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Chettle History & Ethos

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Our Story

Lying in the foothills of Cranborne Chase, Chettle has feudal links going back over a millennium.

 

Where exactly the name "Chettle" came from, like a lot of things in this part of the world, depends on who you ask. Some say it comes from the Old English Cietel meaning 'a deep valley between hills', and we know that it was recorded in the 1086 Domesday Book as Coetel, meaning 'a wooded hollow'. The 'Chettle' spelling first appeared around 1234 and, interestingly, has the same roots as the word "kettle"! 

 

Chettle's history before the 16th century is murky, but we do have some clues as to its status across the centuries...

 

To the South and West of the village you will find some of the earliest evidence of human activity in Chettle: two Neolithic long barrows. Used as burial sites for early farming communities, these examples are particularly well preserved.

 

The Romans also left their mark on Chettle, with various coins and artefacts being excavated over the years. In August 2003 , Margaret Hamilton, a local archaeologist, discovered a range of Roman bronze and glass objects. One of the objects, a beautiful mirror, is now housed in the British Museum.

 

Following the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century, Chettle was owned by Thomas Chafin and his wife Jane (née Bampfylde). The village eventually passed to William Chafin, the last of the Chafin life and an unlikely heir, being the 11th child of an 11th child. William wrote about the Great Bustard (the world's heaviest flying bird) on Salisbury Plain before they were hunted to extinction in 1832. Thanks to local conservation efforts however, the bird is now being reintroduced after almost 200 years.

Following William's death, and with no heir apparent, the estate fell into the hands of the Bank of England...

 

 

Following almost 40 years of uncertainty, the Chettle estate came to be owned by Edward and Anne Castleman. The Castlemans were bankers and railways builders, building the old line from Southampton to Dorchester known as the Castleman Corkscrew. Most of this line closed in the 1960s and now forms the Castleman Trailway, a 16.5 mile walking trail.

 

Anne Castleman was the granddaughter of infamous Dorset smuggler Isaac Gulliver, who was himself married to Chettle resident Elizabeth Beale. Edward and Anne set about restoring Chettle House, largely using the wealth that Anne had inherited from her grandfather. And so began the pattern of Chettle being repeatedly revitalised by a string of determined strong-minded women. 

 

 

By the Edwardian era, it had passed down to (another) Edward Castleman. He preferred hunting to managing his estate (you’ll see pictures of his beloved horses in Room 8!)  and Chettle's fortunes were saved only by his marriage to the wealthy Jessie Morris. When she died in 1937, he was left childless, elderly and alone. When the Second World War broke out his niece, Esther Bourke (nee Roe), and her young children came down to spend a few days with Edward. They came for the weekend and never left! While her husband, Leslie, went off to fight in the Far East and Edward grew frail, Esther ended up running the estate.

 

Edward died in 1946 and left Esther and her three siblings (Betty, Corrie and Dora) a beautiful Queen Anne house (Chettle House - now no longer owned by the family), just over 1,000 acres, around 35 cottages, several large mortgages and no money! Out of the four of them it was Esther who did all the work despite having to bring up her three children on her own, having divorced her Army officer husband after the war. Against the odds she held it all together, putting in bathrooms and septic tanks, working as the local log merchant and doing most of the repairs on the cottages herself. She was a strong woman and a hard worker. She held an estate auction in the summer of 1946 to raise funds. Among the 600 lots were fine pieces of furniture, 42 oil paintings, various livestock, and farmhouse machinery. It is said that all that remained after the sale were the 32 buckets under the roof of Chettle House to catch the water whenever it rained.It was just enough to keep the estate and the village intact. Everyone told her she was mad, but that just made her more determined. 

 

In time, Esther pulled Chettle back from the brink and, when she died in 1967, she left the village to her children; Susan, Teddy and Patrick. 

Edward (Timothy Castleman) Bourke was the youngest child and inherited only paintings and books, he qualified and practised as a solicitor, started a timber yard and with his elder sister Susan poured energy, time and any money they made into doing up cottages, farm buildings and the estate. Teddy and his wife Barbara turned Chettle Lodge into the Castleman Hotel and Restaurant in 1996. Barbara was an excellent cook and a hard worker. Teddy was one of Dorset’s finest raconteurs, very good at reading the paper and drinking red wine and whisky. They wanted to create a place that served good, locally sourced food and  wine, in comfortable but not stuffy surroundings, with a great atmosphere and offer incredibly good value for money. The idea was to provide local employment, make enough money to keep the building in good order, repair some other buildings, restore a painting or two and pay a little something to live on. They were the perfect combination and The Castleman got amazing reviews and a good name for itself which it sustained for nearly 24 years. After the death of Teddy, and then both of Barbara’s parents, it was time for her to hang up her apron and go and do that history of art degree she promised Teddy she would do. 

 

Patrick (John Castleman) Bourke inherited Chettle House and gardens. He and his wife Janet lovingly renovated Chettle House and opened it to the public to make ends meet. Jan was a hard worker (a running theme amongst the women in Chettle) and she did everything: baking for the teas, being an excellent seamstress, repairing all sorts of fabrics around the house as well as being the full time gardener. Patrick was a font of knowledge when it came to garden plants and he ran the nursery from the polytunnels situated in the car park. He was best known for wandering round bare foot and for starting interesting business ventures, he planted a vineyard on a south facing slope in the 80’s, sadly the wine was dreadful! Patrick and Jan had 2 children, Peter and Nikki. 

 

Susan (Elizabeth) Favre (nee Bourke) was the eldest child and she inherited the rest of the estate on her mother’s death. It was a complicated time for Susan. She inherited the estate as a gift from her mother on the occasion of her marriage to a man she didn’t know that well, having promised him they could leave for New York for his work as soon as they got married. She came back to the London in 1970 and the estate in 1981 and had her only child, Alice at the grand age of 47 in 1982. Susan worked alongside Teddy in the estate office every day from 9-5, she then painted windows and houses (badly) after work and Saturday’s were for work around the estate; building flint walls, clearing ground and having a bonfire, more painting of stuff and being with her beloved sheep (the only thing mentioned in her will). She was one of the hardest working women you would ever meet, but in amongst the work she was also a great dinner party host and had a great sense of humour and a zest for life. 

 

All three siblings have now died; Teddy in 2011, Susan in 2017 and Patrick in 2019. 

Alice took over Castleman on Barbara’s request in February 2020 but after a refurb and a grand opening in March 2020, the dreaded Covid hit and the hospitality industry went into meltdown. With staff shortages, increasing food prices, nervous customers and now increased energy bills, it was an uphill struggle, and despite excellent reviews, Alice decided to call time on The Castleman, it was the generation before hers business and sometimes it’s better to quit whilst you are ahead.

 

Not one to abandon Chettle's history of hard-working determined women (and we're not just saying this because she's our boss!), Alice's vision for the Estate's future includes a modern redesign of the estate, incorporating thriving biodiversity, climate resilience, and local community sustainability for the future.

 

 One enduring aspect of Chettle village can currently be found in an old Blandford Camp Nissan Hut - the delightful Chettle Village Store. Having first opened in the 1930s, the shop is currently in the process of moving to a larger premise at the Old Dairy just over the road. Popping down for some milk can end up in an hour-long catch up on the benches under the trees, and its location just off the A354 is ideal for weary travellers. The shop was a lifeline for the locals during the pandemic (the nearest supermarket is 7 miles away), and is renowned for its excellent pies, organic produce, and local seasonal goods. Since the current manager David took over in 2021, the shop has gone from strength to strength, seeing it turn a profit for the first time in decades. All profits from the shop go back into the Estate, helping to keep housing costs affordable for the approximately 100 village residents, and to help to shore up the Estate’s future economic security. 

 

And now you find yourself here, in Chettle Lodge, hiring it as a private house for you and a group or friends, colleagues and family.

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