The Parish of Fontmell Magna is a largely rural area situated in the Blackmore Vale in North Dorset, approximately 5 miles south of Shaftesbury. The Parish includes the village of Fontmell Magna, the hamlet of Bedchester, and settlements in Hartgrove, Kit Hill and Margaret Marsh. People have been living in the area for over a thousand years, being included in a Saxon Charter of 759 AD (as ‘Funtemel’). Today it has a stable population of 730-740 residents.
All the parishes between Shaftesbury and Blandford were given elongated shapes in order that each should have a mix of high and low ground. Fontmell Magna covers 2,896 acres (1,172 hectares) and stretches from Fontmell Down in the east to the lower land of the Blackmore Vale in the west. Fontmell Down is a nature reserve and part of the Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Here you will find great walks, a variety of interesting wild-life and stunning views over the Blackmore Vale. The Downland is chalk with many flints. To the west of the chalk escarpment, the land slopes gently on Upper Greensand and Gault, into the valley of the Fontmell Brook which flows about 200 ft. above sea-level. Further west, the land rises to a low north-south ridge of Lower Greensand, on which Bedchester stands and then falls to the valley of the Twyford Brook. North-west of the latter, Hartgrove, a roughly circular area of land, is joined with the rest of the parish by a narrow neck; it is entirely on Kimmeridge Clay and lies between 180 ft. and 380 ft. above sea-level. The village of Fontmell Magna stands on Gault clay, a narrow line of which runs down from Fovant to Abbotsbury, between 15 and 25 metres thick. There are between one and two metres of clayey, fine-grained sand within the Gault, known as ‘the Fontmell Magna Sands’.
Fontmell Magna village lies at the centre straddling the A350 main highway and is a designated Conservation Area. It has a handsome 15th Century church, a pub, a primary school, a village shop, post office and tea-room, a village hall with children’s play area and tennis court and a branch surgery of Abbey View Medical Centre. There are also delightful gardens at Springhead Trust. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book when Fontmell Brook powered three mills. The village was under the control of Shaftesbury Abbey until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. It was then owned by the Arundel family and later the Glyn family. The Glyns sold their interest in the parish in three sales, in 1919, 1926 and 1927.
In the heart of the village the Cross Tree (or Gossip Tree) has been a local meeting point for over 250 years. A new lime tree was planted in 1976 to replace the old diseased elm tree. The village pub, originally The Crown, but now The Fontmell, has been in existence since 1890 and once had its own brewery.
Bedchester was formally a Saxon hamlet belonging to Milton Abbey. It stands midway between the villages of Fontmell Magna and East Orchard. The old hamlet was centred on the cross-roads but newer buildings now extend the footprint of the old settlement.
Hartgrove was also mentioned in Saxon charters. The elongated village comprises of a cluster of farms and houses.