A mile or so down river from Sturminster Newton, hiding from the main road traffic is Fiddleford, with what must surely be the most picturesque of all the Stour Mills. In the fields around, the young William Barnes worked. His poem Leaves, although written at Mere much later was probably inspired by this portion of his beloved Stour. Because he chose only to write of beautiful things he ignored the seamy side of life in the vale, but a contemporary of his, Robert Yound, tells of drunken brawls and even murder.
The restored manor house is open to the public and is one of the oldest buildings in Dorset. In about 1355 the manor passed through marriage to William Latimer, sheriff of Somerset and Dorset in 1374 and 1380, and the late 14th century Great Hall and Solar were built for him. Both rooms have 600-year old timber roofs with collar-beam trusses and timber work of great complexity and beauty. Originally the smoke from the central fire seeped out through a louver in the roof. In the 16th century the solar wing was extended to the north, and the hall re-modeled. One of the features of this fine building is a plaster ceiling of the typical Tudor style, and despite being unfurnished it gives the best feel in the county of what it must have been like to live in a medieval house.
Fiddleford Mill it would seem was a hiding place for contraband liquor, and from these stocks the factory workers at Sturminster Newton crazed their brains and fought in the streets.
The mill house stands alone reflected in the mill pond which fills from the Stout as it cascades over a weir. It is a beautiful setting, and fishermen cast out beyond the Stour's own water plant, the yellow clote, and picnickers laze within sound of the weir.
No longer does the old mill rumble as it ground the corn, but the last miller showed me the strange inscription chiseled into the wall of the building in 1566. It is an exhortation to the miller and reads:
' He thatt wyll have
here any thynge don