BEAMINSTER, a market town and parish in the hundred of BEAMINSTER-FORUM and REDHONE, Bridport division of the county of DORSET, 17½ miles (W.N.W.) from Dorchester, and 137¼ (W.S.W.) from London, containing 2806 inhabitants.
During the civil war in the reign of Charles I., Prince Maurice, commanding a party of royalists engaged in besieging Lyme, took up his quarters in this town, which, a few days after, was nearly reduced to ashes, by a fire, stated by some historians, to have been occasioned by accident; others assert that it was the result of a quarrel between the French and Cornish men, in the service of the king, who set fire to it in five different places. It was rebuilt by means of a parliamentary grant of £2000, but was again nearly destroyed by a fire which occurred in 1684: in 1781, it experienced a similar calamity, but the greater part of the buildings having been insured, it soon recovered its former prosperity.
The town is pleasantly situated on the river Brit, which is formed by the union of several small springs that rise in the immediate vicinity: the houses are, in general, modern and well built, and the inhabitants are amply supplied with water. The manufacture of woolen cloth, which formerly flourished here, is at present on the decline, and that of sail-cloth is now the principal source of employment: there is also a pottery for the coarser kinds of earthenware. The market is on Thursday; and there is a fair, September 19th, for cattle.
Constables and other officers are appointed at the court leet of the lord of the manor. The quarter sessions for the county, now held at Bridport, were formerly held here; and, in 1638, an order of session was issued for building a house of correction at the expense of the division. The town hall is a neat and commodious edifice, in which the public business is transacted, and assemblies are occasionally held.
This parish contains the manors of Beaminster Prima, and Beaminster Sceunda, forming two prebends in the Cathedral Church of Salisbury; the former is rated in the king's books at £20. 2. 6., and the latter at £22. 5. 7½. The living is a living is a vicarage, annexed to that of Netherbury, and in the peculiar jurisdiction of the Dean of Salisbury. The church, founded in honour of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, is a stately edifice in the later style of English architecture, with a fine tower, 100 feet high, and richly ornamented with sculptured designs of the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and other subjects of scriptural history. There is a place of worship for Independents. The free school was founded in 1684, by Mrs. Frances Tucker, who endowed it with £20 per annum for the master, leaving also £30 per annum for apprenticing boys, one or two of whom she directed should be put to the sea service. The endowment now produces £150 per annum; the master's salary has been advanced to £40, and the present number of scholars is 100, who are instructed on Dr. Bell's system: it is under the direction of trustees, each of whom, on his appointment, receives £10. The Rev. Samuel Hood, father of Lords Hood and Bridport, was master of this school in 1715, and subsequently a prebendary in the cathedral church of Wells. Almshouses for six aged persons were founded in 1630, by Sir John Strode, of Parnham, Knt. Gilbert Adams, of Beaminster, Esq. in 1626, gave £200 to the poor of the parish, directing the produce to be applied to their use at the discretion of his executors; and the Rev. William Hillary, in 1712, bequeathed the reversion, after 99 years, of land in the parish of Corscombe, worth £30 per annum, for the benefit of twelve distressed families in the parish.
Dr. Thomas Spratt, Bishop of Rochester, and the Rev. Thomas Russel, Fellow of New College, Oxford, who distinguished himself by his defense of Warton's History of English Poetry, were natives of this town.
Volume 1, page 108