SHERBORNE, a market town and parish in the hundred of SHERBORNE, Sherborne division of the county of DORSET, 18 miles (N. by W.) from Dorchester, and 120 (W.S.W.) from London, containing 3622 inhabitants.
This place, though of remote antiquity, does not appear to have emerged from comparative insignificance until the Saxon era: the name, anciently written Schiraburn, Schireburn, and Scyreburn, and of which its present appellation is a corruption, is derived from the Saxon words Scire clear, and Burn a spring, or fountain, and was usually written in old Latin records Fons clarus. In 670, a house was founded here for Secular canons, by Cenwalh, King of the West Saxons, and others; and in the year 704, Sherborne was made the head of an episcopal see, which included the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Wilts, Devon, and Cornwall, by Ina, of which his kinsman, Aldhelm, was the first bishop.
About 998, the Secular canons were displaced, and a society of Benedictines, established under license from Ethelred, by Wlffin, bishop of this see, who also rebuilt the monastery, and dedicated it to St. Mary, which institution became richly endowed, and at the dissolution its revenue was valued at £682. 14. 7.: the only remains of the convent are the cloister, the abbey barn, and the ancient refectory, now used as a silk manufactory.
It is evident that a castle was built here at a very early period, but the founder, and the time of its erection and demolition, are unknown. Previously to the time of Henry I., however, another had succeeded it, which was built by Roger, the third Bishop of Salisbury, and became an episcopal palace: it was an octagonal structure, situated on a hill eastward of the town, and fortified by a moat and several drawbridges: having been seized by Stephen, it remained in the possession of the crown for some time, but about 1350 was recovered by Bishop Wyvil, and reverted to the bishoprick.
During the civil war in the reign of Charles, it was garrisoned in the royal interest, and although gallantly defended and one of the last that yielded, it was eventually taken by the parliamentary forces under the command of Fairfax, and was demolished in 1645. Considerable portions of the ruins are remaining: the present mansion, called Sherborne castle, the seat of the Earl of Digby, was built by Sir Walter Raleigh. About 1103 Sherborne is stated to have been burnt by a detachment of the Danish invaders, and the entire destruction of the town and its ecclesiastical buildings, although doubtful, is a matter of great probability. The see continued for nearly three centuries, when it was removed first to Wilton, afterwards to Old Sarum, and finally to New Sarum, or Salisbury; this event contributed much to depress the prosperity of Sherborne, and for a long period afterwards it was in comparative obscurity. The town is situated principally on the side of a hill near the border of the White Hart Forest, and the vale of Blackmore, and is divided by a small stream into two parts, of which one is called Castle Town; it is well paved by a rate on the inhabitants, lighted by subscription, and amply supplied with excellent water.
The woollen trade, which formerly flourished, was succeeded by the making of buttons, haberdashery, and lace: in 1740 the first silk-mill was erected, and the various branches of this manufacture, especially the making of silk twist and buttons, afford employment to a great number of the working class. Markets are held on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday; and fairs on May 22nd, July 18th and 26th, and the first Monday after the 10th of October. The town is within the jurisdiction of the county magistrates: and formerly a court for the recovery of debts under 40s. was held by the steward of the hundred, but has been for some years discontinued.
The living is a vicarage, in the peculiar jurisdiction of the Dean of Salisbury, rated in the king's books at £20. 4. 7., and in the patronage of the Crown. The church, anciently the cathedral of the bishops of Sherborne, and originally erected by Bishop Aldhelm, stands south of the town, and is dedicated to St. Mary: it was partially destroyed by fire in the reign of Henry VI., and having been rebuilt by the abbots during the three succeeding reigns, it consequently exhibits specimens of different styles of architecture: the semicircular arches and zigzag mouldings in the porch, transept, west end, and north side of the building, are Norman, while the upper part of the nave, the tower, east end, aisles, and some of the chapels, are in the later style of English architecture: the roof is supported by groins springing from the aisles, and at the intersection of the tracery is a variety of arms and emblematical devices. It is a cruciform structure of freestone, with a tower rising from the intersection, one hundred and fifty-four feet high, and containing six bells, the largest of which, weighing more than three tons, was the gift of Cardinal Wolsey, and is considered the largest bell ever rung in a peal.
The Saxon kings, Ethelbald and Ethelbert, and many Saxon nobles, bishops and abbots, have been interred here: the church contains some very ancient monuments: it has been enlarged with one hundred free sitings, towards which the Incorporated Society for the building and enlargement of churches and chapels contributed £50. There are places of worship for the Society of Friends, Independents, and Wesleyan Methodists.
The free grammar school was founded by Edward VI., who endowed it with property belonging to the several chantries in the churches of Gillingham, Lychett-Matravers, and Marnhull, in the county of Dorset; and of Martock, in the county of Somerset; producing an income of £1200 per annum, and placed it under the government of twenty of the inhabitants, whom he incorporated, and appointed the Bishop of Bristol special visitor: the masters are required to be clergymen and graduates in one of the Universities. There are four exhibitions of £60 per annum each to either of the Universities, tenable for four years by boys on the foundation only, of whom the present number is fifty: the school is in high repute, and, in addition to the scholars on the foundation, there are sixty private boarders, under the care of the masters.
One of the principal benefactors to this town was Mr. Benjamin Vowell, who by will gave the dividends of £1000 three per cent. consols., to be annually distributed in clothing, besides two sums of £300, and one of £400, to various benefit societies: he was also a liberal contributor to the funds of the British and Foreign Bible Society, and the Church and London Missionary Societies.
The Bluecoat school was founded, in 1640, by Richard Foster, who gave land for the instruction of ten boys and ten girls, directing £5 per annum from the surplus rents to be applied towards maintaining one of the boys at the University, if required.
An charity school for boys was founded, in 1717, by John Woodman, who gave £250 to the vicar and churchwardens, for the instruction of poor boys, which sum was vested in land for that purpose. In 1743, William, Lord Digby, gave land for teaching and clothing thirteen poor girls. The church-wardens and overseers have the right of sending three boys to Christchurch Hospital, in London, for whose support Giles Russel gave lands, in 1670. A National school, in which one hundred and twenty boys are taught; and a Lancasterian school, in which sixty boys and girls receive instruction, are supported by subscription.
The almshouse, originally an hospital of the order of St. Augustine, was, by license from Henry VI., refounded and dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, for twenty brethren, twelve poor men, four poor women, and a chaplain; and was governed by a master and trustees: it now contains sixteen men and eight women, under the superintendence of a master and nineteen brethren, elected from among the inhabitants of the town; a chaplain officiates daily. There is a very considerable fund for the relief of the poor, arising from land and houses given for that purpose, in 1448, by Robert Neville, Bishop of Sarum, and others; also a small sum for apprenticing poor children, given by Agnes Broughton, in 1633, under the management of the trustees of the almshouse.
Volume 4, page 55