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Charborough House
Charborough House.jpg
Charborough House
Grid reference: SY92579789
Location: 50°46’50"N, 2°6’24"W
Village: Charborough
Country house

Charborough House, also known as Charborough Park, is a grand country house found between the villages of Sturminster Marshall and Bere Regis, in the south-west of Dorset.

The house is a Grade I listed building,[1] and was the manor house of the ancient manor of Charborough.

The grounds, which include a deer park and gardens, adjoin the villages of Winterborne Zelston, Newton Peveril and Lytchett Matravers: they are Grade II* listed in the National Register of Historic Parks and Gardens,[2] and have been called the most splendid parkland in Dorset.[3]


The estate is listed as a manor in the Domesday Book of 1086.[4]

The Erle (alias Earl, Earle, etc.) family originated in eastern Devon and moved to neighbouring Dorset in about 1500. Walter Erle (c.1520-1581) acquired Charborough during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. He was an officer of the Privy Chamber to King Edward VI and to his sisters Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I.[5] Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries he purchased the manor of Axmouth, formerly a possession of Syon Abbey.[6]

Col. Sir Walter Erle (1586-1665) of Charborough was a Member of Parliament and a vigorous opponent of King Charles I in the Parliamentary cause both before and during the Civil War. Through his marriage to Ann Dymoke he acquired the manors of Erckington and Pipe, Warwickshire, which he sold to Sir Walter Devereux Bt. His sone and grandson served in Parliament too. His grandson, Lt-Gen. Thomas Erle (1650-1720), Governor of Portsmouth and a Lieutenant-General of the Ordnance, was elected a Member of Parliament for Wareham (a pocket borough controlled by his family) after the Restoration and in 1685 he was made Deputy Lieutenant of Dorset. He was a main promoter of the Glorious Revolution as in 1686 he hosted a group of conspirators who met at Charborough House to plan the overthrow of "the tyrant race of Stuarts". This meeting led to the Invitation to William of Orange in 1688, signed by the Immortal seven.

After his retirement from the military, Thomas Erle he made alterations to Charborough House, including the addition of a new staircase hall with mural paintings by Sir James Thornhill, and the laying out of a formal garden on the west side.[2] He died without male progeny, when his heiress became his daughter Frances Erle (d.1728), who married Sir Edward Ernle, 3rd Baronet (c.1673-1729). Their daughter and heiress, Elizabeth, married Henry Drax and thus Charborough House came to the Drax family.

Elizabeth’s husband, Henry Drax (c.1693-1755), originally of Ellerton Abbey in Yorkshire, was a favourite of Frederick, Prince of Wales, whose secretary he became.[7] Drax built a new wing onto Charbrough House to accommodate the Prince during his visit in 1741.[2]

Edward Drax, son of Henry and Elizabeth, died without male progeny, leaving as his heiress his daughter Sarah, wife of Richard Grosvenor, who, to assure the inheritance, was required to adopt the arms and name “Erle-Drax”. In 1790 he built the pagoda-like ornamental tower, originally 80 feet high, extended in height after 1838.[8] In about 1810 he remodelled the house, probably to the designs of John Nash and laid out new gardens on the south side.[2]

Richard and Sarah were succeeded by their daughter, Jane Frances Erle-Drax, whose husband John Samuel Wanley Sawbridge also adopted the 'Erle-Drax' name. He was Master of the Blackmore Vale Hunt and ordered its members to dress in yellow coats with blue collars instead of the usual scarlet, and mounted the hunt staff on grey horses.[8] He spent money prodigiously on Charborough, including the building of the famously long boundary wall of the park, said to incorporate about two million bricks; he also built the "Stag Gate" and the "Lion Gate" entrances to the park.

In 1838, John Erle-Drax rebuilt the ornamental tower which had been struck by lightning and extended its height from 80 to 120 feet.[8] At Olantigh he built large picture galleries for his art collection, and added Venetian-style towers and a grand fountain in the gardens.[9] He built for himself a huge mausoleum next to Holnest Church in Dorset, since demolished by his descendants due to its high maintenance costs.[8] He died without male progeny, when his paternal estates descended by tail male to his nephew, but his wife's Charborough estates descended to his two daughters as co-heiresses, Maria Caroline Sawbridge-Erle-Drax (who died unmarried) and Sarah Charlotte Elizabeth Ernle-Erle-Drax, who in 1853 married Col. Francis Augustus Plunkett Burton. The inheritance passd over the ensuing generations through a number of heiresses, their husbands assuming the Erle-Drax name, and later simply 'Drax'.

Mansion house

The surviving mansion house is in the centre of the park and incorporates parts of the original house built by Sir Walter II Erle (1586–1665) (grandson of Walter I), Military Governor of Dorchester and a Parliamentarian commander during the Civil War, whose forces besieged Corfe Castle in 1646. Stone and timber were taken from Corfe for use in the house's construction. He fought for the international Protestant cause as a volunteer in the Dutch army, and was present at the siege of ’s-Hertogenbosch. He was impressed by the Dutch fortifications and on his return home had the garden at Charborough "cut into redoubts and works" as he had seen. He also employed a Dutchman to make a decoy pool for duck shooting.[5]

Estate wall and entrances

Charborough Park is surrounded by one of the longest brick walls in Britain,[10] comprising more than 2 million bricks and built between 1841 and 1842 by the then owner of the park John Samuel Wanley Sawbridge-Erle-Drax. He succeeded in having the new Wimborne/DorchesterDorchester turnpike moved further away from his house, a detour of over half a mile, but unfortunately for Sawbridge-Erle-Drax — who was also its chief promoter and investor — the turnpike lost money, mainly because the railway between Wimborne and Dorchester opened shortly afterwards.

The park wall runs alongside the A31 and is punctuated by Stag Gate at the northern extremity and Lion Lodge at the easternmost entrance, with heraldic symbols in Lithodipyra (Coade stone) created by Eleanor Coade's Artificial Stone Manufactory.[11] These gateways are Grade II listed, as is a third one, East Almer Lodge,[2] further to the west. A fourth gateway, Peacock Lodge, which is inside the current bounds of the estate,[3] is Grade II* listed.[2] The stag on top of 'Stag Gate' appears to have five legs, though one of these is instead an integral 'tree stump' that enhances the strength of the sculpture.

The Drax estate is thought to consist of nearly 7,000 acres,[12] and the private grounds are open to the public once or twice a year, when local villagers sell tea and cakes.[13]

Further reading

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Charborough House)


  1. National Heritage List England no. 1323286: Charborough Park (Historic England)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 National Heritage List England no. 1000713: Charborough Park (Historic England)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Nikolaus Pevsner: The Buildings of England: Dorset, 1972 Penguin Books ISBN 978-0-300-09598-2pages 139–141
  4. Charborough House - Domesday Book
  5. 5.0 5.1 History of Parliament biography of Walter Erle (1586–1665)[1]
  6. Risdon, Tristram (d.1640), Survey of Devon, 1811 edition, London, 1811, with 1810 Additions, pp.25-6
  7. History of Parliament biography [2]
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Dorset Life
  9. Legacies of British Slave-ownership
  10. www.waymarking.com
  11. www.british-history.ac.uk
  12. Daily Mail article
  13. www.parksandgardens.org