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Dorchester in 1840

Dorchester, at the junction of the Thame and the Isis or Thames, is in the hundred of Dorchester ; the area of the parish is 900 acres ; the population in 1831 was 866, chiefly agricultural. The termination ‘chester’ indicates that it was a Roman station ; and it appears to have been the Dorocina of Richard of Cirencester.

The foundations of an ancient town-wall (whether Roman or not our authorities do not state) are frequently dug up ; an extensive embankment called Dykehills, near the village, has given scope for much conjecture ; and Dorchester and its immediate neighbourhood have yielded an abundant harvest of coins and other relics of antiquity.

The town appears to have been in the height of its prosperity in the seventh century, when it was made the seat of a bishopric, which comprehended the two kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex. This bishopric was subsequently diminished by the formation of new sees, but was still the largest in England, when the seat of it was moved to Lincoln, A.D. 1086. The place had however previously declined, owing to the ravages of the Danes.

There was a castle built here, in the middle ages, of which not a vestige remains. In the year 1140 an abbey of Black Canons was founded here, which had at the dissolution a yearly revenue of £219, 12 shillings, 0¾ pence. Some parts of the building yet remain near the church. The church of Dorchester is a large and curious church, with portions of different dates mixed together. The building is imperfect and the plan of it very irregular. There are portions in all the varying styles of Gothic architecture, and other portions in which there is a transition from one style to another. The door at the western end of the north aisle is Norman, but the greater part of the church is of later date. There are some good ancient monuments, and a very ancient font. The fragment of the ancient abbey has been converted into a cottage.

There is a modern bridge over the Thames at Dorchester, built of Headington stone. The living of Dorchester is a perpetual curacy, in the jurisdiction of the peculiar court of Dorchester, of the clear yearly value of £100. There were in the parish, in 1833, an endowed school, with 40 boys and 10 girls ; two other day-schools, with 10 boys and 25 girls ; and one Sunday-school, with 16 boys and 30 girls.