Cerne Abbas

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Cerne Abbas
The village centre
Grid reference: ST662012
Location: 50°48’34"N, 2°28’52"W
Population: 820  (2013 est.)
Post town: Dorchester
Postcode: DT2
Dialling code: 01300
Local Government
Council: Dorset
West Dorset

Cerne Abbas is a village in Dorset, in the Cerne Valley in the Dorset Downs.

The village lies just east of the A352 road six miles north of the county town, Dorchester. The population of the civil parish in 2013 was estimated at 820. In 2008, Cerne Abbas was voted Britain's "Most Desirable Village" by estate agent Savills.[1]

The village is notable as the location of the Cerne Abbas Giant, a chalk figure of a giant naked man on a hillside.


Abbey Farm House

The village of Cerne Abbas grew up around the great Benedictine abbey, Cerne Abbey, which was founded there in AD 987[2] (Abbas is Mediæval Latin for "abbot"). The Domesday survey of 1087 recorded cultivated land for twenty ploughs, with 26 villeins and thirty two bordars.[3] For more than 500 years, the abbey dominated the area. The abbey was surrendered to Henry VIII in 1539 with the Dissolution of the Monasteries and was largely destroyed; a portion of the Abbot's Porch and Abbey guesthouse remain. St Augustine's Well, reputedly blessed by the saint, also remains. St Mary's Church, built by the abbey for the parish in the late 13th century, is in the heart of the parish and retains many original features.

In the centuries after the Dissolution, the village thrived as a small market town. Its wealth was partly generated by brewing, its underground water making it famous for the quality of its beer, which was sold as far away as London and was even exported to the Americas.[4] At one time, Cerne Abbas had 14 public houses, serving visitors and a population of about 1,500. The availability of water power also gave rise to milling, tanning, silk weaving, glove and hat making and many other small industries.

The coming of the railways in the 19th century bypassed Cerne and the village went into decline. By 1906, the population had halved and many of the houses had fallen into disrepair. In 1919, the village was sold by the Pitt-Rivers estate, which had owned it.[5] The village now has a local school, a post office, three remaining historic public houses, tearooms and a number of other shops.

Pevsner says that Abbey Farm House which was rebuilt after a fire in the 1750s was formerly the main gateway to the abbey. When rebuilt, the central window of the former gateway projection was given an unusual Gothic Venetian window.

Sights of the village

The pitchmarket doorway
Parish church of St Mary

Cerne Abbas attracts many tourists, who are drawn by the River Cerne, streets lined with historic stone houses, the Abbey, the Giant, and various events including a classical music festival. The church of St Mary is of 13th-century origin but was largely rebuilt in the 15th and early 16th centuries and partly reconstructed in the 17th century. Features of interest include the 17th century pulpit and the great east window which probably came from the abbey.[6]

Cerne Abbas Giant

Main article: Cerne Abbas Giant

The best known attraction is the Cerne Abbas Giant, a 180-foot naked figure carved into the chalk hillside. The giant, owned by the National Trust, is thought by many to be an Iron Age fertility symbol but, as it is unlikely that the monks of Cerne Abbey would have tolerated such a figure, and with no records before the 17th century, this cannot be confirmed. Many scholars now think that it was created in the mid-17th century, although there is evidence of Iron Age settlement on the downs nearby.


Each June, the Cerne Abbas Open Gardens can attract over a thousand visitors[7]. Other events include horticultural shows[8], the annual village fete, the Cerne Abbas Music Festival, and the Wessex Morris Men often perform in the village on Bank Holidays [9][10]. The four-day music festival began in 1990 and hosts classical artists of world renown[11].

In literature

  • Cerne Abbas features in Thomas Hardy's Wessex as "Abbots Cernel".
  • School of the Night, a mystery by Judith Cook set in Elizabethan England, contains scenes set in Cerne Abbas, and mentions the Cerne Abbas Giant.
  • Unconquered, a historical novel by Neil Swanson set in pre-Revolutionary England and America, describes Abigail Hale's upbringing in Cerne Abbas.
  • In John Le Carre's A Murder of Quality, the murder occurs in "Carne Abbas" in "Dorsett".

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Cerne Abbas)


  1. Osborne, Hilary (14 February 2008). "Cerne Abbas voted Britain's most desirable village". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 6 April 2010. 
  2. Cerne Historical Society
  3. Open Domesday Online: Cerne (Abbas), accessed December 2018.
  4. A village history
  5. 1919 sale: Cerne Historical Society
  6. Betjeman, John, ed. (1968) Collins Pocket Guide to English Parish Churches; the South. London: Collins; p. 173
  7. Cerne Abbas Open Gardens, retrieved 29 July 2017
  8. Cerne Valley Upcoming Events, retrieved 29 July 2017
  9. May Day Dawn at Cerne Abbas 2009, retrieved 31 July 2017
  10. Cerne Abbas Attractions, Cerne Valley Stores, retrieved 29 July 2017
  11. History of the Festival, retrieved 29 July 2017