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Abbotsbury (St. Nicholas)

ABBOTSBURY (St. Nicholas), a parish, and formerly a market-town, in the union of Weymouth, hundred of Uggscombe, Dorchester division of Dorset, 8¼ miles (W. S. W.) from Dorchester, and 129 (S. W. by W.) from London; containing, with the hamlets of Rodden and Elworth, 1005 inhabitants. The name of this place is evidently derived from its ancient possessors, the abbots of the monastery of St. Peter here, which is supposed to have been founded in 1044, by Orcus, or Orking, steward of the household of Canute the Great, and Tola his wife, for monks of the Benedictine order. According to the register of the abbey, it appears that a church was erected at a very early period, by Bertulphus, a priest. This having afterwards become a place of retreat for the West Saxon kings, and the territory having passed into the possession of Canute, lands to a considerable extent were given by him to Orcus, by whom, dying without issue, they were granted to the church, built a long time previously, and then forsaken and in decay, on account of its having been frequently infested by pirates. Orcus erected the monastery, which occupied a large extent of ground, and, in progress of time, was endowed with rich grants and divers immunities, and was frequently rebuilt: the remains consist of a gateway and portions of the walls. Its revenue, at the Dissolution, was estimated at £485. 3. 5.: it was granted to Sir Giles Strangeways, and on its site was erected a mansion, which, having been garrisoned for the king, in 1644, was attacked by Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, and burnt to the ground. The church was also occupied by a party of royalists, who surrendered before it sustained any damage.

The town, situated in a valley surrounded by lofty hills, near the sea-shore, consists of three streets, partially paved, and is well supplied with water: the western part of it was consumed by fire in 1706. Fishing is the chief occupation of the inhabitants, great quantities of mackerel being taken on the coast. The weaving of cotton was introduced about fifty years since, but has of late much declined. The market, which was on Thursday, has fallen into disuse; it was granted, together with two fairs, to Sir John Strangeways in the 8th of James I., a former market, granted to one of the abbots, and held on Friday, having been long discontinued. One of the fairs has also been lost; the other, which is for sheep and toys, is held on the 10th of July. The living is a discharged vicarage, valued in the king's books at £10; net. income, £140; patron and impropriator, the Earl of Ilchester, whose tithes have been commuted for £127. 10. The church is a large handsome structure in the later style of English architecture, with a square embattled tower; and is thought to contain the remains of the founder of the abbey and his wife, which were removed hither from the conventual church at the Dissolution. A school, originally founded for twenty boys, was further endowed in 1754, by Mrs. Horner, with £21 per annum, for instructing ten additional boys. St. Catherine's chapel, supposed to have been erected in the reign of Edward IV., stands on an eminence south-west of the town, and serves only as a land-mark: it is built wholly of freestone dug out of the hill on which it is situated; the roof is finely groined, and on each side of the edifice is a handsome porch. About a mile and a half to the west of Abbotsbury is an ancient intrenchment, occupying an area of nearly 20 acres; and near the town is a cromlech.

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