A Note on Hinton St Maryby Anthony Pitt-Rivers


Hinton St Mary is a small village with some interesting older houses dating from C17 and 18.  The church was rebuilt in 1846 but retains its C15 tower and has a C12 font. In 1963 the remains of what was thought to be a C4 villa were discovered at Hinton St Mary; its most interesting feature was a mosaic pavement of over 90 sq metres with a centre roundel thought to depict the head of Christ which was acquired by the British Museum.  More recent excavation has shown that the developed area was much larger than originally thought and that alternatively it might have been an early Christian settlement rather than a villa.  In 947 the manor of Hinton with roughly its present boundaries was subject of a royal grant and in 968 it was granted to Shaftesbury Abbey in whose ownership it remained until the dissolution of the monasteries in the visitation of 1537.  At that time the south of the village was the site of a lay-brothers settlement consisting of a C13 dormitory which was demolished, a C15 tithe barn and an early C16 agricultural building which were retained.  In 1545 it was granted together with other manors in Dorset to William 7th Lord Stourton who was succeeded by his son who was a prominent catholic in the reign of Queen Mary becoming Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset.  He was also a dissolute young man and was eventually hanged at Salisbury with two accomplices in 1556 for the murder of his father’s bailiff who had been dragged from sanctuary in Stourton church.  In 1564 Queen Elizabeth granted the Stourton manors in Dorset to Robert Freke who was teller of the Exchequer and a member of the family was to live at Hinton for around 180 years.


Rebuilding of the Manor House on the site of the Lay Brothers dormitory was started by Thomas Freke in the 1630s and was continued by his widow Dame Mary who survived him by 44 years and was completed by their son The Rev. John Freke, vicar of Gillingham in 1695.  In 1696 a year after its completion William Freke came to live in the new house, born in 1662 and educated at Wadham College, Oxford he trained as a barrister.  His main claim to fame was the pamphlets he published anonymously with titles such as “Essay Towards an Union between Divinity and Morality” and “A Dialogue by way of Question and Answer Concerning the Deity” which he sent to several prominent MPs.  They were deemed heretical and the author was suspected of being a Quaker and the Speaker ordered them to be burnt by the public hangman in Palace Yard, Westminster.  As he used the rather transparent pseudonym Gul Libera Clavis (William Free Key) it is hardly surprising that his authorship was quickly detected and he was fined the substantial of sum of £55, forced to recant and bound over for three years.  He then turned his attention too psychology and published “A Dictionary of Dreams” and “A Collection of Dreams” which were described some years later by the Dorset historian The Rev. John Hutchins as “a medley of folly, blasphemy and obscenity” adding as an afterthought “yet he acted as a justice of the peace for many years”.  Reading them today one can sense that he anticipated the work of Sigmund Freud writing around 200 years later.


Thomas Freke, owner of a substantial estate in Dorset and Wiltshire, died in 1698 his eldest son having predeceased him it should have passed to his second son William who had a large family.  However, he took the view that the controversial publications of his second son make him unfit to inherit and he left if jointly to his eldest son’s widow and her sister who was married to George Pitt of Stratfield Saye who also owned land in Dorset and was MP for Wareham.  His daughter-in-law predeceased her sister and so in due course George Pitt was able to add the Freke estate to his already large estate.  After his father’s death William lived on at Hinton for a further 46 years and was followed by other members of the Freke family until Rev John Freke died in 1799.

When Stratfield Saye was bought by the Crown for the benefit of the 1st Duke of Wellington in 1817 there is a tradition that the vendor, the 2nd Lord Rivers, moved to the Manor House but there is no firm evidence that he ever lived here and it is more likely that he would have moved to Rushmore on another part of the estate where there was already a relatively new house built as a hunting lodge in the 1770s.  The most interesting occupant of the Manor House during the 19th Century was The Rev. Thomas Lane Fox, a cousin of Lord Rivers who was curate of Sturminster Newton.  Although offered the living by his cousin he resisted for many years on the grounds that an incumbent is obliged to live in his parish and he considered the vicarage as unsuitable for his occupation and there was insufficient grazing for his horses.  He was independently wealthy and was a substantial benefactor of the parish spending £28,000 (well over £1,000,000 in today’s money) on restoring Sturminster’s late gothic church and a considerable sum on the village school.  He also gave money widely to those who applied to him as being in need and had the reputation as an extremely soft touch.  Eventually his fortune was exhausted and he was forced to become vicar as he needed the stipend to live on.  On his death in 1862 his financial affairs were found to be in chaos and his patron Lord Rivers asked his agent to wind up his estate.  Some four years later the agent was pleased to report to his employer that the Rev. Tom had died with a net estate of 19s 3d.


In 1880 General Augustus Pitt-Rivers, the archaeologist inherited the estate from his cousin Horace Pitt, 6th Lord Rivers and his eldest son, Alexander, lived at Hinton from about 1895.  He enlarged the house and laid out the garden in roughly its present form and the tithe barn was converted into a hall.  His son George inherited in 1927 and decided to live at Hinton rather than Rushmore and converted the tithe barn into a small theatre with a stage and gallery.  Finally, the absence of mature trees is explained by the fact that the garden was surrounded by very old elm trees which were killed off by Dutch elm disease in the 1970s.