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MARKET TOWNS OF DORSET (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Beaminster in 1835

BEAMINSTER, or BEMINSTER FORUM, a market-town in Dorsetshire, in the Bridport division of the hundred of Beaminster, 123 miles W.S.W. of London, and 14 W.N.W. of Dorchester. It is situated on the river Birt, which issues from several springs running from the hills with which the town is surrounded. Beaminster is of considerable antiquity. In Domesday Book, Beminstre is classed among the lands belonging to the bishopric of Sarum, Begeminster was given by Bishop Ormund, in 1091, to augment two of the prebends of' his cathedral.

The parish consists of three manors, Beaminster Prima, Beaminster Secunda, and Beaminster Parsonatus, all of which are held by lease by the present lords under the church of Salisbury. Leland thus describes Beaminster in his time:- ‘It is a praty market town, and usith much housbandry, and lyith in one street from N. to S., and in another from W. to E. There is a faire chapelle of ease in this town. Netherby [Netherbury] is the paroch chirch to it, and Beminstre is a prebend to the chirch of Saresbyri.’

The town was almost entirely destroyed by fire in 1644, while Prince Maurice was in quarters there. It was re-built by the assistance of parliament, but in 1684 was again consumed ; and, finally, in 1781, upwards of fifty houses, besides barns, stables, and other buildings, were reduced to ruins. To these fires, however, the town is indebted for its present very respectable appearance, most of the houses being good modern buildings. The streets have lately been paved by a subscription of the inhabitants, and the shops and some of the houses are now lighted with gas. The church and free-school are the principal buildings of the town.

The church is dedicated to the nativity of the Blessed Virgin, and although only a chapel of ease to the vicarage of Netherbury, is a large handsome structure, standing on an eminence on the south side of the town. It is supported in the inside by Gothic arches and pillars of Ham-hill stone. The tower is nearly 100 feet high, and is decorated with sculptures, illustrative of the woollen trade, for which the town was famous at the time they were executed : there are also figures of one or two of the kings, and a number of roses, of which tradition states that the figures are those of kings who reigned at the times that repairs were done to the church, and that the roses commemorate the union between the houses of York and Lancaster.

The town has a commodious workhouse, which is maintained partly by the rents of a small estate, and partly by the poor-rates. There is also an almshouse, built about 1627 by Sir John Strode, and afterwards endowed by him and his daughter, Lady Joan Tuberville, for the maintenance of six poor women.

The free-school was founded in or about the year 1684 by Mrs. Frances Tucker, for the education of twenty of the poorest boys in Beaminster, three or four of whom are to be apprenticed to the sea service. The estate with which this school is endowed was let in the year 1707, at £65 a year, which is now increased to £160 ; the surplus has been employed in increasing the number of boys at the school from 20 to 100, and in providing fuel, which is sold to the poor at a reduced rate during the winter. The Rev. Samuel Hood, the father of Lords Hood and Bridport, was master of this school in 1715.

The number of houses in Beaminster was 567 in 1831, when the population amounted to 2,968 persons, of whom 1,573 were females. During the year 1834, the town was visited with an extraordinary mortality, owing principally to the small-pox and measles, which raised the proportion of deaths to one in twenty-six on the whole number of inhabitants.

The inhabitants are chiefly engaged in the manufacture of sail-cloth, of iron, tin, and copper wares. The market is held on Thursday, and there are fairs on April 14, September 10, and October 9. The quarter-sessions were held here in the reign of Elizabeth and the seven first years of Charles I, but they were afterwards removed to Bridport.