History of St Mary the Virgin

This page can be purchased in an A5 booklet in church.

The Manor of Litchet was held at Domesday in 1086 by a Norman Knight Hugh Mautravers. This family came from France near Angers originally in a village called Montravers. The survey also records that Tholi a Saxon Thane held Lytchett prior to the Norman Conquest and it seems reasonable to presume there would have been a small settlement here.  Its name derives from Old Celtic litchet, which means grey wood.  Sir John Matravers, who is buried in the church, was Edward II’s gaoler and possibly murderer.

The title Baron Mautravers or Baron Maltravers was created in the Peerage of England on 25 January 1330 by writ of summons to Parliament for John Mautravers or Maltravers, which at that time was a great honour. It went into abeyance on his death in 1364; this was terminated by the death of his granddaughter Joan Mautravers (Maltravers) without issue c.1383 leaving her sister Eleanor Maltravers (Mautravers) sole heir.  The barony later became a subsidiary title of the Earl of Arundel and subsequently the Duke of Norfolk.

Sir Walter Maltravers went on a crusade to the Holy Land with Richard the Lionheart and it is possible that he ordered the church to be built beside the manor house in his absence about the year 1200, the year after Richard died.  The west tower, the nave and the chancel were built at this time, followed by the North aisle in the 14th century.  Heathstone, almost certainly quarried locally, with greensand and some Purbeck stone dressings was used.  The old wall surrounding the churchyard was most likely built at the same time.

Sir John Maltravers was born in 1266 and married Alianore De Gorges about 1288/9 and had a son also John before dying in 1341.  Son Sir John (1st Baron Maltravers (1290-1364)  married Ela Millicent de Berkley about 1313 and then married Agnes De Bereford about 1322.  Agnes was interested in the church next to the manor house and endowed three chantrys in the church, each to be served by a priest to say mass and pray for the souls of the past and present members of the Maltravers family. These chantries, one with an altar to St Michael and the other to St Mary were positioned where old organ was at the east end and the west end of the Maltravers family north aisle.  The Gibbon’s Chantry was thought to project from the south wall of the nave and there are some remains outside in the churchyard.

Sir John is reputed to have cruelly murdered Edward II at Berkeley Castle in 1327 following the king’s deposition by his French wife Isabella and her favourite, Roger de Mortimer. One of the most powerful English knights at that time, Sir John was sentenced to death in 1330 but fled abroad not for the murder of the late King, but for persuading Edmund Earl of Kent that Edward II was still alive, thus enticing the Earl into treason for which he was executed. (He did not leave England until some three years later when he was implicated in the downfall and execution of Edmund, Edward II’s brother.)  Later he was pardoned by Edward III and returned to his Dorset estates.  Alongside St Mary’s church stood the manor house, which was the home of the Maltravers family for 300yrs.  Sir John’s granddaughter Alianor or Eleanor was sole heir in 1383 on the death of her sister and married an Earl of Arundel.  John FitzAlan, 13th Earl of Arundel became 3rd Baron Maltravers in 1405.

Legend has it that Sir John was buried in full armour.  His tomb is of considerable interest – it is a large slab of French Tournai marble 8.5ft by 4.5ft.  There are no other such late examples of this marble and it was originally inlaid with a brass fret, the heraldic charge of the Maltravers family.

It is possible that the Black Death, which ravaged Dorset in the second half of the 14th century left few people (C1348).  The villagers forsook their cottages near the church and moved to the higher ground leaving the church to fall into decay.  Dame Margarita Clements left money to help the church upon her death in 1505 despite the inscription in front of the font.

A great deal of restoration was carried out at the beginning of the sixteenth century by Dame Margarita Clements.  There is a brass in the church to her memory on the floor (see above) opposite the porch and near the font and is inscribed ‘Margarita Clements Generosa specialis benefactrix re-edificacionis huuis Ecclesie 1505.’  She died in 1505.

The Arundel family gave the plate and may have rebuilt portions of the church, rather than Dame Clements. The manor was sold by the Arundels in 1587 to the Trenchard family from Wolfeton House near Dorchester (DT2 9QN and under Historic Houses Association HHA). Sir John Maltravers’ heir, his granddaughter Alianor carried the manor and title to her husband’s family, the Fitzalans, Earls of Arundel, who later became the Dukes of Norfolk and are still Baron Maltravers.  The Trenchards preferred the manor house at Lytchett to Wolfeton and lived there for 250 years before deciding to demolish the old house (because it had grown old) and build a new one, complete with a ballroom and tower possibly at around the end of the 18th century.


The brass in memory of Dame Margarita Clements

When the direct line of the Trenchards foundered in 1829, the manor of Lytchett passed to the Dillon family who chose to add the Trenchard name to their own.  They, however, decided not to live in the manor house, which was then leased to a succession of tenants during the 19th and 20th centuries.  Lytchett House as it is now known, has clearly undergone considerable alteration in modern times – the tower has gone and only part of the east wing remains.  In the words of The Royal Commission on Historic Monuments ‘it has been completely remodelled and converted into a modern dwelling’.

John Barin Maltravers

John, Baron Maltravers 1365

The Church


The parish church of St Mary the Virgin stands near the site of the Manor House to the northwest of the village.  The walls are of carstone rubble with Purbeck and greensand dressings whilst the roofs were covered with tiles, slates and lead but the lead has been removed / replaced due to thefts.

The church, consisting of chancel, nave and west tower was built in c. 1200.  A north aisle was added in the mid 14th century but this and the north arcade of that date, were entirely taken down in alterations of c. 1500.  In c.1400 the chancel was enlarged.  Through the benefactions of Margaret Clement (see above), the church was partly rebuilt and improved c 1500; the work included insertion of a number of new windows and the rebuilding of the north aisle with the reuse of much of the material of the earlier arcade in the new arcade; the greater part of the south wall of the nave was reconstructed and the south porch added.  The church was restored in 1873 and the north vestry and organ chamber was added in 1876.

The church is of interest because of the dated late mediaeval work and the Maltravers brass is remarkable.

The tower is said to be the oldest part of the building – the arch dates from about 1200 whilst the pinnacles (architectural ornaments), which are carved with the Maltravers fret, are circa 1500.  The tower arch is c. 1300 with a painted Royal Arms of George IV over.


Tower Photo

Tour of the church

There is an impressive nave off which is the north aisle and there are four bays between the two.  Internally the nave has an “unplastered waggon” roof of c.1500, which was exposed in the 1950s when death watch beetle was suspected. This means it is constructed of a closely spaced series of double arch braced trusses, suggesting the shape of a covered wagon.  There is a narrow opening in the south nave wall by the chancel arch which could either be a doorway to Rood loft or to the Gibbon’s Chantry as there are some traces of foundations outside. It is believed there was a Rood loft, which is a display gallery normally above a Rood screen, and there are some steps, which can be seen at the western end of the Hagioscope, although the rest are still to be uncovered if they remain.

A chantry is the English term for a fund established to pay for a priest to celebrate sung masses for a specific purpose, generally the soul of the deceased donor.  It may have only an altar rather than a chapel. There are some brackets high on the nave arch, which may be screen supports.  At the west end of the nave, there is a canopied tomb recess with indents for vanished brasses.

The chancel arch is c.1200 and the chancel c.1500. There is a Piscina in the south wall of the chancel – this is a shallow basin placed near the altar of a church and used for washing the communion vessels. There is a c.1500 brass (1470) in the south chancel wall to Thomas Talpathyn (a Rector) in his shroud, which is a rare example as it includes a 15’’ figure in the shroud.  Thomas was the rector for 40 years from 1430.  It is a Purbeck wall monument of the usual type but flatter than most e.g. with no detached shafts for the canopy.

There is a further brass to Mortimer Oldham Heath who lived from 1855 – 1891 who was the son of William Mortimer Heath, vicar from 1852 – 1917.

The south wall of the chancel has a two light c.1400 window and a reset window of two uncusped lights c.1300 with deep cut mouldings internally as well as angle straight sided heads.  The north window from c.1500 consists of two two-centred lights in a square head (this means the window is formed of two parts with a mullion between and can also be known as bifora or mullioned window).  The chancel has a c. 1900 elliptical barrel ceiling. The stone wall brackets on the north and south walls of the chancel most likely supported a beam for the Lenten veil.

There is a hagioscope at the eastern end of the north aisle, which is a squint in a church, giving a view of the high altar.  It is unusually large and believed to be the largest example in the UK, providing of a good view of the chancel, but its origin is unknown.

The arches on the north side of the nave date from about 1350 when the north aisle was added.  The north aisle and the north arcade of that date were entirely taken down in alterations of c. 1500, which included the insertion of a number of new windows and the rebuilding of the north aisle with the reuse of much of the material of the earlier arcade.  The greater part of the south wall of the nave was reconstructed and the south porch added.  In c.1400 the chancel was enlarged.  The church was restored in 1873 and the north vestry and organ chamber were added in 1876.  The north aisle has two windows matching those in the south wall of the nave and a doorway with a 4 centred arched head.  There are fragments of late medieval glass in the west window of the aisle, the two figures on either side may have been moved from earlier windows.

The porch has the date 1745-1747 scratched on the right lintel with the Maltraver’s Fret on the left hand side.  The remains of a Holy Water Stoup (drinking vessel or in this case holy water vessel) are inside on the right hand side.

The inner door to the porch has a four centred arch and a c. 1800 panelled door.    The north arcade has composite piers and moulded caps apparently incorporating re-used material.  There is some brick paving – probably c. 1800 – with some stone grave slabs.  There are several c. 1800 hatchments, which are funeral demonstrations of the lifetime ‘achievement’ of the arms of the Trenchard family

The font is interesting and octagonal in shape dating from earlier than 15th Century with a circular cup, made from Purbeck marble with quatrefoil-panelled sides.  It is ornamented with 1) Rose; 2) Maltravers Fret; 3) Arundel Rudder; 4) A cinque foil; 5) Maltravers Fret; 6) Arundel Rudder.  It has an oak cover with iron fittings.


The Vicar’s Stall And Prayer Desk

Further information about the W H Griffiths can be found in the Parish Magazine article below.

par mag Jan 1960

The Bell Tower

The tower of two stages has a partly battlemented parapet with corner pinnacles and clasping buttresses to the lower stage.  There are small lancet windows to the belfry (the lancet window is one of the typical features of the Early English (13th century) period in Gothic architecture.)  There is a small rectangular window in the north wall of the lower stage, which has been replaced with plain non opening glass.  In the west wall there is a trefoil headed lancet, which is an original lancet window with a 14th century head in a different stone and a shallow central buttress.

The ground floor area of the tower is used for ringing of the six bells, two of which are very old (their dates being displayed in the Tower).  The bells were rehung with new fitting in a new iron frame by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in October 1931.

The History of Bell Ringing at St Mary’s

For three generations prior to 1931 the bells had not been fit to ring, the oak fittings were very old and very badly decayed. The three old bells were photographed before being removed; the treble cast in Salisbury, inscribed ‘St Gabriel’, had been the only bell to call the faithful for nearly 200 years, through the Wars of the Roses, the discovery of America and the defeat of the Spanish Armada. The Fitz-Alan family from Arundel in Sussex had inherited Lytchett Manor by 1440.

Swithen Cleves was rector in 1616 when the second bell, cast by John Wallis of Salisbury and inscribed ‘Save me O God’.

In 1648 the largest bell, the tenor, was hung. This was cast by John Tozier (Toesser), also of Salisbury and inscribed with the names of the churchwardens of 1648, William Formage and Thomas Butler. These three bells rang in and out the Stuart sovereigns and Georgian Kings until the end of Queen Victoria’s reign.

In 1931, the estimate to dismantle the three bells and send them to the foundry Mears and Stainbank in White Chapel Road, London; to provide a new belfry floor, new fittings, and a new bell frame to be bolted to a double foundation of steel girders, the ends to be anchored and grouted into the walls; to adjust notes of the bells under tuning machine; refit, rehang and leave them in perfect ringing order together with three addition bells, was for over £200.

Rev James Alexander Swaby was the Rector at the time. Mrs Julia Toovey, the Rector’s sister-in-law offered to have this work done and the new bells including 3 new ones were installed as a gift in memory of her husband, Thomas Fuller Toovey. When the bells were hung, a new group of ringers were in action at Christmas, and they also rang out the old year and greeted the new.

The ringers were: Evelyn Head, Lionel Pink, Meyrick Martin, George Wareham, Frederick Pike and Gerald Selby.

A plaque commemorating this hangs in the tower today.

To the Glory of God

The Medieval bells of the church of St Mary the Virgin, Lytchett Matravers, were rehung and three new bells added thereto in the year 1931AD by the gift of Julia Toovey, in loving memory of her husband Thomas Fuller Toovey, for some time church warden of this parish, who died in London on the 27th February 1928 and was buried in the family vault in Anfield Cemetery, Liverpool. May these bells always awake the prayer of the faithful RIP

The bells in this tower are maintained in perpetuity to the memory of

Betty Jean Purrier

Died August 16th  1975

Plaques in the Tower Commemorate various Peals

Tenor (6)

2ft 10.25ins       7cwt 3qts 9lbs   Founder J. Toesser


William Formage = Thomas Butler Churchwardens.  Cast by me John Toesser the son of CT” 1684

Bell Number 5

2ft 8ins             6cwts 2qts 20lbs           Founder John Wallis of Salisbury


In 1616 “Save me O God”

Bell Number 4

2ft 8ins             5cwt 0qts 17lbs             Founder Unknown
Date 1440 This is the treble cast in Salisbury


St Gabriel

Bell Number 3

2ft 3.75ins         4cwt 2qts 15lbs Founder Mears & Stainbank


In memory of Thomas Fuller Toovey the gift of Julia his widow
Date 1931

Bell Number 2

2ft 1.75ins         3cwt 2qts 13lbs             Founder Mears & Stainbank


Same as No.3

Treble (1)

1ft 11.75ins       3cwt 0qts 10lbs             Founder Mears & Stainbank


Same as No.3

Mrs Toovey was the sister of Rev James Alexander Swaby.

Bell Ringing Today

Today St Mary’s Church at Lytchett Matravers benefits from the beautiful sound of 6 church bells which had  a good overhaul in October 2016.

In June 2016 we had an Open Day and have since then recruited 10 new members, many of whom have now passed their Level 1 ART (Association of Ringing Teachers) Bell Handling qualification.

We also have 2 Qualified ART Trainers.

We are now able to ring regularly for Sunday services.

Our practice times are 5:15-7:15 on Friday.

If you are interested in coming to learn or join us at a practice please contact our

Tower Captain on bellringing@smlm.co.uk

Tower Correspondent on lytchettmatravers@sdgr.org.uk 

Architectural Description:

The chancel (26.5ft by 16.75ft) has added diagonal buttresses of c 1500.  In the east wall is a window of c 1500 of three four-centred lights in a square head with a label, inserted in an earlier opening, the internal splays and hollow chamfered rear arch being of c 1400.  In the north wall is a window of c 1500 of two two-centred light in a square head and further west is a modern opening to the vestry and organ chamber.  The south wall has a reset window of c 1300 of two uncusped lights and a quatrefoiled roundel in a two-centred head with a label.  Further west is a window of c 1400 having two trefoiled lights and vertical tracery in a two-centred head.  The restored chancel arch of c 1200 is two-centred and of two chamfered orders springing from chamfered imposts on chamfered responds.  From the northwest corner of the chancel a passage was cut through to the north aisle when the latter was rebuilt in c 1500.  Piscina: in chancel, with hollow-chamfered two-centred head and shelf c.1500.

The nave (46.5ft by 16.25ft) has a north arcade built in Bath stone of four bays with two-centred arches of two moulded orders springing from piers and responds with half-round shafts separated by hollows and with plain bases and moulded capitals.  The whole arcade is ill-fitting and of reused 14th century material except for the capitals.  Beneath the rebuilt northwest angle of the nave appears the chamfered base of a clasping buttress of c 1200 and traces of the foundation of a similar buttress remain outside the southwest corner.  The south wall has at the east and west ends added or rebuilt buttresses.  Near the east end is a blocked doorway of c 1500 with chamfered four-centred head, for access to a former rood loft.  The three south windows are each of three four-centred lights with blind spandrel panels in a square head, in the westernmost of them, two of the panels contain shields, one charged with the Maltravers fret, the other with the Arundel rudder.  Below the westernmost window is a 16th century oval recess.

The north aisle (41.5ft by 11.5ft) has in the east wall an opening to the organ chamber, probably modern.  In the north and west walls are three-light windows uniform with the south windows of the nave; one of the windows has panels carved with the Maltravers fret, twice, and the Arundel rudder.  The north door has moulded jambs, four-centred head and a label with square return stops.

The west tower (8.75ft by 8.5ft) is of two stages divided by a weathered offset with three-stage angle buttresses to the lower stage of the west corners and another small strip-buttress in the middle of the west wall.  The parapet is embattled on three sides and straight on the south and at each corner is a pinnacle of c.1500 carved with frets.  The ground stage has a restored two centred tower arch of two chamfered orders springing from chamfered imposts.  In the west wall is a small original lancet window eccentrically placed, with a 14th-century head in a different stone.  The upper stage has a small rectangular window in the north wall.  The bell chamber has in the east wall a window of two cinquefoil lights, in the south wall an original window of one trefoiled light and in the north and west walls windows of two four-centred lights.  The two-light windows are 15th and 16th century insertions.

The south porch (5.75ft by 7.5ft) has an outer four-centred archway of one moulded order with a label finished with square stops, one carved with the Arundel rudder.  There is a stoup c. 1500 with a square head, although the bowl has been replaced by modern tiles.

Roofs: The chancel roof is more recent – 19th century.  The nave roof recently had an elliptical ceiling divided into panels by moulded purlins, ridge and transverse ribs.  The plaster and ribs have been removed to reveal a trussed-rafter roof of c.1500 with arch-shaped braces to give the shape of the barrel vault.

There used to be a barrel organ.  In 1891, the barrel organ was replaced by a pipe organ with two manuals and pedals.  Over the next hundred years, it was rebuilt several times and improved.  This was replaced in 1992 by a Wyvern electronic organ.


The vestry was added in 1875 in the north east corner of the building and in 1993 the North transept was built with a slate roof, to provide a better vestry, lavatory etc. and crèche area. Upstairs is a multi-functional room, which has housed the Sunday school. The addition of the transept released space, which allowed additional pews to be added between the south door and the tower.

Outside the church

There is a yew tree outside the north door to the church, which has been assessed as dating from AD590, thus older than the church.  The churchyard wall is thought to be as old as the church.  The original churchyard close to the church was officially closed towards the end of the 19th Century. Then there was the one to the south of the church, which is now full and has been closed apart from ashes of those who have worshipped in St Mary’s, leaving Row Park as the “Burial Ground” under local government control.

An extremely rare lichen exists and flourishes on the north facing wall next to the north door of the church and is subject to a preservation order.  This rare lichen only exists in isolated pockets in England most of them being found in the county of Dorset.  It does not exist in any other European country other than Italy.

The church was listed as a building of special architectural and historic interest (Grade I) on 20th November 1959.

Surrounding the church is the burial ground within its ancient stone wall, which was restored around 1920.  There are memorials to village families through the centuries.

A new burial ground was added to the old churchyard in 1872 and extended in 1925, when the road to the church from Colehill was also gravelled.  The churchyard has since been added to and the Parish Council own the burial ground, which extends across the field where the medieval villagers lived before the Black Death.  Both the graveyards have been cataloged in the current millennium.

The old rectory was sold in 1950 and is now known as Lytchett St Mary, whilst a new one was built in the adjoining field.

List of Priests who served at St Mary’s:

Appendix – Detailed architectural description:

Fittings: Brackets:  In the chancel moulded stone corbels, two in the eastern corners and two in the side walls; in the north aisle, moulded stone corbel with shield-of-arms of Maltravers all c.1500.

Brasses and indents:  Brasses; in the chancel 1) in original Purbeck slab reset against south wall of Thomas Pethyn, Rector, a tonsured naked figure in shroud and inscription, late 15th-century, with earlier inscription to John Davy and his wife on reverse.  In nave, 2) of Margaret Clement, rectangular inscribed plate.  In north aisle 3) of Lettyse Irelond, 1541/2, inscription plate only; 4) probably of John, Baron Maltravers, 1365, large Purbeck marble slab 8.5ft by 4.5ft with remains of marginal inscription in French enclosing the indent of a Maltravers fret.

Indents: In nave on south wall 1) for small inscription plate.  In north aisle 2) see monument (2) below.

Coffin lids: 1) reused as lintel over opening in northwest corner of chancel, with hollow-chamfered edge and with parts of an inscription and an incised cross visible, 13th-century: 2) by southeast buttress of nave, fragment of tapered Purbeck marble slab with hollow-chamfered edge.

Glass: In nave, in second window, some plain quarries, probably c.1500.  In north aisle in first window, two roundels with quarterly shield-of-arms of Trenchard and Mohun (?) 16th-century, repaired; in west window figure of St Anne with a book with inscription, part of a figure of a bishop perhaps St Denis (Hutchins III, 332) and a figure of St Thomas of India holding a speak with inscription c.1500, and also roundel with strap work, putti, fragments of inscriptions and shield-of-arms of Mohun, 16th-century.

Graffiti: on nave window jambs, a fret: on south porch, several late 18th-century dates and initials.

HatchmentsHatchments: in nave, 1) and 2) of Trenchard quartering de Burgh; in north aisle 3) and 4) of Trenchard quartering Dillon; all 19th-century.

Monuments and floor-slabs:  Monuments: in chancel on south wall 1) of Rev Howell James, Rector, 1850, black marble tablet; in north aisle, 2) table-tomb of Purbeck marble in front of recess with flanking shafts and frieze of small quatrefoil panels and embattled cornice, the soffit of the canopy being decorated with blind fretwork; in the back of the recess are indents for a figure kneeling at a prayer desk, a devotional figure and an inscription plate c.1500; 3) of Elizabeth Trenchard, 1840, white marble tablet signed Denman, 83 Regent Street. London; in churchyard north of the chancel 4) of Samuel Conant, 1719, table-tomb with stone top carved with shield-of-arms, set on later brickwork; south of nave 5) of Anne Reade, c.1700, headstone.

Floor-slabs: of Purbeck marble, four in the nave and four in the north aisle of which two are carved, each with a large plain shield; all probably mediaeval.

Plate: includes cup 1574.

Miscellanea: in north aisle 1) cast lead panel from roof with names of churchwardens and plumber H Bestland, 1771.  In the gable of south porch, 2) Purbeck marble cross, reset, mediaeval.  In the churchyard wall, 3) mediaeval worked stones reused.


An inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Dorset Volume II South-East Part 1 Royal Commissions on Historical Monuments 1970

A Dorset Village Lytchett Matravers by Shirley Percival

Lytchett Matravers A Dorset Village The Church and the Manor by Shirley Percival

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