Chedington, high up in the chalk hills of West Dorset is the source of two rivers, the Axe and the Parret. It is remarkable for its exciting views. The National Trust gave 16 acres of their land as a memorial to the 43rd (Wessex) Division of the Dorsetshire Rgt. On a bluff stands an impressive monument - a replica of the memorial on Hill 112 at Caen in Normandy, which is forever associated with the 43rd.
At the north end of the village is a famous cutting called Winyard’s Gap, and from this point the road twists downhill to cross the border into Somerset.
The Winyard's Gap Inn, tucked beneath an ancient earthwork, has seen all manner of traffic over the centuries, but history does not tell us how many inns have stood on the site. Armies have certainly marched by, as have countless flocks of sheep and herds of cattle on their way to market. King Charles I led his troops through the Gap in 1644 with kettle-drums beating out a rhythm, and until comparatively recent times colts and fillies trotted past on their way to Dorchester.
The innkeepers often had other activities in the community, and not always legal. There are tales of smuggling (it was not far from Gulliver’s western connection). No doubt highwaymen halted many a traveler at this lonely spot. Incidentally, the name Winyard comes from Anglo Saxon Wynheard.
It is a story concerning gypsies prostitution and a court case which rocked London that brought fame to the Gap. The case involved such personalities as Henry Fielding, author of Tom Jones and Ameliia, who was a man who would fight social evils of all kinds. The inn at Winyards Gap was part of the alibi of a gypsy called Mary Squires, who with brothel keeper Susannah Wells were the principal defendants.
On New Years Day 1752, eighteen year old Elizabeth Canning, who was in service in London, went missing for a month. She arrived home in a sorry state claiming that Wells and Squires had kept her virtually a prisoner in a house for immoral purposes. She aroused much sympathy and interest in her predicament. Although Fielding stirred up support for this ‘poor’ girl, John Hill a Quack doctor rallied those who did not believe her story . Gypsy Squires claimed that she was traveling in Dorset and during January was with her family at the Winyard's Gap Inn, then called the Three Horseshoes, and at a nearby village inn at South Perrott.
The case was proved and the two women were found guilty. Squires was sentenced to hang but a new champion came to her aid, none other than the Lord Mayor of London Sir Crispin Gascoyne, who just happened to be the Master of the Brewers Company, who went to a great deal of trouble checking Gypsy Squire’s pub-crawling story nearly two hundred miles away in rural Dorset.
He not only earned Squires a pardon but the naughty Elizabeth Canning was convicted of perjury and sentenced to transportation to a penal colony for seven years. The branding punishment which had already been carried out on Susannah Wells could not be erased.
Today’s visitors come to the Gap to enjoy the majestic views. To the north east are the Mendip Hills and the Hamdon Hills from which the rich golden-colored Ham stone is hewn to grace many of the lovely Dorset mansions.