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Sherborne Abbey
Sherborne abbey.jpg
Sherborne Abbey
Country United Kingdom
Denomination Church of England
Churchmanship Central/Catholic
Founded 705
Founder(s) St Aldhelm
Dedication St Mary the Virgin
Style Saxon, Norman, Perpendicular
Years built 705, c1050, c1130-80, c1380-1500
Length 240ft (73m)
Nave width 66ft (23m)
Width across transepts 100ft (30.5m)
Nave height ~60ft (18m)
Tower height 109ft (33m)
Bells 10, ring of 8
Tenor bell weight 46-0-5 (2339kg)
Parish Sherborne
Diocese Salisbury
Province Canterbury

Sherborne Abbey, otherwise the Abbey Church of St. Mary the Virgin, is a Church of England church in Sherborne in the English county of Dorset. It has been a Saxon cathedral (705–1075), a Benedictine abbey church (998–1539), and since 1539, a parish church.


This site has been occupied since Roman times. During the restoration 1849-58, excavations were carried out in which part of a Roman Mosaic pavement was found deep beneath the floor, as well as evidence that the Saxon cathedral of 705AD had been built on the site of a previous church.

It is possible that there was a Celtic Christian church called Lanprobi here as early as AD658, when it was part of the Celtic Kingdom of Dumnonia, and Kenwalc or Cenwalh, King of the West Saxons is believed to be one of its founders. However, it is probable that this church was actually on the site of modern-day Castleton Church.


The Saxon Diocese of Sherborne was founded in 705 by King Ine of Wessex to relieve pressure from the growing see of Winchester. He set Aldhelm as first Bishop of the see of Western Wessex, covering Dorset, Somerset, Devon, with his seat at Sherborne. Aldhelm was the first of 27 Bishops of Sherborne. Cornwall was added to the diocese at the end of the ninth century, but in 909 the diocese was divided in three to create the new bishoprics of Wells, covering Somerset, and Crediton, covering Devon and Cornwall, leaving Sherborne with Dorset. In 1058, the Sherborne chapter elected Herman, Bishop of Ramsbury to be also Bishop of Sherborne.


The twentieth bishop was Wulfsige III (or St. Wulfsin). In 998 he established a Benedictine abbey at Sherborne and became its first abbot. In 1075 the bishopric of Sherborne was transferred to Old Sarum, so Sherborne remained an abbey church but was no longer a cathedral. The bishop (in Old Sarum) remained the nominal head of the abbey until 1122, when Roger de Caen, Bishop of Salisbury, made the abbey independent.

From 1122 until the Dissolution, Horton Priory (founded as a Benedictine abbey in 961, but reduced to priory status when the bishopric moved) was dependent on Sherborne. Also, Kidwelly Priory (later abbey) in Wales was made a cell of Sherborne Abbey, which was at that time a cathedral priory, c1110 and was dissolved at the same time as its mother-house.

Parish church

The Benedictine foundation at Sherborne ended in the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, when the abbey was surrendered to King Henry VIII. Various properties at Sherborne were bought from the king by Sir John Horsey who then sold the abbey to the people of Sherborne, who bought the building to be their parish church (as people of many other places did), which it still is. The original parish church alongside the abbey was demolished, though the foundations are still visible. In 1550, King Edward VI issued a new charter to the school that had existed at Sherborne since 705, and some of the remaining abbey buildings were turned over to it.


Sherborne Abbey - 2639488
The nave and chancel looking east

The Abbey is a Grade I listed building. It has several distinct architectural styles throughout.


When St Aldhelm built his cathedral, it was to the east of the current building - the west wall of the current church is the site of the east wall of St Aldhelm's. In c1050 Bishop Ælfwold built a new cathedral and abbey church on the current site and was, apparently, one of the largest in England. Of this, the known surviving parts are the west wall and the core of the columns supporting the two westernmost arches. At the west end of the north aisle, a Saxon doorway from c1050 survives. This would have led into a large porch flanking a west tower as was conventional with Saxon church-architecture. Roger of Caen rebuilt much of Aelfwold's church c1130, replacing it with a much larger Norman style church on the same site, completed c1180. This is the reason why the nave is shorter (only five bays) than the typical Anglo-Norman church nave.


Most of the walls of the crossing, the north and south transepts, and the outer walls of the nave aisles date from c1140. The walls of the Wykeham Chapel, and some of the wall of the north quire aisle were also built at this time. The entrance porch dates from c1180, though the upper story was restored in 1851. The Norman choir stalls extended west of the central tower (as was then usually the case) and this can be seen in the stonework of the east and west tower arches were the shafts stop short of the floor to allow space for the stall-work. The area of the nave west of the Norman quire was used as the parish church until the building of All Hallows church later on.

Early English

The outer walls of Bishop Roger's Chapel (now the choir vestry) as well as the remains of the old Lady Chapel date from this period, c1240.


In the late 14th century St Aldhelm's church was pulled down and by c1400 a new parish church had been built, dedicated All Hallows. This church was demolished c1542, but the arches of the old nave can be seen projecting out, and the wall of the old north aisle remains intact.


From c1380 to 1500 the abbey was greatly rebuilt. In the late 14th century the chapels of St Katherine and St Sepulchre were built. The former was altered in the 15th century and contains examples of early Renaissance classicism architecture. The quire was almost entirely rebuilt from 1425 and was completed (including the vaulting) around 1430. In the late 15th century much of the old stonework in the nave was covered over in stonework of this style (hence their substantial thickness) and the two easternmost arch pillars were rebuilt. The fan-vaulting in the nave, by William Smyth, was finished around 1490. A consequence of having the new perpendicular clerestory sit atop the old Normal pillars is that the two do not line up. However, this is not really noticeable from the outside.

In 1437, during this renovation, a riot in the town caused a fire that damaged much of the work. The heat brought out the iron in the stone, resulting in pink seen today. The outline of the medieval pulpitum can be seen where the pink stops in a vertical line at the east end of the Nave. The fire and its effects also caused the design of the nave to be altered.

A section of a C15 wooden screen from the Abbey is now located at the church in Sandford Orcas, Dorset.


The abbey was heavily restored by the Victorian architect R. C. Carpenter in 1850, who added the two lower rows of lights in the west window, and the "somewhat fanciful" neo-Norman upper storey of the porch, which formerly had fifteenth-century windows.

Lady Chapel

The Lady Chapel is on the site of two earlier chapels: the c1250 then Lady Chapel and the C15 Chapel of St. Mary le Bow. These were taken over by the governors of the newly founded 'Edward VI Grammar School' (now known as Sherborne School) in 1550 and were partially demolished and converted into a dwelling for the headmaster in 1560. It remained in use by the school until 1921 when plans were drawn for the grafting of a new Gothic-style Lady Chapel onto the remaining section of the medieval chapel and was completed in 1934. The original Lady Chapel was built slightly south of the centre of the church, so the 15th century vaulting in the ambulatory does not align with the arch into the chapel. The remaining section of St. Mary le Bow's Chapel contains a fireplace mantel from when it was a domestic dwelling.

The Lady Chapel contains the oldest candelabrum in England, dating from 1657, and probably came from the Netherlands. It is brass with a double-headed eagle at the top, and two tiers of branches and a globe beneath. The globe is inscribed recording the gift of Sherborne grandee, Mary Whetcumbe, with a shield-of-arms. Originally, it hung in the presbytery, but it fell during the war. In 1962 it was restored and rehung in the Lady Chapel.


The first almshouse at Sherborne existed in 1223, Brother John's almshouse, but little is know about it.

In 1406, William Dodill chartered a new almshouse situated in Hound Street. However, by the 1430s larger and better premises were needed, so a new Sherborne almshouse was started by the old trustees of Dodill's almshouse. In 1436/7 a Royal charter was issued by King Henry VI to the Foundation, and this became the first fully licensed corporation in Sherborne.

The site of this new almshouse - St Johns' Almshouse, or fully, "The Hospital of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist" - is the south west corner of the Abbey Close, probably on the site of an earlier hospital of St Augustine. The building was completed in 1448, consisting of a Chapel (1442), ante-chapel with a door onto Trendle street, a dining hall, and dormitories above. It is the best surviving example of a medieval almshouse in Wessex. In 1858 some cottages in the Abbey Close were bought and the premises were then enlarged. In 1866 the east wing was built to create additional dormitories and a room with an oriel window called the board-room, together with other improvements.

At this time, the Abbey already had an almshouse situated in Castleton (demolished in the 18th century), so it is likely that this building was for All Hallows Church (c1400), not the Abbey. Also, it is unusual for an almshouse to be so close to its respective church, and a possible reason may be that it was symbolic of the parishioners' growing resentment towards the monks for restricting their use of the Abbey. However, this idea is difficult to substantiate.

Masters of the Almshouse

1448 John Deen

1454 William Smyth

1468 Henry Borman

Monastic buildings

Some of the monastic buildings were demolished following the Reformation in 1539. Most of those that remained are now incorporated into the Sherborne School buildings.


The principal buildings of a Benedictine abbey were always grouped around the cloister garth. They are usually built to the south of their respective abbey, but at Sherborne they were built to the north, probably for easier access to water from the Coombe Stream.

Sherborne's cloisters were built by Abbot Frith (1348-1373) and this is where the monks took their exercise, walking around the square arcade, in silence, with their hands buried in the long sleeves of their black habits.

The remains of the 14th century pilasters against the south and west walls of the cloisters remain from which the ribs of the vaulted roof once sprang. On each side of the cloister were eight bays with six windows looking into the garth.

Some time around 1553 the cloisters were pulled down and in 1569 two large buttresses were built to support the abbey (one on the west wall of the north transept, the other on the north wall of the north aisle) and were built using stone from the old castle.


In the 12th century the monks built an open stone conduit or channel to bring clean water from the spring at New Well (Newell) to the cloister so that they could wash their hands and faces before going to the Refectory for their meals. A conduit house was built c.1520 by Abbot Meere (1505-1535) over the fountain. This hexagonal structure stood against the north alley of the cloister, opposite the entrance to the monks' refectory, and had several spouts to enable a number of monks to wash at once. In 1553 the conduit house and water supply were moved to the market place at the bottom of Cheap Street.


Owned by Sherborne School since 1550, the slype is a lean-to building against the north transept. It is all that remains of the former south bay of the monks' dormitory. Originally it led from the cloister to the infirmary and monks' graveyard. It was probably also used in part as a mortuary. The western door was blocked by a buttress built in 1569. It contains 12th century arcading and 13th century engrafted arch and vaulting.

Chapter house

On the ground floor of the east side of the cloister stood the chapter house. Built in the late 12th-13th century, it was used as a daily meeting chamber for the monks. It was demolished c.1557/1558.

Archaeological excavations between 1972 and 1976 revealed the east cloister range and the chapter house, the remains of which are now stored in the Sherborne School Archives.

Monks' dormitory

On the first floor of the east side of the cloister stood the monks' dormitory (late 12th century), adjoining the abbey for the convenience of attending night services in the abbey. By 1554 all that remained of the dormitory was just one bay (see 'the slype'). The pitch of the old roof is clearly marked on the face of the north wall of the north transept.

The monastery library and scriptorium were probably also on this floor.

Guesten hall

This was in the west cloister range of the monastery. The ground floor was the cellarer's store room and outer parlour. Originally it had no windows but facsimiles of windows in Boxgrove Abbey were added. On the first floor was the guesten hall (13th century with 15th century roof and windows). The three roof bays to the north are not as ornate as the remaining six, which suggests that, at a time, the room may have been either divided into two by partition, or there could have been a gallery - possibly a minstrel gallery or perhaps to separate different classes of guest.

In the south wall are the remains of the east face of the west wall of the Saxon Abbey (10th-11th century plinth, with 13th century work on top). Behind this is a late 14th century stone spiral staircase that originally led to the abbot's private chapel on the upper floor of the south cloister range.

An archaeological dig in 1967 revealed a pottery kiln built into the west wall, and from 1740 the main body of the building was used as a silk mill.

It is now used as the Sherborne School Library building.

Note: There is no definite evidence that this room was used as a 'guesten hall', though in Benedictine monasteries it was not unusual to have a room such as this above a cellarium on the west side of the cloisters. Others have suggested that it may have been a misericorde (the room in which some monastic rules were relaxed, especially fasting) where more substantial food was supplied than in the refectory. A room such as this might have had a buttery, which can explain the less ornate section of roof. It has also been suggested that it could have been a domus conversorum ('house of the converts'. Until 1280, people who converted from Judaism to Christianity forfeited their possessions to the Crown), but there is little to suggest that that such members were ever numerous enough to justify such a large room, nor are there any traces of separate cells.

Abbot's private chapel

On the first floor, to the west of the south cloister side stood the abbot's private chapel. It was accessed by an extant late 14th century stone spiral staircase, which also led to the guesten hall. The blocked doorway can still be seen in the outside east wall of the building.

The piscina (a perforated stone basin near the altar for carrying away holy water after it has been used in rinsing the chalice) can still be seen on the north aisle wall of the abbey.

Abbot's hall

This room, including the roof, dates from the early 15th century, but the windows are modern. It is mentioned in 1436 when Bishop Neville made an enquiry into the well-known quarrel between the monks and the townspeople.

The 12th century undercroft would have been used by the monks as the cellars, a malthouse, or for storage.

It is now used as the Sherborne School Chapel. It has been much extended and bears little resemblance to it its original size.

Abbot's lodgings and monks' kitchen

On the north side of the cloisters stood the abbot's lodging and monk's kitchen, built c1480 by Abbot Ramsam (1475-1504). The large chimney stack of the kitchen remains, and on the north wall there are panels carved with the symbols of the Evangelists.

The abbot's northern entrance would have been to the right of the projecting octagonal block, or stair turret, which led to the abbot's parlour above. On the roof are some fine gargoyles like those on the abbey.


The refectory stood on the north side of the cloisters, filling in the space between the abbot's Hall and the monks' dormitory to make a quadrangle, and was where the monks ate their meals. Access from the ground floor was opposite the conduit house, and there was most likely access into the kitchen. The refectory may have been built at the same time as the dormitory, late C12, and it was demolished at the same time, in 1554. The stones from the refectory are thought to have been used to build the original 'scholehouse' for the king's school which had been given a royal charter only four years earlier.

All Hallows Church

The nave of the Abbey, west of the Norman quire, was for many years used as the parish church, while the monks kept the crossing and east end of the church for their own use. However, during the rebuilding work at the end of the 14th century, a large new church dedicated to All Saints, or more commonly known as 'Alhalowes', was built at the west end of the Abbey Church as Chapel-of-ease for the townsfolk. The West Porch and West Tower were pulled down to the floor-level of the new church (which was about two feet above the level of the Abbey Church floor) and the new church was constructed on the site of the old St Aldhelm cathedral, completed c1400.

This church had a nave flanked by an aisle either side, each six bays long. There was a small chapel at the north and south sides (respectively) of the east end. At this time, there was no West Door into the Abbey (inserted 1543) and the easternmost bay acted as an ambulatory for the Abbey. The remaining five bays were used for worship in All Hallows. From old Parish Accounts, we learn that there was a tower at the north west corner, with a ring of bells, and there is also reference to an organ.

All Hallows was demolished soon after the dissolution of the Abbey in 1539, when St. Mary's became the parish church of Sherborne. The remains of the All Hallows font are now in the St. Mary le Bow Chapel, and most of the bells were transferred to the Abbey tower.

1437 riot

By 1437 all parish services were held in All Hallows Church. The exception being baptisms which were conducted at the font in the Abbey nave because All Hallows, being a chapel-of-ease, was not legally entitled to a font of its own. This continued until the monks, during their reconstruction of the abbey, moved the font from its usual position in the nave, and narrowed the doorway giving access to the nave from All Hallows hindering the baptismal processions. In response to this, the townspeople built their own font in All Hallows.

Once learning of this, Abbot Bradford complained to Bishop Neville that the parishioners had built an illegal font in All Hallows, and the monks were also complaining that the parishioners were ringing the All Hallows' bells very early in the morning disturbing their sleep after their long night offices. Tensions continued to increase and there were more confrontations between the monks and parishioners in 1436.

Robert Neville, Bishop of Salisbury, held an inquiry soon after in an attempt to reconcile the dispute, ultimately taking the side of the parishioners – the monks had arbitrarily disrupted their baptismal processions by moving the font and obstructing the door to the nave.

Six weeks after the hearing Bishop Neville ordered the illegal font in All Hallows to be destroyed and removed, and the bells of All Hallows not to ring before 6 a.m., except on the four great feasts of the year. He ordered the monks to move the abbey font back to its ancient position and to widen the door they had narrowed. Finally, the monks were to build a wall or partition at the expense of the monastery, so that there should be a distinct separation between the monks and parishioners. He gave the monks until the following Christmas (almost a year) to carry out these orders. However, the orders were never carried out except for the building of the partition - a large stone pulpitum, 18 feet high and 5 feet wide, on the west side of the crossing removed during the 1850s restoration.

The dispute simmered through the spring and summer of 1437, and boiled over after the Abbot sent a 'stout butcher' to smash the new All Hallows font. Infuriated by the destruction of the new font, the townspeople retaliated, and on the night of 28 October 1437 one of their priests, Richard Vowells, fired an arrow with a burning tip into the temporary thatch roof of the new quire, causing a huge fire from the burning roof and wooden scaffolding and much damage to the new construction, even melting the tower's lead roof and the bells. The heat brought out the iron in the stone, resultin in it being permanently reddened. The fire seems to have been contained only to the quire and tower; the nave and lady chapel were not significantly affected. In the end, the Pope was needed to settle the conflict and the townspeople were forced to contribute to the repairs of St. Mary's Church which they had destroyed.

After this, All Hallows Chapel became the parish church and even when St. Mary's was finally rebuilt, the parishioners continued to use All Hallows as their parish church until the Abbey's dissolution in 1539.

Military colours

The north nave aisle, sometimes called the 'Trinitie' or 'dark' aisle (as it was overshadowed by the adjoining cloisters), contains several colours from the 2nd Battalion Dorsetshire Regiment and the Dorsetshire Militia. The south nave aisle contains colours of the 1st Battalion Dorsetshire Regiment.

Memorials and tombs

The north choir aisle contains two tombs, believed to be the tombs of King Æthelbald of Wessex and his brother King Ethelbert of Wessex, elder brothers to Alfred the Great.

Inside the Wykeham chapel is the tomb of Sir John Horsey and his son. Horsey had bought the church after the Dissolution of the Monasteries and sold it to the townspeople. Also in the chapel is the plainly marked tomb of the poet Sir Thomas Wyatt.

The south transept contains an impressive baroque memorial to John Digby, 3rd Earl of Bristol, made of marble and designed by John Nost. Additionally there is a memorial to Robert and Mary Digby.

St Katherine's Chapel contains the 16th century tomb of John Leweston and wife Joan. The chapel was where Sir Walter Raleigh and Lady Raleigh attended services.

The north aisle contains a memorial to Abbot Clement (1163) and an effigy to an unknown prior, while the south aisle contains an effigy of Abbot Lawrence of Bradford (1246).

The Digby Memorial, situated outside the abbey, is a memorial to George Digby who provided a lot of funding for renovation work during the 19th century. It was built in 1884 and features statues of St Aldhelm, Bishop Roger of Salisbury (Roger de Caen), Abbot Bradford and Sir Walter Raleigh.


  • Æthelbald, King of Wessex
  • Æthelberht, King of Wessex
  • Thomas Wyatt (poet)
  • John Horsey (died 1546)
  • John Horsey (died 1564)
  • John Leweston
  • John Digby, 3rd Earl of Bristol
  • William Digby, 5th Baron Digby


The abbey has two reredos. The more recent is in the Lady Chapel, and was designed by Laurence Whistler in 1969, and fashioned in glass. The second, more substantial reredos was installed in 1858 and designed by RH Carpenter.


The abbey contains a number of stained glass windows. The diarist Richard Symonds, post 1664–1665, described the location, blazon and surname for coats of arms of some leading families of Dorset displayed on stained glass in the Sherborne church as he observed them during the marches of the Royal Army during the English Civil War.

The south transept's Te Deum window was designed by Pugin in the early 19th century.

The great east window was designed by Clayton and Bell and installed in 1856–58. It features the Apostles Mark, Luke, Matthew and John, and Saints Sidwell and Juthware (Juthwara), who is featured in the Sherborne Missal. The glass in the southern aisle commemorates Sherborne School For Girls' 1949 Jubilee.

The Lady Chapel glass comes from the 1930s, and depicts St Aldhelm presenting a model of his church to the patron.

The great west window is the newest of the major windows designed and made by John Hayward (1929-2007), being installed in 1997 to replace a poor quality, faded, Pugin conceived glass. The new glass depicts the patron and the baby Jesus, the Biblical Magi and the shepherds, the Genesis story, the fall of man and the Easter story.


The abbey contains ten 15th century misericords, situated five on each side of the choir. From west to east, these are carved as following:

N. side: man with hood and foliage; man gurning; Last Judgement, Resurrection of the dead at sides; man's face with foliage; foliage.

S. side: woman praying (possibly St. Margaret), winged monster below, leaves at sides; chained onkey and oak-leaves with acorns; man beating boy, boys at sides; archer shooting a man on horseback, Samson and lion at sides; woman beating man, leaves at sides.


The C15th central tower contains the heaviest ring of eight bells in the world, with the tenor bell weighing of 46cwt and 5 lbs (5,157 lb or 2,340 kg). A ring should not be confused with a peal, which is a specific type of performance of change ringing.

Since before Norman times the bells were rung from the crossing, directly beneath the tower. Ringing such heavy bells with such long ropes would have taken a lot of effort; it was likely the heavier bells would have each taken two or three men to ring them. In 1858 a new ringing chamber was built just above the tower fan vaulting.

Details of the bells
Bell Diameter Weight Note Cast Founder Inscriptions
Treble 3' 1/8" 9-0-25 B♭ 1858 Whitechapel Bell Foundry G. Mears founder London. Lord let the folk below - resound in living song — Thy praise as we do now — with iron tongue — August 18, 1858.
Second 3' 2" 10-1-3 A 1858 Whitechapel Bell Foundry G. Mears founder London. - We hang here to record - that the Choir was restored - in the year of our Lord - 1858.
Third 3' 4" 11-3-4 G 1903 John Warner & Sons W.M. Cast. F.R.S. Tho Gerard Gave ME RA. 1652

Recast John Warner & Sons Ltd 1903

Fourth 3' 6" 12-1-6 F 1803 Thomas & James Bilbie Peace & plenty is the wish of Thomas Thorne & Samuel Ieffrey - Churchwardens 1803. Thomas & Iames Bilbie. Chewstoke, Somerset, fecit.
Fifth 3' 10 3/4" 16-3-3 E♭ 1787 William Bilbie Bartholomew Watts & Sweet Hart - Churchwardens 1787. Be meek & lowly to hear the word of God. William Bilbie. Chewstoke, Somerset, fecit
Sixth 4' 2 3/4" 22-1-4 D 1858 Whitechapel Bell Foundry G. Mears founder London 1858
Seventh 4' 8" 28-0-18 C 1903 John Warner & Sons Campana — Domine — Iohn Whetcombe —Iohn Cooth — Wardens. 1653 RA

Recast by John Warner & Sons Ltd 1903. William Hector Lyon M.A - Vicar. Mark Parsons, Frederick Bennet - Churchwardens

Tenor 5' 4" 46-0-5 B♭ 1933 Whitechapel Bell Foundry By Wolsey's gift I measure time for all. To mirth, to Grieffe, to Church, I serve to call.

Recast 1670 by Thomas Purdue of Closworth Somerset. Joseph Barker - Vicar. Gustavus Horne, Walter Pride - Churchwardens.

Again recast 1865, by John Warner & sons of London. Edward Harton - Vicar. James Hoddinott, Francis Stokes - Churchwardens.

Again recast 1933, by Mears & Stainbank of London. Wilfred Marcus Askwith - Vicar. Clement Horrace Adams, James Florance - Churchwardens.

Sanctus 1' 7 1/8 c.1-2-0 A♯ c.1350 S[an]C[t]A MARIA ORA PRO NOBIS
Fire Bell 2' 9 1/4 n/k n/k 1653 Lord qvench the fvrious flame - Aris rvn help pvt ovt the same. IW IC. 1653 RA

All inscriptions are in upper case and various decorative symbols have been omitted.

All Hallows bells

By the end of the 14th century, a ring of five or six bells was in use in All Hallows Parish Church, with the earliest known dating from 1514. Most of these were then transferred to the Abbey tower.


The organ, Sherborne Abbey 01
The organ in the north transept

The abbey's organ, located in the north transept, was installed in 1856 by Gray & Davison to some considerable acclaim. It was completely rebuilt in 1955 by J. W. Walker & Sons Ltd with a remote console in the crossing and a large specification. In 1972 John Coulson of Bristol again altered the organ by adding a neo-classically styled 'positiv' in place of the choir manual, some big mixtures on the great, solo mutations on the choir, and increased wind pressures throughout. By 1987 an increasing lack of reliability led to a proposed scheme by Bishop & Son of Ipswich, favouring a return to the Gray & Davison past by almost halving the number of stops, returning the console to the organ loft - attached to the case - and altering the choir division into more of a bombarde to try to overcome the difficulties of the position of the organ. After just over twenty years it was necessary for the organ to be rebuilt again, and in 2004/05 Kenneth Tickell changed the tonal quality of the instrument, installed new ranks in the choir and swell divisions, and provided a new solution to the location issue by installing a new Nave division, located under the west nindow.

Despite these numerous alterations, much of the pedal division, some of the choir flutes and clarinet, all except the mixture on the great, and much of the chorus swell are original Gray & Davison stops.

List of organists

Memorial to George Edwin Lyle in Sherborne Abbey
Memorial to George Edwin Lyle
  • 1717-1729 John Windsor
  • 1729-1737 John Merefield
  • 1737-1739 John Broderip
  • 1739-1741 Arnold Power
  • 1741-1776 William Thompson
  • 1776-1845 Thomas Hyde
  • 1845-1848 Richard Linter (assistant from 1838)
  • 1848-1849 James Vincent (pro tem)
  • 1849-1856 Organ unusable - Barrel organ used
  • 1852-1854 John Hopkins Nunn
  • 1856-1858 Henry Morgan
  • 1859-1872 Edward Herbert (precise year of appointment uncertain)
  • 1872-1876 Robert P.C. Corfe
  • 1876-1878 Henry J. Vaughan
  • 1878-1889, 1895, 1900 George Edwin Lyle
  • 1900-1901 James W. Burt (temporary during illness of Lyle)
  • 1901-1907 Herbert William Chuter FRCO ARCM
  • 1907-1914 Arnold Rudolph Mote BA BMus (temporary during illness of Chuter)
  • 1914-1954 William Edward Wearden
  • 1954 Benjamin Picton (temporary)
  • 1954-1959 John L. Dussek MA ARCO
  • 1959-1964 Frederick C. Fea (formerly organist of St John's Church, Torquay)
  • 1964-1965 Peter Burness (temporary)
  • 1965-1999 Julian Dams MA ARCO
  • 1999-2002 John Padley BMus
  • 2002-2006 Joseph Sentence MA BMus FRCO FTCL (formerly organist of St George's Minster, Doncaster)
  • 2006-2019 Paul C. Ellis BMus ARCO GRNCM
  • 2019-present James Henderson MA (assistant 1983-1984)

Assistant organists

  • 1838-1845 Richard Linter
  • 1983-1984 James Henderson
  • 2001-present Peter Bray BMus ARCO LTCL DSCM



The Bishop of Sherborne was established in 705 by St Aldhelm, the Abbot of Malmesbury. It was discontinued when the see of Sherborne was transferred to Old Sarum in 1075. The title Bishop of Sherborne was revived by the Church of England as a suffragan bishopric in the Diocese of Salisbury.


  • 705-709 St Aldhelm
  • 709-736 Forthhere
  • 736-c766 Herewald
  • c766-c793 Æthelmod
  • 793-c796 Denefrith
  • c793-824 Wigberht
  • 824-868 Eahlstan
  • c867-871 St Heahmund
  • 871-c878 Æthelheah
  • c878-c892 Wulfsige I
  • c892-910 Asser
  • 910-c910 Æthelweard
  • c910-c918 Wærstan
  • 918-c918 Æthelbald
  • c918-933 Sigehelm
  • 933-943 Alfred
  • 943-958 Wulfsige II
  • 958-978 Ælfwold I
  • 978-c992 Æthelsige I
  • 992-1001 Wulfsige III
  • 1001-c1009 Æthelric
  • c1009-c1014 Æthelsige II
  • c1014-c1018 Brithwine I
  • c1018-1023 Ælfmær
  • 1023-1045 Brithwine II
  • 1045-1058 Ælfwold II (St Ælfwold)
  • 1058-1075 Herman

Bishops of Sarum who were also abbots of Sherborne

  • 1078-1107 Osmund
  • 1107-1139 Roger

This data is taken from W.B. Wildman's A Short History of Sherborne as well as the Bishop of Salisbury Wikipedia page. Where dates are unclear, the earliest date has been used with a 'circa' reference.

Suffragan bishops

  • 1925-1927 Robert Abbott
  • 1928-1936 Gerald Allen
  • 1936-1947 Harold Rogers
  • 1947-1960 Maurice Key
  • 1960-1976 Victor Pike
  • 1976-2001 John Kirkham
  • 2001-2009 Tim Thornton
  • 2009-2015 Graham Kings
  • 2016–present Karen Gorham


Known abbots include:

  • 998 Wulfsige III, the first abbot and founder
  • c1050 Bishop Ælfwold
  • 1122 Thurstan
  • 1142-1163 Peter
  • 1163-? Clement
  •  ?-? E.
  •  ?-1189 G.
  • 1189-1217 William of Stoke
  • 1217-1228 Philip
  • 1228-1228 William of Tewkesbury
  • 1228-1242 Henry
  • 1242-1246 John of Hele
  • 1246-1261 Laurence of Bradford
  • 1261-1281 John of Saunde
  • 1281-1285 Robert
  • 1285-1310 John of Stapelbrigge (Stalbridge)
  • 1310-1316 John of Thornford
  • 1316-1329 Peter of Ramsbury
  • 1329-1342 John of Compton
  • 1342-1349 John of Henton (Hinton)
  • 1349-1371 John Frithe of Sherborne
  • 1371-1386 Edward Goude
  • 1386-1415 Robert Brunyng,
  • 1415-1436 John Brunyng
  • 1436-1459 William Bradford
  • 1459-1475 John Saunder
  • 1475-1504 Peter Ramsam (or Rampisham)
  • 1505-1535 John Mere
  • 1535-1539 John Barnstable

The initials of the names of two abbots of Sherborne, occurring some time between 1163 and 1189, are seen in two undated charters of Henry II.


The following is an incomplete list of vicars since about 1400. In the 1900s the position changed from that of vicar to rector.

All Hallows (Alhalowes)

  • 1228 Roger Everard
  •  ?-1401 William Dalton
  • 1401-1419 John Campeden
  • 1419-1440 Alexander Sparrow
  • 1440-1465 John Pedel
  • 1465-? William pride
  • 1529-1539 John Poskyn MA

St. Mary's

  • 1540-1566 John Chetmyll
  • 1566-1580 George Holman BA
  • 1580-1585 David Dee BA
  • 1585-1632 Francis Scarlett
  • 1632-1653 William Lyford BD
  • 1653-1657 Francis Bamfield MA
  • 1657-1662 John Elford
  • 1663-1667 Joseph Barker MA
  • 1667-1682 John Elford BA
  • 1682-1692 John Henchman
  • 1692-1693 John Jolland MA
  • 1693 James Lacy MA
  • 1743-1749 John Loop BA
  • 1749-1773 John Samson MA
  • 1773-1780 Edward Cotes BCL
  • 1780-1810 Nathaniel Bristed MA
  • 1811-1830 William Gorton MA
  • 1830-1854 John Parsons MA (d. 1854)
  • 1854-1868 Edward Harston MA
  • 1868 William Hector Lyon MA
  • 1908-1916 Sidney Augustus Selwyn
  • 1916-1932 Stephen H. Wingfield Digby
  • 1932-1939 Wilfred Marcus Askwith
  • 1939-1947 S.Basil Wingfield Digby
  • 1947-1969 F. Paul P. Goddard
  • 1987-1993 Robert A. Willis
  • 1993-2020 Eric John Woods
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