The word Alton is taken to mean settlement at the head of a river, the (St.) Pancras is the dedication of the church. It is a linear rural village which has won Best Kept Dorset Village and most recently, Best Kept Dorset Hamlet awards.
The population is around 140 and varies due to having several properties for rent. In 1600 there were some 120 souls, in 1801 there were 184 people in 36 houses, peaking in 1851 with 282 in 55 houses. This is walking country, the Wessex Ridgeway crossing the valley road in the north part of the village. Nearby used to be an alehouse called appropriately The Travellers' Rest, long demolished. The village's only side-street, Holcombe Mead, is built on the site of a former mansion demolished when the more modern Barcombe Farmhouse opposite, now Grange, was built in the 1880s.
The village school opened in 1846, the same time as an extension was added to the attractive thatched Terrace for the school teacher. It closed in 1933 due to a shortage of pupils and became the village hall until sold for private occupation in 1976. Today it is called Higher Barton Hall.
The centre of the village houses the attractive church, the manor house with its walled garden and the former manor farm. Opposite the church entrance road is a colourful map showing something of the village's past and present.
Alongside the red public telephone box, a thatched house with the datestone 1826 was the Post Office from 1923 to its final closure in 1976. The datestone relates to when the Masters family extended its boot and shoe-making business to incorporate a shop. Leaving the village at its south end, you pass the entrance to its former mill, probably on that site since Domesday.