Special Note: Readers are requested to give their support to the Appeal for Funds to undertake repairs to the Newman Chapel at Fifehead.
The church itself required urgent repairs to its roof which are now in progress through funding by English Heritage, however donations are still urgently needed to pay for repairs to the cracks in the wall of the small Newman chapel, some of which can be discerned in the photo below.
Please read the Appeal and give your support to this worthwhile undertaking.
An 8 page brochure describing the connection between the Newmans and the Fifehead manorial estates, can be downloaded by clicking here.
A delightful history of the village of Fifehead Magdalen is given in a paper titled "Fifehead Revisited - A ramble around the village in the 1840s", being as transcript of a talk given in 1988 by ex-resident Peter Oxlade. An extract from "Historical Monuments in the County of Dorset" also describes several features of the church and village. (Both these documents were kindly supplied to me by Peter Mera, Secretary of the Fifehead Hall).
The connection between Newmans and Fifehead appears to extend back to 1408 or perhaps even 1405 when John Newman (brother of Robert Newman of St. Thomas's, Salisbury) is recorded as being Rector there. According to Peter Oxlade's account, the Newmans first rented the estate from its Lord, the Abbot of St. Augustine's Abbey, Bristol, from 1408, and subsequently purchased by Col. Richard Newman in 1660. This disagrees with the information in Wayne Newman's April 1998 article in the Newman Chronicle suggesting that the first lease over the Fifehead estate was taken out in 1530 by Robert Newman of Fifehead. At any rate, the family connection lasted for almost 400 yeas "giving a sense of stability to the village", until the death of Frances Newman in 1775 when the manor was sold (in 1779) to the brother of a vicar of the parish.
[Note: The Evercreech estate was also sold off at around this time, but the Thornbury estate passed to Anne Newman's descendents, the Newman-Toll family, who retained it until the 1930s.
See below for information about the Manor House.
In the little church at Fifehead Magdalen is a small chapel on the north side of the chancel that was built by Sir Richard Newman in 1693 (see separate page describing Chantries). The chapel contains three wall-mounted memorial stones, a small one on the west wall, a larger one on the east wall, and a very large one on the north wall.
West wall memorial stone: The inscription on the black stone mounted on the west wall is shown below.
Its indecipherable words are quoted from History of Dorset page 58:
of Evercreech Park, com. Somerset, aged 32 years,
lies in the vault underneath in the (second?) leaden coffin north,
and removed from the chancell in October M.D.CXCIII (1693);
leaveing one sonne Richard, and two daughters Anne and Barbara now living."
East wall memorial stone:
The marble memorial on the East Wall is dedicated to Thomas Newman Newman of Fifehead and his son Richard Newman (see below)
photo by Chris Newman Oct 2004
* Note - John Hutchin's History of Dorset (page 58) incorrectly shows the date on the inscription as MDCII = 1602
Ex generosa prosapie Newemannorum de Newman
Hall, county. Essex, ortus
Judicio antiquus, ingenio solo novissimus
Pietate in Deum, charetatem in pauperes insignis
In Anglia municipaliiure
Sagax non subdolus
Lex ipse sitimet et perfectissima
Ultra octiginta annos corpore moratus
Supra octogenarium animo moratus
Arthritide et senectute, altero morbo confect
Octobris XXI, M.D.C.IL
placide animam egit
From the lineage of Newman of Newman Hall, Essex
By time-honoured values, humble and down-to-earth
Piety in God, without regard to rank,
Rightly belonging to England,
Wise, not treacherous,
Principled and self accomplished,
In body, beyond eighty years of age,
In life, having more than eighty years,
Entombed and safe, the former illness is now ended,
October 21, 1649
Peacefully, soul deliver.
Note: the words "de Newman Hall, county Essex, ortus" appear to have been inserted into the inscription at a later date - see enlarged photo below:
It is not known when or why these words were added or by whom, but perhaps someone believed that the Thomas Newman who built Newman Hall in Essex in 1540 was the same Thomas Newman who is memorialized here. Given that this Fifehead Thomas Newman died in 1649, he could not be the same Thomas Newman who built Essex Hall, but that does not prove that no connection existed between the two families.
photo by Chris Newman Oct 2004
Thomae primogenitus in eodem obdormit sepulchre
Filios Thomam flore juventutis febre abrep[tum]
Et Richardum huius momenti positorem
Huius epigraphes compositorem
Filias Annam et Ianani superstites genuit
Observantia in supiores comitate in interiores
In singulos iustitiam dilligenter exercuit
Viduitatem veram quadraginta quinque annos ten
Patrem tam virtute qua diuturnitate imitatus
Ad amussim officii observavit
Iunii X, AD. M.D.C.L.XIIII
Hemi plegia laborans octogenari expiravit
Thomas's first-born is with the same, asleep in this tomb,
Son, Thomas, taken away in the prime of life by an attack of fever,
And Richard, this the builder founded,
This engraving composed,
Daughter, Anna, and surviving bring forth,
Watch from heaven with kindness below,
Into every justice diligently exercised,
True bereavement but with 40 years of life,
Father so virtuous known so long,
To exact service seen,
June 10, 1664
Gained in eighty years pains to breath the last.
Just inside the entrance gate to the churchyard at Fifehead, there is a large stone memorial dedicated to Thomas Newman, believed to have been the elder son of Thomas Newman of Fifehead. The inscription below is taken from John Hutchin's History of Dorset. .
John Hutchins wrote:
"The ancient burying place of the Newmans appears to have been under large yew-tree in the churchyard (see photo below), where there are some flat stones and two tomb old stones. Upon one, which stands near the church tower under the tree:
Note: When I saw the stone in 2003, I found the inscription damaged and it has presumably suffered surface deterioration since John Hutchins wrote his book. I was unable to detect the date 1668 on the stone (see photo above) even though most of the rest of the text was clear enough and in agreement with John Hutchin's text
An extract from "Historical Monuments in the County of Dorset" kindly supplied to me by Peter Mera, Secretary of the Fifehead Hall says this about the old Manor House"
"FIFEHEAD HOUSE (78362161), some 50yds. S.E. of (1), was demolished in 1964 (see photos below); it was of three storeys, with ashlar walls and slate-covered roofs. It was built in 1807 and had a class-U plan. The E. front was symmetrical and of three bays, with large sashed windows in each storey and with an elliptical- headed central doorway sheltered by a portico with four unfluted Corinthian columns and an enriched entablature. The ground-floor windows flanking the doorway were set in shallow segmental-headed recesses. A slender plat-band marked the first floor; an entablature above the second-floor windows had a triglyph frieze and a moulded cornice capped by a low parapet wall; the corners of the facade had rusticated quoins. The N. and S. elevations of the main building were each of three bays, with architectural details as described; the W. elevation was masked by a two-storey service range. Inside, the principal rooms had ceilings with enriched plaster cornices, doorways with moulded and reeded surrounds, and carved marble chimneypieces. The open-string stairs had balustrades with panels of foliate trellis-work in cast lead, set between plain iron uprights; the handrails were of mahogany."
Peter Oxlade's paper titled "Fifehead Revisited - A ramble around the village in the 1840s" (also supplied to me by Peter Mera) goes on to say:
"The former MANOR HOUSE was built about 1510 as the residence of the Newman family, who had rented the estate from its Lord, the Abbot of St. Augustine's Abbey, Bristol, from 1408. The Lordship of the Manor was purchased from the Bishop of Bristol by the then head of the family, Colonel Richard Newman, after the restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. Colonel Newman died shortly afterwards and there were then, successively, three other Richard Newmans who were Lords of the Manor. In 1699 the last of them was raised to a baronetcy and it is his family memorial tablet and sculptures which dominates the present vestry, originally the Newman mortuary chapel, of the church. Sir Richard died in 1721 and was succeeded by his son Sir Samwell Newman who died unmarried in 1747, when the male line became extinct. Two of Sir Samwell's three sisters continued to live at the Manor House and to control the estate until the last one died in 1775. In 1779 the estate was sold to a partnership of two men, the Reverend William Whittaker of Motcombe, brother of a former vicar of Fifehead, and Robert James, a Fifehead farmer. The Newman family had also acquired the Manor of West Stour in 1656 and this, too, was purchased in 1779 by Messrs. James and Whittaker. By 1805 Robert James's partner was the Reverend Walter Whittaker, son of the former vicar, and it was they who sold the Manor to George Cox.
So you have an estate which had been in the hands of the same family for over 350 years, with the family farming half the lands and occupying the Manor House for much of that period, thus giving a sense of stability to the village. Then the estate was sold, and sold again, every twenty or thirty years or so, until the 1920s when it was broken up as a unit. But by virtue of that earlier stability, when the village of 1840 is examined in detail, it is possible to suggest that as regards the houses and land holdings, there was not a great deal of change from the village of the 1600s - the holdings were almost identical and the houses were the same or replacements on roughly the same sites."
History of Dorset p58 notes that "The Mansion, in part taken down about 1806 and the remainder converted into a farm house, was perhaps situated in as pleasant a spot as any in the county of Dorset, on a gentle eminence surrounded by avenues of lofty elms, commanding on the east a picturesque view of Stour Provost ....".
The following photos of the 1807 house were kindly given to me by Peter Mera who acts as secretary for the village hall in Fifehead. Note: this is not the house that was occupied by the Newmans (which must have been demolished sometime after the estate was sold in 1779.
I visited the spot with my father in the 1987, some twenty years after the manor had been taken down, but an old villager guided us to its location - a beautiful spot adjacent to the old church, facing a magnificent view over a valley to the east.
The map below shows the location of Fifehead Magdalen south of Wincanton, on the A30 between Shafsbury and Sherborne. Immediately to the east is Stour Provost, mentioned in the description above.