Wimborne St. Giles is a small village, scattered about in the lush, well-wooded landscape on the edge of Cranborne Chase. Although the mostly brick built cottages are of a variety of styles, this is the estate village at the centre of the estate which has been the home of one of our noblest families, the Earls of Shaftesbury, who as the Ashley-Coopers have been here since the 15th century.
The 16th century house is in a vast park through which the river Allen flows, feeding a seven acre lake as it winds its way towards Wimborne. the quaintest of village signs pictures St. Giles with his hind. Wimborne St. Giles, which bears itself with dignity, is another of those sequestered places where you find yourself whispering lest you annoy the spirits of Ashley's, long dead.
The first Earl, Anthony Ashley-Cooper, built the house in the 1650s in the style of Inigo Jones. During the Civil Wars, he at first sided with the King but believed in the right of Parliament to rule and, at the Coronation of Charles II, he was made a Peer and Chancellor to the Exchequer. His independent thinking was his downfall and, when holding the office of Lord Chancellor was dismissed. Later the King needed his aid and tried to bribe him, offering him a dukedom. He declined and became a leader in the Protestant cause, but when he proposed the Duke of Monmouth as a future king, he had gone too far and was thrown into the Tower and tried for high treason. He escaped to Holland where he died in 1683.
The seventh Earl lives on in the heart of the people because of his hatred of wrong and injustice. He fought the cause of Jews and Poles, and passed legislation to stop much of the child labour in the early 1800s. journeying into home, factory and mine, he saw for himself the conditions women and children worked and lived in. He faced opposition from mine owners who were using the sweated labour of children of 5 years of age in the pits, and made Parliament aware of the plight of the poor. In one Act, chimney sweeping by boys was abolished. The seventh Earl was one of the great Parliamentarians of the Victorian era.
The centre of the village is decidedly odd, with a green partly surrounded by large brick buildings. The long row of almshouses, built by Sir Anthony Ashley in 1624, are of bricks with stone detail, including a weathered loggia. The church of St. Giles is of only two dates. It was first rebuilt in 1732 by the Bastard brothers of Blandford, and then again in 1908 by the distinguished architect after being badly damaged in a fire. The church contains many fine monuments to the Shaftesburys. The main memorial to the 7th Earl however is to be found in London. The statue of Eros, in Piccadilly Circus, intended to show the Christian virtue love and whose arrow is aligned with Wimborne St. Giles.
Wimborne St. Giles was the scene of another story concerning children. Soon after the last war the village school conducted an interesting experiment in education. The headmaster and his teacher wife, accepting that the young village children would turn to the land for their livelihoods, ran the school as a farm. Nearby they kept pigs and sheep and a kitchen garden, which the boys ran under supervision. The girls spun the wool, dyed it and made garments from their own patterns. The running of the farm and its financial problems formed the basis of mathematics, and at, official Young Farmers Club gave the children the chance to express themselves publicly. Alas, educational practices have changed the age group attending the school, and the idea has long been forgotten.
In 1907 Treves described the village stocks as being in a state of 'extreme senility'. Today, preserved under a little tin roof inside iron railings, they are scarcely recognizable, and certainly in no condition to contain the local bad boys.