IN a new occasional Looking Back series on Dorset villages, we explore the unique charms of Martinstown.

In June 1947, five new bells were installed in the tower of Martinstown Church as a memorial to those who died in the Second World War. 200 years previously, the church had a peal of four bells, three of which were sold to defray a debt and never replaced. The tenor bell remained and was recast in 1947 to ensure the correct tone rang out throughout the village. Some £877 was collected from individual donors, and a tablet bearing the names of the five Martinstown men killed in action was placed on the church wall.

Martinstown fell victim to the devastating floods of July 1955, and was completely cut off from Dorchester. The Dorset Daily Echo and Weymouth Dispatch reported that almost the entire male population of the village had banded together making sandbag barricades and digging trenches in an effort to ease the flooding and protect residential areas. The report continued: "The Winterborne Wherry has broken and the little river has overflowed, turning long sections of the road into a 20ft wide river. Fire brigade pumping operations have had to be abandoned as water flows in faster that the pumps can cope with."

Despite the fact that occupants of houses near the village inn were besieged in upper rooms and 20 homes remained flooded, it seemed residents were most concerned with the arrival of the postman: "The 7am mail delivery today arrived at 11.30!"

A dispute broke out in January 1988 over a gnarled silver birch tree standing opposite the church in the centre of Martinstown. The 30ft tree, protected by a preservation order, disrupted the plans of local farmer Mr Gerald Duke, who wanted to widen a side road leading to his property. The significance of the birch was supposedly unbeknown to Mr Duke, who commented: "I have planted 10,000 trees in the last eight years, and I didn't realise this one was so important."

Yet resident Mrs Janice Thompson protested the plans, saying: "If this road is widened, the tree will be lost - there aren't many in the village, so that will be a sad day."

Seven Martinstown members of the Women's Institute took to the skies in June 1989, flying over Dorset in a giant hot air balloon. Preparation for the trip began in a nearby field, where the WI members, armed with shovels, cleared the ground of cowpats to ensure the balloon didn't get dirty as it was inflated. It was then full steam ahead as the balloon, hired from Hot Air of Bridport, took them 4,000 feet up, drifting over Portesham and The Fleet before landing in a caravan park at Langton Herring. The adventure was organised by Mrs Sheila Parker and Mrs Margaret Hearing for their fellow members at the Martinstown WI table tennis club. After running a competition to predict where the balloon would land, the trip raised £25 for WI funds and an equal amount for the Macmillan Hospice Service.

August 1994 saw the completion of a brand new playground in Martinstown, built in just one day by 25 local dads. An Anneka Rice-style challenge had been organised by the ladies on the Playground Improvement Group, which involved eight months of fundraising before the volunteers were tasked to lay and fence the playground in a matter of hours.

A 'best builders' backside' contest took place as part of the fundraising efforts. Organiser Anne Bennett commented: "It was just a bit of fun to help the day's hard work along. Four of us had scorecards and surreptitiously gave marks for cleavage, quantity, fluffiness and spots." Yet the tables later turned: the women were drenched using a fire hydrant and a wet t-shirt contest was held, won by Mrs Christine Mooney. A total of £3,500 was eventually raised.