PORTLAND, a parish, forming the liberty of the Isle of-PORTLAND, in the Dorchester division of the county of DORSET, 4 miles (S.) from Weymouth, containing 2254 inhabitants.
Though called an island, this parish is in reality a peninsula, connected with the main land by an extremely narrow isthmus, called Chesil Bank, a line of shingles thrown up by the sea, and extending for more than eight miles from Portland to Abbotsbury.
The parish, which contains seven villages is bounded on the north by Portland road and Small-mouth, leading into the waters called the Fleets, behind Chesil Bank, across which is a ferry to Weymouth; on the east by Portland Race, the passage of which, even in the calmest weather, is rendered dangerous by an eddy of two opposing currents; and on the south and west by the channel.
The island is about four miles and a half in length, and two miles in breadth, of an elliptical form, and nearly ten miles in circumference; the shores are steep and rugged, but the summit is smooth, and the soil produces wheat, peas, oats, and barley. At the southern extremity, called Portland Bill, are the higher and lower lighthouses, and a signal station called the “Lowes:” near the former is a remarkable cavern, from which the water rises as from a fountain. On the eastern side are Rufus and Pennsylvania castles; and on the northern side are Portland castle, and a signal station called Veru.
The whole island is one vast rock of stone, of very superior quality, much esteemed, and generally used in the most magnificent buildings; it was first brought into repute in the reign of James I., and the digging of it constitutes the principal employment of the inhabitants. The quarries are in the western part of the island, and have proved an inexhaustible source of wealth to the proprietors. The village of Easton is nearly in the centre of the island, and, with the various other hamlets, is chiefly inhabited by the families of the men employed in the quarries.
This is a royal manor, the lands being ancient demesne, and the king's steward holds two courts yearly, viz., at Lady-day and Michaelmas. The custom of gavelkind prevails in it; and the inhabitants have a curious practice of passing lands by sale, viz., by church gift: the seller and buyer go into the church, taking with them three or four persons, tenants of the island, and there make the church gift, which is very concise.
The living is a rectory, in the archdeaconry of Dorset, and diocese of Bristol, rated in the king's books at £18. 2. 1., and in the patronage of the Bishop of Winchester. The church is dedicated to St. George. There is a place of worship for Wesleyan Methodists.
In the southern part of the island are the remains of an ancient castle, and the ruins of the old church, which formerly was in the centre; and behind the Portland Arms Inn are traces of what is supposed to have been a Roman encampment.
This place gives the title of duke to the family of Bentinck.
Volume 3, page 557