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You are in: Dorset > History > Local History > The changing fortunes of Cerne Abbas

Cerne Abbas signpost

Cerne Abbas signpost

The changing fortunes of Cerne Abbas

An estate agent's survey has named the Dorset village of Cerne Abbas the most desirable in the country but that hasn't always been the case. BBC Dorset's David Allen explores the village's ups and downs.

The Dorset Village of Cerne Abbas has come top in an estate agent's survey as the most desirable in the country.

But this pretty village nestled between Dorchester and Sherborne has had more than its fair share of ups and downs in its long history.

Anthony Garvey

Anthony Garvey

Anthony Garvey has lived in the village since 1999 and is the current Chairman of the Cerne Abbas Historical Society. He outlined the village's highs and lows.


The village's first rise to prominence came in AD 987 when the Benedictine Abbey was built. The Abbey dominated the area for the next 500 years, but with the dissolution of the Monasteries, the village's position as one of the most important sites in Dorset went with it.

St Mary's Church, Cerne Abbas

St Mary's Church, Cerne Abbas

Centuries later Cerne Abbas was to thrive once more thanks to the many small industries which set up in the village.

They included glove making, tanning, milling, silk weaving and the brewing of beer. In fact, at one time the village boasted 14 pubs.

But this industrious village would fall into decline when in the 19th century the new railway line bypassed Cerne Abbas. By the end of World War I, the population had halved and many houses had fallen into disrepair. The village was then sold off by the owner, the Pitt-Rivers estate.

Cerne Abbas Historical Society

One of the most popular community groups in the village is the Cerne Abbas Historical Society, which was started in 1988 by a few enthusiasts meeting in the pub.

George Mortimer

George Mortimer

The society now boasts over 100 members who meet every three weeks in the village hall and enjoy an array of interesting guest speakers.

Former chairman of the Historical Society George Mortimer, who looks after the society's archives and is involved in the society's website, explained that the group are currently tracing the history of their homes - many of which date back centuries.

Heritage trail

The group has also organised a heritage trail which has disabled access and follows important sites within the village.

The trail starts off at the Abbots Porch and passes by St Mary's church (which dates back to the 14th Century), and St Augustine's Well (which is said to have been created when the visiting saint struck the ground with his staff and water gushed forth) and finishes at the famous Giant.

The Cerne Abbas Giant

The Cerne Abbas Giant


Most of all, Cerne Abbas is world famous for its Giant, carved into the hillside above the village, but its origins remain a mystery. In a scene reminiscent of the TV series Dad's Army, during World War II the Giant had his manhood covered because it was feared it may help German Aircraft by pointing the way to Bristol.

Even in the 21st Century the Cerne Giant has been used to promote the Simpson's Movie.


Today the village is once more riding high with numerous community organisations using the newly built village hall (which was built at a cost of around £700,000, much of which was raised by the villagers).

St Mary's Church, Cerne Abbas

St Mary's Church, Cerne Abbas

The feeling of community has never been stronger.

Now with the title of the most desirable village in Britain, it looks like the fortunes of Cerne Abbas are set fair for many years to come. 

last updated: 19/03/2008 at 10:31
created: 13/03/2008

Have Your Say

Have you been to Cerne Abbas? What did you think? Is there a more desirable place in Dorset? Leave your comments below.

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

Jonathan James
It's a picturesque village, alright, but I reckon it'd be pretty boring to live. I reckon there are more desirable places in Dorset seeing as the coastline is outstanding & Cerne isn't that close to it.

Brian Owen
My family association with Dorset and Cerne Abbas in particular began some twenty years ago in a cottage in Back Lane. We then had four happy holidays in a cottage on the bridge at Wolfeton but Cerne Abbas always drew us back. We gave in and our reward has been five holidays with Maureen and John Hitt, a break at ginger fox cottage and six years as voluntary prisoners at the gaol curtesy of Jan and David Kirkpatrick. The greeting "good lord, is it that time of year again" I think sums up the welcome we receive in a special place.

Sandie Robinson
My granny born 1888 rew up on Doles Ash Farm and was apprenticed for 5 years to the ladies dressmakers in Cerne Abbas two sisters called Miss Sherry. She also learned glovemaking and hat making. Every Saturday afternoon her dad collected her in the pony and trap so that she could spend Sunday at home.Her name was Elvie Minnie Dunell. Doles Ash Farm is between Cerne and Piddletrenthide. I still have her photos of Doles Ash. Would they like copies?

Susan Cusick
Having stayed June 2007 in the Kirkpatrick's cottage, I feel doubly fortunate to have experienced the wonderful village of Cerne Abbas and the charm of historical Old Gaol Cottage. Not a day goes by that we do not think of Cerne Abbas, the surrounding area and feel lonely for it. A meal and pint at the New Inn, a village walk-about, discovering the village bit by bit, a hike to the Giant via the wood somehow add up to a perfect day. We visited many places while in south England but it was the return at day's end to Cerne Abbas that made the day complete.

Jan and David Kirkpatrick
Cerne Abbas is just heaven on earth! Not only due to the beauty of the surrounding countryside but the wonderful villagers who live there. We share our cottage, when not in residence, with guest world-wide. They all enjoy the visit to Cerne Abbas and most make immed1ate plans to return. The past is always present with so many historical buildings. However, what really makes Cerne Abbas special is how everyone can feel at home by the warm welcome offered by those lucky enough to live there.

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