Cerne Abbas in 1837
Cerne Abbas is on the little river Cerne, a feeder of the Frome, and in the combined hundreds of Cerne, Totcomb, and Modbury, 7 miles from Dorchester. The parish comprehends 3,010 acres (a large proportion being downs or sheep-walks), and had in 1831 a population of 1,209. Cerne is in a pleasant vale, surrounded by steep chalk hills.
It is a very small town, with little trade except what is transacted at its weekly market (held on Wednesday, for corn, butchers meat, and provisions, and tolerably well frequented), and at its three yearly fairs. The town was formerly notorious for the number of persons engaged in smuggling. Petty sessions for the division are held here.
There was formerly at Cerne a Benedictine abbey of great antiquity, rebuilt and endowed in the tenth century by Ailmer, or Aelward, or Aegilward, whom Leland calls earl of Cornwall and Devon. Its revenues were valued, at the dissolution, at £623 13 shillings and 2 pence gross, or £515, 17 shillings and 10 pence clear yearly value. All that remains of the abbey is a stately, large, square, embattled tower or gate-house, now much dilapidated.
There is an ancient bridge, once an appendage of the abbey, and a more modern bridge; both are of stone. A mansion-house, called the Abbey House, and chiefly built from the ruins of the abbey, contains incorporated in it some remains of the more ancient abbey-house, built by Abbot Vanne in the fifteenth century. Several beautiful overflowing wells still remain, probably the work of the abbots, drawing their sources through subterranean channels from the spring of St. Augustine.
The parish church was built by one of the later abbots for the use of the parishioners. It is a handsome building, in the perpendicular style of Gothic architecture, with a fine tower, which has octagonal turrets and pinnacles. The living is a vicarage, of the annual value of £81, with a glebe-house. There is a meeting-house for Independents.
By the education returns of 1833, it appears that there were in Cerne one infant and daily school, with about 80 children, partly supported by the clergyman of the parish ; 9 day-schools, with nearly 220 children ; and 2 Sunday-schools, with nearly 150 children (the larger school connected with the church), supported by voluntary contributions.
On the southern slope of Trendle Hill, a short distance north-west of the town, is the outline of a remarkable figure of a man bearing a club, cut into the chalk; the height of the figure is about 180 ft. ; the outlines are about 2 ft. broad. There are various traditional and conjectural statements respecting the origin of this figure. It is repaired by the townspeople about once in seven years. On the south point of the hill, over the giant's head, has been an ancient fortification, and on the north point a barrow. There are several barrows on the surrounding hills. Cerne was injured by the Irish troops in the kings service in the great Civil war A.D. 1644, and by a storm of wind A.D. 1731.