Spires and Steeples: Art and Heritage

Digby to Dorrington

Dorrington’s name derives from the Old English for ‘Deora’s farmstead’ but this had become ‘Derintone’ by the time the Domesday Book was compiled.

Dorrington Demons Artwork

We arrive in Dorrington at the green on which stands the large ‘Dorrington Demons’ carving by Nick Jones. This recalls the local legend (or to be precise – two closely related legends) explaining how Dorrington’s church became so isolated from the village.

Dorrington Church

When it was attempted to build the church where the carving now stands each day’s work was mysteriously undone during the night. Eventually the workmen stayed up all night on guard but nothing happened until after they went for breakfast in the morning. Their work was all destroyed yet again, with one large stone being moved to the church’s present site. Once work began there, it was uninterrupted. The second version is similar but involves Tochti, a Saxon lord, who tried to build the church from stones taken from a pagan site. This version relates that the stones were again stolen each night, so the exasperated Tochti set a guard to watch over them. Having fallen asleep, they woke to witness a great oak being torn asunder as demons emerged to carry the stones effortlessly back up the hill. The existing site may therefore be a pagan one; and it is reputedly haunted!

The truth however may be more prosaic. Approaching Dorrington from Digby walkers may notice in the first meadow after the wind pump (around GR081535) that there are uneven earthworks and definite traces of mediaeval ridge and furrow field strips and we are here quite close to the church. This could well indicate that Dorrington is what archaeologists call a migrated village; in other words over the centuries the village has simply moved, perhaps because the less exposed, lower-lying ground has become better drained.

St James and St John again exhibits a mix of architectural styles. In spite of the legends there is no evidence of Saxon work, however the tower is Transitional below and Decorated above whilst the nave is Decorated too but surmounted by a Perpendicular clerestory. Immediately noticeable is the truncated and unadorned appearance of the tower resulting from the spire being removed. What should not be missed (though it easily could be) is a carved ‘Doom’ frieze above the east window that shows to the left figures climbing out of their graves and to the right the mouth of hell. Crowning the notice board by the entrance gate is a woodcarving by Denise Marshall echoing the theme of the stone frieze and depicting yet more demons.

Back in the village and across the road from the ‘Demons’ sculpture the stump of a mediaeval cross protrudes from a garden that once formed part of the village green. The adjacent Playgarth is an ancient village feature too, for this was the place where feasting and entertainments took place on St Bartholomew’s Day.

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