About the parish
Stanton St Gabriel is a hamlet and civil parish in west Dorset on the western slopes of Golden Cap on the Jurassic coast between Bridport and Lyme Regis. Mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086) as ‘Stantone’, Old English for ‘farm on stoney ground’, ‘St Gabriel’ was added later with reference to the church.
According to the legend, in the 12th century a newly married couple washed up here after two days at sea in storms that forced them to abandon ship. The groom, Bertram, prayed to St Gabriel to save them, promising to build a shrine to him wherever they landed. His prayer was answered and he carried his bride ashore. However, she died in his arms. Bertram was distraught, but honoured his pledge.
Originally a church parish in its own right, Stanton St Gabriel became a curacy annexed to Whitchurch Canonicorum during the Middle Ages. A 17th century petition by the inhabitants to restore the parish status of Stanton St Gabriel, because the 23 families in the hamlet had to travel more than two miles to Whitchurch, ‘along a road exposed to such violence of wind and weather that they could seldom make the journey to church in winter’, went unheeded. By the 18th century, many inhabitants had left to work in the many new mills and rope-walks of Bridport.
Once a new chapel was built on the turnpike in Morecombelake in 1841, the old chapel was used less and less for ceremonial purposes and became a warehouse for smugglers. A rough track from the shore up through a gully made a convenient route for carrying contraband to the disused chapel and a thriving trade in brandy, tobacco and French silk was carried on with Morlaix in Brittany. Eventually, better policing of the coast put an end to the smuggling trade. Some materials were salvaged for the new chapel, including the font and the rood beam. 15th century corbels in the image of a man and woman found amongst the ruins of the old chapel by a field trip in 1960, and fancied by some to be Bertram and his bride, are now in Dorchester Museum.
Much of the land here now belongs to the National Trust and is farmed traditionally so that there are rich and abundant flower meadows. Of the hamlet of Stanton St Gabriel only the Elizabethan farmhouse and a small thatched cottage dating from around 1700 remain.
Morecombelake is the home of Moore's Biscuit Bakery, famous for the Dorset knob - the traditional meal for local farm workers at the start of the day. Near the village, overlooking Lyme Bay, is an ancient well dedicated to St Candida, a Saxon anchorite reputedly killed by Viking raiders in the 8th century, which is said to have healing qualities, especially for sore eyes.