The magnificent Manor House at Cranborne, dating back to Henry VIII, has been greatly improved by the Cecil's who became Lords of the Manor during the reign of James 1. The first Earl of Salisbury added exquisite Jacobean porches.
Like many other Dorset towns and villages, Cranborne's great days are in the past, when it was a garrison for troops who protected the kings who hunted over the Chase, and it had a population comparable with London and Durham. Once it had a market every week and staged two fairs a year.
Cranborne tanners shod the people of Wimborne and Blandford, and weavers provided their clothes as well as sustenance from eleven breweries.
Cranborne, was the setting for a true Dorset love story worthy of the pen of Thomas Hardy. It would seem that The Lord of the Manor in Saxon times, one Brictric son of Algar, spurned the love of a Flemish Princess called Matilda, so she turned her attentions to a tall, corpulent, balding figure of a man called William, sixth Duke of Normandy. She married him and he became The Conqueror. When Matilda returned to Cranborne she played the woman scorned and had Brictric cast into a dungeon.
The name Cranborne, certainly originated in the Saxon period, although its first record is in the Domesday Book of 1086, as Creneburne. Later medieval spellings like Craneburna in 1163 and Craneborne in 1207 show that the name means 'stream frequented by cranes' (possibly referring also to similar birds such as herons), from Old English cran (genitive plural crana) and burna. Thus, like so many other places in Dorset (eg. Iwerne, Trent, Wimborne, Winfrith), the stream here has given its name to the place. Of course the stream referred to is now actually called the River Crane, but this is a later so-called 'back-formation' from the place name, not the original name of the stream itself. The same name recurs in Berkshire and Hampshire, although with the different modern spelling, Cranbourne.
Cranborne Chase is where British field archaeology developed in its modern form. The site of General Pitt-Rivers' pioneering excavations in the nineteenth-century, Cranborne Chase also provides a microcosm of virtually all the major types of field monument present in southern England as a whole. Much of the archaeological material has fortuitously survived, offering the fullest chronological cover of any part of the prehistoric British landscape.
Cranborne Chase, first recorded in the early 13th century and called 'the king's chase of Cramburne' in 1461, takes its name from Cranborne, since in medieval times the lords of the manor of Cranborne were always lords of the Chase. Middle English chace denoted 'a tract of ground for breeding and hunting wild animals'.