WAREHAM, a borough and market-town, having exclusive jurisdiction, and the head of the union of Wareham and Purbeck, locally in the hundred of Winfrith, Wareham division of Dorset, 17 miles (E. by S.) from Dorchester, and 119 (S. W. by W.) from London; containing, with the liberty of Stoborough, 2746 inhabitants. This town, which was anciently of great note, and existed in the time of the Britons, was by them called Durngueis, and by the Saxons Væpham, Vepham, Veapham, and Thornsæta; and in some records is designated Werham, and Varama, a compound of Var-Ham, "a habitation on a fishing shore." It has been supposed to occupy the site of the Morionium, or Moriconium, of Ravennas; and that it was known to the Romans is demonstrated by the existence of a Roman way proceeding to Dorchester, and by the discovery of coins in the vicinity. Wareham was the burial-place of Brithric, the West Saxon king, about the year 800. The Danes soon afterwards massacred the inhabitants, and reduced the town to ruins; but it had so recovered in the time of Athelstan, that he established two mints in it. In 978, the body of Edward the Martyr, after his assassination at Corfe Castle, was temporarily interred here, and was removed hence by St. Dunstan, with much ceremony, to Shaftesbury. After the lapse of twenty years, the town was again ravaged by the Danes, who, making the Isle of Wight their general place of rendezvous, proceeded thence to the mouth of the river Frome, and kept Wareham in a state of continual alarm. In 1138, the castle and town were seized for the Empress Maud, by Robert de Lincoln, but were retaken and burnt by Stephen. On the intended expedition of John against France, in 1205, that monarch landed here, and three years afterwards he garrisoned the town, which in 1213 became the scene of the cruel execution of Peter of Pomfret, a religious enthusiast, and his son, because the former had foretold the deposition of the king. During the parliamentary war, Wareham was alternately possessed by the king and the parliament. In 1762, two-thirds of it were destroyed by fire; but by a liberal subscription and an act procured for its restoration, it was, within two years, completely rebuilt.
The town is pleasantly situated between the mouths of the Frome and the Piddle, on an eminence commanding a prospect of Poole harbour; and in form resembles a parallelogram, occupying an area of about 100 acres, inclosed, except on the south, by a high wall, or rampart of earth. The intervening space between the wall and the town is laid out in large garden-grounds, divided into regular squares by lanes, which still exhibit traces of ancient buildings. The four principal streets, as well as the minor streets and the lanes, diverge at right angles, and the former are open and spacious, corresponding with the cardinal points of the compass. The south and north entrances are by bridges over the Frome and the Piddle, the former a handsome stone structure, erected in 1775, in lieu of an edifice which had stood from the time of William Rufus. The town is lighted with gas.
Wareham was once a noted port, and in the reign of Edward III. furnished three ships and 59 men for the siege of Calais; but the retreat of the sea from its harbour has long destroyed its importance, and withdrawn its commercial traffic, although, at very high tides, the water flows up nearly five miles to Holme bridge: the quay is on the south side of the town. The river Frome had anciently a celebrated salmon-fishery, of which the profits formed part of the dowry granted by Henry VII. to his queen; the fishery has long since declined, and few fish are now caught. The manufacture of shirtbuttons and straw-plat, and the knitting of stockings, employ a great number of the females. Pipeclay is obtained in large quantities from pits in the neighbourhood, and considerably more than 10,000 tons are annually shipped at Poole. The Southampton and Dorchester railway, completed in 1847, passes by. The market is on Saturday: fairs are held on April 17th and September 11th, for cattle, cheese, and hogs; and of late years six cattle-markets have been held during the spring. The toll of the market and fairs belongs to the mayor.
This is a borough by prescription, and the inhabitants have had their privileges confirmed by several charters, the last being that granted by Queen Anne in 1703, under which the municipal body consists of a mayor, and six capital and twelve assistant burgesses, with a recorder, town-clerk, and inferior officers. Wareham returned two members to parliament from the time of Edward I. to the 2nd of William IV., when it was deprived of one, and the right of voting was extended to the £10 householders of an enlarged district, comprehending 13,950 acres. The mayor, who is a justice of the peace, and coroner for the town and the Isles of Purbeck and Brownsea, and the capital burgesses, hold quarter-sessions of the peace, having exclusive jurisdiction. A court of record occurs on the first Monday in every month, for the recovery of debts under £40; and a court baron is held annually by the lord of the manor. The powers of the county debtcourt of Wareham, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Wareham and Purbeck.
Wareham includes the parish of the Holy Trinity, Within and Without, containing, with Stoborough liberty, 769 inhabitants; the parish of St. Martin, Within and Without, 531; and Lady St. Mary, Within and Without, 1446. The first comprises 1421a. 2r. 38p.; the second, 3154a. 3r. 33p., of which 1290 acres are common or waste; and the third, 372a. 2r. 32p. The living of Holy Trinity parish is a rectory, to which the rectories of St. Martin's and St. Mary's were united in 1678, valued in the king's books at £7. 5. 5., and in the patronage of J. Hales Calcraft, Esq.: the church has been appropriated for a national school. The living of St. Martin's is valued in the king's books at £8. 2. 6.: only the burial service is read in this church. The living of St. Mary's is a rectory not in charge. The church, a spacious and ancient structure containing early English and decorated portions, is believed to have been attached to a priory founded here before 876, when the priory was destroyed by the Danes, and to have been rebuilt about the period of the Conquest. Over a small north door is a rude piece of sculpture, representing the Crucifixion, surmounted by a Norman arch. In a south chapel, of which the ceiling is richly groined, are the recumbent effigies of two warriors in complete mail: in this chapel the remains of Mr. Hutchins, rector of the parish, and author of the History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset, are deposited. In the chancel are several mural monuments to the Calcraft family. Two other parochial churches, St. Peter's and St. Michael's, formerly existed. There are places of worship for Independents, Wesleyans, and Unitarians; also a free school in the parish of Lady St. Mary, founded by George Pitt, Esq., with a salary of £20 for a master, which was augmented in 1703 with £10 a year, now paid to a mistress. The poor-law union of Wareham and Purbeck comprises twenty-seven parishes or places, and contains a population of 16,542. Dr. John Chapman, tutor to the great Lord Camden; and Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford, were natives of the town.
Bloody-bank here, was the place of execution, in 1684, of Mr. Baxter, Holman, and others, for their attachment to the Duke of Monmouth. Of the castle, situated in the south-west angle of the town, and thought to have been originally built by the Romans, and renewed by the Conqueror, only the mound, or keep, called Castle Hill, remains; and the relics of the priory have been converted into a dwelling-house. At Stoborough, on opening a barrow, in 1767, the large hollow trunk of an oak was discovered, in which were human bones wrapped up in a covering composed of several deer skins, and a small vessel of oak, in the shape of an urn, conjectured by Mr. Hutchins to have been the drinking cup of the deceased, who, in the opinion of Mr. Gough, was some Saxon or Danish chieftain.