The Stealing of the Knowlton Bell
Location: Knowlton Rings
Knowlton Bell is stole
Although now dominated by the ruins of a Norman Church, the ceremonial/religious significance of this mysterious and magical site extends well back into prehistoric times when three late Neolithic henge monuments formed the focus of attention.
Built to Christianise what was perceived as an important pagan sanctuary. The ruined 12th century church at Knowlton is the last surviving building of what was once a large town, which like so many other settlements fell victim to the plague never to be lived in again. In time, the town fell into ruin until finally only the church remained with one great bell left hanging in its deserted tower.
The bell was greatly admired by the neighbouring parishes. Bell ringers would often visit it to hear the bell's wonderful chime, but it was only a matter of time before some one thought up the idea to take it back to their own village and hang it in their own church tower, thus making their church the envy of all the neighbouring parishes.
The villagers of Sturminster Marshal came up with this cunning plan first and one winter's night decided to act. Under the cover of darkness they went to Knowlton and like thieves in the night removed the great bell and once loaded on to a wagon made off towards home and safety. A farmer who lived around Knowlton saw what the Sturminster Marshal men were up to and quickly raised the alarm, but when the mob reached Knowlton church, the thieves were gone.
Their searches were futile in the darkness, so quick thinking they went to a local witch for help. Her Mother had schooled her well, for with her art she could see exactly where the bell was and where it was heading for. The Sturminster Marshal men were nearly home all they had to do was cross over White Mill Bridge that spans the river Stour and they would be safe.
The witch acted without further delay. She uttered a magic spell and at once the horses pulling the wagon with the bell upon it stopped dead in their tracks and would not budge an inch further. The Sturminster Marshal men soon realised that the horses had been bewitched. Eager to get the bell to the safety of their own parish they decided to roll the bell over the bridge themselves.
They were half way across when they suddenly lost their footing and the bell rolled out of control, breaking through the stone parapet and with an almighty splash, fell into the river below. The witch smiled in her victory and told the mob where the bell could be found.
The next day a team of horses and many willing helpers went to retrieve the bell, but no matter how hard they pulled the bell would not budge and so could not be recovered from the river.
"Knowlton Bell is stole
And thrown into White Mill Hole
Where all the devils in hell
Could never pull up Knowlton bell."
Eventually they all gave up trying and left the bell where it was. And so the bell of Knowlton entered into legend.