The old gossip tree in the heart of Fontmell Magna, around which the villagers had met for 250 years, was defeated in old age by Dutch Elm disease and the disastrous drought of 1976. Chopped down with much ceremonial, a plaque was unveiled on the site and young lime tree planted as a replacement.

There was a legend which said that anyone taking part in the old tree's destruction would have bad luck, and at least one villager gave it thought when, shortly afterwards, 70-year old Frank Hawkins, a bell ringer, tugged on his rope and the wheel of the tenor bell shattered above his head. It was only two years previously that the restored bells rang out for the first time in 20 years

Fontmell is a big, pretty village with houses and cottages in greensand, brick and timber-framing, some of them dating from the 17th century. Fontmell (the steam by the bare hill) is situated with Meadows and streams on one side and high chalk down land on the other where one can still see traces of our first farmers, the strip lynchets where English agriculture was born.

Only the lower part of the tower survives from the original medieval church of St. Andrew which was elaborately rebuilt in 1862. The parapet outside is copied from an original 16th century section which is now in the north aisle. Unusually the chancel is rather plainer than the rest. In the churchyard is a memorial cross commemorating the winning of the Victoria Cross by Lt. Philip Salkeld, son of a rector. who was killed whilst leading the party who blew up the Cashmere Gate, in the siege of Delhi in 1857. He was only 24

The Victoria CrossThe story is in the best traditon of those Empire buildings days. With five comrades he crept up to the gate at dawn on September 14 1875 to commit the 'act of glorious heroism', which was to cost most of them their lives but made the capture of Delhi possible. Before Philip Salkeld could apply the slow burning match to the powder bag, his arm was shattered by gunfire. A sapper named Burgess died in a second attempt and finally another sapper, of the name of South, successfully carried out the deed. He and the bugler were the only two who survived. Salkeld is remembered on a stone in the peace of Dorset, but his body was buried on the stony, sun-scorched ridge, a waterless, wearying place which the British held for over 100 days.

In 1843, Sir Richard Glyn provided a school and the young girls had to sew shirts for their benefactor, but in 1975 the women of this sleepy, lovely village struck a blow for women's liberation by forming a women's cricket team.

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