or Sherborne and the architectural historian inside of me!

My cousin Andrea and I went to see Sherborne, Dorset, home to the Cutler family in the late 18C and early 19C, when our mutual ancestor the Rev John Cutler served as headmaster at Sherborne Grammar School. Our first stop was at Sherborne Abbey.

Lady Chapel - note the windows
Lady Chapel – note the windows

What an absolutely lovely church. Henry VIII and Cromwell were responsible for a lot of the loss of decoration, and the 19C is responsible whatever remains. It is a church with not a lot of statuary, but it is beautiful. I had a specific goal in mind though going into the Abbey, and that was the Lady Chapel. According to histories written about Sherborne School the chapel served as the home of the headmasters of the school until the mid 19th century, and stayed as a residence in the school for another half a century. It was only in 1922 when the Abbey got it back and turned it back into the Lady Chapel, and a memorial for World War I. [A History of Sherborne School by AB Gourlay, Warren & Son, 1951 & Sherborne Abbey by Huw Ridgeway, Sherborne Abbey, 2014]

From "A History of Sherborne School" by Gourlay
From “A History of Sherborne School” by Gourlay

For those scratching their heads at this point, I am with you. I could not imagine just cutting off a part of the Abbey to turn into a house, how odd does that sound. My mind had conjured images of the chapel actually being off to the side of the church itself, and easily separated, and I really could not imagine the space being that large, or suitable for family living. I knew Rev John Cutler had about 9 kids, so where would he have put them? But the Lady Chapel, and the general area partitioned off the Abbey is actually quite large, and sits at the back of the Abbey, behind the main altar area.

Plan of Abbey from "Sherborne Abbey" by Ridgeway with house marked at top
Plan of Abbey from “Sherborne Abbey” by Ridgeway with house marked at top

As it exists now there are only a few clues to its past use, including Tudor style windows where a third floor must have been, and a fireplace in the area now used for baptisms.

Side part of Lady Chapel with fireplace
Side part of Lady Chapel with fireplace
Lady Chapel
Lady Chapel

The whole exterior of this part of the building though really does look different from the rest of the Abbey. The brick looks slightly different, and the decoration around the windows and eaves are a different style from the rest of the building.

From the outside- clearly a different style of construction at the end
From the outside- clearly a different style of construction at the end

After taking in the Abbey and imagining the house in the Lady Chapel, we went to the school. The doors were wide open, and there were a lot of workers milling about. School was not in session yet, so I imagine they were prepping the school for the inevitable onslaught of keen young men, or rambunctious ones anyway. We went into the reception area, and were given leave to wander around the school. It is a lovely area, and still speaks to its heritage as part of Sherborne Abbey, with the monks cloisters still evident within the more modern (relatively speaking) buildings. It was a fascinating experience. After looking at the main buildings, from the outside (everything was locked), we headed to the School House as the building was known, the Lady’s Chapel, from the other side, on school property. And it was so easy from this angle to see that this was a home, and a rather generously sized one at that. You could see how they would have entered the home, and how it related to the other buildings in the school.

Sherborne School gate
Sherborne School gate

All in all Sherborne was a lovely town. The Abbey and school were of course highlights, but the whole town was nice. The main areas are not so built up, no McDonald’s or Starbucks in sight. It felt like an English town, as the stereotypes would have you expect. I would love to visit again.

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