About Marnhull

General information

Marnhull, called Marlot in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, lies in the Blackmore Vale, an area of outstanding natural beauty, and displays the best of England’s rural environmental qualities. By area it is the largest village in Dorset and has a population of 2,000 people with widespread interests and backgrounds.

The Parish is made up of 7 Hamlets – Gannets, Hains, Moorside, Nash, Pilwell, Pleck and Walton Elm, all of which remain identifiable. Marnhull has a good stock of buildings and homes dating back over 800 years right up to modern day developments. It is essentially an agricultural environment, though few in the Community now earn their livings from the land, and farming is an important element of the village’s day-to-day life.

Though Dorset is second in the retirement stakes after East Sussex, there is a clear movement of younger families to this county and Marnhull is proud that many have chosen this friendly village for their homes. They take part regularly in village activities while their children attend Toddlers Group, Pre School and the two excellent Primary Schools in the village or go to Secondary Schools at Gillingham, Sturminster Newton or Shaftesbury nearby.

The village is well served by shops including a Post Office and award winning Robin Hill Stores, Newsagents and General Stores, a Hairdressers, Curtain Man and Chemist, the last of which is next to a modern and well-equipped GP Surgery. There are 2 Pubs with Restaurants, 4 Bed & Breakfast facilities, a Cattery and an array of skilled Plumbers, Carpenters, Electricians and Builders.

This is an active and hard working Community with countless Clubs and Societies for all age groups, including a flourishing Cricket and Football Club, a Recreation Ground with a Skate Park and Tennis Club. There is a recently refurbished children’s play area which was installed at great expense thanks to a generous donation from the National Lottery Fund, along with a covered seating area for older children and teenagers gatherings and a wall for kicking footballs against and tennis practice. Tennis Club and children’s Play Area, plus more sedentary ones like Bridge, Music Society and Women’s Institute. The Village Hall, which is equipped with a stage, stage lighting and all round sound, is widely used and the new Pavilion is very popular.

Many of these developments emanate from the Marnhull Village Plan that was published in 2006 and the Parish Council continues to work on other suggestions put forward by parishioners, not least alterations to speed limits and road signage.

The annual and very popular Marnhull Fest, founded originally to celebrate the Millennium, and the Marnhull Show are held in mid July. A combination of entertainers, bands, public bar, café and various side shows are the basis for a very successful event the funds from which are allocated to good causes within Marnhull.



The village is well placed being 3 miles south of the A30 at East Stour; 3 miles north of Sturminster Newton, Sturminster Newton which has a Co-operative supermarket and several other useful shops;

6 miles west of Shaftesbury with a Tesco, Co-op and good shops; 10 miles east of Sherborne with its Abbey, Public Schools and good shopping including a Sainsburys and Co-op.

Gillingham is 6 miles north with an excellent train service to London and Exeter and Waitrose, Lidl and Asda supermarkets. Wincanton and its racecourse is some 6 miles beyond. There are good Leisure Centres at Sturminster Newton, Shaftesbury, Sherborne and Gillingham.

Larger towns are less than an hour away at Blandford Forum, Dorchester, Poole and Bournemouth to the south; Yeovil with a large selection of out of town stores to the west and the city of Salisbury to the east.See Maps of Marnhull


The centre of the Parish is on a hill above the Blackmore Vale though the area undulates with the outer reaches being lower down on the plain of the River Stour, which passes through Blandford into the Avon at Christchurch just before it flows into the sea. The soil is a combination of clay and drier loamy types, but little chalk or lime.


The climate is much as one might expect to find in this part of England but drier than areas only 20 miles west. Marnhull is sheltered from the worst of the Channel storms though the west ridge is very exposed to winter gales. It is surprising how often the Parish seems to escape rainfall, but that being said, Wessex is better endowed with water than other parts of the south of England, and at this moment in early September 2006, has yet to be subjected to a hosepipe ban or worse.

A brief history

The title Marnhull is thought to refer to the ‘Old English’ name for the hill on which the village stands – Mearna Hyll. But the earliest traces of settlements in the Parish dates back to the Iron Age at Gannets and Todber in the northeast of the Parish. Roman coins have also been discovered at the Ashley Plantation in the same area but nearer to the village. The River Stour, which forms the Parish boundary on the west and north sides, was navigable during Roman and Saxon times and has flourished since.

However, the first official acknowledgement of Marnhull’s existence was not recorded in writing until 1150 when it appears in the listings of the Abbott of Glastonbury. Marnhull became a Parish and construction began on St Gregory’s Church at that time, and the nucleus of a village was established, though most of it was forest, and only later did the Vale become dairy meadows.

Catherine Parr was given the Manor House at Nash, pictured left, by her ex husband Henry VIII and on her death it passed to Edward VI and onto Elizabeth 1 who delegated it to Thomas Arundel, Lord of Wardour Castle. Thence it passed to Earl of Leicester, then Viscount Bindon, the Earl of Nottingham and on again to the Earl of Suffolk who passed it to Sir John Williams. His wife sold the Manor at Nash to John Hussey. In 1922 the title Lord of the Manor and all rights that went with it were ended by an Act of Parliament.

We are indebted to the Millennium book of Marnhull that was compiled and edited from contributions of the Villagers by Adrian Bailey, for this brief summary of the historical aspects of the village. The book goes into very interesting detail about all aspects of the Parish. Copies of this substantial hardback are available at £7 each from our shops.


Marnhull lies in the Blackmore Vale, which is famous for its dairy herds and milk production, though many farms are either mixed or only arable. North Dorset is a rural area historically dedicated to farming with most, if not all communities dependant on agriculture for their very existence.

Today, though we are all still surrounded by working farms, our Communities are a mixture of the indigenous families and incomers from assorted backgrounds, many of which are urban. It is hoped the latter will come to understand the rural way of life and are ready to absorb all that it entails, including the countryside smells and mud on the roads during wet weather.

Farming has changed considerably during the past 30 years and has faced so many difficulties. It has become far more intensive, employing larger machines and fewer people. It needs to be thus, otherwise few if any farmers would survive economically and our countryside would deteriorate into some sort of disused secondary jungle. Farming remains so important to our special environment.

In Marnhull we try to understand the pressures under which farmers work these days while also hoping for their consideration towards the rest of us so that we can live together harmoniously. We respect their importance to our daily lives, either directly or indirectly, and wish to support them in any way we sensibly can.