SHAFTESBURY, or Shaston, a borough and market-town, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Moncton- up -Wimborne, county of Dorset, 28 miles (N. N. E.) from Dorchester, and 101 (W. S. W.) from London, on the great road from London to Exeter; containing 3170 inhabitants. The origin of this town has given rise to much conjecture. It is supposed by some to have had existence even prior to the birth of Christ, and to have been called Caer Calladwr. But that which appears to be the most probable period of its foundation is the reign of King Alfred; in confirmation of which, Camden states, that in the time of William of Malmesbury an old stone was to be seen, with an inscription purporting that King Alfred built the city (if we may so render fecit) in 880, the eighth year of his reign. The Saxon derivation of the name from Sceaft, signifying the point of a hill, is thought to be in allusion to the situation of the town. A Benedictine nunnery, founded here, has been ascribed to various persons. Camden, following William of Malmesbury, attributes it to Elgiva, wife of Edmund, great grandson to King Alfred; but Leland and many other writers assert the latter monarch to have been its founder, and his daughter the first abbess. To this abbey the remains of Edward the Martyr were removed after his murder at Corfe-Castle. It appears to have been much resorted to by pilgrims, amongst whom was King Canute, who died here; and the extent of its endowments may be estimated from the fact of their value at its dissolution being £1166 per annum: the remains, however, are inconsiderable. The importance of the monastery naturally increased that of the town, which is reported to have contained, at an early period, ten parochial churches: in the time of Edward the Confessor three mints were established here, and according to a survey made shortly before the Norman Conquest, the place contained 104 houses, and three mint-masters.
The town is situated on a high hill, with a gradual rise on the east and south-east, but more precipitous on the west and south-west; and is at the extremity of the county of Dorset, bordering on that of Wilts. It commands extensive views over both those counties and also over Somersetshire. The streets have been improved of late years, by the removal of obstructions and the erection of some good dwelling-houses and shops. The inhabitants are supplied with water from wells of great depth on the hill: formerly they were chiefly supplied from the adjoining parish of Motcombe, which gave rise to a curious customary acknowledgment, called the Byzant, now discontinued. The manufacture of shirtbuttons, once carried on to a considerable extent, has very much declined. There is an extensive country trade. The market is on Saturday, and is well furnished with all kinds of commodities; fairs are held on the Saturday before Palm-Sunday, June 24th, and Nov. 23rd.
This is a very ancient borough, and is described as such in Domesday book, but it was not incorporated till the reign of Queen Elizabeth, who, according to Mr. Hutchins, granted its first charter, appointing a mayor, recorder, twelve aldermen, a bailiff, and common-council. No charter, however, can be found prior to that bestowed by James I. in 1604, which was followed by one of Charles II. The corporation now consists of a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors, under the act 5th and 6th of William IV., cap. 76; and the mayor and late mayor are justices of the peace, concurrently with the county magistrates. The town first sent members to parliament in the 23rd of Edward I., and continued to do so without interruption till the passing of the act 2nd of William IV., cap. 45, since which time it has returned only one; the borough now comprises an area of 5644 acres, and the mayor is the returning officer. The powers of the county debt-court of Shaftesbury, established in 1847, extend over the registrationdistricts of Shaftesbury, Mere, Tisbury, and Sturminster, and part of the district of Blandford. Petty-sessions for the division are held on the first Tuesday in every month. A handsome town-hall was erected, at an expense of about £3000 by the late Marquess of Westminster.
The town comprises the parishes of St. Peter, containing 1101; Holy Trinity, 1145; and St. James, including the liberty of Alcester, 924 inhabitants. The living of St. Peter's is a discharged rectory, valued in the king's books at £11. 10. 2½., and, with the ancient parishes of St. Lawrence and St. Martin, united to the living of the Holy Trinity, valued at £4. 1. 10½. It is in the gift of the Earl of Shaftesbury, and the tithes have been commuted for £171. 7. St. Peter's church, although it has undergone many modern alterations, is of considerable antiquity, and contains a curiously carved font, and a very old monument supposed to have been removed from the abbey. The church of the Holy Trinity, an ancient structure said to have been enlarged by Sir Thomas Arundel in the reign of Elizabeth, was taken down, and rebuilt upon a larger scale, in 1841, by subscription, and contains a beautiful east window presented by the late Marquess of Westminster. The churchyard is spacious, and adjoining it may be seen the remains of the abbey wall. The living of St. James' is a rectory, valued in the king's books at £1. 11. 0½., and in the gift of the Earl of Shaftesbury: the tithes have been commuted for £399, and the glebe comprises 4 acres. The church is a small ancient fabric. There are places of worship for the Society of Friends, Independents, and Wesleyans. A free school was founded and endowed by Mr. William Lush, in 1719. Spiller's hospital, for ten men, was established and endowed by Sir Henry Spiller, in 1642; and an almshouse for sixteen women was founded by Matthew Chubb, in 1611, and endowed by him and several other benefactors. The union of Shaftesbury comprises nineteen parishes or places, and contains a population of 13,106. On Castle Hill, an eminence near the town, is a small mount surrounded by a shallow ditch, which some have conjectured to be the site of a castle, but which by others is supposed to have been a Roman intrenchment. Shaftesbury is the birth-place of the Rev. James Granger, author of the Biographical History of England. It gives the title of Earl to the family of Ashley-Cooper.