Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for DORCHESTER

DORCHESTER, a town, three parishes, a sub-district, a district, and a division in Dorset. The town stands on the Ridgeway, the Via Iceniana, and the river Frome, at the junction of the Southwestern, the Great Western, and the Wilts and Somerset railways, 8 miles N of Weymouth. Its site is an eminence, sloping on one side to the Frome, and bordered on other sides by open downs. It is the Caer-Dori of the ancient Britons, the Durnovaria and the Dunium of the Romans, and the Dornceaster of the Saxons. It was strongly fortified by the Romans; made a mint-town by Athelstan; burnt, in 1003, by Sweyn the Dane; burnt again in 1613 and 1662; desolated by the plague in 1595; fortified against Charles I. in 1643; taken and held afterwards by both parties in the war; and made the scene of " a bloody assize, " by Jeffreys, in 1685. The ancient Roman roads from it are still used as highways. The Roman walls around it enclosed about 80 acres; seem to have been grouted, or formed of two parallel walls, with interior fitting of stones, flint, and hot mortar; and, though generally destroyed in making walks and otherwise, are still recognisible in remaining portions, 6 feet thick, and of herring-bone work. An amphitheatre, called Maenbury or Maumbury, situated beyond the walls, by the side of the Roman road to Weymouth, and of the railway stations, is the most perfect antiquity of its class in the kingdom; has been generally regarded as a Roman work of the time of-Agricola, but may have been previously formed by the ancient Britons; comprises an oval earthwork 30 feet high, with area 218 feet long and 163 wide; would afford accommodation to so many as 12, 960 spectators; and was used, in 1705, for the burning of a woman's body after execution, in the presence of about 10, 000 persons. Roman coins, a Roman gold ring, a bronze Roman Mercury, and a considerable fragment of a Roman pavement have been found in the town and its vicinity. An ancient camp, called Poundbury, of irregular shape, protected by a lofty vallum and ditch, and thought to have been constructed by the Danes, crests a hill on the NW, commanding an extensive view. Another ancient camp, called the Maiden Castle, with three earthen ramparts, the innermost one 60 feet high and a mile or more in circuit, occupies an eminence, by the side of the Ridgeway, 2 miles to the SSW. Great numbers of barrows also dot the hills to the south.

The town has an irregular quadrangular outline; and consists of but a few streets, mostly long, well-built, clean, and quiet. The High-street runs from E to W, on the line of the Via Iceniana; and South-street and North-market run in the opposite direction. The village of Fordington forms a large suburb on the SW. Fine walks engird the town on three sides, along the line of the Roman wall; and are so planted with elms, chestnuts, and sycamores as to have the character of pleasant park-avenues. The guildhall was built in 1847, and is in the Tudor style. The corn exchange was built in 1868, and is spacious. The shire-hall is a neat pedimented commodious building. The county jail, on the site of an ancient castle, on the north side of the town, comprises an erection of 1793, at a cost of £16, 180, and subsequent wings and other enlargements; and has capacity for 157 male and 28 female prisoners. The railway stations are well situated outside of the town, and have neat arrangements. St. Peter's church, at the intersection of four streets, near the centre of the town, is a recently-restor-ed, well-proportioned, ancient edifice, with Norman porch; consists of nave, chancel, and aisles, with pinna-cled tower 90 feet high; and contains a few monuments of distinguished persons, and some ancient brasses. All Saints church was rebuilt in 1821; and has an interest-ing east window of painted glass, presented by the late Bishop of Salisbury. Trinity church was rebuilt in 1824. Fordington church is an ancient structure, originally cruciform, with a high pinnacled tower; is dedicated to St. George; and has, over the south porch, a sculpture of St. George and the Dragon. Christ-church, in W. Fordington, is a recent edifice in the early English style. The county museum, in High West-street, contains an interesting collection of British and Roman antiquities. The county hospital, in the south part of the town, is a handsome building of 1841, in the Tudor style; and a chapel was added to it in 1862, in the early English style. The workhouse, ½ a mile to the south-west, was erected in 1836. The grammar school has £48 from endowment, with three exhibitions; another school has £108; three alms-houses have £165, £61, and £32; and other charities have £160. There are chapels for Independents, Baptists, Methodists, and Unitarians.

The town has a head post-office, ‡ a telegraph station, three banking offices, and three chief inns; is a seat of assizes and quarter sessions, and the political capital of the county; and publishes two weekly newspapers. Markets are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays; and fairs on 14 Feb., 6 July, 6 Aug., 29 Sept., and 25 Oct. The manufacture of broad cloth and serges was, at one time, largely carried on, but has entirely decayed; and the chief trade now, besides a brisk country one at the markets and the fairs, is the brewing and exporting of excellent ale. The town sent two members to parliament from the time of Edward I. till 1867, but now sends only one; and it is governed by a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors. The parliamentary and the municipal boundaries are co-extensive, and comprise the parishes of St. Peter and All Saints, and parts of the parishes of Holy Trinity and Fordington. Acres, 572. Direct taxes in 1858, £4, 651. Pop. in 1841, 3, 249; in 1861, 6, 823. Houses, 1, 030. Electors in 1868, 451. N. Mather, the divine, and Pikes, the Roman Catholic martyr, were natives. -St. Peter and All Saints parishes jointly comprise 42 acres; and Holy Trinity parish includes Frome-Whitfield and Colliton-Row hamlets, and comprises 1, 369 acres. Real property of St. Peter, £5, 780; of All-Saints, £3, 380; of Holy Trinity, £5, 504. Pop. of St. Peter, 1, 213; of All Saints, 946; of Holy Trinity, 1, 601. Houses, 166 and 131 and 222. The livings are all rectories in the diocese of Salisbury. Value of St. Peter, £164; * of All Saints, £84; * of Holy Trinity, with Frome-Whitfield, £500.* Patron of St. Peter, the Lord Chancellor; of All Saints, Simeon's Trustees; of Holy Trinity, the Free School and Alms-houses' Trustees.

The sub-district contains the parishes of Dorchester, Fordington, Stinsford, Whitcombe, Winterbourne-Came, Winterbourne-Monckton, and Winterbourne-Herringstone. Acres, 9, 830. Pop. 7, 709. Houses, 1, 182.—The district comprehends also the sub-district of Piddletown, containing the parishes of Piddletown, Piddlehinton, West Stafford, West Knighton, Broadmayne, Warmwell, Woodsford, Tincleton, Tolpuddle, Burlestone, Admiston, and Dewlish; the sub-district of Maiden-Newton, containing the parishes of Maiden-Newton, Charminster, Bradford-Peverell, Stratton, Frampton, Frome-Vauchurch, Chilfroome, Toller-Porcorum, Toller-Fratrum, Compton-Abbas, Compton-Vallence, Kingston-Russell, Long Bredy, Little Bredy, Winterbourne-Abbas, Winterbourne-Steepleton, and Winterbourne-St. Martin, and the parochial chapelry of Wynford-Eagle; and the sub-district of Cerne, containing the parishes of Cerne-Abbas, Up-Cerne, Nether-Cerne, Godmanstone, Sydling-St. Nicholas, Cattistock, Frome-St. Quinton, Melbury-Bubb, Batcombe, Mintern-Magna, Alton-Pancras, Piddletrenthide, Chesilborne, Melcombe-Horsey, Buckland-Newton, Mappowder, Pulham, Hermitage, and Wootton-Glanville, and the parochial chapelry of Hilfield. Acres, 115, 339. Poor-rates in 1862, £14, 378. Pop. in 1841, 20, 815; in 1861, 24, 773. Houses, 4, 637. Marriages in 1860, 193; births, 720, -of which 39 were illegitimate; deaths, 482, -of which 145 were atages under 5 years, and 17 at ages above 85. Marriages in the ten years 1851-60, 1, 947; births, 7, 889; deaths, 5, 234. The places of worship in 1851 were 58 of the Church of England, with 12, 224 sittings; 6 of Independents, with l, 390 s.; 1 of Baptists, with 348 s.; 1 of Unitarians, with 300 s.; 10 of Wesleyan Methodists, with 1, 052 s.; 1 of Primitive Methodists, with 70 s.; and 1 of Wesleyan Reformers, with 200 s. The schools were 48 public day schools, with 2, 589 scholars; 56 private day schools, with 952 s; 56 Sunday schools, with 2, 958 s.; and 3 evening schools for adults, with 36 s. Two poor-law unions, Dorchester and Cerne, are comprised in the district; and have their workhouses in Fordington and Cerne-Abbas-The division contains the hundreds or liberties of Culliford-Tree, Dewlish, George, Ower-moigne, Piddlehinton, Portland, Wabyhouse, and Wyke-Regis and Elwell, and parts of those of Eggerton, Fordington, Frampton, Piddletown, Sutton-Pointz, Tollerford, Uggscombe, Winfrith, and Cerne, Totcombe, and Modbury. Acres, 113, 084. Pop. in 1851, 25, 696; in 1861, 28, 868. Houses, 5, 200.

(John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72))

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "a town, three parishes, a sub-district, a district, and a division"   (ADL Feature Type: "cities")
Administrative units: Dorchester CP       Dorchester SubD       Dorchester RegD       Dorset AncC
Place: Dorchester

Go to the linked place page for a location map, and for access to other historical writing about the place. Pages for linked administrative units may contain historical statistics and information on boundaries.