Extracts from ďA Topographical Dictionary of England by Samuel Lewis
Compiled by Michael Russell OPC for Fordington March 2008 [Last updated Feb 2011]
DORCHESTER, a borough and market-town, having separate jurisdiction, and the head of a union, locally in the hundred of St. George, Dorchester Division of the county of Dorset, 120 miles (S. W. by W.) from London; containing 3033 inhabitants. By the Boundary Act the whole of the village and part of the adjoining parish of Fordington have been added to the old borough, and also Colliton-Row and part of Froome-Whitfield : the population of the whole, in 1831, was 4940. The early existence of the old town is evident from the etymology of its Roman names, Dumovaria and Durinum, "a place on or near the Varia," which was the old British appellation of the Frome. Ptolemy describes it as the chief town of the Durotriges, and calls it Dunium: it was named by the Saxons Dornceaster, whence the modern Dorchester is derived. In Athelstan's charter to Milton abbey, dated at this place, Dorchester, which then belonged to the crown, is called Villa Regalis, to distinguish it from Dorchester in Oxfordshire, which was styled Villa Episcopalti. The Roman station stood on the Via Iceniana, and the remains of its ancient walls, the several vicinal roads leading from it, and the discovery of coins and other relics of antiquity, evince it to have been a place of great importance. In the Saxon age, two mints were granted to this place by Athelstan. In 1003,it was besieged and burnt.and its walls thrown down, by Sweyn, King of Denmark, in revenge for the attempt of Ethelred to extirpate the Danes by a general massacre.
In the reign of Elizabeth, several Roman Catholic priests were executed here; and, in 1595, the ravages of the plague were very extensive. In 1613, a fire consumed several houses, together with the churches of the Holy Trinity and All Saints: the damage amounted to £200,000. A second conflagration took place in 1662, and a third in 1775. During the civil wars, according to Lord Clarendon, Dorchester was considered one of the strongest holds of the parliament; it was fortified for this purpose in 1642-3, but, on the approach of the Earl of Caernarvon, with 2000 men, the town was immediately relinquished, and the governor fled by sea to Southampton: the Earl of Essex afterwards took possession of it. In 1645, an action took place here between General Goring, at the head of 1500 cavalry, and about 4000 of the parliamentary troops under Cromwell, in which the latter sustained a defeat, but kept possession of the town. In 1685, on the occasion of the Duke of Monmouth's rebellion, the assizes were held here, before Judge Jefferies, when 29 out of 30 persons tried in one day were found guilty and condemned: on the following day, 292 pleaded guilty and were condemned, of whom 80 were executed: on the morning of trial, Jefferies ordered the court to be hung with scarlet.
The town is pleasantly situated on elevated ground rising from the river Frome, by which it is bounded on the north-west: it occupies an area of about 80 acres, and consists principally of three spacious streets diverging from an area called Cornhill, in the centre, where the corn market is held, and terminating severally in the roads to London, Weymouth, and Exeter: from Weststreet, in a northerly direction, is the road to Bath. The old town, which is well paved and lighted, and kept remarkably clean, is environed for two-thirds of its extent by a fine promenade, overshadowed with lofty trees: a company has been formed for lighting it with gas, for which, and for its general improvement, an act was obtained in 1834. The surrounding scenery, which consists of extensive downs, sloping hills, and fertile enclosures, watered by branches of the Frome, forms a picturesque and beautiful landscape. A small theatre was erected in 1828, which has since been converted into a Masonic Lodge; and races are held annually in September. Surrounding the town is a large tract called Fordington Field, partly meadow land, and partly in tillage, without any enclosure, seven miles in circumference; it belongs to the duchy of Cornwall, and is held by the owners on lives, with a widowhood. Six hundred thousand sheep were formerly computed to have been constantly fed within a circuit of six miles, and that number is now exceeded: the high estimation of Dorchester mutton is attributable to the sweet herbage of the soil; and the water, which springs from a chalky bed, is particularly favourable for brewing beer, which is here made to a great extent, and of a superior quality. During the reigns of Elizabeth, Charles I., and James I., there was a flourishing cloth manufactory; but this branch of business has greatly declined, there being only a little blanketing and linsey now manufactured, in addition to the spinning of worsted yarn. The principal market day is Saturday, and there is an inferior market on Wednesday. The fairs are on Candlemas-day, St. John the Baptist's and St. James's days (O. S.), and October 25th; the three last are principally for sheep and lambs.
Dorchester claims to be a borough by prescription. Edward III. granted a charter, which was confirmed by succeeding sovereigns, as also did Richard III., but no specific form of municipal government was established until the charter of James I. Another charter was granted by Charles I., and under this the corporation consisted of a mayor, two bailiffs, six aldermen, and six capital burgesses, assisted by a high steward, recorder, town-clerk, two serjeants-at-mace, &c. The mayor, late mayor, recorder, two bailiffs, and a person annually chosen and called the standing justice, were justices of the peace. By the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., cap. 76 (for an abstract of which see the Appendix, No. I.), the government is now vested in a mayor, 4 aldermen, and 12 councillors: the mayor and late mayor, with five others, are justices of the peace; and the police force consists of a superintendent and five constables. This borough has returned two members to parliament since the 23rd of Edward I.: by the determination of a committee of the House of Commons, on a petition in 1790, the elective franchise was resolved to be in the inhabitants paying church and poor rates in respect of their personal estates, and in persons paying church and poor rates in respect of their real estates, -whether resident or not, in number about 400. By the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45, the former nonresident electors, except within seven miles, have been disfranchised, and the privilege has been extended to the £10 householders of an enlarged district, comprising 572 acres, which, for elective purposes, has been incorporated with the ancient borough, which comprised only 67 acres, and the limits of which are minutely described in the Appendix, No. II.: the number of voters is now 405; the mayor is the returning officer. The court of record still survives as under the old charter, and the new parts added to the borough are placed within its jurisdiction. A court leet is annually held on the first Monday after new Michaelmas-day, at which four constables and other usual officers are appointed. — Petty sessions of the mayor and justices are held every Monday. The town-hall was erected by the corporation in 1791 ; underneath is the market-house. The shirehall is a plain and commodious edifice of Portland stone, containing court-rooms wherein the assizes and quarter sessions for the county are held. The corporation have a right to use the county hall for all public purposes, reserved by the lease from the old corporation to the clerk of the peace in trust for the county, which is their title. The new county gaol was erected near the site of the old castle, between 1789 and 1795, at the expense of £16,179. 10. 6., on the plan of the benevolent Howard, and comprises the county gaol, sheriffs' ward, penitentiary, and house of correction: the exterior is handsome, and the interior is divided into various departments for the classification of prisoners, having four wings, which, though detached, communicate with the central building by cast-iron bridges. Dorchester, as the county town, is the place of election for knights of the shire, and, by the act of the 2nd and 3rd of William IV., has been constituted one of the polling-places within the county.
The town is divided into three parishes, viz., All Saints', commonly called All Hallows, St. Peter's, and the Holy Trinity. The living of All Saints' is a discharged rectory, valued in the king's books at £4.4. 7.; present net income, £84: it was in the patronage of the Mayor and Corporation, who sold it in 1837 to the Trustees of the late Rev. C. Simeon. The church was rebuilt after the great fire. The living of Trinity parish is a rectory, to which the rectory of Froome-Whitfield adjoining was united by act of parliament in 1610, valued in the king's books at £17. 8. 65.; present net income, £439; patrons, the feoffees of the free school and almshouse, incorporated by the same act. The church, erected nearly on the site of an ancient edifice pulled down in 1821, in consequence of its dilapidated state and its protruding so far into the street, is an elegant and commodious structure, ornamented with beautifully painted glass, and contains 130 free sittings, the Incorporated Society having granted £180 in aid of the expense; there is a marble tablet to the memory of Dr. Cuming, who, according to the epitaph, was buried in the churchyard, rather than in the church, " lest he who studied, while living, to promote the health of his fellow citizens, should prove detrimental to it when dead." It is, however, remarkable that the new church includes this grave within its walls. The living of St. Peter's is a rectory not in charge; net income, £184: the present rector was presented by the Crown, but it has been made a question whether the patrons of the Holy Trinity are not by an ancient annexation, or as a chapel of ease, entitled to the patronage of St. Peter's also; this question was raised on a late action between the present rectors of the two parishes to try the right to a piece of glebe in St. Peter's parish, and the jury at Nisi Prius found that St. Peter's was annexed to, or dependent upon, the Holy Trinity; they also found that the piece of land was part of the Trinity glebe, though in St. Peter's parish. The church is in the later style of English architecture, and consists of a chancel, nave, and side aisles, and an embattled tower crowned with pinnacles, 90 feet in height: it contains several ancient and curious monuments, one to the memory of Denzil, Lord Holies, of white marble, with his effigy in a recumbent posture, and bearing a Latin and English inscription; also the handsome tomb of Sir John Williams, of Herringstone, Knt., and his lady. In the north aisle, on a stone coffin, lies the effigy of a knight, cross-legged, and completely armed in a coat of mail and helmet, with belt, spurs, and shield, but without armorial devices: there is a similar figure in the south window: they are supposed to represent two crusaders belonging to the family of the Chidiocks, founders of the neighbouring priory, and to have been removed hither on the demolition of the priory church. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, Wesleyan Methodists, and Unitarians. A free grammar school was founded and endowed, in the year 1579, by Mr. Thomas Hardy, of Wyke, near Weymouth, with a small estate of about £20 per annum, for a master and an usher: the government is vested in trustees. It has a trifling exhibition of £5 per annum, charged upon the butchers' shambles adjoining the town-hall, and held by lease under the corporation, at any college in either university; in addition to which there are two exhibitions, of £10 per annum each, at St. John's College, Cambridge, for scholars either from St. Paul's school, London, or from the free school of Dorchester. A second school was refounded by the corporation, about 1623, having existed prior to the establishment of the grammar school, and intended as a subordinate institution: the present master was appointed by the old corporation, but the foundation being deemed a municipal charity, the future appointment and the present management are vested in six Trustees appointed by the Lord Chancellor. The charity itself consisted merely of the house, and for the occupation of it the master taught three boys, one from each of the three town parishes, with a payment of £2.2. a year out of Napier's charity. The present trustees, pursuant to a decree of the court of chancery, have obtained authority to add a salary of £20 per annum out of the proceeds of the Hospital charity, in consideration of which he is to teach 9 additional boys, to be selected by the trustees. There are two National Central schools, towards building one of which the Lords of the Treasury granted £80; and in Trinity parish is a smaller school in union with the National Society, which has an annual grant of £3. 12. towards its support from the County Society. A handsome almshouse, called Napper's or Napier's Mite, adjoins the free school; it was founded by Sir Robert Napier, in 1615, for ten poor men. Near the priory is another, founded and endowed previously to 1617, by Matthew Chubb, one of the representatives of this borough, for nine poor women; and in the vicinity of All Saints' church are Whetstone's almshouses, for the maintenance of four persons, or four couple, at the discretion of the trustees of municipal charities. Dorchester hospital, erected in 1616, was originally a kind of workhouse, and, having been subsequently otherwise occupied, was again converted to its primary use, in 1744, for the poor of the three parishes: it has been taken down lately and the poor removed to the union workhouse, built in Fordington-field. The site and curtilage has lately been sold under a decree of the court of chancery on building leases, and six new houses are now in progress. The poor law union of Dorchester comprises 39 parishes or places, under the superintendence of 43 guardians; and contains a population of 14,048, according to the census of 1831.
There are some probable remains of the wall and fosse by which the town was surrounded while in the possession of the Romans: the wall, which is six feet thick, and in some parts twelve feet high, is founded on the solid chalk rock, and is built of rag-stone, laid obliquely and covered with mortar; every second course, in the Roman manner, running the reverse way, and having occasional horizontal ones for binding, intermixed with flint; they appear to be only the grout-work, or interior part of the wall, the facing having been long since removed. A great part of these fortifications was levelled and destroyed in making the walks which partially surround the town, particularly in 1764, when 87 feet of wall were pulled down, and only 67 feet left standing. A castle, probably of Roman origin, formerly stood here, the site of which is placed, by tradition, in a large field near the county prison, still called Castle Green; but there are not the slightest traces of the building. A friary of the Franciscan order was built with the materials, a little eastward from the castle, by a member of the Chidiock family, some time previously to the 4th of Edward III. The conventual church was pulled down at the Reformation, and the house altered by Sir Francis Ashley for his own residence; it contains many of his armorial bearings and insignia. Here Denzil, the celebrated Lord Holies, died; after which the mansion was converted into a Presbyterian meeting-house, and so continued till 1722. Opposite to it, on the north, are the priory close and meadow. Several British tumuli are scattered round the town. In 1725, a large tesselated pavement was discovered, at the depth of three or four feet, in a garden near South - street; and in 1/47, a brazen image of some Roman deity, probably of Bacchus, was found at the depth of five feet. In preparing the foundations for the new gaol, a great number of Roman coins were dug up, including some of Antoninus Pius, Vespasian, Constantine, Carausius, Valerian, Valens, and Gallienus. In the immediate vicinity of the town are some interesting remains of a supposed British amphitheatre, a Saxon earth-work called Poundbury, and the British intrenched residence, now called Maiden Castle. Henry Pierpoint, Earl of Kingston, was created Marquess of Dorchester, March 25th, 1645, but the title, after having been revived on the 23rd of Dec., 1706, finally became extinct on the death of Evelyn Pierpoint, the last duke of Kingston.
FORDINGTON (St. George), a parish, in the union of Dorchester, liberty of Fordington, Dorchester division of Dorset; adjoining the borough of Dorchester, and containing 2937 inhabitants. This place derived its name from a ford over the Frome, across which river are now several bridges in the neighbourhood. In the 29th of Edward III., Queen Isabel procured the grant of a market on Tuesday, and a fair on the eve, day, and morrow of St. George. The parish surrounds the whole of Dorchester, and comprises by measurement about 4000 acres, whereof the greater part is arable, and the remainder pasture; the soil is chiefly a light marl, on a chalky stratum. There are some factories for weaving woollen-cloth, employing upwards of fifty hands; and an iron-foundry is carried on. The living is a discharged vicarage, valued in the king's books at £15; net income, £225; patron, the Prebendary of Fordington in the Cathedral of Salisbury. The church was founded about 1400, but only a small portion of the original structure now remains; it is a cruciform edifice, partly Norman and partly of English architecture, with a porch in which is some rude sculpture. Christchurch, at West Fordington, was consecrated in 1846. In the parish are many barrows, some of them very large; and Roman coins are frequently ploughed up. In 1747, above 200 skeletons, the supposed remains of persons who fell in the Danish wars, were discovered at the depth of four or five feet; they were re-interred in the churchyard, or in pits dug on the spot.