Blandford Forum in 1835
BLANDFORD FORUM also called BLANDFORD CHIPPING, or MARKET BLANDFORD, a parish and market-town in the hundred of Pimperne, county of Dorset ; ninety-two miles S.W. from London, and sixteen N.E. from Dorchester. Nine parcels are mentioned in the Domesday Survey, under the common name of Bleneford, or Blaneford : five of these are small, and were doubtless small manors included in some of the greater. Four Blandfords remained distinguished in after times, namely, Blandford Forum, Blandford St. Mary, Blandford Bryanston, and Long Blandford, now Langton.
In the reign of Richard I, the then Earl of Leicester mortgaged it for £452, 6 shillings and 8 pence to Aaron, a Jew of Lincoln, whose estates being seized by the king, this manor, among others, was put into the roll for the kings use. Not. long after however, the Earl procured a discharge under the seal of Aaron for £240, 6 shillings and 8 pence, and dying very rich, his estates were divided between his daughters. It passed through several female heirs, who by marriage carried it into various noble families, until it became the property of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, by marriage with Blanche, daughter of the Earl of Lincoln.
When the dukes son became King Henry IV, the estate was united to the crown. Henry V granted it, with other manors, jointly to Henry Chicheley, Archbishop of Canterbury, and to his uncle, Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester. After this the manor reverted to and remained in the crown until Edward IV bestowed the whole on his brother, the Duke of Gloucester, afterwards Richard III. From this period the accounts of the descents of the manor are contradictory : part of it appears to have been dependant on the principal manor of Kingston Lacy, and the remainder has either been given to or has been purchased by the corporation. Blandford is called a burgh in old records ; but it never sent members to parliament more than twice, namely, in the 33rd of Edward I and the 22nd of Edward III. The town received its charter of incorporation as a free borough from James I, which conferred on it new liberties, and confirmed those which it had immemorially enjoyed. Under this charter the town bas been governed by a bailiff and six capital burgesses.
The town had a market very early : for we find that in 2 Henry III a precept was directed to the sheriff that the market at this place, which had previously been held on Sunday, should thenceforward be held on Saturday. Since that time Saturday has accordingly been the market-day. A fair also was granted so early as 35 Edward 1 : there are now three fairs, chiefly for horses, cattle, and cheese, held on March 7, July 10, and November 8. It is by these markets and fairs, and by the resort of travellers and the neighbouring gentry, together with the races annually held in July or August on a neighbouring down, that the town is chiefly supported. Blandford was in former times noted for its manufacture of band strings, but that article falling into disuse, attention was paid to the manufacture of bone-lace, and until the beginning of the last century the finest point-lace in England was made at Blandford : it was valued at £30 per yard, and was considered to be equal, if not superior, to that of Flanders. After this had also declined, the making of shirt-buttons was the only manufacture which became of much importance in the town ; this is principally carried on by women and children, and is still considerable, though not so extensive as in former times. At present Blandford is one of the neatest little towns in the west of England, and it is increasing every year in extent and population : but it is not lighted, nor is there any general watch for the borough and town. In 1831 the parish contained 528 houses, with a population of 3,109, of whom 1,703 were females. Of this population the town contains 99 parts out of 100.
Blandford is situated in one of the finest tracts of pastureland in the kingdom. Pasturage only, says Mr. Maton, is seen in this part of the county, which, from the multitude of cows fed on it, may truly be called a land flowing with milk. The town stands on a bend of the Stour, which flows on both the south and west sides of it. The river, which is here of considerable width, is crossed by a bridge of six arches. The town owes its present neat appearance to the fires by which it has been repeatedly devastated. It was burnt in Camdens time, and afterwards rebuilt in a more handsome manner than before; and it was again partially destroyed by fire in 1676 or 1677, and again in 1713.
But the greatest calamity of this kind occurred in 1731, when the town was desolated by an almost general conflagration, in which all the public buildings and all but forty dwelling-houses were consumed. Four hundred families were thus deprived of their homes, and the total amount of the loss is stated by different authorities at from £84,000 to £100,000. The neighbouring towns and parishes promptly assisted the sufferers with provisions and money : and sixty barracks were built of boards and thatched for the temporary accommodation of the poorer sort. Next year an act was passed for the rebuilding of the town, and it was ultimately restored to more than its former neatness. The streets are regular, and well paved, and the houses built uniformly with brick.
The town-hall is a neat building of Portland stone, supported on Doric columns, with a regular entablature : within this building there is a pump. a marble panel over which bears an inscription commemorative of the fire. This is dated in 1760, and describes the town as then having risen like a phoenix from its ashes, to its present flourishing and beautiful condition. The church, dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul, was completed in 1739 on the ruins of that destroyed by fire. It is a neat building in the Grecian style, consisting of a chancel, body, and two side aisles, and a tower eighty feet high, surmounted by a cupola. The church is built with a greenish-coloured stone, but the windows, door-cases, and ornaments are of Portland stone. It cost £3,200. The interior, which is very neat, contains some handsome monuments, and accommodates 1000 per sons. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Bristol, with a net income of £167.
There is a free-school adjoining the church. When or by whom it was founded is not known ; but the anonymous author of a description of some places in Dorsetshire in 1579, says there was then here a school of great fame, of which one Millar, a person of great reputation and learning, was master. Archbishop Wake, who was a native of the town, is said to have received the early part of his education in this school. The endowment is very small, the chief part of it being a proportion of a bequest made in 1621 by William Williams, who left £3,000 to be laid out in lands, the proceeds to be applied for sundry charitable purposes, among which was £5 per annum to enable the schoolmaster of Blandford to afford instruction to four poor mens children apt for learning. This cannot however be considered a free grammar-school, as the present master pays a rent of £10 a year for the school-house, and is under no obligation to teach gratuitously any of the children of the town. There is another inefficient free-school at Blandford. It was originally founded at Milton Abbas, six miles from Blandford, by the abbot of Milton, in the year 1521 ; but its efficiency was nullified by an act of parliament which, in 1785, transferred the school to Blandford, in spite of the opposition of the feoffees of the school. No children have been sent to the school for education since its removal.
Archbishop Wake founded a blue-coat school, and endowed it with £1,616, for the instruction and clothing of twelve boys. In 1698 Robert Rideout bequeathed £50 to the parish, and John Bastard, in 1768 gave £600, a part of the annual produce of both which sums is applicable to the purpose of teaching poor children to read. For a town of its size Blandford has a large amount of charities, consisting in alms-houses, and sums left for apprenticing boys, and for supplying the poor with bread, clothing, and alms.
Besides Archbishop Wake, already mentioned, Blandford gave birth to Dr. Lindesay, who was primate of Ireland at the same time that Wake was primate of England. To these we may add Bruno Ryves, D.D., who, during the civil war, started the early newspaper called Mercurius Rusticus, and who assisted in the Polyglott Bible ; Christopher Pitt, the translator of Virgil ; and Thomas Creech, who successively translated Lucretius, Horace, and Theocritus.