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MARKET TOWNS OF DORSET (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Shaftesbury in 1841

SHAFTESBURY, a parliamentary borough and market-town in the hundred of :Monckton-up-Wimborne (otherwise Upwinbourne Monckton) in the county of Dorset, on the Exeter mail-road by railway to Basingstoke, and then through Salisbury. It is 105 miles from London, and 20 from Salisbury.

Shaftesbury is supposed to have existed in the time of the Britons, and to have been called by them Caer Palladwr. Drayton (Heroic Epistle of Owen Tudor to Queen Catherine) speaks of Mount Pallador as though it were the name of the hill on which the town stands, rather than of the town itself. Roman coins have been found here. Alfred restored it after it had been destroyed by the Danes. An ancient inscription on a stone removed from the ruins of a religious house, and mentioned by William of Malmesbury, has led Camden and others to ascribe to Alfred the foundation of the town : it contains the words ‘Aelfredus Rex fecit hane urbem.’ The town was called by the Saxons ‘Sceftesbyrig,’ or ‘Sceaftesbyrig:’ the name in Domesday is ‘Sceptesberie;’ it was variously written by the historians of the middle ages, until it assumed its present form, which is sometimes altered into Shaston, or, more correctly, Shafton.

In the reign of Athelstan there were in the place two mints, and an abbey of Benedictine nuns, to which the body or part of the body of King Edward the Martyr was conveyed for burial soon after his murder at Corfe Castle. The possession of this relic added much to the reputation of the abbey. and among other visitors attracted by it was Canute the Great, who died at Shaftesbury, A.D. 1036. Shaftesbury is mentioned as a borough in Domesday-book, and appears at an early period to have contained twelve parish churches. In the abbey, Elizabeth, wife of Robert Bruce, king of Scotland, was detained as a prisoner (A.D. 1313-14). The revenues of the abbey at its dissolution were £1,329, 1 shilling and 3 pence gross, £1,166, 8 shillings and 9 pence clear. In the civil war of Charles I, the ‘clubmen,’ an association formed to protect the county against both the belligerent parties, held a meeting at Shaftesbury to the number of 2,000, when they were surprised by Fleetwood with a parliamentarian force of 1,000 men, and their leaders apprehended.

The town is in a healthy but bleak situation, chiefly on the top of a steep hill, and commands a view to the south and west over part of Wiltshire, Somersetshire, and Dorsetshire. The surrounding district is fertile. The town is badly supplied with water. It is irregularly laid out ; the streets are not paved, and only partly lighted. The houses are irregularly built, and for the most part of mean appearance : the building, material commonly employed is stone from the neighbouring quarries. On the top of the hill is a well of prodigious depth, from which the inhabitants are partly supplied with water, which is drawn by machinery worked by a horse.

There are four churches. St. Peter’s, in the middle of the town, consists of a nave and chancel, with two aisles extending the whole length of the church, and a square embattled tower : it is a building of considerable antiquity, much defaced by modern alterations. Trinity church consists of a nave and chancel, and of two aisles extending the whole length of the church, with an embattled tower and pinnacles : it stands in a spacious churchyard, laid out with rows of lime-trees . St. James’s church is a neat building, consisting of a nave, chancel, vestry on the south side, and an embattled tower. St. Rombald’s, or St. Rowald’s, consists of a nave and chancel, both small, and of a low embattled tower of modern date. There are meeting-houses for Independents, Friends, and Wesleyans.

There are no remains of the abbey church, and scarcely any of the conventual building. On the brow of the hill west of the town is a small mound or earthwork. The ground adjacent is called the Castle-green or Castle-hill, but there is no account of a castle having stood there. There is a handsome town-hall lately built.

The population of the borough of Shaftesbury in 1831 was 3,061. The borough then comprehended part of the parishes of Trinity, St. James, and St. Peter, with the liberty of Alcester. St. Rombald’s parish was not included in the borough. All the three parishes extend beyond the borough limits. The augmentation of the parliamentary borough, by the Boundary Act, increased the population to 8,969, and the area to 20,910 acres. A boundary less extensive than the parliamentary boundary, but more comprehensive than the old one, has been recommended by the commissioners of municipal corporation boundaries. The trade of the town is very little : it has a weekly market, held on Saturday, and three yearly fairs.

Shaftesbury is described in Domesday-book as a borough ; but its corporate constitution did not assume a complete form till the time of James I. By the Municipal Reform Act, the council consists of four aldermen and twelve councillors.

Shaftesbury has been uninterruptedly represented in parliament from the time of Edward I ; but its representatives were reduced to one by the Reform Act ; and by the Boundary Act the outparts of the three borough parishes, together with the parishes of Cann St. Rumbold, Motcombe, East Stower, Stower Provost, Todbere, Melbury Abbas, Compton Abbas, Donhead St. Mary (in Wiltshire) and St. Margaret’s Marsh, and the tything of Hartgrove in Fontnell Magna parish, were added for parliamentary purposes. The constituency in 1835-6 consisted of 270 ten-pound householders, and 254 scot and lot voters ; total 524 ; in 1839-40, of 302 ten-pound householders, and 189 scot and lot voters ; together 491. Shaftesbury is one of the polling-places for the county. It gives the title of earl to the family of Cooper.

The two rectories of St. Peter and Trinity are united in one benefice, of the clear yearly value of £168 ; the living of St James is a rectory, of the clear yearly value of £186. They are in the rural deanery of Shaftesbury, the archdeaconry of Dorset, and the diocese of Sarum.

There were in the three parishes, in 1833, six infant or dame schools, with 131 children, namely 69 boys and 62 girls ; seven day-schools of all kinds (one endowed), with 100 children, namely 131 boys and 69 girls ; and three Sunday-schools, with 515 children, namely 213 boys and 302 girls.