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Wimborne-Minster (St. Cuthberga)

WIMBORNE-MINSTER (St. Cuthberga), a market-town and parish, and the head of the union of Wimborne and Cranborne, in the hundred of Badbury, Wimborne division of Dorset, 26 miles (E. N. E.) from Dorchester, and 101 (S. W. by W.) from London; containing, with the tythings of Holt and Leigh, and the manor of Kingston-Lacy, 4326 inhabitants. This place, which is of remote antiquity, was in the time of the Romans of considerable importance as a station to their camp at Badbury, and by them was denominated Vindogladia, or Ventageladia, terms descriptive of its situation near to, or between, two rivers. The Saxon appellation of Vinburnan, whence the present name is obviously deduced, is of similar import; and the epithet of Minster, from the ancient monastery, is added as a terra of distinction. Some writers suppose this to have been the scene of the battle between Kearl, Earl of Devon, and the Danes, in 851, in which the latter were defeated; but Bishop Gibson says the battle happened at Wenbury, in Devonshire, with which he endeavours to identify Wicganbeorche, the place where it is stated in the Saxon Chronicle to have occurred. About the commencement of the tenth century, in the beginning of his reign, Edward the Elder, being opposed by Ethelwald, son of his uncle Ethelbert, who aspired to the crown, encamped at Badbury with a considerable army, and advanced upon Wimborne, Ethelwald's headquarters, which he captured after an ineffectual resistance from the latter. Wimborne nunnery was founded previously to 705, and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, by St. Cuthberga, daughter of Cenred, and sister of Ina, both kings of the West Saxons; it was destroyed by the Danes about the year 900, and subsequently converted into a house for secular canons, whose revenue, at the Dissolution, was valued at £131. 14. The foundress became an inmate of the nunnery, where she died; and was buried in the church, of which she was made the tutelar saint.

The town is situated in a fertile vale, near the confluence of the rivers Stour and Allen, on the main road from London to Poole; the streets are irregular, and the houses in general of mean appearance. At the eastern extremity, the Allen divides into two branches, over which are two bridges. Leland thus describes Wimborne: "the town is yet meatly good, and reasonably well inhabited; it hath bene a very large thing, and was in price in the tyme of the West Saxon kinges. Ther be in and about it diverse chappelles, that in tymes paste were, as I have learnid, paroche chirchis of the very town of Wimburne." And in another place he says: "the soile about Wimburn-Minstre self is very good for corn, grasse, and woodde." The townhall, which stood near the square, long since fell into decay: it occupied the site of St. Peter's chapel, sometimes styled the King's free chapel, which, having been neglected soon after the Reformation, was, with the cemetery, containing about one acre of ground, vested in the corporation, and their successors in fee, for the erection of a town-hall, the residue of the profits to be applied towards the maintenance of the choristers in the church. A railway from Southampton, by Wimborne, to Dorchester, was completed in 1847. The market is on Friday; and fairs take place on the Friday before Good-Friday, and on September 14th, each for two days, for horses and cattle. The powers of the county debt-court of Wimborne, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Wimborne and Cranborne, and part of that of Poole. Constables are appointed at the manorial court held at Michaelmas.

On the establishment of the Secular canons, when the nunnery was destroyed by the Danes, the church became collegiate, and a royal free chapel, exempt, by letters of Edward II. in the eleventh year of his reign, from all ordinary jurisdiction, imposition, &c. In Leland's time the society consisted of a dean, four prebendaries, five cantuarists, three vicars, and four secondaries. On the dissolution of the college, its possession lapsed to the crown; and Elizabeth, in the fifth year of her reign, reestablishing the school, appointed twelve of the inhabitants governors, whom she incorporated, with a common seal, and to whom she granted the tithes of the parish, and other endowments of the college and school. In the reign of Charles I., the governors having surrendered these possessions, the king re-granted them in full, on condition of their providing the necessary officers for the service of the church and school, with all ecclesiastical jurisdiction within the parish, and power to appoint the official and registrar of the peculiar court. Three incumbents are elected by the governors, to serve the church in rotation weekly; they also appoint three clerks, an organist, three singing-men, and six singingboys.

The church, commonly called the Minster, is a large cruciform structure, with a quadrangular tower, rising from the intersection, and another at the west end, the former in the Norman style, the latter in the later English; the east window is in the early English style. A tempest destroyed the spire about 1600, and it has not been replaced. The chancel and choir are approached from the nave by a flight of steps, and are supported by pillars: in the choir are sixteen stalls, with canopies of carved oak. Very extensive repairs and restorations have been effected during the last few years, which have greatly increased the splendour of this interesting edifice. Five stained-glass windows have been put up in the choir; the three at the east end were presented by Mr. Baukes, the one on the north side of the altar by the Earl of Devon, and the opposite one, on the south, by the Duke of Beaufort. St. Cuthberga is supposed to have been entombed in the wall of the chancel: here also was King Ethelred's tomb, of which the brass plate fixed in the floor is all that remains. On the south side of the choir is an altar-tomb, with the effigies of the Duke and Duchess of Somerset, parents of Margaret, Countess of Richmond, mother of Henry VII.; and on the opposite side is a similar tomb, but without figures, to the memory of Gertrude, Marchioness of Exeter, mother of the unfortunate Edward Courtenay, last earl of Devonshire. In the south aisle is a monument, with an armed recumbent figure, to Sir Edmund Uvedale, Knt., dated 1606. At Holt is a chapel; and there are places of worship in the town for Baptists, Independents, and Wesleyans; also a Roman Catholic chapel at Stapehill.

The free grammar school, originally established by Margaret, Countess of Richmond, in 1497, was refounded by Queen Elizabeth. St. Margaret's hospital, of ancient and obscure foundation, consists of seven good tenements for five men and two women; and in a chapel attached, divine service is occasionally performed. A second hospital, called Courtenay's, situated at the east end of the town, was built pursuant to the will of Gertrude, Marchioness of Exeter, bearing date 1557; there are six almspeople. At Pamphill, in the parish, are a school and almshouse, founded pursuant to the will of Roger Gillingham, dated July 2nd, 1695; the schoolmaster receives £20, and each of the almspeople £5, per annum. The poor-law union of Wimborne and Cranborne comprises 24 parishes or places, and contains a population of 15,949. This is supposed to be the birth-place of Matthew Prior, the poet, who was educated at the grammar school. The Duke of Monmouth, after his escape from the battle of Sedgemoor, is stated to have been arrested in a small inclosure called Shagsheath, near the town; but this is doubted by some, who are of opinion that his capture was effected near Ringwood. Badbury Camp, a circular intrenchment, surrounded by three ramparts, inclosing an area of eighteen acres, is in the vicinity: Roman coins, urns, and a sword, were dug up in 1665.

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