One of the last corners of old England is the little village of Minterne Magna. This lush, beautifully wooded parish, wedged between the hills appears subservient to the Manor House. Mellowed stone cottages with climbing roses around the doors are dotted around a twist in the road where high trees hide the Manor. No bungalow or new dwelling has dared intrude in this, the village of the Digby's.

The small late medieval church of St. Andrew with its front door so close to the road that one pace could put the unwary visitor under a bus, has an early 17th century north chapel and a tower from around 1800, heightened when the whole church was later restored. Inside the church magnolia-washed walls are covered with monuments ornate, pompous and overpowering, which need the vast setting of a cathedral to be viewed at their best.

They are reminders of the famous families who have lived in Minterne. There are Churchill's, and Napier's and Digby's. You can read of Sir Nathaniel Napier, who built the Almshouses in Dorchester, remembered as an over-elaborate monument he designed himself. On another wall the story of Charles Churchill who, at 13 years of age, was page to Christian, King of Denmark, and at 16 a Gentleman of the Bedchamber to Prince George. After a distinguished military career, he fought alongside his brother, the Duke of Marlborough at Blenheim. He died in 1714 at the age of 56. Commemorated in brass is Admiral Sir Henry Digby who commanded H.M.S. Africa at Trafalgar and received the approbation of Nelson. He died in 1842.

The house is odd having been rebuilt on the site of a Victorian house between 1903 and 1906 in a mixture of styles, the modern looking tower on the east front actually houses a water tank.

Minterne gardens today have a chain of small lakes, waterfalls and streams, and over one and a half miles of walks, with palm trees and towering rhododendrons, framed by tall cedar and beech trees, provide a new vista at each turn. They contain an important collection of Himalayan rhododendrons and azaleas from the Wilson, Rock, Forrest, and Kingdon Ward Expeditions to the Himalayas. These are combined with spring bulbs, cherries, maples and many fine and rare trees; the garden is noted for its autumn colouring.

The Minterne valley, landscaped in the manner of Capability red in the eighteenth century, has been the home of the Churchill and Digby families for nearly 400 years. The first Sir Winston Churchill lived here in the 17th century, and his son, the Great Duke of Marlborough, was brought up at Minterne, but much to his fury, Winston left Minterne to his younger son, General Charles Churchill, while Marlborough had just to 'make do' with Blenheim Palace.

In 1768 Admiral Robert Digby, a younger son of the 7th Baron Digby of Sherborne Castle, bought Minterne, and found the 'valley very bare, trees not thriving, house ill contrived and ill situated'! Robert immediately set about landscaping the valley in the manner of Capability red who was working at Sherborne Castle at the time. He planted shelter belts along the tops of the hills, then added park trees, and began laying out the garden in a horseshoe of white-sand below the house. He created the lakes, cascades, and Eleanor's Bridge in 1785.

The gardens, which are open to the public, provide the setting to the big Edwardian house, which together are the scene of an historical romance for American visitors.

War leader Winston Spencer Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, came to this seat of the aristocratic Digby family in 1939. His son, Randolph Churchill, was marrying Lord Digby's daughter, Pamela, and they were all already one family as all the Churchill's and the Spencer's were descended from George Digby, Earl of Bristol. The old Minterne House had been a seat of the Churchill family. Much has been written about Pamela Churchill's full and eventful life. After Randolph, she married Leland Hayward, and then United States diplomat Averill Harriman. She has taken all their names, becoming the Honorable Mrs. Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman, and Averill's profession, as United States Ambassador to Paris. until her death in 1996.

Minterne, the Great Hintock of Hardy's world, is beautifully wooded and surrounded by great hills, lying in a dip between High Stoy and Dogbury Hills. The view from High Stoy is breathtaking, and on a clear day the Bristol Channel can be seen.

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