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Minterne House and Gardens (also known as Minterne House)


Minterne is an 18th-century landscape with a lake and woodland of around 85 hectares, set within a larger woodland and agricultural estate of 647 hectares. There is also early-20th century planting of rare trees and shrubs.


The ground slopes generally down from north-west to south-east.

The following is from the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For the most up-to-date Register entry, please visit The National Heritage List for England (NHLE):

A late-C18 park incorporating the remains of an early-C18 park and a rhododendron collection started in the late C19 and early C20.

Location, Area, Boundaries, Landform and Setting

Minterne House, a site of c 85ha, lies in a valley at the foot of Dogbury Hill, Higher Dogbury Down and Little Minterne Hill to its east and East Hill and Farm Hill to its west. It gently slopes down from the north-west to the south-east with a fall of c 200m across the site, and from the park there are fine views of the hills to the east. The site lies to the south and east of the village of Minterne Magna, along the A352, and is separated from it by an estate wall which follows the curve of the A352 where it runs through the village. Along the north-west boundary lies Moor Plantation. To the south the park is bounded by the hamlet of Minterne Parva and Minterne Parva Faun, whose land, including New Barn, abuts the south-eastern boundary.

Entrances and Approaches

The main gateway (listed Grade II), lies immediately to the south of the Church of St Andrew, on the east side of the A352. It is marked by two central and two subsidiary square piers which are linked by a semi-circular wall. Between the central piers hang decorative iron gates. The gateway gives access to a drive, lined with mature rhododendrons, that leads in an easterly direction and then curves in a southerly direction to a square shaped gravelled courtyard to the north of the house. The gateway dates from the early C20, and was possibly designed by Leonard Stokes when he rebuilt the house.

In the early C18, the main approach was a lime avenue which ran to the south front of the former house (Estate Map of Minterne Farm, 1724). A second entrance lies c 15m further south along the A352, and is marked by two square gate piers on pedestals linked with a semi-circular wall. This entrance gives access to a drive that leads in a south-easterly direction to the stable block and the north-west wing of the house. It is probably the same entrance as that shown on the estate plan of 1724, and following the removal of the formal lime avenue (see above), as part of the de-formalisation of the park in the late C18, it possibly became the main entrance at that time until the house was rebuilt.

Principal Building

Minterne House (listed Grade II*) is situated in the northern section of the park, with the pleasure grounds stretching out to its south and east. The house, built of Ham Hill stone, was constructed in 1904-6 to designs by Leonard Stokes. It has stone slated roofs with stone copings and variously positioned ashlar and brick chimney stacks.

The north front has a U-shaped plan with a central porch. To the west of the porch are two, large hall windows of three lights, with tracery in perpendicular style, which overlook the courtyard. The garden front to the south is symmetrical and consists of eleven bays with a wing attached its west. The facade has three canted bays of two storeys with two stone gables between them, and the large number of windows overlook the lawn and the park beyond. The east front has a two-storey, bay window and is flanked to the north by a four-storey tower. From the roof of the tower there are fine views of the kitchen garden to the west, the pleasure grounds and park to the south, and the pond with the park and hills beyond to the east.

Circa 5m to the north-west of the house stand two, mid-C19 stable blocks (listed Grade II), arranged parallel to each other and designed by the architect RH Shout from Yeovil. Immediately to their south, along the east side of the kitchen garden (see below) stands a rectangular, mid-C19 outbuilding (listed Grade II), possibly a bothy, also by RH Shout.

Gardens and Pleasure Grounds

Circa 15m to the south and east of the house runs a late-C18 ha-ha, built of stone, which separates the two lawns immediately to the south and east of the house, from the pleasure ground and the park. The lawn to the east of the house is probably the site of the former, early-C18 formal garden (Estate Map of Minterne Faun, 1724). The pleasure grounds, which contain the rhododendron collection started by the Digby family in the late C19, are laid out with a circular walk through Coneygar Wood and The Shrubbery which run around a rectangular lawn with, in its north-east corner, a large, mature cedar. The lawn is the site of the former, early-C18 park with the lime avenue which ran to the entrance front of the former house (see 1724 Estate Plan by John Vincent).

The pleasure grounds are accessed by a path that starts from the south front of the house, and then continues along the south side of the ha-ha into Coneygar Wood to the south. Coneygar Wood, possibly planted in the late C18, contains various mature trees, including four palm trees, which are under-planted with rhododendron and exotic trees and shrubs. The path through Coneygar Wood continues in a southerly direction and crosses the park in the south-western part of the site. Along its eastern side, this section of the path is lined by a mixture of trees, shrubs and a great variety of mature rhododendrons and camellias. To its west it is lined by a late-C19 or early-C20 park fence, from where there are fine views of the park to its south-west. The path then turns in a north-easterly direction and leads into The Shrubbery. The latter contains a great variety of rhododendrons, exotic shrubs and mature trees, some dating from the late C19 onwards up to the late C20. In the southern part of The Shrubbery is a small well, called Lady Abbingdon's Well (1st ed OS, surveyed 1885), from where water leads into the stream that runs through the valley from the lake situated east of the house (see below).


The eastern park is situated on the hillside and scattered with parkland trees. To the north-east it is bounded by a series of strip Iynchets and the hills beyond, and further south by Six Acre Coppice. Further south, the park is bounded to its east by New Barn Plantation and Honeypits Plantation.

Across the north-western part of the park runs a footpath from The School House to the north (outside the area here registered), southwards to the Keeper's Lodge. From here, the path turns north-eastwards and leads through the park to the Higher Dogbury Down. Halfway along its length it links up with another path that runs south-east through the eastern part of the park to New Barn (outside the area here registered).

The central part of the park is dominated by a serpentine lake situated beyond the lawn immediately below the east front of the house. To the east, the serpentine lake is screened by a dense plantation of ornamental trees (1st ed OS surveyed 1885 and 2nd ed OS, surveyed 1900-01), which since the late C20 has been cleared through the centre to allow views to the park and Little Minterne Hill beyond to the east, and back from the park to Minterne House. From the lake, a stream runs in a southerly direction, crossed by three foot bridges. A series of weirs create a string of small ponds. The ornamental, balustraded bridge over the most northerly pond (listed Grade II), is single span, and built of coursed rubble and ashlar. It forms a link between The Shrubbery and the park to the east.

At the southern end of the pond to the far north is a small waterfall, where the water leads into the subsequent ponds. The two other single-span foot bridges, one situated at the southern tip of The Shrubbery and the other further downstream in the park in the far southern part of the site are less ornate. The bridge to the far south is part of a public footpath that runs through the southern tip of the park, between the A352 and Minterne Parva. The lake and the series of ponds and bridges were created in the late C18 by Admiral Robert Digby from two formal ponds and two small canals (water colours by Robert Sherborne, c 1801, and the Estate Plan of 1724, by John Vincent). As shown on the 1724 plan, the stream that fed the ponds was called Buckland.

The park immediately west of Coneygar Wood is planted with various mature trees including oak and cedars, and is screened from the A352 by a hedge. On the other side of the A352, is a rectangular piece of parkland covering c 9ha, planted with a variety of trees, and bounded to the north by a public bridle path, planted as an avenue. This part of the park was emparked between 1885 and 1900 (1st ed OS, surveyed 1885, and 2nd ed OS, surveyed 1900-01), possibly under the ownership of the 10th Lord Digby.

Kitchen Garden

The kitchen garden is situated to the west of the house, and is enclosed by a C18 brick wall with stone coping (listed Grade II). It follows the curve of the estate wall and the A352 situated immediately to its north. The kitchen garden is divided into four quarters by internal brick walls, which each having arched doorways. The main entrance to the kitchen garden lies in the south-east corner, where a gateway (listed Grade II), probably dating from the early C20, gives access to the south-eastern quarter. The opening has two, square, stone piers with fine decorative iron gates carrying the Digby coat of arms. The kitchen garden can also be entered from the north-eastern corner, via the stable block.

In the south-eastern quarter of the kitchen garden is a rectangular swimming pool (late-C20) set against the north wall. The remaining southern part of this garden is laid to lawn. The south-western and north-eastern quarters of the kitchen garden show the remains and footings of various glasshouses (demolished late C20). The triangular north-western part of the kitchen garden is laid to lawn. Attached to the curved garden wall to the west is a small, C18, circular garden building in Flemish brickwork (listed Grade II). It has a central doorway and is flanked by two windows, now (2013) blocked up with bricks. The kitchen garden is also known as The Admiral's Hat referring to Admiral Robert Digby, who built the kitchen garden in the late C18 as part of the improvements to the park.Reasons for Designation

The late-C18 park at Minterne House, incorporating the remains of an early-C18 park and a rhododendron collection started in the late C19 and early C20, is included on the Register of Parks and Gardens at Grade II, for the following principal reasons:

  • Date: the park was laid out in the late C18, during the great phase of English landscape design, and has been little altered since;
  • Planting: it has a unique collection of rhododendrons and azaleas, established by the Digby family in the late C19, and enriched in the early C20 by new species of trees and shrubs recently introduced by Victorian plant-hunters such as Wilson, Farrer and Kingdon-Ward from their expeditions to the Himalayas;
  • Historic interest: the late-C18 park was laid out by Admiral Robert Digby, an officer in the Royal Navy, who was appointed Admiral of the Red and given the command of the North American Station in 1781. When he returned to Minterne after the American War of Independence, it is believed that he brought key members of his crew back with him to undertake the landscaping;
  • Group value: it has strong group value with Minterne House (listed Grade II*), several listed buildings within the registered area associated with the estate, the listed buildings within the villages of Minterne Magna and Minterne Parva, and the scheduled remains of Dogbury Camp, an Iron Age defended enclosure in Dogbury Plantation;
  • Documentation: the history of the landscape is particularly well documented.

Selected Sources

Book Reference - Author: Pevsner, N and Newman, J - Title: The Buildings of England: Dorset - Date: 1972 - Page References: 296

Book Reference - Author: Oswald, A - Title: Country Houses of Dorset - Date: 1959 - Page References: 175

Book Reference - Author: Paterson, A - Title: The Gardens of Britain 2 - Date: 1978 - Page References: 37-38

Book Reference - Author: Gould, N K and Roper, L and Synge, P M - Title: The Rhododendron and Camellia Year Book - Date: 1955 - Page References: 9-15

Map Reference - Title: Estate map of Minterne Farm, showing formal gardens to the east of the house - Date: 1724

Map Reference - Title: OS Map 6" - Date: 1891

Map Reference - Title: OS Map 6" - Date: 1903 Map Reference - Title: OS Map 25" - Date: 1887

Map Reference - Title: OS Map 25" - Date: 1902

Other Reference - Description: Invoice from the Yokohama Nursery in Japan for Lord Digby, 1923 (Private archive)

Other Reference - Description: R Sherborne, a series of water colours showing the park and bridges at Minterne, c 1801 (Private collection)

Article Reference - Title: Country Life: 26 April 1902 - Date: 1902 - Journal Title: Country Life - Page References: 528-533

Article Reference - Date: 21 February 1980 - Journal Title: Country Life - Page References: 498-501

Article Reference - Date: 28 February 1980 - Journal Title: Country Life - Page References: 574-577

Article Reference - Date: May 1986 - Journal Title: Country Homes and Interiors - Page References: 130-132

Website Reference - Title: Minterne House - Date: 17 Jan 2014 - URL:

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

Access contact details

The gardens are open daily from March to October (10am until 6pm). Visit the Minterne Gardens website for more detailed information.


The gardens lie between Dorchester and Sherbourne on the A352.

Visit the Minterne Gardens website for more detailed information.


The following is from the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For the most up-to-date Register entry, please visit the The National Heritage List for England (NHLE):


In c 1550, Minterne and nearby Cerne Abbas were owned by the Wardens and Scholars of Winchester College. From 1660 the estate was leased for several generations to the Churchill family. General Charles Churchill lived at Minterne from 1688 to 1714 and improved both the house and grounds. He laid out a series of enclosed gardens with formal ponds, surrounded by a small park containing a long avenue that formed the approach to the house (see estate plan of 1724 by John Vincent).

In 1768, Minterne was bought by Admiral Robert Digby, a younger brother of the then Lord Digby who lived at nearby Sherborne Castle (qv). The latter may have influenced Admiral Digby in his ideas for the landscaping of Minterne (Rhododendron and Camelia Yearbook, 1955, p 9). The Admiral improved the existing park, and planted a considerable amount of trees. He diverted the road away from the house, removed the formal gardens and deformalised the existing ponds in order to create a series of lakes of various sizes with cascades and bridges. He also altered the house, rebuilt the stables and outbuildings, and created a new kitchen garden (Country Life, 1980 and the watercolours by R Sherbone, c 1801).

In 1863 Minterne was inherited by the 9th Baron Digby, who started a rhododendron and shrub collection, which was subsequently continued by his son, the 10th Lord Digby after he had inherited the estate in 1889. In 1902-07, the latter rebuilt the house on the site of the former house, to designs by the architect Leonard Stokes. During the late C19 and early C20 many new varieties of rhododendron were planted at Minterne. Most of these new varieties were introduced due to the numerous explorations to Japan and China made by famous plant collectors of that the time, including Wilson, Farrer and Kingdon-Ward. The 10th Lord Digby also travelled abroad himself to collect seedlings, and ordered them from nurseries. In 1955 over 350 rhododendron species and 700 hybrids were counted at Minterne (Rhododendron and Camelia Yearbook, 1955, p 10), and the collection is still (2013) expanding.

Minterne House has remained in private ownership.


18th Century (1701 to 1800)

Associated People
Features & Designations


  • The National Heritage List for England: Register of Parks and Gardens

  • Reference: GD1507
  • Grade: II


  • House (featured building)
  • Description: Minterne House was built in 1904-1906 by Leonard Stokes for the 10th Lord Digby, on the foundations of an older house.
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  • Stable Block
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  • Gazebo
  • Description: The garden wall incorporates an 18th-century gazebo.
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  • Ornamental Bridge
  • Description: Park Bridge (Lady Eleanor's Bridge) was built in the late 18th century, for Admiral Robert Digby.
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  • Gateway
  • Description: The gateway with piers and the iron gates are early 20th century, possibly by Stokes.
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  • Lake
  • Cascade
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  • Pool
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  • Woodland
  • Trees
  • Shrub Feature
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential


18th Century (1701 to 1800)





Open to the public


Civil Parish

Minterne Magna