A simple farmhouse
The current manor house probably began life as a simple farmhouse in the 16th century. Henry Dolling of Worth bought the manor in 1560, and probably rebuilt the earlier medieval house. Various generations of Dollings also left their mark - a fine lead hopper head on the porch for example, dated 1642, records John and Anne Dolling’s time here.
The manor passed by marriage to the Pyke family in 1673, and for the next hundred years or so, Dunshay was let to tenant farmers. One notable resident was Benjamin Jesty, who moved here in 1797. Twenty years earlier, Jesty had inoculated his wife and children against small pox with injections of cow pox, possibly the first proof of vaccination, although Farmer Jesty did not publish his discovery, and posterity has credited physician and scientist Edward Jenner with the breakthrough instead. The cluster of outbuildings that surround the house – cider house, piggery, barn, dairy, stable block – evoke these farming years, and one of the windows in the house is still marked ‘Cheese Room’ for the avoidance of window tax.
Arts and Crafts restoration and refurbishment
In 1793, the manor was bought by the Calcrafts, local landowners whose descendants still hold a nearby estate. Guy Marston, who counted the poet Rupert Brooke and occultist Aleister Crowley among his friends, inherited the Calcraft estate in 1901. By now, Dunshay had fallen into considerable dilapidation and the north wing had collapsed. Marston brought in local architect Philip Sturdy to restore the manor house. The North wing was rebuilt and the porch was raised in height as Sturdy sought to recover the pleasing Jacobean symmetry of the front elevation. He also refurbished the interiors in a warm Arts and Crafts style. Sturdy’s adaptation chiefly gives Dunshay its character today, interweaving sensitively with its earlier fabric and form.
Dunshay, the creative space
After the Great War, a local farmer bought the house and its land. Then in 1923, the house was sold to the artist George Spencer Watson, RA, and moved into its most interesting and evocative period of occupation. The Spencer Watsons had holidayed in Studland and Swanage for several years, the area made famous by the Bloomsbury set. George was an eminent painter, whose works survive today at Tate Britain and elsewhere, still much sought after. In his studio in the dairy at Dunshay he painted lovely intimate paintings of family life, blowy informal scenes in the Purbeck landscape, his daughter Mary’s childhood spend roaming free in Purbeck fields and across its cliffs on her pony.
George’s wife Hilda was a remarkable creative force in her own right, a dancer and mime artist in an inimical style that evoked both Isadora Duncan and the contemporary Ballet Russes. She was a client and friend of the psychoanalyst, Carl Jung who, with many other luminaries of the day, came to stay at Dunshay, signing its visitor book.
Mary inherited both her parents’ artistic talents. As a teenager, she danced with Hilda at her mother’s studio theatres in London, Studland and Swanage’s Mowlem Institute. Hilda also created a theatre barn in the stable at Dunshay, where the fittings still survive, for more local shows.
Mary also became fascinated with Purbeck stone from an early age, making friends with the quarrymen at the small local quarries where quarrymen were also masons, cutting and dressing the Purbeck stone by hand with traditional tools. One gave the little girl a chisel to have a go, and as a young woman, Mary went on to study sculpture in London and Paris. She soon achieved renown and her career included many commissions for public sculpture in the interwar years. Her works are timeless, fusing the modernity of her time with an archaism inspired by Ancient Greece. And always, Mary came back to her beloved Dunshay. She was much loved by all who lived with her on Dunshay’s little estate, which she shared generously and openly with locals, deepening the roots of its artistic life.
Mary never married, and in 2002 asked if Landmark would take on Dunshay after her death. The wonderful paintings and sculptures that filled the place at Mary’s death in 2006 have been dispersed by her other legatees, but George’s paintings of those days provide the spirit we seek to evoke, of the later days of the Arts & Crafts movement as it blossomed into the twentieth century. Dunshay’s reincarnation as a Landmark is a celebration of the life and works of this remarkable family, and a continuation of their open hearted hospitality.