People have been drawn to Fontmell Magna, including the site of Springhead, since ancient times. Mesolithic worked flints from about 6500 BC – 4000 BC have been found locally. Springhead’s spring water was most probably the main attraction, as well as the supply of food from roe deer, duck and other waterfowl.
Other local archaeological finds include a Bronze Age bowl barrow on the hill at the head of Longcombe Bottom; a Bronze Age gold ornament; Iron Age defensive ditches and a hoard of Roman coins and broken Roman jewellery and fastenings.
Fontmell (Fontmell Magna) is mentioned in England’s very first charter – The Domesday Survey of 1086. In the survey it is listed as belonging to the Abbess of Shaftesbury with 15 hides of land and three mills, one of which can be presumed to be Springhead, then known as Higher Mill or Estmill, being situated at the east end of the village.
In 1665 it was a Fulling Mill operated by Henry Monkton. Fulling was the process of washing, shrinking and then drying the long lengths of woven cloth on racks or reeds. However, by the late 18th century it was owned by Samuel Bishop and run as a corn mill by Samuel and his sons, Richard and Joseph until 1832 when the mill passed to Robert Hussey.
By 1881 the corn mill was closed and the buildings were used by the Eclipse Bottle Stopping Machine Company for making Crown bottle tops. But in 1907 its use changed again when it was occupied by the Blackmore Vale Dairy Company for making cheese.
In 1911 Springhead became a private residence, first being owned by Humphrey Springfield and then Harold Squire, an artist. In 1933 Rolf and Marabel Gardiner bought the estate. As well as being a family home for the couple and their three children, it became a nucleus of a widely extending farm and forestry operation and a centre for the arts and revival of traditional cultures.
In his beliefs, Rolf Gardiner (1902-1971) was greatly inspired and influenced by his friend, author D. H. Lawrence, with whom he corresponded over a number of years. And it is thought that Lawrence’s later emphases in his writing on man’s relation to his natural environment were themselves affected by his contact with Rolf Gardiner, who was one of the pioneers of the organic farming movement and a founder member of the Soil Association. (See ‘Organic Nationalism’ from Utopia Britannica for further details.)
On the death of Rolf Gardiner, the family set up a trust in 1973 to manage and endorse him and his wife’s image of Springhead and to secure it in perpetuity for people from all walks of life to be inspired by and benefit from.