Image of the main street in Shaftesbury, which is in north Dorset, UK, taken yesterday 26/12/11. Image worked on in Corel PaintShop Photo Pro x3.
Although Shaftesbury’s recorded history dates from Anglo-Saxon times, it may have been the Celtic Caer Palladur. Its first written record as a town is in the Burghal Hidage. Alfred the Great founded a burgh (fortified settlement) here in 880 as a defence in the struggle with the Danish invaders. Alfred and his daughter Ethelgiva founded Shaftesbury Abbey in 888, which was a spur to the growing importance of the town. Athelstan founded three royal mints, which struck pennies bearing the town’s name, and the abbey became the wealthiest Benedictine nunnery in England. On February 20, 981 the relics of St Edward the Martyr were translated from Wareham and received at the abbey with great ceremony, thereafter turning Shaftesbury into a major site of pilgrimage for miracles of healing. 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.
King Canute died here in 1035. In the Domesday Book, the town was known as Scaepterbyrg; its ownership was equally shared between king and abbey. 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. By 1340, the mayor had become a recognised figure, sworn in by the steward of the abbess.
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, 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 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 major employers in the 18th and 19th centuries were buttonmaking and weaving. The former became a victim of mechanisation, and this caused unemployment and emigration.
The five turnpikes which met at Shaftesbury ensured that the town had a good coaching trade. The railways, however, bypassed Shaftesbury, and this influenced the subsequent pattern of its growth.
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 have now been ruined, with most of the town dating from the 18th century to present.
Thomas Hardy, whose Wessex name for Shaftesbury was Shaston (or Palladour), wrote:
“Vague imaginings of its castle, its three mints, its magnificent apsidal abbey, the chief glory of south Wessex, its twelve churches, its shrines, chantries, hospitals, its gabled freestone mansions—all now ruthlessly swept away—throw the visitor, even against his will, into a pensive melancholy, which the stimulating atmosphere and limitless landscape around him can scarcely dispel.”