Newlands Manor, near the village of Batcombe, north-west of Dorchester, was once occupied by one John Minterne, who had a reputation for dealing with the Devil and dabbling in the ‘black arts’. The villagers nicknamed him ‘Conjuring Minterne’.

One day, Minterne was riding near the village when he suddenly remembered he had left his magical grimoire open on his study desk.

Afraid that his spells and secrets would be revealed to his servants, he called on the Devil to help him, whereupon horse and rider made one gigantic leap homewards from Batcombe Hill.

In so doing, one of his horse’s hooves clipped a stone pinnacle on the tower of St Mary Magdalene’s church, which crashed to the ground. The Conjuror landed near the church at a place known as the ‘Pitching Plot’, where it is said the imprint of his horse’s hooves may still be seen and the ground remains forever barren of grass.

It was believed bad luck would befall the village if the pinnacle were restored, but it was reinstated in 1906, though the masons found it impossible to set it exactly upright, and it stands crooked to this day. Whether this brought bad luck to the village is not recorded!

Before Minterne died he requested that his body should lie ‘neither in the church nor out of it’; his stone sepulchre was built into the wall of the family chapel to achieve this wish.

However, the chapel was demolished during church restoration in 1864, and since then Conjuring Minterne has lain outside the church – his ivy-clad tomb makes a curious spectacle near the porch. There are also two plaques inside the church commemorating John Minternes, dated 1592 and 1716.

Thomas Hardy makes a brief reference to Conjuring Mynterne of Owlscombe (his name for Batcombe) in Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

Newlands Manor has been rebuilt several times and now looks like a modest Georgian villa. In the garden is a curiously elaborate stone archway with the date 1622 – it would be nice to think that this monument may have been erected by the conjuring lord of the manor himself.

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