Maiden Newton is a large chalk stream village north of Dorchester. Today the village has a population of around a thousand. It straddles the River Frome and lies in the heart of the Dorset chalk lands.
Towards the end of the 18th century, some tessellated pavement from Roman times was found on the southern edge of the parish, indicating that there were early settlements in the area. However the only record of Maiden Newton the Domesday Book mentions it having two watermills, so presumably there was little else there in the 11th century. Maiden Newton was once a market town and the market cross dates from the 15th century. There are several old stone houses in the village.
Thomas Hardy’s name for the town was Chalknewton and he described the local coaching inn (now rebuilt) in his novel, “Tess of the D’Urbevilles”. The parish church of St Mary is mainly Norman and medieval but the blocked off Saxon doorway is said to be one of the oldest in the country. Damage caused by musket fire during the English Civil War can still be seen on the walls of the church.
Maiden Newton is on the A356 west of Dorchester. Its railway station is on the Heart of Wessex Line. There used to be a branch line to Bridport and the old track is now a nature walk through the water meadows. This trail lies within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is also a Site of Nature Conservation Interest and part of the Maiden Newton Conservation Area. Many varieties of down land flowers, butterflies and birds such as dippers and kingfishers are found in this habitat. Otters may also be spotted on the river. A moth new to England, the Blairs Wainscot, was discovered here in 1997.
The countryside between Maiden Newton, Beaminster and Bridport has been less intensively farmed than other sections of the Wessex Vales. Consequently the small fields, hedges, swamps and areas of ancient woodland encourage the survival of many unusual species of wildlife.
Golf and fly fishing are among the leisure pursuits found in this area. Maiden Newton also offers plenty of cottage accommodation and several pubs and restaurants. It is a quiet and pleasant centre from which to explore much of Dorset and Hardy’s Wessex.