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Friday 18 February 2022

Mary Kempe


Many people who know the village of Osmington, will also know long-standing resident Mary Kempe. She lived in the village for forty-seven years and her family had owned land in the village since the 1700’s. She described it as a special place, and though she had travelled the world extensively in her 91 years, she always considered Osmington to be home.

“I like this place enormously; I love this place. I think it’s beautiful country. I have a sort of sense of responsibility about the place because of my history. I want to see it remain as a strong community. I think communities are very important and this has been a very good and strong community. I’ve been very fortunate and very privileged to be associated with this place. I’m always so pleased to see youngsters in the village and a family living in a house. I like a well-balanced community”.

Mary’s ancestry paid a huge part in the formation of modern Osmington. Following the dissolution of the monasteries by the Tudors, Elizabeth I gave the manor of Osmington (including Osmington mills) to Sir John Ashley, whose wife, was the Queen’s governess.

The farm in Osmington was given to Sir John Watkins by Elizabeth I and then passed to Lord Petry and then to the Sheldons’ of Warwickshire. Daniel Sheldon in 1695 sold his lands to Awnsham Churchill, a bookseller in the reign of Queen Anne. He owned land in Osmington, Ringstead and Poxwell.

Osmington then passed through the Churchill family to William Churchill Esq of Henbury. He decided to sell the farm to Mr Hitt of Beaminster. This became known as Hitt’s farm and remained a separate entity from the rest of the manor.  Latterly, William Churchill sold the rest of the village lands to Robert Serrell Wood in 1745.

Robert Serrell Wood I was Mary Kempe’s 3 x great Grandfather. The son of Robin Wood and Elizabeth Serrell from Broadmayne, he was born at Osmington house, which at that time was a Tudor building at the bottom of Roman road in the village. It is this house that John Constable painted in his well-known view of the village.

Robert Serrell Wood I had a son Robert Serrell Wood II who after studying for his MA at Oxford, became the Vicar of Maidstone. Reverend Robert Serrell WOOD II married Caroline Bray (1789-1812) of Tavistock. Her brother Edward Atkyns Bray married Anna Elisa KEMPE, she was an accomplished novelist and friend of Wordsworth’s. Edward Atkyns Bray later became the Vicar of Tavistock.

This association between the two families had a lasting impact on the village’s fortunes. When Robert Serrell Wood II predeceased his father, there became an issue of who would inherit the village. Robert Serrell Wood I decided to leave his lands equally divided between his grandsons Robert Serrell Wood III and Major Edward Atkyns Wood, who was the deputy Lieutenant of Dorset. They basically divided the village in half with the Tudor manor house, Chapel lane houses, Roman road, and the mills going to the eldest brother Robert Serrell Wood III and the Church, and church road side with associated buildings including shortlake lands going to Edward Atkyns Wood.

Robert Serrell Wood III was a forward-thinker and an author of papers regarding electricity.  He wrote about his experiments introducing electricity into farming to improve agricultural yield. He decided to leave Osmington, entrusting his brother Edward with his lands, and moved to Pennsylvania  in the 1840’s to study at the University. He took with him, two agricultural labourers, the eldest son of the smuggler Emmanuel Charles, and a boy called William Hatcher. They were both just 15 years old.

Robert invested in land in Pennsylvania and the three men built a successful farm.  The move created social mobility for both young men who lived with the Serrell Wood family, even after Robert died. Both men married and settled in America, gaining farms in their own right.

Robert Serrell Wood III

Robert and his brother Edward also influenced the improvement in farming in Osmington by establishing the Allotment society, which encouraged local farm hands to grow vegetables to show. They were encouraged to participate by awarding prizes, this formed the foundation of the Osmington village show.

Edward remained living in the village, forging through a number of developments to modernise the community. He establishing safe water supplies for the local village residents to use from the springs located on his farm land. He was responsible for building Osmington House in the 1850’s and demolishing the old Tudor manor house that was no longer fit for purpose. He also built Osmington Cottage on the main road for the invalided sister of his second wife. He was also instrumental in the building on the main road – now the A353 – to link Weymouth to Wareham, following a dispute over land access with the Trenchard family at Poxwell.

Edward Atkyns Wood was buried in St Osmunds church in 1872 and there is a plaque in the church in his memory. Having no children of his own, he left his land in Osmington to his nephew, the son of Harriet and the Rev John Edward KEMPE, whom was a great friend.

Mary always spoke of the Reverend John Edward Kempe, her great grandfather, with great affection.

Rev John Edward KEMPE is buried in St Osmund’s church, which is unusual as he lived in London. He was rector of St James Piccadilly and Chaplain to the Queen. He knew everyone in London society and was the patriarch of the KEMPE family.  His great grandfather was Nicholas KEMPE whom in 1756 was appointment by the Treasury to be porter of His Majesty's Mint, within the Tower of London.

John Edward Kempe

Mary’s grandfather the Reverend Edward WOOD KEMPE MA (b1844 – d.1912) was the eldest son of Harriet and John Edward, he inherited half of Osmington from his uncle Major Edward Atkyns WOOD. He married Margaret Miller Challis (b1853- d.1909).

His family were very well connected in society and his brother Sir John Arrow KEMPE KCB (b1846 – d. 1928) second son of Harriet and John Edward was Private Secretary to the Treasury during Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s first premiership and Private Secretary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for 6 years in Disraeli’s second premiership. He ultimately controlled the civil service.

Another brother Sir Alfred Bray KEMPE Kt MA FRS (b1849 – d.1922) was a fellow of the Royal Society of Mathematicians and married Mary BOWMAN (d.1893), who was the daughter of Sir William BOWMAN a famous surgeon who was the first person to discover the kidneys. Alfred married again to Ida Meadows WHITE (b.1863 – d.1950).

While the Kempe family kept their ownership of land in Osmington up until the 1930’s, the other side of the village owned by Robert Serrell Wood III soon passed out of their control, including the ownership of Osmington house.

When Robert Serrell Wood III passed away at 53 years old, his American born son, Jefferson moved to Osmington to take ownership. A Colonel in the border regiment, he also died relatively young and his wife remarried; the ownership of her lands then passed to her new husband and were subsequently sold off. This led to more homes being built in the village.

The remaining lands in the Kempe family passed to Mary’s father, the Reverend Edward Chalice Kempe who was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and served with the Royal Army Chaplains' Department during the First World War.

He first travelled to Australia in 1909 and returned again after the war, where he helped establish the first Anglican religious community for men in Goulburn, New South Wales in 1921. He lived there from 1921 – 1928 until he met Ethel Lucy ATKINSON b.1901 from Queensland. He and Ethel moved to England in 1928 and married. He became a Vicar in Nottinghamshire before retiring from the clergy in 1951/2 when he and Ethel moved back to Osmington, first living at Osmington Cottage until 1956 and then at the Beehive. He died at Warmwell House in 1965.

Mary’s father gave her mother the Beehive as a wedding present, so that she had an independent income of her own. It had been condemned unfit for human habitation in about 1930, so they had to initiate a major refurbishment to completely modernised it.

They raised the roof quite substantially by about eight feet. It was previously two cottages. Beehive cottage was the front cottage and the kitchen was Homer cottage and the hall was an outhouse.

The Beehive before renovation

Between 1967 and 1982 Mary travelled extensively, firstly travelling to Australia. She then spent a further ten years living and working in Africa and became passionate about community development and social justice.

She returned to the village in 1982 and when her mother passed away in 1988, she inherited the Beehive. She has been an integral part of the local community ever since, involved in most community developments and initiatives, and as a source of great knowledge and wit. 

(A copy of this article features in the March 2022 edition of the Register magazine)