Shaftesbury Civic Society
Founder Member of Civic Voice
A History of Shaftesbury
Alfred the Great founded a burgh (fortified settlement) here in 880 as a defence in the struggle with the Danish invaders, recorded in the early 10th century in the Burghal Hidage. In 888 Alfred founded Shaftesbury Abbey, a Benedictine nunnery by the town’s east gate, and appointed his daughter Ethelgiva as the first abbess.
Athelstan, founded three 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 in 1035, though he was buried in Wareham.
By the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066 Shaftesbury had 257 houses, though many were destroyed in the ensuing conflict, but 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. Around this time, the town’s ownership was equally shared between king and abbey.
In the first civil war (1135-
In 1240 Cardinal Otto (Oddone di Monferrato), 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. In the Middle Ages the abbey was the central focus of the town.
In 1260, a charter to hold a market was granted. In 1392, 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 (where the Tesco supermarket car park is today).
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 was a parliamentary constituency returning two members from 1296 to the Reform Act of 1832, when it was reduced to one, and in 1884 the separate constituency was abolished.
The town was broadly Parliamentarian in the Civil War (1642–1651), 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 Sherborne. Shaftesbury took no part in the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685.
The major industries in the 17th and 18th centuries were button making and weaving. The former became a victim of mechanisation, which caused unemployment, starvation and emigration, with 350 families leaving for Canada. Malting and Brewing were also ignificant at this time, and like other Dorset towns such as Dorchester and blandford Forum, Shaftesbury became known for its beer.
The five turnpikes which met at Shaftesbury ensured that the town had a good coaching trade. The railways, however, bypassed the town, which had consequence for Shaftesbury’s economy, during the 19th century the town’s brewing industry was reduced to serving only local markets, and the population grew little.
The town hall was built in 1827 by Earl Grosvenor after the guildhall was pulled down to widen High Street. It has been designated by English Heritage as a grade II listed building. The town hall is next to the 15th century St. Peter's Church.
The Westminster Memorial Hospital was constructed on Bimport in the mid-
In 1919, Lord Stalbridge sold a large portion of the town, which was purchased by a syndicate and auctioned piece by piece over three days.
Most of the Saxon and Medieval buildings are now ruined, with most of the town dating from the 18th century to present.
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