The secrets and hidden gems of Wimborne Minster

PUBLISHED: 11:26 11 October 2016 | UPDATED: 11:26 11 October 2016

The tree house in the old orchard at Serles House (Photo by Edward Griffiths)

The tree house in the old orchard at Serles House (Photo by Edward Griffiths)


From a 17th century public library to a 1950s model town, Andy Greeves discovers some of the hidden gems of this delightful market town and beyond

A rare survivor

The main focal point of the town for over 1,300 years is the magnificent Minster church, which is dedicated to St Cuthburga. Not only is it the resting place of King Ethelred I of Wessex, who died in 871 AD, but it also houses one of just five surviving chained libraries in the world.

Opened in 1695, it was one of the first public libraries in the country. And, before the Reformation, the room even housed the Minster Treasury. As Judith Monds, Head Librarian at Wimborne Minster reveals, the chained library has a rare and extensive collection. “The first books were donated by Reverend William Stone in 1686. Written in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, they were theological works by the likes of St. Augustin, St. Jerome and St. Anselm among others.”

These books were not originally chained, as only people working in the church were able to read them. But in 1695 a Middle Temple lawyer called Roger Gillingham came up with the idea of attaching each book in the library to a chain so that local shopkeepers or the ‘better class of person’, would be able to study and perhaps make a better life for themselves by having access to a free library.

“Our oldest book is The Regimen Animarum or Direction of Souls, a manuscript written on vellum and dated 1343,” says Judith. “The most complicated book is Walton’s Polyglott Bible in nine different languages, a magnificent work that took just four years to complete.”

Famous residents

Amongst the famous names that once called Wimborne home is World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Robert Fripp from the band King Crimson and The Vamps’ James McVey. The writer Thomas Hardy once lived in a house on Avenue Road, which bears a blue plaque recording that this was where he wrote A Pair of Blue Eyes in 1873.

Be my Valentine?

The Priest’s House Museum & Garden on the High Street is home to many special and historic treasures, but none quite as romantic or unusual as its collection of 400 Victorian Valentine cards.

The museum’s assistant curator, James Webb, takes up the story. “In 1838, William Low took over the main premises of the Priest’s House as a grocer’s shop. He used one of the rooms as a stationer’s and tobacconist. William was also a printer. On his death in 1871 his son, John, took over the business. The museum holds the unsold shop stock. This includes a collection of Victorian Valentine cards dating from 1820 to the early 1870s, with examples of beautifully decorated, embossed cards as well as cards that poked fun at the unlucky recipient.”

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A fifties model Wimborne

This year Wimborne Model Town celebrated the 25th anniversary of its relocation to a site on the Hanham Estate. The attraction, which opened in late 1951, closed in 1983 when the freehold of its original site was sold to housing developers. After a concerted effort by a number of key individuals and organisations, the Model Town was relocated to King Street where it was opened by Roy Castle in June 1991.

The one-tenth scale model town depicts Wimborne Minster in the 1950s, with over 160 structures and over 100 shop fronts, all as they would have been 60 years ago. Look out for two sets of model public conveniences, one of which can be heard flushing at regular intervals! Adjacent to this is a miniature K6 phone box with an intermittent Bakelite 200 ringtone. Other exhibits include a model railway and an impressive collection dolls houses. 

Painting of the town

One of the town’s most famous businesses is the premium paint and wallpaper manufacturer Farrow & Ball, which celebrates its 70th anniversary in 2016. Founded in 1946 by industrial chemist John Farrow and engineer Richard Ball, the duo built their first factory in Verwood.

Over the last seven decades, the company has grown from a post-war business specialising in commercial contracts, including creating authentic historical colours for National Trust properties and providing the paint for the doors of many local business in Wimborne, to a major home interiors brand with 55 showrooms worldwide and a global network of stockists covering 67 markets. Their head office is in Wimborne and their local showroom is on Uddens Trading Estate.

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Visit a Secret Garden

In 2001, Ian Willis, who lives at Serles House on Victoria Road - decided to open his garden for that year’s Wimborne in Bloom event. Some 15 years on, the tradition of the ‘Secret Garden at Serles House’ opening to the public for a select number of days each summer has continued. Described by Alan Titchmarsh as “one of the ten best private gardens in Great Britain” it features a treasure trove of fascinating garden objects d’art. The National Gardens Scheme website ( has details of this venues opening dates for 2017.

An art deco gem

Built in 1936, the Tivoli Theatre at 19 West Borough is an art deco gem both inside and out. When you are next watching a performance or film in the 500-seat theatre and cinema, take time to admire the many original features it retains, including the very smart chrome and Bakelite door handles.

Autumn splendour from Japan

The Japanese garden at Kingston Lacy, a National Trust property just up the road from Wimborne Minster, is famed for its ornamental Tea Garden and delicate spring blossom. However the seven acre garden is at its most dazzling in autumn when the acer glade, full of Japanese maples, erupts into vivid colour. With over 40 different species and 108 acer trees, this is a sight not to be missed. Highlights include gold and crimson leaves of the Acer palmatum ‘Shishi-gashira’ named after a mythological Chinese lion, and Acer shirasawanum ‘Autumn Moon’ that turns rich shades of orange and red. 

Art in the underpass

An unexpected artistic gem can be found if you head into town from the Allenview South Car Park through the adjacent Hanham Road Underpass. The tunnelled walkway recently had a ‘wall wrap’ installed, depicting scenes from the town. The work, which was funded by the Wimborne BID, was completed by Community Clean and features local artwork contributed photographer Darren Lovell and artist Kyleigh Orlebar of Kyleigh’s Papercuts.

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