The prehistory of South West Dorset is poorly understood. There is evidence of a local Bronze Age population. Some of them (probably their leaders) were buried in mounds on top of Golden Cap. Their settlements would have been in the valleys – perhaps here in Stanton St. Gabriel or in Chideock. At that time the landscape was probably dominated by oak wildwoods and the sea lay perhaps a mile further away than it does now.
Charcoal was found in the burial bounds – it was used to smelt tin and copper to make bronze.
By this time some of the wildwood had been cleared (the wood was burnt for charcoal and the cleared land became available for growing other crops or for pasture).
|Capricorn: emblem of Legio II Augusta|
The route of the Roman Road from Eastern England to Exeter this side of Bridport is not known. It probably went different ways at different times. But Roman roads probably passed through Chideock, over Stonebarrow and past Hogchester Farm near Charmouth. Less than a mile away, the name Coldharbour suggests a Roman settlement, as do clumps of sweet chestnut trees on Stonebarrow. Roman soldiers must have visited Stanton, clattering down the road from Morcombelake or out of Chideock, along Pettycrate Lane, round Langdon Hill and down the deep cut track behind the chapel. But West Dorset “remained a backwater as far as the civilising influence of Rome was concerned.”
Sometime in the 20 years after the Norman Conquest, William I gave Stanton to his brother, the Count of Mortain. Domesday Book records a manor here, 12 farms and at least 400 acres of arable land.
There is the first written record of the chapel at this time and evidence that the population was high and the village flourishing. There were now around 30 farms in the area.
The Black Death heralded a time of falling population and increasing poverty in many places. With its access to the sea and fish, Stanton may have been spared some of the hunger experienced elsewhere.
Open fields in neighbouring Chideock were enclosed by the lords of the manor, leading to the loss of common rights and hardship for many ordinary people. The same probably happened at Stanton.
The start of the Civil War began a time of new uncertainty in the area, which had already suffered because it was a bastion of Roman Catholicism at a time when that faith was forbidden. Land changed hands frequently; buildings were destroyed in the fighting or razed to the ground as a punishment and a warning to others. By 1664 there were only 15 farms in the area.
The start of more enclosures and the beginning of the disappearance of many of the orchards in the area.
Around this time, the chapel fell into disrepair and most of the remaining population moved away, leaving only the farmsteads and continuing smuggling.