A Topographical Dictionary of England, Samuel Lewis, London 1831


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DORSETSHIRE, a maritime county, bounded on the north by the counties of Somerset and Wilts; on the east by the county of Southampton; on the west by the county of Devon, and part of that of Somerset; and on the south by the British channel: it extends from 50º 30' to 51º 6' (N. Lat.), and from 1º 58' to 3º 18' (W. Lon.), comprising about seven hundred and seventy-five thousand acres, or one thousand two hundred and eleven square miles. The population, in 1821, amounted to one hundred and forty-seven thousand four hundred.

Prior to the landing of Cæsar, Dorsetshire was inhabited by the Durotriges, and Morini, two tribes of the Britons, whose names signify dwellers on the sea-shore. By the Saxons it was styled Dor satta, which is of similar meaning, signifying the dwellers by the water. The Romans included it in the division called Britannia Prima, and the Saxons in the kingdom of Wessex. Of the early history of this county there are but few authentic memorials.

On the departure of the Romans, the Saxons, notwithstanding the vigorous opposition they met with from King Arthur, obtained possession of this and most of the other western counties; and Cerdic, who landed in the year 495, completed his conquest of these parts in 530, by the capture of the Isle of Wight; and, having founded the kingdom of Wessex, was crowned at Winchester in the following year: several memorials of his name are preserved near the southern coast of Dorsetshire. This kingdom became at length the most considerable of the heptarchal states. In 1002, Sweyn, King of Denmark, having landed at Exeter to revenge the massacre of the Danes, in his march from that city to Wilton, destroyed Dorchester, Clifton, Sherborne, and Shaston (now Shaftesbury); this having been the first instance in which Dorsetshire endured, to an extent worthy of being recorded, the miseries inflicted by that people.

During the Norman times, history does not furnish us with any material events as having occurred in this county. There is an account indeed of a dreadful plague which broke out in Dorsetshire in 1348, so terrible that in many of the villages all the inhabitants died, the houses fell down, and were never again inhabited.

In 1588, great preparations were made to fortify the southern coast, on the approach of the Spanish Armada; and Portland, in particular, was strongly fortified and garrisoned.

During the parliamentary war the most considerable of the higher orders were attached to the king; but the people, where the clothing trade was carried on, which was the case in several parts of the county, were chiefly-disaffected. Lyme and Poole were constantly garrisoned by the parliament. Wareham, Melcombe-Regis, Weymouth, Bridport, Dorchester, Shaftesbury, Blandford, and Sherborne, being open and generally unguarded, were alternately occupied as each party was master of the field. Sherborne castle, Corfe Castle, Chidiock castle, and the isle and castle of Portland, were garrisoned by the king; but except the sieges of Lyme, Corfe Castle, and Sherborne castle, the rising of the club-men, and a few casual skirmishes, nothing very remarkable happened within this county.

In 1685, the Duke of Monmouth landed at Lyme, and thence marched into Somersetshire, which was the seat of the rebellion at that time. An action took place at Bridport; and the duke was taken in an enclosure called the Island, in the midst of the heath, in the parish of Horton, having concealed himself in a ditch, where is still to be seen an ash-tree, bearing on its sides the initials of the numerous persons who have visited it. Many of his followers were tried at Dorchester, where several were executed, as also in various other places within this county.

On the 5th of November, 1688, the Prince of Orange landed with his forces at Lyme, Torbay, and the adjacent parts of the coast, without any opposition, and encamped about Exeter.

In 1756, a camp of six regiments of foot and two of dragoons was formed on Pimperne down, near Blandford; and in the following year another near Dorchester.

This county was successively under the episcopal jurisdiction of the see of Dorchester in Oxfordshire, of that of Winchester, and of that of Sherborne; and when the last was united to that of Sarum, it remained part of that diocese till the 31st of Henry VIII., when it became part of the newly constituted bishoprick of Bristol, by patent, June 4th, 1542. Of the six deaneries into which that diocese is divided, five are within this county, viz., those of Bridport, Dorchester, Pimperne, Shaston, and Whitchurch, comprising two hundred and fifty-eight parishes, of which one hundred and sixty three are rectories, sixty-two vicarages, and thirty-three perpetual curacies. The archdeaconry of Dorset is co-extensive with the diocese of Bristol, and comprises the whole of this county. The bishop holds his triennial, and the archdeacon his yearly, visitation, at Bridport, Dorchester, Blandford, Shaftesbury, Cerne-Abbas, or Whitchurch.

For civil purposes it is separated into the following divisions: Blandford (North and South), Bridport, Cerne (sub-division), Dorchester, Shaston (East and West), Sherborne, and Sturminster.

Blandford North division contains the hundreds of Coombs-Ditch, Pimperne, and Rushmore, and the liberty of Dewlish:

Blandford South division contains the hundreds of Corfe-Castle, Beer-Regis, Hundredsbarrow, Hasilor, Rowbarrow, and Winfrith, and the liberties of Bindon, Owermoigne, and Stoborough.

Bridport division contains the hundreds of Beaminster-Forum and Redhone, Eggerton, Godder-Thorne, and Whitchurch-Canonicorum, and the liberties of Broadwinsor, Frampton, Lothers and Bothenhampton, and Poorstock.

Cerne sub-division contains the hundreds of Buckland-Newton, Cerne, Totcombe and Modbury, and Whiteway, and the liberties of Alton-Pancras, Piddletrenthide, and Sydling-St. Nicholas.

Dorchester division contains the hundreds of Culliford-Tree, George, Piddletown, Tollerford, and Uggscombe, and the liberties of Fordington, Isle of Portland, Piddlehinton, Sutton-Pointz, Wayhouse, and Wyke Regis and Etwall.

Shaston East division contains the hundreds of Badbury, Cogdean, Knowlton, Loosebarrow, Monckton-up-Wimbourne, and Wimbourne-St. Giles, with parts of the hundreds of Cranborne and Sixpenny-Handley.

Shaston West division contains the remaining parts of the hundreds of Cranborne and Sixpenny-Handley: and the liberties of Alcester and Gillingham.

Sherborne division contains the hundreds of Sherborne and Yetminster, and the liberties of Halstock and Ryme-Intrinsica; and

Sturminster division contains the hundreds of Brownshall, Redlane, and Sturminster-Newton-Castle, and the liberty of Stower-Provost.

Dorsetshire contains the town and county of the town of Poole, the borough and market towns of Bridport, Dorchester, Lyme-Regis, Shaftesbury, Wareham, and the united boroughs of Weymouth and Melcombe-Regis. The borough of Corfe-Castle, which is not a market town, and the market towns of Beaminster, Blandford-Forum, Cerne-Abbas, Sherborne, Sturminster-Newton, and Wimbourne-Minster. Bridport, Lyme-Regis, Poole, Wareharn, and Weymouth are ports also.

Two knights are returned to parliament for the shire, and two representatives for each of the nine boroughs: the county members are elected at Dorchester. Dorsetshire is included in the western circuit; the assizes were anciently held, sometimes at Sherborne, and sometimes, though very rarely, at Shaftesbury but generally, in latter times, and now always, at Dorchester, where the shire-hall and county gaol have long been. The Epiphany quarter sessions are held at Blandford; the Easter, at Sherborne; the Midsummer, at Shaftesbury; and the Michaelmas, at Bridport. There are sixty-three acting magistrates. The rates raised in the county for the year ending March 25th, 1827, amounted to £120,455. 7., the expenditure to £115,453. 12., of which £99,108. 17., was applied to the relief of the poor.

The surface of the county is hilly, and a considerable portion of it consists of open downs, affording pasturage to numerous flocks of sheep, of which, however, more are fed in the vicinity of Dorchester than in any other part of the county, though great numbers of both sheep and oxen are fattened in the vale of Blackmore, which is celebrated as rich pasture land, containing upwards of one hundred and seventy thousand acres. There are also in this district several large apple orchards, producing excellent cider. On the south-western side are many vales of great luxuriance; but on the south-eastern, there is much waste land, dreary and barren, scarcely supporting, even in the summer months, a few sheep and cattle, and supplying the neighbouring villages with turf for fuel. Even in this part, however, cultivation is advancing, and detached portions have been improved. The soil of these downs is principally a light chalk, covered with a turf remarkably fine, producing hay, in the enclosed parts, of an excellent quality. About Bridport the lower lands are mostly a deep rich loam, intermixed with flint, well adapted to the growth of beech trees. To the north of Sherborne, where is some of the best arable land in the county, it is a stone brack, which is the case in the isles of Portland and Purbeck: in the centre of the county the soil is good, and the land well managed. Doretshire is not a well-wooded county, and, in general, native timber is scare and dear. In some spots, where the land is cold and wet, such as Duncliff, in the vale of Blackmore, Heycombe wood, in the vale of Sherborne, and others of a similar nature, some plantations may be seen. The climate is noted for its mildness and salubrity; and this, added to the beauty of its scenery, has procured this county the appellation of the Garden of England. Weymouth has long been celebrated as a fashionable watering-place; and, owing to the general calmness of the sea there, its pleasant situation, and its commodiousness for bathing, has, through the repeated visits of the royal family, risen to a place of consequence.

The principal articles of produce are corn, cattle, butter, sheep, wool, timber, flax, and hemp. Of the different kinds of grain, barley affords the best returns, and from ten to twelve thousand bushels of malt are made annually: the strong beer is in high repute; the ale also is particularly celebrated, and in some respects unequalled. The sheep have long been celebrated, and it is supposed that not fewer than eight hundred thousand are constantly kept in the county, of which number more than one hundred and fifty thousand are sold annually, and sent out of it. They are highly esteemed for the fineness, shortness, and close texture of their wool, which is much used in the manufacture of broad cloth; the aggregate quantity annually sold being estimated at ninety thousand weighs, of thirty-one pounds each. The Dorsetshire sheep are horned, white-faced, with long, small, white legs, the carcass being rather long and thin; the mutton is fine-grained and of good flavour, weighing, in wethers of three years and a half old, from sixteen to twenty pounds per quarter. Many of the ewes are bought by the farmers within forty miles of London, for the sake of their lambs, which come earlier than most others, and are fattened for the London market. But besides the peculiar Dorsetshire breed, there is a very small kind in the isles of Portland and Purbeck, and the neighbouring coast, inferior in size to the Welch sheep, weighing, when full fed, not more than eight or nine pounds per quarter. Little regard is paid in this county to the breed of horses: oxen are frequently used in agriculture, and those are mostly the red Devonshire ox, with a mixture of the Hampshire and Wiltshire: the pigs are of a light colour, and not equal to those of Hampshire and some other species. Butter is the chief article of produce, though some cheese is also made. The mackarel fishery is of considerable consequence: vast quantities are taken near Abbotsbury, and along the shore from Portland to Bridport: they are generally caught from the middle of March, if the season be not too cold, till Midsummer, and sometimes later. The fishery, however, has not been so productive of late years as formerly, and the exposed situation of the coast renders it very uncertain, even in the best of seasons.

The principal articles of manufacture are rope-yarn, ropes, and sail-cloth, which are chiefly carried on in the neighbourhood of Bridport and Beaminster. A manufacture of the same kind, but on a smaller scale, has been established in the Isle of Purbeck. At Shaftesbury is a manufactory for making all kinds of shirt buttons, which affords employment to a great number of women and children. A sort of flannel, or coarse white woollen cloth, is likewise made at this town called swanskin, but the chief trade in this latter article is carried on at Sturminster. There is a large manufactory for shirt buttons at Blandford. At Stalbridge is a manufactory for spinning silk, and at Sherborne is another on a larger scale. At Wimbourne considerable business is transacted in the worsted trade, and more than one thousand women and children are employed in knitting stockings.

Though neither coal nor metallic ores have ever been obtained in Dorsetshire, the stone quarries of Purbeck and Portland have long been celebrated. Purbeck, though called an island, is more properly a peninsula, of an irregular oval form, about twelve miles in length and seven in breadth. The soil is altogether calcareous, and, for the most part, a continued mass of either white or brownish limestone, the latter having a mixture of sea-shells. The quarries on the south side of the isle afford an inexhaustible fund of natural curiosities. The best quarries are at Kingston, Worth, Langston, and Swanwich; the stone got in the last of these is white, full of shells, susceptible of a good polish, and not unlike alabaster. About Wareham and Morden is found a stone of an iron colour, called fire-stone. Near Dunshay, marble of various colours, blue, red. grey, and spotted, is obtained, but all of a coarse grain. Much of the stone of this district was used in the building of St. Paul's cathedral, Westminster bridge, and Ramsgate pier, and may be discovered in many of our ancient cathedral churches, as also in grave-stones and monuments. The rocks in the Isle of Portland rise frequently to the height of one hundred, or one hundred and fifty feet, and large masses lie scattered on the shore. These are composed of calcareous grit, containing moulds, or larox, of various shells, and emitting, when rubbed with steel, a bituminous smell. The grit is cemented together by a calcareous paste. The quarries are scattered among these rocks, more or less, in every part of the isle, but those of most repute are at Kingston. At this place is a pier, where upwards of six thousand tons of stone, on an average, are supposed to be shipped annually. The first stratum in these quarries is about one foot of blackish or reddish earth; then six feet of stone not fit for exportation: below this is the bed of good stone, ten or twelve feet deep, and beneath it flint or clay. The stratum of stone that is worked for sale lies nearly parallel with the upper surface of the island, and without much earth or rubbish on it. When the beds are cleared, the quarry-men proceed to cross-cut the large flats, which is done with wedges. The beds being cut into distinct lumps, are squared by the hammer to the largest size which they will admit, and blocks are thus formed from half a ton to six or eight tons' weight. The colour of the Portland-stone, or freestone, as it is sometimes called, from the freedom with which it may be broken into any shape, is well known, as almost white, and as composing the materials of the most splendid erections in London, as well as in other parts of the British empire.

The principal rivers are the Frome, the Stour, the Piddle, and the Ivel. The Frome rises in the northwestern part of the county, near Evershot, and passing by Dorchester, falls into Poole bay. The Stour enters this county from Wiltshire, near Gillingham, and pursuing a southern and south-eastern direction, runs into Hampshire. The Piddle rises in the north, and flowing to the south-east, unites with Poole bay. The Ivel, anciently the Yoo, has its origin from several springs near Horethorn, in a little hill north-east of Sherborne, from which town it flows into Somersetshire, and falls into the Parrett.

The Dorset and Somerset canal passes through a portion of this county: it has its commencement in the Kennet and Avon canal at Widbrook, near Bradford, and terminates in the river Stour, near Gainscross in Shillingstone-Okeford: the principal objects of this canal are to supply the manufacturing towns and districts through which it passes with coal, and to open an inland communication between the Bristol channel, the Severn, the Thames, and the southern coast of the island. The navigation is continued from Gainscross by means of the river Stour, which has been made navigable across the county, and terminates at Christchurch harbour, in Hampshire.

The road from London to Lyme-Regis enters the county near Woodyates Inn, and passes through Blandford-Forum, Dorchester, and Bridport, to Lyme.

In the north-eastern part of the county are several ditches and valla, which Dr. Stukeley supposes to have been successively made by the Belgæ in their progressive conquest of this part of Britain. Several Roman stations and roads have been traced in this county; of the former, the principal is the Via Iceniana, or Icening way, which enters Dorsetshire from Wiltshire, near Woodyates, and passes through Dorchester, to the west of which it takes the name of the Ridge-way, and quits the county in its course towards Seaton in Devonshire, being distinctly visible in different parts of its line. The Roman stations, according to the best authorities, are Londinis, or Lyme-Regis, Canca Arixa, or Charmouth, Durnovaria, or Dorchester, Vindagladia, or Wimbourne-Minster, Clavinio, or Weymouth, Morino, or Wareham, and Bolclaunio, or Poole. Among these, in various directions, numerous barrows are dispersed, as well as other memorials of our British ancestors.

Near Dorchester are the remains of a Roman amphitheatre, which is computed to have held near thirteen thousand spectators. A large circular intrenchment may be traced on Woodbury Hill, supposed to have been the Castra Statica of the Romans. On Hambledon Hill is another encampment, also the remains of what has been thought a labyrinth.

The relics of ancient castles are numerous in Dorsetshire, of which, the most considerable were those of Corfe, Brownsea, and Portland. Numerous barrows, or tumuli, are dispersed over the county, especially the more open part of it.

Before the Reformation there were in this county twenty-nine religious houses (including one preceptory of the Knights Hospitallers) and eight ancient hospitals. The monasteries, the ruins of which may yet be discerned, are those of the monastery of Benedictines at Cranborne, a part-of which now forms the parish church, one of the oldest in the county; Cerne abbey, said to have been founded by St. Augustine, the few remains of which are interesting; Milton abbey, whose church is now used as a private chapel; the monastery of Shaftesbury, the ruins of which are discernible near the mansion of Sir Thomas Arundel; some parts of the cloister and domestic buildings of the abbey of Sherborne, now occupied by silk machinery; besides considerable remains of several more. The church of Fordington is partly in the Saxon style: those of Dorchester, Sherborne, Milbourne, Rapisham, Weymouth, and Shaftesbury, are venerable buildings, but this county cannot boast of many ancient ecclesiastical edifices.

Mr. Hutchins remarks of the mineral waters, that “they are chalybeate at Farrington, Aylwood, and Corfe; sulphureous at Sherford, Morden, Nottington, and Sherborne; saline at Chilcomb; and petrifying at Sherborne and Bothenwood, near Wimbourne-Minster.”  The “pebbly desert,” called the Chesil Bank, is, as Dr. Maton remarks, one of the most extraordinary ridges or shelves of pebbles in Europe, and perhaps the longest, except that of Memel in Polish Prussia: its length is supposed to be about seventeen miles, and its breadth in some places nearly a quarter of a mile.

Dorset gives the title of duke to the family of Sackville.

Volume 2, page 60

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