History of St Mary the Virgin, Dorchester

In April 2010 St Mary’s celebrated the centenary of the laying of the foundation stone of this relatively new church. It is built on high ground to the west of the town in what was a new housing development, the Victoria Park Housing Association, on land just released by the Duchy of Cornwall.

Going back to the mid 1830s, a priest was appointed as chaplain to the town’s barracks and to its associated civilian population and in 1846 a small church was built on the West side of The Grove, dedicated as Christ Church and a new parish, West Fordington, was created by dividing the large parish of Fordington which surrounded the town on three sides.

As the population grew, Christ Church became too small and a progressive and forceful Victorian incumbent built a temporary church, known as the Tin Tabernacle, at Top o’ Town, right on the Dorchester parish boundary. This was a precursor to the present St Mary’s, built after a long and complex struggle to find a suitable site.

The site which eventually became available commanded open views west to Maiden Castle and south to the Ridgeway. A few new roads were being laid down and houses built to the north. In succeeding years piecemeal building filled in fields to the south and Victoria Park spread west. In the 1970s Castle Park estate was built and development now extends to the bypass. In the last decade Poundbury has been, and is being, built to the west, greatly increasing the area and population of Dorchester.

Although the churches of Dorchester do not have individual parish boundaries, St Mary’s catchment area traditionally includes Victoria Park and Castle Park and although part of Poundbury is on the former West Fordington land, few of the residents regard St Mary’s as their parish church.

The foundation stone was laid in 1910 and the church was dedicated in 1912. Of necessity the church, as built, was fairly plain and it contained many items of furniture from Christ Church and the Tin Tabernacle but over the years various benefactors have given furnishings and artefacts, enhancing both the appearance and the worship. In recent years a new organ was installed, used both at services and for concerts. The church has a good acoustic and is used by several of Dorchester’s choirs and orchestras.

In 2012 a rostrum was built at the crossing to accentuate the position of the nave altar and this rostrum has also benefitted secular users of the building. New lighting was installed a few years ago and an improved sound system has just been completed.

A hall adjacent to the church was built in the 1950s and extended since then, used by the church and the community.

The church has always has a strong High Anglican tradition and the liturgy in use today reflects this.