The legend of the quiet woman | Then and Now


In this month’s Then and Now, Roger Guttridge visits Halstock to share the macabre story of how a pious Dorset girl came to lose her head

Halstock’s Quiet Woman pub in 1910. Picture from Lost Dorset: The Villages and Countryside, by David Burnett, from the Barry Cuff collection

Her remains are buried in Sherborne Abbey but St Juthware really belongs to the West Dorset village of Halstock, where she’s euphemistically remembered as The Quiet Woman.
She has a guest house, a former village pub and a former rectory named after her, while a chapel in St Mary’s Church is dedicated to her memory. There’s even a street called St Juthware Close.
But the reason for her fame and quietude is all too macabre.

It was just cheese
Juthware (sometimes written as Juthwara or the modernised Judith) was born in the late sixth century AD, when Halstock apparently lay on a route regularly trodden by Christian pilgrims.
The Catholic Readings website describes her as a ‘British virgin from Dorset’ and a ‘very religious girl’, who prayed and fasted often and gave alms to the poor.
But for some reason she also fell out of favour with her stepmother.
The story goes that after her father’s death, the heartbroken Juthware complained of chest pains. Her jealous stepmother suggested that applying two soft cheeses to her breasts would alleviate the symptoms.
Said stepmother then told her own son, Bana, that his pious half-sister had fallen pregnant, possibly to a passing pilgrim that she had befriended.
It wasn’t true, but the short-tempered Bana interpreted the soft cheese on Juthware’s undergarments as evidence of breast milk.
He flew into a rage and cut off his sister’s head with a sword.

Quiet Woman House B&B today

The incident happened at a spot to the north of Halstock that is still known as Judith Field.
According to the legend, a spring instantly appeared at the spot and Juthware’s decapitated body picked up her head, walked to the Saxon church and placed it on the altar.

The Sherborne Missal
In the reign of the Saxon King Ethelred the Unready (978-1016), her remains were moved to Sherborne Abbey, where she is depicted on the great east window as well as in the Sherborne Missal (see image above).
Until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII, St Juthware’s tomb was a place of pilgrimage where miracles are said to have occurred.
According to Catholic Readings, St Juthware’s feast day is 1st July but others suggest it’s 13th July, 18th November and 23rd December. Take your pick!
The saint is also remembered in Cornwall and Brittany. Her sisters are said to have fled to Cornwall in fear of their brother. One of them was also canonised and is known as St Sidwell.
In Brittany, tradition has it that Bana repented, became a monk and founded the monastery of Gerber (later renamed Le Relecq).

St Juthware’s beheading and subsequent walk to the altar as depicted in the Sherborne Missal, which the British Library has digitised.

Quiet Woman House
The Halstock guest house known as Quiet Woman House (image opposite) was formerly a pub called The Quiet Woman, which closed in the 1990s.
The building dates from about 1700 and was originally single-storey with a thatched roof. An upper storey was later added and thatch gave way to slate.
Thomas Hardy fans will recall The Quiet Woman pub in The Return of the Native.
Hardy himself said his Quiet Woman was an amalgamation of the former Duck Inn at Norris Mill, Puddletown, the old Red Lion at Winfrith and the sign from an inn ‘some miles to the north-west of the present scene’ – Halstock certainly fits that geographical description.
The Silent Woman at Coldharbour, near Wareham, on the other hand, was known as the Angel Inn until 1930, 50 years after the publication of Hardy’s novel.
The postcard (image opposite top), bearing the 1910 picture of The Quiet Woman was written by a kinder ‘Big Bruvver’ to his sister, ‘Wippet’, in Blackheath, south-east London.
He told her: ‘This will give you some idea of the type of village I have to hunt out – miles from anywhere.
‘You can’t see the sign very well but her gory head is tucked under her arm – a good example of the brand of wit I have to put up with down here.’

(see full postcard message below)

1910 postcard from ‘Big Bruvver’ to ‘Wippet’


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