lafontaine engaged Inigo Thomas to create one of England's great gardens as a series of "outdoor rooms" inspired by the Renaissance. 20 acres (8.1 ha) of formal gardens are encircled by the River Piddle, and consist of eight walled gardens with numerous fountains and pavilions, plus a balustraded terrace, statues, obelisks and vistas through gate piers. Great Court contains 12 giant yew pyramids set around the pool by the great terrace. The lawn to the west has an early 16th-century circular dovecote, and the south terrace features a vast Magnolia grandiflora and a Banksian rose. Pear trees cover the old walls and support roses and Clematis.

The house was regularly visited by Thomas Hardy; his father was a stonemason and worked on the house. It was during this time that Hardy painted a watercolour of the south front including the gatehouse. Hardy set the poem "The Dame of Athelhall" at the house and his "The Children and Sir Nameless" refers to the Martyn tombs in the Athelhampton Aisle at St Mary's in neighbouring Puddletown.

Athelhampton has been owned by three generations of the Cooke family. The property was acquired by Robert Victor Cooke in 1957, who restored the manor; in 1966, he transferred ownership to his son Robert Cooke. In 1995, the property was inherited by Patrick Cooke who arranged for additional restoration and extension of the gardens.

A serious fire in late 1992 destroyed most of the attic and first floor of the south wing. Investigation after the fire indicated that the layout of the rooms on the first floor, built as a service wing, had been altered since the building's inception. A life-size sketch of a classical fireplace was also revealed on the plasterwork behind panelling over an existing fireplace.

In 2019, after 62 years of ownership by the family, Patrick Cooke retired and the house and estate were listed for sale. Until that time, the house had been open to the public all year round. In October 2019, the contents were sold at auction by the Cooke family after the property had been purchased in July by economist Giles Keating. The new owner subsequently reopened the house and garden to the public.

Parish church

Across the A35 road is the former Church of England parish church of St John, built in 1861–62 to move the old parish church away from the house. St John's was designed by the Dorchester architect John Hicks, who employed Thomas Hardy at the time. The Diocese of Salisbury declared St John's redundant in 1975, after which it fell into disrepair. The church, its pews and most of the graveyard were purchased by Athelhampton Estate in order to protect the building. It is now used by the Antiochian Orthodox parish of St Edward King and Martyr. A congregation worships at services at the church every Sunday.

Railway locomotive

Great Western Railway steam locomotive 6971 Athelhampton Hall was one of the 71 Modified Hall Class locomotives used for passenger and freight in south and southwest England. British Railways withdrew 6971 from service in October 1965 and she was scrapped. The locomotive's nameplates are displayed at Athelhampton.

Film location

  • The House was used as a location for the 1972 film Sleuth, when it was owned by Robert Cooke, MP.
  • The house and gardens were also used for the main filming location of the 1976 Doctor Who serial The Seeds of Doom. The 2008 episode "The Unicorn and the Wasp" was also filmed around Athelhampton House.
  • Julian Fellowes used the house for his children's film From Time to Time, based on The Chimneys of Green Knowe.
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