Corscombe, north of Beaminster was the home of another of the county's odd characters. Numerous fields and farms in the valleys and hills around Corscombe and Halstock carry American names. Most are politically loaded with the eighteenth century buzz-words of libertarian philosophy. All were coined or adopted by gentleman scholar and book editor Thomas Hollis [1720-74] whose wealthy uncle had been the principal benefactor of Harvard University.
Thomas Hollis inherited uncle's 700 acres and carried on the good works by endowing Harvard's famous library. It is said that hardly a ship sailed out of London without gifts from the Hollis family for Harvard University, and Thomas's gifts included priceless books. I wonder how many of today's students realize that HOLLIS is more than just an acronym for the Harvard OnLine Library Information System
When his home was on fire this man, described as a ‘True Whig’, quietly walked out clutching only his portrait of John Milton.
He rejected alcohol, milk, sugar and butter and had a fear of dying of a lingering illness. He need not have worried because in 1774 he dropped dead in a field whilst issuing instructions to farmhands. He had no religious beliefs and they carried out his request to be buried in his own fields ten feet deep and the land ploughed over so that no trace of him was left. He lived at Urless Farm, Corscombe, and is buried either there or at Harvard Farm, above Halstock, in the middle of a field. Legend has it that his horse was shot and buried with him.
As for the field names, some have suffered the double indignities of time and the Dorset dialect, with Massachusetts which surely no Brit can spell now being rendered as Massy Field. Archbishop Secker has a field in his honor but one must look to the ground to see whether it was granted in admiration or derision - Seckers had proved impossible to cultivate.
Hollis also owned property in Lyme Regis whose decline he is reputed to have help reverse by persuading the Earl of Chatham to bring his sickly son to the town for the sea air. The son was William Pitt the Younger, future Prime Minster of England.
Corscombe lies in lovely wooded country with its main street climbing up the chalk hillside. It is one of the most peaceful parts of Dorset, so it is sad to associate it with the bloody deeds of 1685 after the Battle of Sedgemoor.
Robert Fawn of Corscombe who was with Monmouth was hanged with twelve others, their bodies dismembered, then boiled in pitch and publicly exhibited.
George Penne who owned Weston Manor and Oak Farm at Corscombe was given 100 prisoners as part payment for helping to put down the rebellion. He sold most of them as indentured servants to planters in America and West Indies. However, in 1690 as Brigadier General he assisted William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne to defeat James Stuart.
It is a chapter in the history of the village best forgotten.