“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

St Aldhelm's Chapel

St Aldhelm's Chapel is a Norman chapel which resides inside a low circular earthwork on St Aldhelm's Head near Worth Matravers in Dorset. The chapel is dedicated to a St. Aldhelm (639 AD – 709 AD) who was the Bishop of Sherborne.

St. Aldhelm's Chapel has some unusual features for a chapel firstly it is square (25 feet by 25 feet), as opposed to the rectangular shape of most chapels. The interior space is also odd. Typical chapels have an open interior, whereas  St. Aldhelm's Chapel has a large central column which dominates the interior of the building. The chapel is also oriented in a different manner to more typical chapels. Chapels tend to be laid out based on an East to West orientation, St. Aldhelm's Chapel however is oriented with the corners of the chapel pointing towards the cardinal points of the compass.

The other thing that makes the placement of St. Aldhelm's Chapel so strange is its apparent remoteness. The chapel is around 1.5 miles from Worth Matravers and there has been no evidence found to date of any historic settlements closer to the chapel.

Based on this peculiar feature the original purpose of the building is not certain, it could have been originally built as a chapel or it could have been built for another purpose. Some suggest that it may have originally been built as a watchtower for Corfe Castle, covering the sea approaches to the south. Essentially however, it is not accurately known when the chapel was built, who built it or why they built it!

The first written record of the building being used as a chapel dates from the reign of King Henry III (1207 – 1272) and the chapel appears to have been in use until circa 1625. Following 1625, the chapel slowly fell into disrepair until it was finally restored by the Earl of Eldon in the 19th century, and re-opened for services in 1874. The chapel still holds services to this day, but limited to special occasions, such as Easter.









St Aldhelm's Chapel is not the only eye-catching structure on St Aldhelm's Head. Nearby the chapel is an unusual looking sculpture that serves as a memorial to the pioneering work on radar, undertaken at nearby Renscombe Farm during the Second World War. Work was carried out on the development of radar by a team of researchers including the famous astronomer Sir Bernard Lovell. The stainless steel sculpture represents two radar dishes which are arranged in such a way that they also form a large fire basket. This design is intended to reflect both the ancient and modern methods to warn of invasion - fire beacons were historically used to send messages across the country and warn of impending invasions, and radar took up this role during the Second World War.

Worth Matravers was chosen as a site for the development of radar due to the area’s cliff tops which are relatively flat and thus good for testing radar. In May 1940 there was an influx of around 200 scientists to the area and two years later by May 1942 around 2000 people were actively working on the site. The coastal location did however lead to fears that the research centre could be raided by the Germans and as such the majority of the research effort was moved to Malvern in May 1942. Post 1942 some work on radar did continue in the area and the last radar tower operated by the RAF (a 110m tall tower) was only taken down in the early 1970’s.

The plaque on the memorial reads:  THIS MEMORIAL COMMEMORATES THE RADAR RESEARCH CARRIED OUT AT WORTH MATRAVERS FROM 1940 - 1942 WHICH WAS CRUCIAL TO THE WINNING OF THE WAR AND THE BIRTH OF MODERN TELECOMMUNICATIONS

Even with the area being home to the development of radar, it seems that the powers that be were still unable to prevent the Daleks invading nearby Winspit Quarry in 1967 and 1979.





Pictures: Dorset (May 2015).

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