Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for DORSETSHIRE, or Dorset

DORSETSHIRE, or Dorset, a maritime county; bounded, on the NW, by Somerset; on the NE, by Wilts; on the E, by Hants; on the S, by the English channel; on the W, by Devon. Its outline is very irregular. Its greatest length, from east to west, is 52 miles; its greatest breadth, 37 miles; its circuit, about 180 miles; its area 632, 258 acres. The surface, in a main degree, is hilly and bleak, consisting of chalk downs and sandy heaths; yet possesses the charms of wild scenery, extensive prospects, and beautiful shores. The loftiest points are Swyre-hill, Black-down, and Pillesdon-Pen, respectively 669, 813, and 934 feet high. The coast is about 75 miles long; presents much diversity; and includes the singular promontory, called the Isle of Portland. The chief rivers are the Stour, the Frome, the Piddle, the Ivel, the Cerne, and the Brit. Mineral springs are at Sherborne, Chilcombe, Nottington, and some other places. Lias rocks, chiefly dark blue clays, studded with ammonites and the bones of vast reptiles, are in the west; lower and middle oolite rocks, including inferior oolite, fuller's earth, great oolite, forest marble, corn brash, Oxford clay, calcareous grit, and coral rag, adjoin the has, from Somerset to the sea; upper oolite rocks, Kimmeridge clay, Portland stone, and Purbeck limestone, prevail in the isles of Portland and Purbeck; upper greensand skirts the escarpments of two great ranges of downs, and rises into the mass of Pillesdon-Pen; chalk forms the main bulk of the downs, in the one case with a breadth of from 10 to 18 miles, in the other with an average breadth of barely 2 miles, and is the most prominent geological feature in the county; and tertiary deposits, chiefly the sands of the plastic clay, stretch in barren heaths, between the two ranges of downs, from Poole to Dorchester. Bad stony coal, coarse marble, pipeclay, the Portland stone, the Purbeck limestone, and good potter's clay are worked, the last three to a great extent, for exportation.

The soil of some low grounds, in the west, in the centre, and in the north, is a deep rich loam; of about one-sixth of the entire area, sand; of about one-fifth, clay; of about one-third, chalk; of about one-ninth, useless irreclaimable rock. About 10, 000 acres are disposed in orchards; about 190, 000 are under the plough; and about 400, 000 are meadow and pasture. Wheat and barley are much cultivated on the best soils, the latter for malting; potatoes and beans are grown as alternating crops on the good soils, and sainfoin and turnips on the chalk; hemp, for oil and oil cakes, is raised near Bridport and Beaminster; and hops are cultivated on a few spots. Salt butter, of such quality as, when well washed, to be sold for fresh, is sent to the London market; and skimmed-milk cheese, streaked, and known as double Dorset, is made for home consumption. Cattle are reared both for the dairy and for the shambles. Short-woolled sheep, of the Down and Southdown breeds, crossed with the Leicesters and others, form a stock of about 700, 000, are famous for early lambs, and yield annually about 10, 000 packs of wool. A small breed, equal to the Bagshot and the Welsh, occurs in Portland and Purbeck. Manufactures in flax, thread, hemp, cordage, sailcloth, woollens, worsted stockings, shirt buttons, and gloves, employ about 3, 000 persons. Fisheries of various kinds, but most largely of mackerel, are carried on along the coast, particularly near Abbotsbury and from Portland to Bridport. One great line of railway comes in from Hants; goes curvingly along the southern half of the county, past Wimborne-Minster, Wareham, and Dorchester, to Bridport: and sends off a branch southward to Weymouth. Another comes in from Wilts; goes along the north border, past Gillingham and Sherborne; and proceeds towards South Somerset and Devon. A third deflects from the first at Wimborne; and goes north-westward, through the north-east centre of the county, past Blandford-Forum, and along the vale of Blackmore into Somerset. And a fourth deflects from the first at Maiden-Newton; and goes northward into junction with the second between Sherborne and Yeovil.

The county contains 277 parishes, parts of 2 others, and 4 extra-parochial places; and is divided into the boroughs of Blandford, Bridport, Dorchester, Lyme-Regis, Poole, Shaftesbury, and Weymouth, and the divisions of Blandford, Bridport, Cerne, Dorchester, Shaston, Sherborne, Sturminster, Wareham, and Wimborne. The act of 7 and 8 Vict.. 61 severed Stockland parish from Dorset, and annexed to it Holwell and Thorncombe parishes and Beerhall tything. The registration county gives off five parishes to Devon, three parishes to Somerset, and a parish and a hamlet to Wilts; takes in nine parishes from Somerset, and a parish and part of a hamlet from Hants; comprises 615, 783 acres; and is divided into the districts of Beaminster, Blandford, Bridport, Dorchester, Poole, Shaftesbury, Sherborne, Sturminster, wareham, Weymouth, and Wimborne. The seven boroughs, and Wareham, Wimborne-Minster, Beaminster, Sherborne, Cerne-Abbas, Stalbridge, Swanage, Corfe-Castle, and Milton-Abbas are or were market-towns; and there are about 360 smaller towns, villages, and hamle The chief seats are Eastbury Park, Stalbridge Park, Cranborne Lodge, Sherborne Castle, Motcombe, Encombe, Melbury House, Milton-Abbas, Wimborne-St. Giles, Bryanstone, Rushmore Lodge, Down House, Gaunt's House, Loder's House, Mapperton, Parnham House, Raunston House, Sydling, Sans-Souci, Rhode-Hill, Bloxworth, Bridehead, Charborough Park, Critchell House, Dewlish, Edmondesham, Frampton House, Stowborough-Grange, Handford House, Henbury, Herringstone-Lodge, Kingston House, Langton, Lulworth, Manston, Moor-Critchell, Nottington House, Strode House, Studland, Thornhill House, Turnworth, Upton, West Stafford, Whatcombe, and Wolveton. Real property in 1815, £726, 264; in 1843, £917, 077; in 1851, £970, 858; in 1860, £992, 760, -of which £11, 262 were in mines, £4, 348 in quarries, and £910 in railways.

The county is governed by a lord-lieutenant, a high sheriff, about sixty deputy lieutenants, and about 210 magistrates; is in the south-western military district, and the western judicial circuit; and forms an archdeaconry in the diocese of Salisbury. The assizes and the quarter sessions are held at Dorchester. The county jail also is there, and a town jail is at Poole. The police force, in 1862, comprised 35 men for the boroughs of Blandford, Dorchester, Poole, and Weymouth, at an annual cost of £2, 251 a year; and 133 for the rest of the county, at a cost of £9, 322. The crimes committed were 36 in the boroughs, and 159 in the rest of the county; the persons apprehended, 31 in the boroughs, and 126 in the rest of the county. The known depredators and suspected persons at large were 201 in the boroughs, and 2, 494 in the rest of the county; the houses of bad character, 58 in the boroughs, and 262 in the rest of the county. Six members are sent to parliament by the boroughs, and three by the rest of the county. Electors of the county, exclusive of the boroughs, in 1868, 6, 203. Poor-rates in 1862, £98, 662. Marriages in the registration county, in 1860, 1, 434, -of which 190 were not according to the rites of the Established Church; births, 5, 793, -of which 394 were illegitimate; deaths, 3, 400, -of which 1, 138 were at ages under 5 years, and 140 at ages above 85. Marriages in the ten years 1851-60, 13, 429; births, 56, 087; deaths, 34, 820. The places of worship, in the county-proper, in 1851, were 304 of the Church of England, with 77, 886 sittings; 69 of Independents, with 17, 330 s.: 15 of Baptists, with 3, 272 s.; 4 of Quakers, with 1, 083 s.; 4 of Unitarians, with 1, 104 s.; 101 of Wesleyan Methodists, with 14, 148 s.; 43 of Primitive Methodists, with 3, 615 s.; 1 of Bible Christians, with 100 s.; 2 of Wesleyan Reformers, with 414 s.; 1 of Brethren, with 100 s.; 7 of isolated congregations, with 970 s.; 5 of Latter Day Saints, with 60 s.; and 7 of Roman Catholics, with 1, 124 s. The schools were 271 public day schools, with 17, 407 scholars; 393 private day schools, with 7, 597 s.; 386 Sunday schools, with 27, 676 s.; and 18 evening schools for adults, with 303 s. Pop., in 1801, 114, 452; in 1821, 144, 930; in 1841, 175, 054; in 1861, 188, 789. Inhabited houses, 37, 709; uninhabited, 1, 588; building, 288.

The territory now forming Dorsetshire belonged to the ancient British Durotriges and Morini; was included by the Romans in their Britannia Prima; and formed part of the Saxon kingdom of Wessex. The Danes invaded it, particularly in 833, 876, and 1002; and had battles with the Saxons, in these years, at respectively Charmouth and Dorchester. The Spanish armada was routed, off Portland, in 1588; and Van Tromp beaten, in 1653. The side of the King was taken by most of the higher classes, in the wars of Charles I.; and that of the parliament, by the working classes. The Duke of Monmouth landed at Lyme-Regis; and was taken near Horton, after the battle of Sedgmoor. The county gave the title of Duke of Dorset to the family of Sackville. Ancient Brit. ish remains, variously Druidical circles, hill-camps, and large barrows, occur at Pokeswell, Portisham, Winterbourne, Badbury-Rings, Hamildon-Hill, Hod-Hill, and Nine-barrow-down. The Ridgeway traversed the county from south to north; and the Via Iceniana, from east to west. A Roman amphitheatre, perhaps originally British, is in the vicinity of Dorchester; and Roman stations were at Dorchester, Charmouth, Lyme-Regis, Wimborne-Minster, Weymouth, Wareham, and Poole. Ancient castle ruins are at Corfe-Castle, Portland, and Brownsea. About forty abbeys, priories, and other monastic houses, besides some large fine churches, stood dispersed throughout the county; and interesting specimens of ancient ecclesiastical architecture, variously entire and ruined, occur at Wimborne-Minster, Sherborne, Stanwich, Bindon, Cerne-Abbas, Cranborne, and Shaftesbury.

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

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "a maritime county"   (ADL Feature Type: "countries, 2nd order divisions")
Administrative units: Dorset AncC
Place: Dorset

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