Things to see and do in Sturminster Newton
PUBLISHED: 09:02 07 September 2017
Situated on the banks of the Stour, this Blackmore Vale market town has successfully reinvented itself whilst maintaining a strong link to the past, writes Andy Greeves
There is no doubt that Sturminster Newton has a long and impressive history. Recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Charter of 968 as ‘Nywetone at Stoure’ and in the Domesday Book as ‘Newetone’, Sturminster was the birthplace of renowned writer and poet William Barnes, while novelist Thomas Hardy also called the town home for a time. It is also where you will find an annual Boogie Woogie Festival!
During the reign of Henry III (1216 – 1272) Sturminster flourished: it was awarded a Royal Charter, permitting a fair and market to be hosted there. Over the next 778 years the town’s cattle market grew to become one of the biggest in the UK before its closure in 1997. But Sturminster’s ‘Monday Market’ continues on a weekly basis - weather permitting!
Milling for a Millenium
Sturminster Newton Mill is one of a series of ancient flour mills built on the Stour, its some 300 yards upstream from a six-arched, medieval bridge. The Mill is thought to date back to Saxon times and is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. Open 11am-5pm, Mondays, Thursdays, Saturdays & Sundays until end of September. ‘Milling Weekend’ on the second weekend of the month is when stone ground wholemeal plain flour is available to buy. Sturminster Newton Museum at Old Market Cross House is a must if you want to find out more about this area’s history. Open Mondays, Thursdays & Fridays 10am - 3pm, Saturdays 10am – 12.30pm. Find out about both locations at sturminsternewton-museum.co.uk.
From Cattle Market to Cultural Hub
Change is not something that scares this town, from the ashes of its past the future rises like a phoenix – again and again. The Exchange – a £2.7m arts centre that includes a 300-seater theatre – opened on the site of the former livestock market 10 years ago. It quickly established itself as a cultural hub and was named ‘Best Small Live Music Venue in the UK’ in the ‘Rock the House’ Parliamentary Competition in 2011. Events coming up in September include The Three Degrees; Dame Eileen Atkins in conversations with distinguished theatre director Richard Digby Day, and actor, director and creator of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes, who opened The Exchange in 2007, returns to help them celebrate their 10th anniversary and to talk about his distinguished career.
That’s not the only remarkable local success story. Between 1863 and 1966 Sturminster was a busy station on the Somerset and Dorset Railway. As well as carrying passengers, the line supported the town’s burgeoning diary industry. After the milk trains ceased in the mid 1960’s, the local creamery remained open until 2000. Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival was set-up in 1998 to celebrate the town’s links to the diary industry. When it first started there were just 20 stalls, despite the closure of the dairy the festival flourished. It now features around 90 food (and specifically cheese) producers from across Dorset and the South West of England and last year won Best Food Event in the Dorset Magazine Food, Drink & Farming Awards.
A Stroll to Shillingstone
The local stretch of the Somerset and Dorset Railway has also experienced something of a re-birth after its closure. The route where the tracks once lay now provides a link between many of north and mid Dorset’s towns and villages. There is a delightful and easily accessible four-mile route along the North Dorset Trailway that brings you to the restored Shillingstone railway station that is well worth a visit.
Stepping Out in Sturminster
Being situated in the glorious Blackmore Vale, Sturminster Newton and the surrounding area is a rambler’s delight. The town was the first in Dorset to create its own set of ‘Walkabout’ leaflets featuring eight circular walks. Download from dorsetforyou.gov.uk/walkabouts. While Dorset Wildlife Trust Nature Reserves within a close proximity of Sturminster Newton include Broad Oak Orchard and Girdlers Coppice. More at dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk.
New for 2017 is The White Hart Link, the brainchild of local artist Janet Swiss and inspired by the Blackmore Vale’s former name of ‘Vale of the White Hart’. Launched in April it features a 50 mile walking route linking the five towns of North Dorset - Gillingham, Stalbridge, Sturminster Newton, Blandford Forum and Shaftesbury using footpaths and quiet lanes, with sections of the route to be ‘adopted’ by various local communities.
Renaissance of the Chapel
Back in 2012, local felt maker Rose Hatcher and her husband Bob purchased the Workhouse Chapel in Bath Road. The Grade II listed chapel, built in 1891, served as Sturminster’s Union Poorhouse and remained a place of worship until 1969. After a brief spell as the local museum, the building lay empty until Rose and Bob came along. Its new incarnation is as a studio/workshop, Rose runs Feltmaking Workshops at the chapel. Every year the couple also stage ‘Handmade for Christmas at the Workhouse Chapel’, which this year offers work from 60 local (and slightly further afield) makers and artists. Handmade for Christmas runs from 1 November until 31 December. More details at workhousechapel.co.uk.
A Taste of Sturminster
Sturminster Newton offers a good range of places to enjoy local food and drink, including the luxury country house hotel of Plumber Manor, a few miles south of the town off Glue Hill. Richard, Alison and Brian Prideaux Brune have been running this legendary establishment since 1972 and Plumber has been included in the Good Food Guide and Good Hotel Guide every year and it has an excellent restaurant which is open to non- residents.
Looking for award-winning picnic supplies? Olives Et Al has its HQ deli on the A357 just outside the town centre (). Browse a delicious range of bread, crackers, cheese, meats, antipasti, sauces, organic wine as well as cakes and salads. Holebrooks Fine Foods, 6 Market Place, is a finalist in the 2017 Dorset Magazine Food, Drink & Farming Awards. They offer locally sourced quality meats, breads and have an extensive deli counter.
In nearby Stalbridge, Dike & Son is the largest independent supermarket in the West Country and has won numerous awards for its local sourcing. The store is a showcase for over 150 local food and drink producers.
A Creative Spirit
If you are enjoying the current trend for crafting then several local businesses offer you the chance to get creative. As well as selling handmade jewellery and jewellery making supplies, Beads With A Twist, on Church Street, has a dedicated craft studio hosting jewellery making classes on Wednesday afternoons.
Rustic Rose, a boutique florist at 8 Market Cross, runs regular workshops such as Introduction to Floristry, Group Floral Lessons and Wedding Flowers. Hansons Fabrics & Crafts on Station Road is home to regular sewing and craft classes. Upcoming events include book binding, crochet, cushions and making a tweed messenger bag.