A Topographical Dictionary of England, Samuel Lewis, London 1831


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CERNE, or CERNE-ABBAS, a market-town and parish in the hundred of CERNE, TOTCOMBE, and MODBURY, Cerne sub-division of the county of DORSET, 8 miles (N.N.W.) from Dorchester, and 120 (S.W. by W.) from London, containing 1060 inhabitants.

The name of this place is derived from its situation on the river Cerne, and its adjunct from its ancient abbey. Eadwald, brother of King Edward the Martyr, became a hermit at this place, and in the reign of Edgar, Ailmer, Earl of Cornwall, began to erect a noble abbey, and completed it in 987, for Benedictine monks, dedicating it to St. Mary, St. Peter, and St. Benedict; it was plundered, or as some say, destroyed by King Canute, but was soon restored, and flourished till the dissolution, when its revenue was estimated at 623. 13. 2.: the remains consist principally of the gate-house, a stately square embattled tower of three stages, having two fine oriel windows above the arch, and in front various shields of armorial bearings ; also a large stone barn, and a moat, with a double intrenchment, that surrounded it. In 1644, the Irish troops in the service of Charles I. burnt several houses in the town; and in the following year, Cromwell, having been joined by Colonel Holberne and the inhabitants, marched to oppose the king's forces that had advanced within three miles of the town, and who retired on finding that he had been farther reinforced with the regiments of colonels Norton and Coke. The town is pleasantly situated in a valley surrounded by lofty hills, and consists of four or five streets, not lighted, and only partially paved; the houses are in general ancient, and possess little architectural bcauty; the inhabitants are amply supplied with water from a spring, called St. Augustine's well, which, as the legend asserts, burst out to provide St. Augustine with water, for baptizing his Christian converts. Considerable improvement is taking place, including the erection of some handsome modern buildings, and the making of a new road through the town from Dorchester to Sherborne. There are manufactories for dowlas, coarse linen, gloves, and parchment; the tanning trade is carried on to a considerable extent, and many women and children are employed in winding silk. The market, granted in the 15th year of the reign of King John, is on Wednesday: the fairs are on Whit Monday, April 28th, and October 2nd, for cattle. The petty sessions for the Cerne sub-division of the county are held here.

The living is a discharged vicarage, in the archdeaconry of Dorset, and diocese of Bristol, rated in the king's books at 8. 16., and endowed with 400 royal bounty, and 600 parliamentary grant. Lord Rivers was patron in 1812. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, and supposed to have been erected on the site of the ancient hermitage, by one of the abbots of the monastery, in the fifteenth century, is a fine spacious structure in the later style of English architecture, with a square embattled tower ornamented with octagonal turrets at the angles: it has recently received an addition of three hundred free sittings, the Incorporated Society for the enlargement of churches and chapels having granted 150 for that purpose. There is a place of worship for Independents. Sir Robert Miller and Dame Margaret, gave a rent-charge of 10 per annum, for apprenticing poor children.

On the southern declivity of a steep chalk hill, called Trendle Hill, to the north of the town, a gigantic figure has been traced, representing a man holding a knotted club in his right hand, and extending his left arm; it is one hundred and eighty feet high, and well executed; the outlines are two feet broad, and two feet deep; between the legs is an illegible inscription, and above, the date 748: it is by some antiquaries referred to the Saxon times, and supposed to represent one of their deities; by others it is thought to be a memorial of Cenric, son of Cuthred, King of the West Saxons, who was slain in battle; and according to vulgar tradition, it was cut to commemorate the destruction of a giant who ravaged that part of the country, and was killed by the peasants: the figure is occasionally repaired by the inhabitants of the town.

Volume 1, page 366

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