The Doomsday Book (AD 1086) records the presence at “Retpole” of a priest instituted and under the authority of the great Benedictine monastery of Cerne Abbas, Dorset.
The area in early times called Melcombe Regis extended from the harbourside northward to the present hamlet of Nottington, which is about one mile North of Radipole Church, and the whole of this area constituted the one Parish.
The Church building was originally dedicated to St. Mary. It was renamed St Ann in the 19th century. A small mediaeval church in the growing area of the town around the North harbourside was later dedicated to St. Mary (daughter of St. Ann).
The siting of the Church today is somewhat remote from the village centre. Aerial photographs have revealed the early settlement of levelled dwelling sites in the area immediately to the West of the church, with a frontage to the tidal estuary which used to extend to the foot of the hill below the Church. This was, sadly, cut off from the sea in 1921. Recent road widening in the area revealed the pottery kiln used by the early inhabitants of this area.
The church was built with the usual square tower but this was replaced, it is thought, in the late 16th century. The gargoyles from the old tower were used decoratively on the present bell tower.
During repairs to the West gable the 14th century decorative grave stone, now on the west seat of the porch, was found in use as a coping stone.
Approaching the Church
On the right hand side of the entrance path can be seen the ancient stone Altar. To the left are 17th and 18th century grave stones.
Above the porch door externally in the gable are the initials of William Mowlem, Churchwarden during the rebuilding of the porch in 1733.
The entrance porch contains a memorial to a young victim of the sinking of the ship the “Earl of Abergavenny” in 1805. Other burials from the same disaster are to be found on the north side of the churchyard.
This porch may well be an adaptation. The original entrance was on the north side of the church directly accessible from the earlier village settlement. It is possible that the porch area was in fact the storage provision for the vestments of the early church.
Entering the Church
Above the present entrance, internally, from the nave, can be seen a higher, single centred arch of early date, above the Victorian pointed arch.
The original north doorway can be seen in the nave, the low height being accounted for by the ancient floor being some two feet below the existing level. The outer face of the doorway can be seen from the inside of the vestry which was rebuilt in 1960. The vestry outer doorway stonework is from a 17th century house on Weymouth harbourside which was demolished in 1959.
Ancient roof trusses over the nave suggest 15th – 16th century dates. The gallery is Victorian and replaced an earlier “musicians” gallery. Below the gallery front and carved in stone are the tonsured heads, carvings representing two priests of the 14th century who are interred in the side chapels.
The Black Death arrived in the “Port of Melcombe” in 1348 and it is noted from the list of Rectors that the living became vacant three times shortly after.
The font is believed to be 13th century. Originally it was square in shape, as can be seen from the positioning of the two front supporting columns. It was “put out” into the churchyard during a vigorous and thoughtless Victorian “updating” of 1850 when the box pews and “three decker” pulpit, reading desk and clerk’s desk were disposed of. The font was recovered in recent restorations.
The two chapels (transepts) are burial places of priests. The chapels date from the 14th – 15th centuries. Each chapel retains a piscina, a washing place for the vessels of the Mass.
The north chapel has fine traceried windows, with a barrel vaulted plaster ceiling of later date covering the remains of the original ceiling.
The three manual organ by Messrs. Bishop & Son London, 1880 was built for the Music Master of the old Weymouth College and adorned his fine house at Greenhill, Weymouth and later a Methodist Chapel at Portland.
The South Chapel has been much altered, but the piscina remains. The east window behind the old Altar position has been blocked.
Each chapel was screened from the Nave in pre-reformation days.
The Chancel arch once contained a Screen and Crucifix (Rood Screen). The blocked fixing holes can still be clearly seen.
The Chancel has a Priest’s Door on the south side, being a short distance from the Priest’s house. This house, immediately to the east, was remodelled in the 16th century by Richard Watkins, whose initials are displayed on the entrance to this fine late Tudor adaptation of an earlier monastic building.
The table in the sanctuary is of the 17th century. The balusters of the communion rail come from a demolished late Tudor house on Weymouth harbourside. Below the communion rail step can be seen a paving stone incised with a stepped cross. This had its origin covering the grave of a priest in the North Chapel.
The School Room opposite the Church was built in the 1840’s (and recently extended) on the site of the large tithe barn. It is now used for Parish purposes and private hire.