A Topographical Dictionary of England, Samuel Lewis, London 1831


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WAREHAM, a borough and market town, having separate jurisdiction, though locally in the hundred of Winfrith, Blandford(South) division of the county of DORSET, 17 miles (E. by S.) from Dorchester, and 119 (S.W. by W.) from London, containing, with the out portion of the parish of Lady St. Mary, and the liberty of Stowborough, 1931 inhabitants.

This town has been of great note in history; it existed in the time of the Britons, and was called Durngneis; by the Saxons it was named Vepham and Thornsœta, and in ancient records it is designated Warham and Varama, a compound of Var-Ham, “a habitation on a fishing shore.” It has been supposed to occupy the site of the Morionium, or Moriconium, of Ravennas, but this is doubtful. That it was known to the Romans is demonstrated by the existence of a Roman way proceeding to Dorchester, and by the discovery of coins in the vicinity.

In the Saxon times it was of some importance, and the burial-place of Brithric, the West Saxon king, about the year 800. The Danes soon afterwards massacred the inhabitants, and reduced the town to ruins; but it had so recovered in the time of Athelstan, that he established two mints in it. In 978, the body of Edward the Martyr, after his assassination at Corfe-Castle, was temporarily interred here, and was removed by St. Dunstan, with much ceremony, to Shaftesbury. After the lapse of twenty years more, the town was again ravaged by the Danes, who, making the Isle of Wight their general place of rendezvous, proceeded thence to the mouth of the river Frome, and kept Wareham in a state of continual alarm.

In 1138, the castle and town were seized for the Empress Maud, by Robert de Lincoln, but retaken and burnt by Stephen. On the intended expedition of John against France, in 1205, that monarch landed here, and three years afterwards garrisoned the town, which, in 1213, became the scene of the cruel execution of Peter of Pomfret, a religious enthusiast, and his son, because the former had foretold the deposition of that monarch. During the parliamentary war, Wareham was alternately possessed by the king and the parliament, but was finally given up to the former, on the surrender of Corfe Castle. In 1762, two-thirds of it were destroyed by fire; but, by a liberal subscription throughout the country, and an act procured for its restoration, it was, within two years, completely rebuilt.

The town is pleasantly situated on an eminence between the mouths of the Frome and the Piddle, which commands a prospect of Poole harbour, and in form resembles a parallelogram, occupying an area of about one hundred acres, enclosed, except on the south, by a high wall, or rampart, of earth; the intervening space between the wall and the town is laid out in large garden grounds, divided into regular squares by lanes, which still exhibit traces of some ancient buildings.

The four principal streets, as well as the minor streets and lancs, diverge at right angles, and the former are open and spacious, corresponding with the cardinal points of the compass. The south and north entrances are formed by bridges over the Frome and the Piddle; the former is a handsome modern stone structure of five arches, erected in 1775, in lieu of an old bridge, which had stood from the time of William Rufus; the latter has three arches: from both bridges are raised stone causeways, that from the south leading to Stowborough, and being eight hundred paces in length; the other to North Port, on the London road.

Wareham was formerly a noted port, and, in the time of Edward III., furnished three ships and fifty-nine men for the siege of Calais; but the retreat of the sea from its harbour has long destroyed its importance, and withdrawn its commercial traffic; although, at very high tides, the water flows up nearly five miles to Holm bridge: the quay is on the south side of the town.

The river Frome was anciently a celebrated salmon fishery, of which the profits formed part of the dowry granted by Henry VII. to his queen; and so abundant and cheap was this fish, that the curious stipulation inserted in the indentures of apprentices, that they should not be compelled to eat of it more than thrice a week, prevailed here, as in various other places: the fishery has long since declined, very few being now caught. The manufacture of shirt buttons and straw-plat, and the knitting of stockings, employ a great number of females; pipe-clay is obtained in large quantities from pits in the neighbourhood, and exported, in the proportion of considerably more than ten thousand tons annually, from Poole, for the Staffordshire potteries, also to London, Liverpool, Hull, and Glasgow, for the manufacture of tobacco pipes: coal, manufactured goods, and grocery, are imported. The gardens within the town produce a sufficient quantity of vegetables for the supply of its own market, and also for those of Poole and Portsmouth. The market is on Saturday; and fairs are held on Midsummer-day, April 17th, and September 11th, for cattle, cheese, and hogs: the toll of the market and fairs belongs to the mayor: of late years six cattle markets have been held during the spring, and are well attended.

This is a borough by prescription, and the inhabitants have had their privileges confirmed by several charters: the last, under which the town is now governed, was granted by Queen Anne, in 1703. The municipal body consists of a mayor, and six capital and twelve assistant burgesses, with a recorder, town clerk, and inferior officers. The mayor, who is a justice of the peace and coroner for the town and the isles of Purbeck and Brownsea, and capital burgesses, hold quarter sessions of the peace, having exclusive jurisdiction: a court of record is held on the first Monday in every month, for the recovery of debts under £40. A court baron is held annually by the lord of the manor. The gift of the freedom of the borough is vested in the corporation.

This town has returned members to parliament from the time of Edward I.: the elective franchise is in the mayor, magistrates, and inhabitants paying scot and lot, and in the freeholders of lands and tenements who have been, bonû fide, in the occupancy or receipt of the rents and profits thereof for the space of one whole year next before the election; except the same came to such freeholders by descent, devise, marriage settlement, or appointment to some benefice in the church: the number of voters paying scot and lot are about one hundred and sixty-five, but the whole number of electors is above seven hundred: the mayor is the returning officer.

Wareham comprises the parishes of the Holy Trinity, St. Martin Within and Without, and Lady St. Mary Within and Without, in the archdeaconry of Dorset, and diocese of Bristol. The living of Holy Trinity parish is a rectory, to which those of St. Martin's and St. Mary's were united in 1678, rated in the king's books at £7. 5. 5., and in the patronage of John Calcraft, Esq.; the church is disused. The living of St. Martin's is rated in the king's books at £8. 2. 6.: this church also is disused. The living of St. Mary's is a rectory not in charge: the church is a spacious and ancient structure, containing early and decorated portions: it is believed to have been conventual, and attached to a priory founded here before 876, when the monastery was destroyed by the Danes, and to have been rebuilt about the period of the Conquest: over a small north door is a rude piece of sculpture, representing the Crucifixion, surmounted by a Saxon arch. In a small south chapel, of which the ceiling is richly groined, are the monuments of two warriors recumbent, and in complete mail: in this chapel the remains of Mr. Hutchins, rector of this place, and author of the “History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset,” are deposited; here also are several mural monuments to the members of the Calcraft family. There were formerly two other parochial churches, St. Peter's and St. Michael's. There are places of worship for Independents, Wesleyan Methodists, and Unitarians: that for the Independents was erected in 1670, and its first minister was one of the confessors of Bartholomew-day; they have recently erected a British free school, reading room, and library, in which lectures are given during the winter, which is supported by voluntary contributions.

The free school, situated in the parish of Lady St. Mary, was founded by George Pitt, of Stratfieldsaye, Esq., with a salary of £25 per annum for a schoolmaster; the endowment was further augmented by a bequest from Henry Harbin, in 1703, who left £200 for the purchase of land, to instruct the children of the poor. An almshouse, opposite St. Peter's church, was founded by John Streche, of Exeter, Esq., for six aged men and five women; it was rebuilt, in 1741, by Henry Drax and John Pitt, Esqrs., and valued in the chantry roll at £11. 13. 10.

The antiquities of Wareham comprise the walls built by the Danes in the time of Alfred: the west wall is one thousand eight hundred feet in length, the north one thousand nine hundred and sixty, the east one thousand six hundred, and the south one thousand seven hundred, varying as to height in different places: near Bloody bank, the place of execution, in 1684, of Mr. Baxter, Holman, and others, for their attachment to the Duke of Monmouth, it is thirty feet perpendicular. Of the castle, situated in the south-west angle of the town, and originally supposed to have been built by the Romans, and rebuilt by the Conqueror, only the mound, or keep, called Castle hill, remains. The relics of the priory have been converted into a dwelling - house.

At Stowborough, on opening a barrow, called King Barrow, in 1767, a large hollow trunk of an oak was discovered, in which were human bones, wrapped up in a large covering composed of several deer skins, and a small vessel of oak, in the shape of an urn, conjectured by Mr. Hutchins to have been the drinking cup of the deceased, who, in the opinion of Mr. Gough, was some Saxon, or Danish, chieftain.

Dr. John Chapman, tutor to the great Lord Camden; and Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford, were natives of this town.

Volume 4, page 386

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