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Southwell Village

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685700008LRSouthwell Village lies in the area shown by the red square on the aerial photograph.

Quarry activities have seriously encroached on the fields to the north of Southwell and this quarry is still active.

Avalanche Church lies in the village and is a memorial to the lives lost nearby in the collision at sea between the ships Avalanche and Forest.

There is an excellent article on Southwell to be read here.

There are many interesting features of this ancient village not least the pub which it is claimed is the only one in the United Kingdom named “The Eight Kings”.

Southwell has a Mesolithic settlement a few miles to the south and the Romans were very active in the area making this one of the oldest settlements on Portland.

There are still cottages surviving from the 17th and 18th century although most are much altered.

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“EIGHT KINGS” PUB

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THE SOUTHWELL COLLAGE

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SOUTHWELL POST OFFICE

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SOUTHWELL FARM

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AVALANCHE CHURCH

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AVALANCHE ROAD SHOP

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LIMEKILN OFF AVALANCHE ROAD

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ANCIENT COTTAGE

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HOUSES TO EAST OF VILLAGE

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METHODIST CHAPEL

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RENOVATED COTTAGE

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OLD VEHICLES

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DEMOLISHED FORGE

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My sketch above shows the village more-or-less as it was in mid-Victorian times. It is not accurate as it is based on several sources from different dates but gives a guide to the surviving interesting features of this village.

The ‘South Well’ emerged from a spring just south of where the Avalanche Church would later be built. It ran a short distance to the Upper Pond. A ditch carried water down the main road and in front of the Eight Kings pub from where the water ran down to the Lower Pond in the dip of the road seen in the picture below.

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We start a virtual walking tour of Southwell Village approaching from the south. Looking right we see a huge expanse of open fields stretching to the eastern coastline and as far south as Portland Bill. All of this area is under threat from Portland Stone Firms who want to dig it all up to access the stone - click here for details.

THE EIGHT KINGS PUB

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The above picture shows a view of the pub about a century ago.

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Above we see the Eight Kings pub in Southwell photographed in 1989 just after a refurbishment.

It was a favourite lunchtime venue for the employees at the nearby Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment for nearly four decades. I know - I was one of them!

We would walk down Sweethill to enjoy a pint and a pie. In those days the pub was divided into two separate bars left and right of the front door. Alongside the back wall by the rear door were many old bottles and jugs; the then landlord was clearly a keen collector.

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The road layout has changed and a 'mini-roundabout' now exists here as shown in the above 2006 picture.

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The above picture from March 2015 shows the old toilet block just to the south of the pub.

On 11th August 1999 a total solar eclipse occurred one kilometre south of Portland Bill. The immense number of vehicles to the site all passed this pub which set up a large cooking area next to the toilet block selling hot food.

THE SOUTHWELL VILLAGE COLLAGE

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On an external wall of the pub is this excellent collage of features and personalities associated with the area. The gentleman in the bottom right of the collage is the well-known poet, stone mason and much loved resident the late ‘Skylark’ Durston. There is an excellent YouTube TV programme about Skylark broadcast in 1971 here.

SOUTHWELL POST OFFICE

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Opposite the pub used to be a shop and Post Office. The above left-hand photograph was taken in 1989. The picture above right was taken in March 2015. The post box has survived as a reminder of an age of local shops.

We turn west and walk past old farm buildings.

SOUTHWELL FARM

Into the 1990s Southwell had retained much of its rural atmosphere including a working farm.

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On the other side of the road look out for the traditional Portland porch on a cottage. These porches are still much in evidence; their purpose being to protect the front door from the vicious south-westerly gales. The living rooms were usually directly behind the front door. Also, it is alleged, to allow the home owner to watch out for the Press Gang and the Revenue Men approaching.

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The cottage pictured above once stood in Southwell but it no longer exists. The belfry of Avalanche church can be seen on the left which puts the location in the area south of Church Lane where the more modern houses in the previous picture now stand.

AVALANCHE MEMORIAL CHURCH

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In September 1877 a terrible tragedy occurred off Portland Bill when two ships, Avalanche and Forest collided with the loss of 106 people. This disaster and the outstanding bravery of the local fishermen in rescuing the few survivors resulted in a national subscription. The cost of building this church was 1,900 and the church was dedicated to St Andrew on 3rd July 1879.

Please click here to read an account of this tragedy and the story of the building of this church..

The church has memorials to those drowned as well as testimonials to the bravery of local people. Stained glass windows show scenes from this tragedy. Visiting the church is a 'must'. The times of opening and the address of the key holder are displayed in the entrance porch.

An account of this maritime disaster is also given in Stuart Morris's excellent book "Portland: An Illustrated History" - please click here for details.

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The anchor was recovered from the wreck of the Avalanche.

South Well which supplied the village with water once existed just in front of the site of this church.

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Walking past the church we go up Avalanche Road and see a carved stone high up on the end wall of a house.

LOST LOCAL SHOP

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Number 97 Avalanche Road used to be a local general store shop. It closed about two decades ago to be converted into a house.

LIMEKILN

Almost opposite this house is a huge mound covered in trees. In the area is a limekiln as pictured below in March 2015. It can be glimpsed from Avalanche Road. It lies on private land but I was happy to be given special permission to walk to the ruin and take photographs.

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We return to the Eight Kings pub down Church Lane and explore the village heading east towards Easton.

AN ANCIENT COTTAGE

Tourists driving through Southwell to Portland Bill would scarcely notice the remains of a cottage opposite the Eight Kings pub.

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These sparse remains are from a once huge double-storied, semi-detached thatched cottage.

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Originally built in the 17th century, a gabled porch was added in the late 18th century but the building had become derelict by the early 1900s and only the small part of a wall and the window survived demolition

The picture below shows the large building. The remaining window is the one in the left of the picture.

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PROPERTIES TO THE EAST OF THE PUB

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A very attractive Victorian veranda at No 59 Southwell on the north side of the road was commented upon favourably by the late Eric Ricketts in his book "The Buildings of Old Portland".

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On the corner opposite the Eight Kings used to be a small general shop. This closed in the 1990s and was converted to the house seen above.

METHODIST CHAPEL

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The old Wesleyan chapel in Southwell photographed in 2003. This was built in 1849 and is now a holiday home - see here for an excellent article on the history of this building.

REBUILT COTTAGE

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Close to the chapel stood a derelict ancient cottage - Number 56 Southwell. The above picture taken in February 1989 shows this sad relic from centuries past. The late Eric Ricketts points out in his book "The Buildings of Old Portland" that the door is only 5 ft 3 in high. Were Portlanders really that small?

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In the early 1990s it was demolished and I feared that it was to be replaced by an unsightly modern development. However, the house built in its place is of excellent design and is sympathetic to the area.

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According to the Eric Ricketts book “The Buildings of Old Portland” there was once a pub in this group of cottages called “The Wonder”. However, there is reliable oral history that “The Wonder” was well up Avalanche Road near where the shop once stood.

The Free Portland News (please see here) has published a list of pubs that once existed in Southwell in addition to ‘The Eight Kings’ and ‘The Wonder’ as follows ‘The Quarrymen's Arms’, ‘The Ragged Louse’ and ‘Top Slobbs’.

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Moving on towards the eastern end of the village we find the welcoming sign and flowers seen above. Although this display has attracted the inevitable attention of vandals, it survives to cheer visitors on their way to Portland Bill.

OLD CRANE AND VEHICLES

Just after leaving the village sign behind we see a field which has, over the decades, been the graveyard of several old vehicles and cranes.

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Opposite Cheyne House is a loop in the road which marks the original course of the road from Easton to Southwell. Between the main road and the loop is an old blacksmith's workshop and nearby is an area of waste land where a variety of old artefacts have been stored.

Over the years some have rusted away whilst others have been renovated and moved on.

The above example from 1990 is an old portable workman's or shepherd's hut.

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Another of the ancient relics parked up by the old blacksmith's workshop opposite Cheyne House. This picture was taken in 1990 but the steam engine decayed further and disappeared. I believe it may have been sold to a restorer.

I once knew an enthusiast who bought a similar old steam engine and spent many years and a great deal of money ‘restoring’ it. In fact, I could see few parts that were original and not manufactured recently. I asked whether the engine was actually a modern replica or a true restoration. The engine owner got very huffy - it seems that’s the question one must never ask!

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An old mobile crane rots away in the field. The above picture was taken in 1990.

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Above is the same crane photographed in October 2003. It looked as though it would soon collapse and be buried by the brambles that are encroaching upon it.

The next three pictures show the crane in March 2015.

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There is a loop of narrow tarmac which is the route of the main main between Southwell and Easton before it was straightened and widened.

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DESTROYED OLD FORGE

On this loop used to stand an ancient forge where quarry workers took their tools for sharpening as well as getting ironwork made for carts, etc. The space on the right above where the rubbish is dumped is where the forge stood.

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Sadly, this building was demolished in 2009 thereby removing another interesting part of Portland's history.

I had assumed that this ancient and interesting building was listed but it obviously was not.

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Keywords Southwell Portland Avalanche Church Forest Eight Kings quarrying Portland Dorset