BEAMINSTER, a market-town and parish, in the union and hundred of Beaminster, Bridport division of Dorset, 17½ miles (W. N. W.) from Dorchester, and 137¼ (W. S. W.) from London; containing, with the tything of Langdon, 3270 inhabitants. During the civil war in the reign of Charles I., Prince Maurice, commanding a party of royalists engaged in besieging Lyme, took up his quarters in this town, which, a few days after, was nearly reduced to ashes by fire, stated by some historians to have been occasioned by accident, and by others to have been the result of a quarrel between the French and the Cornish men in the service of the king, who set fire to it in five different places. It was rebuilt by means of a parliamentary grant of £2000, but was again nearly destroyed by a fire which occurred in 1684: in 1781, it experienced a similar calamity, but the greater part of the buildings having been insured, it soon recovered its former prosperity. The town is pleasantly situated on the river Birt, which is formed by the union of several small springs that rise in the immediate vicinity; the houses are in general modern and well built, and the inhabitants are amply supplied with water. The manufacture of woollen-cloth, which formerly flourished here, is at present on the decline, and that of sail-cloth is now the principal source of employment; there is also a pottery for the coarser kinds of earthenware. The market, granted to William Ewel, prebendary of Sarum, in the 12th of Edward I., is on Thursday; and a fair is held on Sept. 19th, for cattle. Constables and other officers are appointed at the court leet of the lord of the hundred. The quarter-sessions for the county, now held at Dorchester, were formerly held here; and in 1638, an order of session was issued for building a house of correction at the expense of the division. The town-hall is a neat and commodious edifice, in which the public business is transacted.
The parish contains the manors of Beaminster Prima and Secunda, both till lately forming prebends in the Cathedral of Salisbury; the former valued in the king's books at £20. 2. 6., and the latter at £22. 5. 7½. The Living is a vicarage, annexed to that of Netherbury: the great tithes have been commuted for £220, and those of the incumbent for £300. The church, founded in honour of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, is a stately edifice in the later style of English architecture, with a fine tower 100 feet high, richly ornamented with sculptured designs of the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and other subjects of scriptural history. There is a place of worship for Independents. The free school was founded in 1684, by Mrs. Frances Tucker, who endowed it with £20 per annum for the master, leaving also £30 per annum for apprenticing boys: the endowment now produces about £140, and the number of scholars is 100. The Rev. Samuel Hood, father of Lords Hood and Bridport, was master of the school early in the eighteenth century. An almshouse for eight aged persons was founded in 1630, by Sir John Strode, of Parnham, Knt., the income of which amounts to £20. Gilbert Adams, Esq., in 1626, gave £200 to the poor; and the Rev. William Hillary, in 1712, bequeathed the reversion, after ninety-nine years, of land in the parish of Carscombe, worth £35 per annum, for the benefit of twelve distressed families. The Knowle estate, in the parish, has been in the possession of the Daniels since the reign of Henry VIII., and there is a burial-ground for the family upon it. Dr. Thomas Sprat, Bishop of Rochester; and the Rev. Thomas Russel, Fellow of New College, Oxford, who distinguished himself by his defence of Warton's History of English Poetry, were natives of the town.