A Topographical Dictionary of England, Samuel Lewis, London 1831


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WIMBORNE-MINSTER, a parish in the hundred of BADBURY, Shaston (East) division of the county of DORSET, comprising the market town of Wimborne-Minster, and the tythings of Abbottstreet, Barnesley, Cowgrove, Leigh, Petersham, Stone, Thornhill, and Wimborne - Borough, and containing 3563 inhabitants, of which number, 1387 are in the town of Wimborne-Minster, 26 miles (E.N.E.) from Dorchester, and 101 (S.W. by W.) from London.

This is a place of very remote antiquity; in the time of the Romans it was of considerable importance as a station to their camp at Badbury, and by them was denominated Vindogladia, or Ventageladia, terms descriptive of its situation near to, or between, two rivers.

The Saxon appellation of Vinburnan, whence the present name is obviously deduced, is of similar import; the epithet of Minster, from its ancient monastery, having been added as a term of distinction. Some have supposed this to have been the scene of the battle between Kearl, Earl of Devon, and the Danes, in 851, in which the latter were defeated; but Bishop Gibson states this to have occurred at Wenbury, in Devonshire, with which he endeavours to identify Wicganbeorche, the place where, in the Saxon Chronicle, it is stated to have taken place. About the commencement of the tenth century, Edward the Elder, in the beginning of his reign, being opposed by Ethelwald, son of his uncle Ethelbert, who aspired to the crown, encamped at Badbury, with a considerable army, and advanced upon Wimborne, where Ethelwald had fortified himself with a small force, which he captured, after an ineffectual resistance from the latter. But the principal cause of its celebrity was a nunnery, founded previously to 705, and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, by St. Cuthberga, daughter of Cenred, and sister of Ina, both kings of the West Saxons, which, about the year 900, being destroyed by the Danes, was subsequently converted into a house for Secular canons, the revenue of which, at the dissolution, was valued at £131. 14. The foundress became an inmate of the nunnery, where she died, and was buried in the church, of which, having been canonized, she was made the tutelar saint.

The town is situated in a fertile vale, near the confluence of the rivers Stour and Allen, on the main road from London to Poole: the streets are irregular, and the houses in general of mean appearance. At its eastern extremity the Allen divides into two branches, over which are two bridges. Leland thus describes it:—“the town is yet meatly good, and reasonably well inhabited. It hath bene a very large thing, and was in price in the tyme of the West Saxon kinges. Ther be in and about it diverse chappelles, that in tymes paste were, as I have lernid, paroche chirchis of the very town of Wimburne.” And in another place he says;—“the soile about Wimburn-Minstre self is very good for corne, grasse, and woodde.” The town hall, which formerly stood near the square, has long since fallen into decay: it occupied the site of St. Peter's chapel sometimes styled the king's free chapel, which, the building having been neglected soon after the Reformation, was, with the cemetery, containing about one acre of ground, vested in the corporation, and their successors in fee, for the erection of a town-hall, the residue of the profits to be applied towards the maintenance of the choristers in the church. The market is on Friday; and fairs are held on the Friday before Good Friday and on the 14th of September, each for two days, for horses and cattle. Constables are appointed at the manorial court held annually at Michaelmas.

On the establishment of the Secular canons, when the nunnery was destroyed by the Danes, the church became collegiate, and a royal free chapel, having been declared by letters of Edward II., in the eleventh year of his reign, to be exempt from all ordinary jurisdiction, imposition, &c. In Leland's time the society consisted of a dean, four prebendaries, five cantarists, three vicars, and four secondaries. The dean and prebendaries maintained four priests and four clerks to serve the cure; viz., in the collegiate church, and in St. Peter's, Kingston, and Holt chapels.

On the dissolution of the college, its possessions lapsed to the crown; and Elizabeth, in the fifth year of her reign, on reestablishing the school, appointed twelve of the inhabitants governors, whom she incorporated, with a common seal, and granted in trust to them the tithes of the parish, and all other endowments of the college and school, for their future support, with all ecclesiastical rights and spiritual jurisdiction previously belonging to the college and prebends. In the reign of Charles I., the governors having surrendered these possessions, the king re-granted them in full, on the condition of their providing the necessary officers for the service of the church and the school, with all ecclesiastical jurisdiction within the parish, and power to appoint the official and registrar of the peculiar court.

Three incumbents are elected by the governors, who serve the church in rotation weekly; they also appoint three clerks, an organist, three singing men, and six singing boys: a visitation court is held annually. The chapels of Kingston and St. Peter have fallen into ruins; that at Holt remains.

The church, commonly called the Minster, is dedicated to St. Cuthberga, and is a large cruciform structure, with a quadrangular tower rising from the intersection, and another at the west end, the former in the Norman style, the latter in the later English; the east window is in the early English style of architecture. A tempest destroyed the spire about 1600, and it has not since been replaced. The chancel and choir are approached from the nave by a flight of steps, and are supported by pillars: the choir consists of sixteen stalls, covered with canopies of carved oak. St. Cuthberga is supposed to have been entombed in the wall of the chancel: here also was King Ethelred's tomb, of which the brass plate fixed in the floor is all that remains. On the south side of the choir is an altar-tomb, with the effigies of the Duke and Duchess of Somerset, the parents of Margaret, Countess of Richmond, mother of Henry VII.; on the opposite side is a similar tomb, but without figures, to the memory of Gertrude, Marchioness of Exeter, mother of the unfortunate Edward Courtenay, last Earl of Devonshire; and in the south aisle is a monument, with an armed recumbent figure, to Sir Edmund Uvedale, Knt., dated 1606. Under the area  of the chancel is a small crypt, called the Dungeon, having pointed arches, with bold circular groins to support the roof; it was formerly used as a chantry, of which the church contained a great number. On the outside of the Bell tower is the figure of a soldier, with a hammer in each hand, with which it strikes the quarters of the hour. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, and Wesleyan Methodists

The free grammar school, originally founded by Margaret, Countess of Richmond, in 1497, was re-founded by Queen Elizabeth, in 1563, for the gratuitous instruction of all applicants, without limitation, and designated Queen Elizabeth's free grammar school in Wimborne-Minster: the management is vested in the twelve governors. St. Margaret's hospital, for poor persons, situated at the west end of the town, is of ancient and obscure foundation; the revenues are under the direction of the lord of the manor of Kingston-Lacy, and his steward, who conjointly nominate the almspeople: in a chapel attached to it divine service is occasionally performed. A second hospital, called Courtenay's, situated at the east end of the town, was built pursuant to the will of Gertrude, Marchioness of Exeter, bearing date 1557; the governor and poor persons are incorporated and have a common seal: there are six almspeople on the foundation.

At Pamphill, in this parish, are a school and almshouse, founded pursuant to the will of Roger Gillingham, dated July 2nd, 1695: the schoolmaster and almspeople are nominated and appointed by the governors of the free grammar school in this town; the former receives £20, and each of the latter £5, per annum.

This is supposed to be the birthplace of Matthew Prior, Esq., the statesman and poet, who was educated at the free grammar school. The Duke of Monmouth, after his escape from the battle of Sedgmoor, is stated to have been arrested in a small enclosure, called Shagsheath, near this place; but this is doubted by some, who are of opinion that his capture took place near Ringwood. Badbury camp, in the vicinity, is a circular intrenchment, surrounded by three ramparts, enclosing an area of eighteen acres: Roman coins, urns, and a sword, were dug up in 1665.

Volume 4, page 489

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