History of St Andrew's Church, Donhead St Andrew

The First Millennium

There has been a church on the site of Donhead St Andrew Church for at least a thousand years. It is thought that the first church may have been built soon after the founding of Shaftesbury Abbey by King Alfred in about 875 AD, when much of the land in the village was endowed by the King to the Abbey. The only Saxon work known to remain is part of the narrow arch leading from the chancel to the vestry; in Saxon times this arch was an entrance into a North chancel or chapel. One small piece of medieval glass survives at the very top of the East window; it depicts the arms of Shaftesbury abbey.

The Second Millennium

It is clear that the Church underwent generations of alteration and re-building as the needs of worship, the availability of wealth and the fashions of the times had their effects over the centuries. The following sentences cover some significant features inside the Church, starting at the tower and moving towards the altar. When the tower was re-built in 1895, fragments of medieval carving were incorporated into the inside walls; these include a ferocious looking head which could be of the Viking period. There are four bells in the tower, one of them of mid-15th century date, with an inscription: "Sancta Katerina, ora pro nobis" (Saint Katherine, pray for us). The nave arcades are of the 14th century, the North arcade being the later of the two, as shown by the more elaborate bases to the shafts, constructed to fit in with pew furnishings. At the time when the South arcade was built, pews were still not usual, the congregation standing, or sitting on the rush-strewn floor. A moving feature, thought to be unique in England, is the face of Christ, supporting the springing of the arch at the West end, with the brow lined with sorrow and the eyes gazing wistfully towards the altar. An attractive feature of the Church is the series of medieval carved angels high up on either side of the nave, some of them shown with musical instruments such as the lute. Just to the North of the chancel entrance a blocked-up archway hides a flight of stone steps, which in medieval times led up to a rood loft reaching across the chancel entrance, and from which choristers would sing the part of the mass (The Gradual) between epistle and gospel. The chancel was taken down and re-built in 1833, and most of the stained glass windows were given by the family of the Revd William Dansey, rector from 1820 to 1855. The end of the Georgian era and the start of the Victorian era saw major changes, starting with the re-building of the South aisle in around 1826, and finishing with the re-building of the tower in 1895. These changes are described in the following paragraphs.

1837. The chancel was taken down and re-built in c1833. The tower now has 8 pinnacles and a clock on the South face. The South transept and attached porch have been replaced with a South aisle and smaller porch. The nave roof and South aisle parapets both have battlements. The South aisle stretches the length of the nave.

1850. The nave roof has now been lengthened and the chancel and North aisle parapets both have battlements, whereas the nave roof does not. The original church school, built by Revd William Dansey, rector from 1820 to 1855, can be seen in the churchyard to the South-East of the Church.

1870s. By a faculty of 1875, the Church underwent its most recent major re-ordering: what was described as "an unsightly gallery" at the West end of the nave was removed; the pews seats and fittings were said to be "in a state of general decay" and "inconveniently arranged", and all of the "paving, floors pews, seats and pulpit" were removed and replaced with what we see today. The new pews on raised wooden platforms provided a total of 300 seats.

The tower was re-built in 1895 (without a clock?), but by the 1960s the pinnacles had become unsafe and had to be taken down. In the 1920s electric light and central heating were installed, and apart from conversion from a solid fuel boiler to an oil-fired one, remain largely unchanged today. The organ and choir stalls were moved from the chancel to the North aisle in the 1930s. At some stage the door in the North aisle wall was removed. The Church was listed Grade II* in 1966.

The Third Millennium

To mark the beginning of The Third Millennium, a new South window was designed by Andrew Taylor, a Wiltshire designer, and installed in the tower. Its subject is "Pentecost and the Holy Spirit", and it provides a dramatic flash of colour above the South door of the Church. At the same time, the PCC began to consider what work needed to be done to the church to ensure its long-term future, and how any such work should be funded. The "Friends of Donhead St Andrew Church" were established to raise funds for the maintenance and improvement of the church building and churchyard. The Friends funded a small number of maintenance projects, and by 2012 the PCC had drawn up a plan for major improvements; an appeal "St Andrew's Church Development Appeal" was launched, and to date has raised or been pledged a total of over £160,000. After detailed work on the proposals, currently estimated to cost little short of £300,000, the PCC will soon (as at April 2015) be starting the formal process of obtaining planning permission and a faculty. The works include a major renovation of the organ, funding for which has been promised.

Richard Lee