Days Out,  Lifestyle

The pull of history in a Dorset village

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With a name that can be traced at least to Saxon times, Canford Magna village in Dorset has a varied and interesting history linked to its royal landowners.

The most notable (I think) is the connection with William Longspee. In 1198 the manor passed by marriage to Longspee who was the illegitimate son of King Henry II and half-brother to King John and Richard the Lionheart. In 1226 he died suddenly, possibly poisoned. Longspee has a claim to fame for being the first person to be buried in Salisbury Cathedral. His tomb was opened in 1791 and the well preserved corpse of a Black Rat, said to contain traces of arsenic, was found inside his skull. Oh the skullduggery of the royals! I enjoy an historical fiction read and to me, this represents the intrigue and scheming of the royal court. The Black Rat lives on in an exhibition at Salisbury Museum.

His son, William Longspee the second, has a significant place in local history, granting rights to the town of Poole by the Longspee Charter of 1248. The charter confirmed the long standing right (‘as always they have been accustomed’) of local people to graze cattle ‘in my heaths’. As with most things political, the charter was a means of financing the Crusades and Longspee was subsequently killed fighting in Egypt.

The name Longspee lives on locally. It can be found as a road name (Longespee). One of the schools in our Ambitions Academies Trust based at Canford Heath is Longspee Academy.

Canford also has interesting links with Byron, Edward VII, Winston Churchill, Rupert Brooke and Sir Alan Cobham’s Flying Circus.

Fast forward to today …

The 120 year old Canford suspension bridge was refurbished and re-opened in July 2013.  Popular with pedestrians and cyclists (although maneuvering is difficult!), dogs are a bit wary of crossing.  We see a few dogs being carried across …


The Canford Magna parish church is the oldest building in Poole with foundations from about 1050.








Below, a closer look at the round window in the porch on the side you can see above, a depiction of the trinity?



The Rt Hon Sir Henry Austen Layard is buried here.  He had an interesting life!






An article in Dorset Ancestors about Lady Charlotte of Canford reveals the familial link:



However, Canford was about to become the beneficiary of an unusual and valuable legacy of Empire. Lady Charlotte’s cousin on her mother’s side was Austen Henry Layard, an energetic, argumentative archaeologist, diplomat and Liberal MP whose father – Charlotte’s uncle – was a civil servant in Sri Lanka. While excavating at a site in Assyria in the 1840’s Layard uncovered a large cache of treasure, most of which went to the British Museum, though a residue of this find went to Canford. Through the familial connection Layard was a frequent visitor to his cousin at the mansion and eventually married one of Charlotte’s daughters, Mary Enid. Her mother again commissioned Barry to add an extension to Canford specifically to house the Assyrian Collection.


(Interesting note: Canford Manor was sold in 1923 to become Canford School.  No-one knew an ancient Assyrian relief was mounted on a wall.  The relief was auctioned in 1994 for £7.7 million).

On this visit I loved the colour in the church grounds!


Parish Church Canford Magna

Parish Church Canford Magna



Paris Church Canford Magna



Parish Church, Canford Magna


I’m the first generation to have been born in Dorset (my ancestral roots are in London and Devon) and yet I’m always pulled in by Dorset’s history, getting lost in my imagination of the lives and customs that have gone before.  When you’re connected to nature and strolling along the river Stour it’s easy to fire up your imagination.


Canford Magna is only a small part of the much larger Canford Estate.  Heathland has been reduced (from sales of the land) by over 80% in the last 250 years.  Dorset Wildlife Trust have stepped in and led a successful fundraising campaign.  £4.7 million has been raised to purchase the Canford Estate sites for The Great Heath Living Landscape.

With Canford Magna still retaining its character, it is very easy to imagine the community as it used to be. If you were driving through today, it still looks similar to this photo taken by Francis Frith in 1904.

Personally I prefer to live on the outskirts of town and spend time in rural areas on days out, events etc.  What about you?  We may often think our ideal life means moving but it could be that what we’re looking for is already on our doorstep.

Do you live in a town but yearn for the country?  Live in a village but want to move out to town?




I've been blogging about my interests at Jera's Jamboree for 8+ years. My love of reading, crocheting and being out in nature are all things that help me unwind from my role as an Inclusion Lead in a primary school. I'm passionate about early help and sharing strategies with families to empower and help build resilience. I'm a member of of my Local Authority's Early Help Operational Board, working alongside other professionals to instigate change and growth.


  • DJ Hodge

    Regarding the photo of Sir Austen Henry Layard’s grave in Canford Magna Church’s cemetery, would you allow me to use your photo on the Find A Grave Memorial website with your name crediting ownership of the photo? When you were visiting his gravesite, do you remember if there was an inscription for Lady Enid Layard, on the opposite side? Enid’s cremated remains are interred in the same gravesite as her husband’s. Did you by any chance take a photo showing an inscription for Lady Enid Layard, neé Guest?

    The inquiry above is being sent from St. Louis, Missouri USA

    • Shaz Goodwin

      Yes of course you can use the photo. Thank you for asking. Sorry, I don’t remember if there was an inscription on the opposite side. I’ll be sure to have a look if we’re that way again.

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