Local Dorset Area
The north of Dorset is dominated by a plain, known as the Blackmore Vale. As in Hardy's day its chief agricultural pursuit is dairying, which has preserved a landscape on intimate scale - often tiny fields defined by ancient hedgerows and winding lanes. There has been no great pressure here for the removal of hedges and hedgerow trees which has been so damaging in other parts of the country. In summer this is a lush pastoral landscape and the visitor can spend days wandering in the maze of small roads, footpaths and bridleways.
Local Towns in relation to the Victorian Barn
We are four miles south of Sturminster Newton (Brown Tourist Signs from A357)
We are eight miles west of Blandford Forum
We are fourteen miles northeast of Dorchester
We are twelve miles south east of Sherborne (the nearest rail link)
We are fourteen miles south of Gillingham (rail link) and eighteen miles from A303
We are twenty miles north of Weymouth (nearby beaches)
* All distances are approximate
Sturminster Newton is a traditional Dorset town, which built up to serve the surrounding agricultural area of North Dorset. It stands halfway between Blandford Forum and Sherborne on the River Stour, across which spans a six-arched 17th century bridge of medieval origin.
On the south side of the Town Bridge is Sturminster Newton Mill which has been restored to working order in the 1980's and where the public can see the grinding machinery working. It is of particular interest as the less efficient water mill was replaced by a then state-of-the-art water turbine in 1904. The history of Sturminster and its people and industry is shown in the Mill.
Also south of the bridge is the castle, ruins of a small 14th-century building set within the crescent-shaped grassy mound possibly of an Iron Age fort. Across the bridge, near the mill and castle are thatched cottages and an old coaching inn, The Bull.
The parish church was rebuilt in 1486 by one of the last abbots of Glastonbury and the carved wagon roof is of this period, although much of the remainder is of 19th-century rebuilding. The beautiful carved screens are by local craftsmen. The church is set back from the main street which leads into the triangular market square. The base of the old market cross stands at one end of this in between two 15th to 16th-century houses. Also old are the nearby thatched White Hart Inn of 1708 and a bow-fronted Georgian shop. The Assembly Rooms date from about 1800 and the nearby brick-fronted Swan Hotel is a mid 18th-century structure.
Market stalls fill the square on Mondays even though what was the largest calf market in Britain has long since closed. As also has the Artificial Insemination Centre at nearby Rivers Corner, which was set up in 1947 and served the whole of south-west England.
The town has strong literary links - the Dorset poet William Barnes was born and educated in Sturminster Newton, where the small stone school survives. Thomas Hardy, Dorset's most noted author wrote The Return of the Native during the two years he lived in the town.