History & Heritage
We are custodians of a significant Georgian building which requires ongoing love and care. Scroll down to learn more.
The Anglican parish church of Saints Peter and Paul is situated at the heart of Blandford Forum. A church may have stood on this site for over seven hundred years; the first recorded rector of Blandford is Henry de May in 1295.
A drawing of the medieval church indicates an exterior dating from the late 14th, or early 15th century. The building is known to have been 100 feet long and consisted of ‘3 large Isles and 2 chancels, all covered with Lead, and had a tower with a leaded shaft or small spire with 5 bells, a clock and chimes.’
Model displayed in the Blandford Town Museum
Fire memorial next to the church, which was a water pump
The present church dates largely from the 1730s and 1740s. It was constructed after the medieval building was damaged beyond repair in the Great Fire of Blandford that began on the 4 June 1731 and destroyed much of the town.
As their timber houses burnt, townspeople took refuge in the stone-built church, with whatever belongings they could carry. They remained safe until the early hours of the 5 June, when a spark broke through the lead roof and the building was set ablaze. As they fled once more, the inhabitants were forced by the intense heat to shelter behind gravestones in the churchyard.
The present church has been described as ‘a notable example of Georgian church architecture in the classical style, as interpreted by provincial builder-architects’.
The walls are constructed of Greensand ashlar with dressings of Portland and Ham Hill stone. The plinth on the north side of the church retains some of the Dorset heathstone of which the old church was constructed. The roofs are of tile and lead. Internally, the walls are lined with brick, covered for the most part with plaster and paint, and by oak panelled dados. The floors were, originally, ‘all neatly paved’. The building consists of a (west) tower, nave, chancel (inserted in the late 19th century), north and south aisles, west gallery, and an apse at the east end that is decorated with a notable 18 th -century plaster ceiling. The tower is capped with a cupola or bell-cote, with a gilded weather vane finial.
The church was largely designed by John Bastard (c. 1689-1770) and his brother William (c.1689- 1766).
John and William usually described themselves as ‘joiners’ but were also noted as being ‘master-builders and architects’, particularly after their major contribution to the design and building of the post-fire town. Members of the Bastard family had been present in the town since at least the 1570s, when Thomas Bastard, a blacksmith of Blandford, asked in his will to be buried in the church, wherever ‘they shall find a convenient place that be left behind’.
Portrait of John Bastard, reproduced by kind permission of Blandford Forum Town Council
Portrait of William Bastard, reproduced by kind permission of Blandford Forum Town Council
Following the fire of 1731, John and William Bastard, as well as those who completed the church in the 1740s, and many (largely unacknowledged) tradespeople, strove to replace the crowded medieval church with a modern, bright, airy building that signified a bold and optimistic new start for the town and its people. The church opened on the 8 April 1739.
In 1895 it was decided to insert a chancel between the nave and the apse.
This was achieved by moving the apse, on rollers, 25 feet to the east. Recent restoration work has found that some damage occurred to the apse during this process.
The Georgian apse in its new position. Reproduced by kind permission of the Blandford Forum Museum, Heritage and Arts Trust
In 2016 the church cupola and tower were restored thanks to the generous donations of the public and grant giving bodies, including the Heritage Lottery Fund.
During this time access to the tower was modified from the Georgian/Victorian ladders to a more robust metal ladder system. The cupola was also restored removing temporary fixes from the 50’s and 60’s and restoring it to as near its original splendour as possible, including having a local artist repaint the 4 curlicues on the corners of the base of the cupola. Ironically, the cupola for which the church is known for, was not liked by William Bastard, who was planning to put a spire on the church, but when funds ran out was forced to improvise the cupola.