Close to the churchyard is Abbey Farm. Portions of the buildings include remains of the once famous Benedictine Abbey of St. Peter, founded about 1040 by Orc, a one-time steward of Canute and afterwards in the service of Edward the Confessor. At the Dissolution the abbey came into the possession of an ancestor of the Strangeways who owned the Swannery when that first became known to history. The abbey, like many others, is said to have been built on the site of an older religious house, dating from very ancient days. There is a gatehouse, with an arch of later date, remaining, besides the fragmentary portions in the farmhouse. Many houses in Abbotsbury have pieces of ecclesiastical stonework or carving built into their heavy walls, and arched windows seem to have been transplanted bodily from the dismantled abbey to the dwellings in the village.
By far the most notable building in Abbotsbury is the fifteenth-century Monastic Barn, a fine structure 276 feet long. Its plan is as perfect as its simple but imposing architecture; the ecclesiastical appearance is heightened by the lancet windows between the heavy buttresses and the slight transeptal extensions that give the structure the form of a cross. The abbey fish pond, fed by the stream that runs through Portesham street, till remains below the tithe barn, and though its farmyard surroundings are very different to those it had when the brethren gathered around the banks on Thursdays of old, it is still, with its island centre of old trees, a picturesque finish to the scene.
St. Catherine’s Chapel on the hill above the sea is an erection in a situation similar to that of the far older building on St. Aldhelm’s Head. Its appearance, however, is quite different, and it is Perpendicular in style. The turret at the north-west corner, the two porches and clerestory, are very evidently of another age to the heavy Norman of St. Aldhelm’s, though St. Catherine is solidly built and has weathered many a fierce storm without suffering any apparent damage. The walls are nearly four feet thick and the buttresses are sturdy in proportion. The fine stone roof is greatly admired and is a wonderful piece of work. The turret was probably used as a beacon, and the chapel seems to be identical in everything but style with St. Aldhelm’s. On the east side of the south door are three curious depressions in the stonework said to be “wishing holes,” one for the knee and the higher ones for the hands.
[Illustration: ST. CATHERINE’S CHAPEL.]
The views of the Dorset seaboard during the climb to this exposed eminence are as fine as one would imagine. The contrast between the hilly country to the west and the long sweep of the Chesil Beach backed by the “fleets” is very striking. From our vantage point the stretch of coast immediately to the west is shown to be quite bare of hamlet or settlement of any kind beyond a few isolated houses. Puncknoll, which we shall reach in the next chapter, is the nearest village, fully four miles from St. Catherine’s and nearly half that distance from the sea.