Semley derives its name from the River Sem which meets the River Nadder on its north eastern corner. There is richly wooded countryside to the north and the Dorset hills can be seen in the distance to the south.
If the village has an outstanding feature, it has to be its Common, parts of which have acquired names of their own over the years - Sem Hill, East End, Gutch and Miles Common. Ambrose Copse, part of Gutch Common, is ancient semi-natural woodland with a stream running across the southern edge. The woodland comprises oak, ash, hazel and alder and is home to an abundance of wildlife including the nationally rare Willow Tit.
A beautiful 5ft bronze sculpture of Lt George Armstrong on horseback was stolen from St Leonard's churchyard in April 2000 and shortly afterwards mysteriously re-appeared. It was then alarmed and chained to its plinth but thieves used cutting equipment to steal it for a second time in May 2004. A new memorial sculpted by Mark Coreth, funded by the PCC, was installed in September 2009.
The Baptist Chapel
Preaching began in the village in 1817 in the cottage of John and Elizabeth Gray after Joseph Mitchell, the Pastor of the Baptist Church in Warminster, heard of the "immoral and destitute condition of the village of neighbouring (East) Knoyle." A chapel was built in 1823 and shared with East Knoyle worshippers. Today the building is a private house with all but one of the many memorials moved to the boundary of the property.
Situated at Sem Hill, the workhouse closed in 1836 and sold into private ownership; the last inmates were transferred to the neighbouring Tisbury Union. The 1851 Census records the former poorhouse being 'let in apartments.' The Semley Rate Book for 1890 (see under Transcriptions) shows the owner at that time was Sir Michael Shaw-Stewart.
When Sedgehill School closed in 1922, 16 pupils were enrolled at Semley on lst September. Find out when your ancestors started school, and their birth date, from the Admissions Registers below.
The National school was built in 1841. Eliza Ann Ranger and Edith Read taught at the school for 48 years and 42 years respectively. The old school log book (held at WSHC), written by the Headmistress, makes fascinating reading; it records the curriculum for each year, the weather, illnesses suffered by the pupils, attendance levels, absences and admissions, visits by the Rector, Christmas activities and presents given to the pupils by the local gentry. The pages below cover January 1884 to September 1896 - your ancestors may be mentioned.
Sadness in Semley
WPC Yvonne Fletcher, who died from a gunshot wound during the Libyan Embassy siege in London 1984, was born in Semley. A specially commissioned stained glass window is dedicated to her memory in St Leonard's Church and a tree planted in the churchyard. A memorial also stands at the scene of the tragedy in Westminster.
The Baptist Chapel commissioned a Memorial Plaque dedicated to the men of Semley of all denominations who lost their lives. When the Chapel closed, the plaque was presented to St Leonard's Church where it now hangs. Please note that there are names on the War Memorial that do not appear on the Baptist Chapel plaque and vica versa (see foot of each biopic below). Servicemen's Supper 1919
A further 8 casualties have been identified whose names do not appear on the War Memorial or the Baptist Chapel plaque.
All had close ties with Semley.
World War 2
Visible reminders of the war were all around the parish - crowded troop trains at Semley Station, search lights seeking German bombers in the sky at night; soldiers billeted on the edge of the village continually manoeuvering across the Common; endless convoys on the road between East Knoyle and Shaftesbury. Khaki was the dominant colour in St Leonard's Church and the Baptist Chapel for services, and in the Kingsettle Hotel and the Benett Arms in the evenings.
In the 21st century, the parish is largely untouched by time; it remains a sprawling tranquil community with immense charm. Plough Sunday, Lammas and Rogation are still celebrated as they have been down through the ages. In the grand scheme of life, the history of Semley is fairly uneventful to all but those who once lived there, and to those who are lucky enough to live there now.
In Days Gone By
The Village Today
Beneath the rugged elm and yew tree shade
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap
Each in their narrow cell forever laid
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep
The Parish Church
"The Dowager Marchioness of Westminster has undertaken to defray the entire cost, estimated at £4,500, of a new church at Semley near Shaftesbury, the foundation stone of which she laid last week." Bucks Herald April 4, 1874
"With the exception of the chancel (built in 1866 by the Vicar, Rev. Henry Hall) the whole of the old church has been pulled down. For many years it had been in a most dilapidated state and an application was made to the Marchioness of Westminster for aid in rebuilding it. Her Ladyship, with her accustomed munificence, at once offered to rebuild the church, with the exception of the chancel, which of course required but little alteration, at her own expense; and her design has been carried out to the letter. The foundation stone of the new, or rather almost new building was laid in March 1874." Western Gazette October 22, 1875
The new St Leonard's opened in 1875 with a nave of four bays, a south chancel aisle with two entrances, north and west, and a square embattled western tower with a clock and six bells. The circular Norman font from the old church is still used today.
St Leonard's is in the Benefice of St. Bartholomew together with the churches in East Knoyle, Sedgehill, Donhead St Andrew and Donhead St Mary with Charlton. The Rector is the Rev Richard Warhurst. The church is open to visitors during daylight hours.
Semley did not merit an entry in the Domesday Book but it certainly existed at that time for it is mentioned a century earlier in King Edwy's grant to the Abbess of Wilton in the year 955. The Lords Arundell of Wardour were lords of the manor from the 16th century until the death of John Arundell in 1944.
The train station, the Dairy and the Railway Hotel, once lifelines for Semley, have all long since ceased to operate; the buildings of the latter two now host flourishing Antiques Emporiums.