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Bladen Valley & War Memorial

Being just south of the A35 and only 3 miles west of Bere Regis, Briantspuddle is easy to find even though sign-posting was a bit of an afterthought when the new dual carriageway was built! As you approach from the north, glimpses of thatched cottages appear tantalisingly through gaps in hedges on a high-banked country road and then suddenly past the bridge you are at the village crossroads, into another world! From the south, the approach is from the heath down through the tall tree-lined Briantspuddle Hollow. Oddly the main part of Briantspuddle is east of the crossroads leading to Throop and Turnerspuddle with a main street barely able to let two cars pass. To the west, the road leads off to Affpuddle passing the War Memorial at the head of Bladen Valley.

For most of its past Briantspuddle was little more than a couple of farms with their attendant cottages, much the same as the outlying farmsteads at Rogers Hill, Brockhill and Pallington still seem to be. However in the early part of the 20th century this changed dramatically through the efforts of Sir Earnest Debenham to build a model farm and thereby creating a new centre of population between the ancient villages of Affpuddle and Turnerspuddle. More than anything else Briantspuddle is a striking legacy of that experiment, though you would have to be reminded of that when looking at the buildings that were left behind.

Standing at the crossroads with your back to the 17th century cottage (with an iron re-enforcing cross on the front) the view is of a mixture of old Dorset cob and thatch interspersed with sympathetically built Debenham block and thatch. One or two more modern tiled roofs appear here and there but do not detract. Emerging from the cottage lined street the Village Hall, converted from a 200 year old barn, is to the left and next door is the tiny shop and post office sitting on its arched base. This was originally a granary, then a youth club, and lastly a village club before being turned into its present day shop and post office! On the left hand side of the village hall is the Bladen Social Club, built some 50 years ago for all the best of reasons, but not entirely in sympathy with the host it leans on. Opposite the Hall, in a semi-circle, are sympathetically designed modern Housing Association bungalows echoing the dairy "ring" further down the road.

The Braintspuddle Dairy "Ring" is perhaps the most obvious example of the Debenham farming experiment. Built around three sides of a quadrangle to accommodate a vehicle loading bay, what was once a dairy production facility and lodgings for its workers is now four private homes. The ring is completed on the opposite side of the road by the 15th century thatched cottage of cruck construction. Behind the ring the byres and stables of Briantspuddle Farm have also been converted into private dwellings.

The crossroads were also created as part of the farming experiment and what remains of the original entrance to Briantspuddle can be seen about 100 metres to the west and looking down School Lane leading north. The school building, now a private house on the corner, was once on the edge of and part of Affpuddle. Continuing on towards Affpuddle and just over the rise you come upon the impressive War Memorial created by Eric Gill. This stands at the head of the other main example of the Debenham hand, Bladen Valley. Along a private gravel road twenty three houses, originally built to house estate workers, are constructed of the same locally made block as the central dairy (the ring). All but two are still thatched. They were designed as a group in the Arts and Crafts style with large cottagers' gardens and broad open areas. Although now enveloped by mature trees and bushes the idea was to encourage a sense of community and self sufficiency which still exists today.

To the north, but still part of Briantspuddle, although on the other side of the A35, is the only remaining working farmstead of Rogers Hill. To the south, just along the heath road at the top of Briantspuddle Hollow is Culpeppers Dish, a quite famous and astonishingly deep conical pit or sinkhole formed by ground subsidence, though carrying legendary tales of mystery.

Briantspuddle has few pretensions. It is not twee; it does not compete with the likes of Tolpuddle, Cerne Abbas or Corfe Castle for a place in the British Book of villages. There is no car park, souvenir shop or summer crowd in shorts with cameras; it is simply a bit of relatively unspoilt old England.

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