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MARKET TOWNS OF DORSET (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Sherbourne in 1841

SHERBORNE, or SHERBOURNE, a market-town in the hundred of Sherborne and county of Dorset, on the Exeter mail-road, 121 miles from London by railway to Basingstoke, and from thence by Salisbury and Shaftesbury.

This place was of considerable importance in the time of the Saxons, who called it ‘Sciraburn,’ or ‘Scireburn,’ from scir, clear, and burn, a spring or brook. William of Malmesbury and Brompton write the name Schireburn, Schirebourne ; and Henry of Huntingdon, Syreburn, or Scyreburn. Ina, king of the West Saxons, on the division of the diocese of Winchester, then the sole bishopric of the West Saxons, made Sherbourne the seat of an episcopal see (A.D. 705). The first bishop was Aldhelm, a man of great repute for his learning ; and among his successors were Alstan (Althstan or Ealstan), distinguished as a politician and a warrior in the reigns of Egbert and Ethelwulf ; and Asser, the friend and biographer of King Alfred.

The diocese originally comprehended the counties of Dorset, Berks, Wilts, Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall ; but was diminished by the erection of new bishoprics, the dioceses of which were subtracted from it. The changes which this bishopric underwent have, from the obscurity of the period, been the subject of much discussion. The seat of it was removed, about A.D. 1075 or 1076, to Old Sarum. A monastery for secular canons was established here after the conversion of the West Saxons. The rule of St. Benedict was afterwards introduced (A.D. 998), and it became an abbey, which continued to the dissolution, when its revenue was valued at £682, 14 shillings and 7¾ pence
(seven pence three farthings).

There was an ancient castle at Sherborne, which was built by Roger, bishop of Sarum, in the reign of Henry I, and changed hands once or twice in the civil war of Stephen and the empress Maud. At that time, and for some time after, the town appears to have gone very much to decay, but afterwards revived. In the reign of Edward III it sent representatives to parliament, and at a later period the assizes were often held here. In the time of Leland and Camden, it was, with the exception perhaps of Poole, the most frequented town in the county, and the seat of a considerable woollen manufacture.

After the Reformation the clothing-trade declined, and was replaced by the manufacture of buttons, bone lace, and haberdashery, which was succeeded, towards the middle of the last century, by the silk manufacture.

In the great civil war the castle was held for the king by the marquis of Hertford ; but on his retiring it was taken by the parliamentarians under the earl of Bedford (A.D. 1642). In the following year the parliamentarians again entered the town, after a smart action with the townsmen (who drove out the party which first entered), and took the castle, which the royalists had again occupied. In 1645 the royalists held it again, until it was stormed by Cromwell and Fairfax with their forces, notwithstanding the gallant defence of Sir Lewis Dives, the governor. After this the castle was demolished.

The town is pleasantly situated, partly on the slope of a hill, partly in the pleasant vale of Blackmore. It is irregularly laid out ; part of it is well paved and lighted, and well supplied with water. The church is a large cross-church, with various portions of different dates. The south porch is a curious specimen of Norman. The largest part of the church is good perpendicular, and was partly erected in the reign of King Henry VI. The choir and its aisles have good buttresses, pinnacles, and flying buttresses, and a very good pannelled parapet. The belfry story of the central tower, rising above the roof, has eight windows with buttresses, which rise from a bold slope under the windows, below which the tower is plain.

This church anciently belonged to the abbey ; and some portions of the additional buildings remain, though very much mutilated, and converted to various purposes. Three sides of the lower part of the tower appear to be the original fabric, but the eastern side is of the same date with the choir. There are a few good early English windows in the north aisle of the choir or its chapel. The groining of most of the church is rich and good ; the south transept has a wood ceiling. There are some remains of ancient stalls and screen-work, and some portions of ancient stained glass. The tower is said to be upwards of 150 feet high. Attached to the church are four ancient chapels, one on each side of the south transept, and two on the east side of the north transept. The remains of two others form part of the house occupied by the head-master of the grammar-school.

At the east end of the church is the grammar-school. The head-master’s apartments, which are part of the school premises, include several remains of the abbey buildings : the school-room was built in the time of Charles II, on the site of an ancient chapel. On the south side of the churchyard is an almshouse with a small chapel. It is an ancient building of perpendicular date, originally an hospital of the order of St. Augustine : the dormitories retain the same form as when erected in the fifteenth century. The remains of the monastic buildings on the north side of the church comprehend the refectory, which was some years since used as a silk manufactory, some part of the abbot’s lodgings, the abbey gateway and barn, and the abbey-mill. A conduit belonging to the abbey has been removed into the market-place of the town ; it is in a very mutilated condition. The building now called the abbey-house was erected out of the ruins of the abbey soon after the dissolution.

The remains of the castle are on a rocky eminence at the east end of the town ; the whole area comprehends four acres, and is surrounded by a deep ditch, on the inner bank of which the foundations and fragments of the walls (six or seven feet thick) enclosing the greater ballium or court may be traced. The gate-tower and some parts of the buildings in the centre of the ballium remain, but the latter are in too ruinous a condition for the plan to be exactly traced. In the fine pleasure-grounds which surround the ruins of the castle is Sherborne Lodge, frequently called Sherborne Castle, the residence of the Earl of Digby ; it was built by Sir Walter Raleigh, and contains some interesting portraits. There are some ancient houses in the town of Sherborne. especially a large one built round a square court, and called the New Inn. The town-hall and market-house are near the church. There are meeting houses for Independents, Wesleyans, and Quakers.

The parish comprehends an area of 4,900 acres, and had in 1831, 762 houses, inhabited by 985 families, the population was 4,075, about one-fifth agricultural. Various branches of the silk manufacture, especially the making of silk twist and buttons, are carried on. There are two weekly markets, on Thursday and Saturday, the latter the most important, and three yearly fairs. It is one of the polling-stations for the county:

The benefice is a vicarage in the peculiar jurisdiction of the dean of Sarum, of the clear yearly value of £258, with a glebe-house, a building of considerable antiquity.

There were in the parish, in 1833, the grammar-school, with 102 boys (32 on the foundation) ; the Blue-Coat school, with a small endowment, with 32 boys and 2 girls ; a third endowed school with 23 girls ; a national school with 137 boys ; and ten other day-schools, with 60 boys and 169 girls ; an evening Lancasterian school, supported by subscription, with 50 boys and 90 girls; and two Sunday-schools, with 35 boys and 171 girls.