The Digbys - founders of Sandford?

The origins of Sandford go back to the middle of the 19th century when the Digby family owned the land now occupied by the village. Captain Henry Digby, who owned the Minterne Estate north of Dorchester, bought the land in 1814. He had distinguished himself as captain of one of Nelson's ships at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Captain Henry Digby

In 1814 the Sandford area was heathland, with hardly any inhabitants; Camp Cottage was one of the few houses. Why Digby bought this heathland so far from his home is a mystery; records show that he proceeded to plant it with a variety of species of trees, but the question remains, why? Being a naval man, was he thinking of timber for ships? No, the proportion of species suitable for ships'timber was very low. Some of Digby's trees survive to this day, along the main road through Sandford and Holton Heath.

Initially Digby bought in saplings but in time he established a tree nursery on the land now occupied by the Woodlands housing development and the western corner of Sandford Heath. The lines of beech trees near the A351 entrance to the heath were originally hedges between plots in the nursery. Whether this nursery supplied trees for further planting in the Sandford area, or for the Digby estate at Minterne or even if it was a commercial enterprise, is unknown. A pair of semi-detached cottages was built on the other side of the main road for the nursery workers, and Digby's Cottages, as they were known, survived until 1983 when the houses now on the site were built.

The original Digby's Cottages in 1982

Digby died in 1842, by which time he had become Admiral Sir Henry, and his son, Edward St Vincent Digby, inherited the estate.

Clay digging also began in the Digby era. This had started by 1843, in the area where a brickworks and, later, Sandford Pottery were built. This is now Forest Edge housing development. A lease for digging clay, brick earth and sand was granted in 1849, and this may have been to supply the brickworks known as Victoria Works. There is a tradition that the philanthropist Lady Burdett-Coutts established a brickworks to provide work for unemployed labourers at around this time, and named it after The Queen. The works supplied bricks for the foundations of the Crystal Palace, built for the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. Victoria Works was probably near, or on the site of, the enormous Sandford Pottery which was built by a consortium of developers between 1856 and 1860. Edward Digby sold the estate in 1857. Miles and Mary Rodgett bought it in 1863, when there were still very few houses in the area. They built housing for workers, and the church/school, as well as Sandford House for themselves. So although the Rodgetts developed Sandford as a village, the Digbys had established the economic basis, and local jobs, for the village to take off.