Shaftesbury Snippets

As soon we  had finished washing and drying our clothes at the Laundromat and had packed them into our cases, we made ready to leave Shaftesbury and move on. But before we left, we got chatting to a few people in the know about the area, and they told us a little about Gold Hill.

Shaftesbury has two museums. One is Gold Hill Museum which was founded in 1946. This museum is situated at the very top of the steep cobbled street that runs down between the houses on Gold Hill.  The other museum, Shaftesbury Abbey Museum, is, as the name would seem to imply, situated in the old abbey grounds.

The lady in the Laundromat told us that Gold Hill’s steep cobbled street also featured in the 1970s British television advertisement created by Ridley Scott for Hovis bread, and that the remains of the old buttressed wall, as seen on the right in the bread advertisement, is a left-over relic from the old Shaftesbury Abbey.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit both museums, but I was fascinated by the area, and, later,  I turned to the internet and other sources (including wikipedia which, being an unsubstantiated source, has its dangers),  to add to the information I had gained from the those people I spoke to in Shaftesbury and who were au fait with the history of the area.

The city has had many names. It was, in the beginning, Caer Shaston-ShaftesburyPalladour. By the time of the Domesday Book it was Sceptesberie. It then, with all the affectation of a lady in an eighteenth-century lyric, called itself Sophonia. Lastly it became Shaston, and so the people call it to this day, while all the milestones around concern themselves only with recording the distances to “Shaston”. — Sir Frederick Treves, Highways & Byways in Dorset (1906) (Shaftesbury, wikipedia, created 1 March 2016, accessed 5 March 2016).

It is also true that the people in the present-day Shaftesbury still call their town “Shaston”. Back when Bob and I were there last May, I couldn’t figure out why the locals were calling the place “Shaston” when we knew full well that it was “Shaftesbury”, and I thought that I must have been mishearing them.

In Survey of Dorsetshire, which was written in the early-mid 1600s by Thomas Gerard of the Dorset village of Trent, Shaftesbury is described as a “faire Thorough Faire, much frequented by Travellers to and from London”.

In the 18th century the turnpike roads which met at Shaftesbury ensured that the town had a good coaching trade….(Shaftesbury, wikipedia, created 1 March 2016, accessed 5 March 2016).

The use of “Shaston” was recorded in 1831 in Samuel Lewis’s A Topographical Dictionary of England, and in 1840 in The parliamentary gazetteer of England and Wales.   As I noted in my last blog, Thomas Hardy used both “Shaston” and “Palladour” to refer to Shaftesbury  in the fictional Wessex  of his novels–in Jude the Obscure, for example.

“Caer Palladour” in the Brythonic  language is “Caer Vynnydd y Paladr” or “The Hillfort of the Spears”, yet there is no substantive evidence that Shaftesbury was the “Caer Palladur” (or “Caer Palladwr”)  of Celtic and Roman times, and, moreover, the town’s recorded history dates from Anglo-Saxon times.   The general use of “Palladour” was described by one 19th-century directory as “mere invention.”  Thomas Hardy’s own later use of “Palladour” in his “Wessex” novels has been attributed as his invention.

As noted earlier in this post, Shaftesbury is built on and around  the site of the former Shaftesbury Abbey.

By the early 8th century there was an important minster church in the town now known as  Shaftesbury; and it was here that,  in A.D.  880, King Alfred the Great founded a Burgh (fortified settlement) as a defence in the struggle with the Danish  invaders. The burgh is recorded in the early-10th-century Burghal Hidage as being one of only three that existed in the county, the others being at Wareham and ‘Bredy’–Bredy was probably the town now known as Bridport. Shaftesbury Abbey was also founded here by Alfred the Great in A.D. 888, as a Benedictine nunnery,  and which became one of the richest religious establishments in the country:

[The Benedictine nunnery, Shaftesbury Abbey, was built by the town’s east gate.] Alfred appointed his daughter Ethelgifu as the first abbess. [The King of the Anglo-Saxons] Athelstan, founded two royal mints, which struck pennies bearing the town’s name, and the abbey became the wealthiest Benedictine nunnery in England. On 20 February 981 the relics of St. Edward the Martyr  were transferred from Wareham and received at the abbey with great ceremony, thereafter turning Shaftesbury into a major site of pilgrimage for miracles of healing….

King Canute died here at the abbey in 1035, though he was buried at Winchester. Edward the Confessor  licensed a third mint for the town. By the time of the Norman Conquest  in 1066 Shaftesbury had 257 houses, though many were destroyed in the ensuing years of conflict, and by the time the Domesday Book was compiled twenty years later, there were only 177 houses remaining, though this still meant that Shaftesbury was the largest town in Dorset at that time. Around this time the town’s ownership was equally shared between king and abbey. In the first English Civil War (1135-1154) between Empress Matilda and King Stephen, an adulterine castle or fortified house was built on a small promontory  at the western edge of the hill on which the old town was built. The site on Castle Hill, also known locally as Boltbury, is now under grass and is a scheduled monument….

In 1240 Cardinal Otto, legate to the Apostolic See of Pope Gregory IX  visited the abbey and confirmed a charter of 1191, the first entered in the Glastonbury chartulary. During the Middle Ages the abbey was the central focus of the town; the abbey’s great wealth was acknowledged in a popular saying at the time, which stated that “If the abbot of Glastonbury could marry the abbess of Shaftesbury their heir would hold more land than the king of England”. In 1260 a charter to hold a market was granted. By 1340 the mayor had become a recognised figure, sworn in by the steward of the abbess. In 1392 King Richard II confirmed a grant of two markets on different days. Edwardstow, Shaftesbury’s oldest surviving building, was built on Bimport at some time between 1400 and 1539. Also in this period a medieval farm owned by the Abbess of Shaftesbury was established, on a site now occupied by the Tesco supermarket car park….  (Shaftesbury, wikipedia, created 1 March 2016, accessed 5 March 2016).

I now wish I had known this about Shaftesbury’s Tesco’s car-park last May when Bob and I had parked our beautiful black Audi rental car there–we had shopped in Tesco’s for fresh fruit and a few groceries, and new, sturdier umbrellas than the ones we had had, and which had blown inside-out when we stepped out of the car in Tesco’s car-park. Pouring rain or not, and destroyed umbrella not-withstanding, I most definitely would have been thrilled to stand out there, in the car-park, on the one-time mediaeval farm that had belonged to the Abbess of Shaftesbury, and  really savour the moment. All I can do now is know that I was there, and say that the very rich Shaftesbury Abbey was  destroyed in the Dissolution  in 1539–and I will add to this by saying that personally, I think that the wanton destruction of all these very, very old and beautiful places is a dreadful, dreadful shame and a terrible and evil act:

In 1539, the last Abbess of Shaftesbury, Elizabeth Zouche, signed a deed of surrender, the (by then extremely wealthy) abbey was demolished, and its lands sold, leading to a temporary decline in the town. Sir Thomas Arundel of Wardour purchased the abbey and much of the town in 1540, but when he was later exiled for treason his lands were forfeit, and the lands passed to Pembroke then Anthony Ashley Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, and finally to the Grosvenors….  (Shaftesbury, wikipedia, created 1 March 2016, accessed 5 March 2016).

The town was broadly Parliamentarian in the Civil War (Oliver Cromwell) but was in Royalist hands. Wardour Castle fell to Parliamentary forces in 1643; Parliamentary forces surrounded the town in August 1645, when it was a centre of local clubmen activity. The clubmen were arrested and sent to trial in Sherbourne. Shaftesbury took no part in the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685…. (Shaftesbury, wikipedia, created 1 March 2016, accessed 5 March 2016).

The importance of Shaftesbury’s early industry:

In the 17th and 18th centuries the cloth industry formed part of Shaftesbury’s economy, though much of the actual production took place as a cottage industry  in the surrounding area. In the 18th century the town produced a coarse white woollen cloth called ‘swanskin’, that was used by fishermen of Newfoundland, and also for uniforms. Button-making also became important around this time, though with the later advent of industrialisation this subsequently declined, resulting in unemployment, starvation and emigration, with 350 families leaving for Canada. Malting and brewing were also significant in the 17th and 18th centuries, and like other Dorset towns such as Dorchester and Blandford Forum,  Shaftesbury became known for its beer…. (Shaftesbury, wikipedia, created 1 March 2016, accessed 5 March 2016).

Most of Shaftesbury’s buildings date from no earlier than the 18th century, as the Saxon and most of the medieval buildings have not survived.  Shaftesbury’s town hall was built in 1827 by Earl Grosvenor after the guildhall was pulled down to widen High Street. The Shafetsbury's town halltown hall, which is situated next to the 15th century St. Peter’s Church, has now been designated by English Heritage as a grade II listed building, is still in use:

Shaftesbury has a rare example of a little-altered Georgian Town Hall and the dignified Council Chamber or the larger Guildhall, which both have lovely views of Gold Hill and the Blackmore Vale, or the cosy Mayor’s Parlour are all available, separately or together to make a unique setting for your wedding. (Shaftesbury Town Hall

Works cited

Shaftesbury – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Shaftesbury Town Hall, Dorset (UK) – remotegoat

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