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Sherborne (St. Mary)

SHERBORNE (St. Mary), a market-town and parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Sherborne, Sherborne division of Dorset, 18 miles (N. by W.) from Dorchester, and 117 (W. S. W.) from London; containing 4758 inhabitants. This place appears to have emerged from insignificance in the Saxon era. The name, anciently Schiraburn, Schireburn, and Seyreburn, is derived from the Saxon words Sirce, clear, and Burn, a spring or fountain; and in old Latin records the place is usually styled Fons clarus. In 670, a house was founded here for Secular canons, by Cenwalh, King of the West Saxons, and others; and in 704, Sherborne was made the head of a see which at first included the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Wilts, Devon, and Cornwall, by Ina, whose kinsman Aldhelm was the first bishop. About 998, the Secular canons were displaced, and a society of Benedictines established, under licence from Ethelred, by Wulfin, Bishop of Sherborne, who rebuilt the monastery, and dedicated it to St. Mary; the institution became richly endowed, and at the Dissolution its revenue was valued at £682. 14. 7. The remains are considerable, though in a state of gradual decay. They consist chiefly of the refectory, a noble room now appropriated as a silk manufactory; the grand entrance of the abbey, which still displays traces of its original magnificence; and the granary at a short distance to the north of the abbey, which has been converted into a private residence, but of which the ancient gateway and other characteristic features are carefully preserved.

The see continued for three centuries and a half, when it was removed to Sarum; this removal contributed much to depress the prosperity of Sherborne, and for a long period afterwards it was in comparative obscurity. About 1103, it is stated to have been burnt by a detachment of Danish invaders, and the entire destruction of the town and its ecclesiastical buildings is a matter of great probability. It is evident that a castle stood here at a very early period, but the founder and the time of its erection and demolition are unknown. Previously to the time of Henry I., however, another had been built by Roger, third bishop of Salisbury, as an episcopal palace; it was an octagonal structure, situated on a hill eastward of the town, and fortified by a moat and several drawbridges. Having been seized by Stephen, it remained in the possession of the crown for some time, but about 1350 it was recovered by Bishop Wyvil. During the civil war in the reign of Charles I., it was garrisoned in the royal interest; and although gallantly defended and one of the last fortresses that yielded, it was eventually taken by the forces under the command of Fairfax, and was demolished in 1645. Considerable portions of the ruins are remaining: the present mansion of Sherborne Castle, the seat of Earl Digby, standing in a very fine park, was built by Sir Walter Raleigh.

The town is situated principally on a gradual slope near the border of the White Hart Forest, and the vale of Blackmore; and is divided by a small stream into two parts, of which one is called Castle Town. It is well paved, lighted, and amply supplied with water. The woollen-trade, which formerly flourished, was succeeded by the making of buttons, haberdashery, and lace; in 1740 a silk-mill was erected, and the various branches of this manufacture, especially the making of silk twist and buttons, now afford employment to a great number of the working class. Markets are held on Tuesday, Thurday, and Saturday, the principal day being Thursday; and there are fairs on May 22nd, July 18th and 26th, and the first Monday after October 10th. The parish comprises 6467a. 31p. of land, chiefly arable, with portions of pasture and woodland, and about 120 acres of waste.

The living is a vicarage, valued in the king's books at £20. 4. 7., and in the patronage of the Crown; net income, £258; impropriator, Earl Digby. The church, most probably occupying the site of the ancient cathedral, is a magnificent cruciform structure of various dates, with a central tower 154 feet in height. The lower part of the tower, the south porch, and the south transept are of Norman character, forming perfect specimens of that style. The choir and the arch leading into the Lady chapel, with the east end of the old vestry, are early English; the south aisle is in the decorated style of architecture, and the other portions of the church, and the upper stages of the tower, are in the later Enelish style. The roofs, with the exception of that of the south transept, are all of stone, elaborately groined; the roof of the north transept is one of the most beautiful specimens extant. The large bell in the tower weighs 3 tons, and was the gift of Cardinal Wolsey. The Saxon kings Ethelbald and Ethelbert, and many Saxon nobles, bishops, and abbots, were interred here; and the church contains some very ancient monuments, including a handsome one of the Digby family. There are places of worship for Friends, Independents, and Wesleyans.

The free grammar school was founded by Edward VI., who endowed it with property belonging to several dissolved chantries in the counties of Dorset and Somerset, producing at present an income of about £850 per annum, and who placed it under the control of twenty of the inhabitants, whom he incorporated. By a recent statute, the governors are empowered to grant four exhibitions of £60 per annum each to either of the universities, tenable for four years by boys on the foundation. The almshouse here, originally an hospital of the order of St. Augustine, was refounded by licence from Henry VI., and dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, for twenty brethren, twelve poor men, four poor women, and a chaplain, under a master and trustees. It now contains sixteen men and eight women, under the superintendence of a master and nineteen brethren; and a chaplain officiates daily. One of the principal benefactors to the town was Mr. Benjamin Vowell, who by will gave the dividends of £1000 three per cent, consols., to be distributed in clothing, besides two sums of £300, and one of £400, to various benefit societies. There is a very considerable fund for the poor arising from land and houses given for that purpose, in 1448, by Robert Neville, Bishop of Sarum, and others. The union of Sherborne comprises 30 parishes or places, 23 of which are in the county of Dorset, and 7 in that of Somerset, altogether containing a population of 12,242.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.