Renovation protects ornate door of Charmouth’s oldest building

Dominic Tolson working on the ornate sandstone doorway at The Abbots house in Charmouth

RENOVATION work has been completed on the original stone Tudor doorway to the Abbots House in Charmouth.

The ornate sandstone doorway had suffered from the elements over the years and the detail in the carvings was in danger of being lost.

Sheila and Nick Gilbey, owners of the Abbots House, asked stonework conservationist Dominic Tolson to undertake the work. Dominic was able to stabilize the stone using small steel pins and used lime mortar with the right colour pigment to work into the cracks and maintain the detail  in the stonework.

The front of the Abbots House, formerly the Queens Arms, is the oldest building in Charmouth. While it is a very sturdy building it does need constant attention to preserve some of its historic features.

The house is photographed by hundreds of tourists a year as the building displays a plaque stating that King Charles stayed there on September 22 1651. The King was trying to escape from Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers and was given refuge by Margret Ward, landlady of the Queens Arms.

The plan to get Charles II to France by boat from Charmouth beach failed as the skipper’s wife locked her husband in his room, as she thought the mission was too dangerous. The King and his entourage were forced to flee Charmouth before Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers arrived.

Today the doorway, which King Charles must have used to escape, is in a much better state to be photographed.

There is an identical doorway at Forde Abbey both with the initials TC carved into the stone. The initials stand for Thomas Chard, the last Abbot of Forde Abbey before the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. The Abbey built the Abbots House in around 1500AD, Charmouth having been created by the Abbey in the 13th century.

Sheila and Nick Gilbey believe that the Abbots House became the seaside residence of Thomas Chard. There is no evidence to suggest that is the case except that Peter Childs, the conservation officer, who oversaw the changes at the Abbots House in 2007, said that the lavish interior would not normally be found in a building of this size and drew a parallel with the interior of Dartington Hall.

A setting perhaps not fit for a king but certainly good enough for head of Forde Abbey.

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