History of ShaftesburySalisbury
Dorset SP7 8JR


In Saxon times the Church and the Monarchy were intimately intertwined. During 888 AD, King Alfred the Great founded Shaftesbury Abbey and made his daughter Ethelgiva the Abbess.

The Abbey, together with the introduction of two royal mints by Alfred’s grandson, King Athelstan between 929-34 AD, contributed very much to the success of the town.

St Edward’s Shrine
In 979 AD Shaftesbury Abbey Museum & Garden became the burial place of the bones of Edward the Martyr (murdered in 978 AD). Reputed to have miraculous healing powers, the relics were a favourite site for pilgrims. In 1001 Edward was made a Saint and Shaftesbury subsequently became the wealthiest Benedictine Abbey in England.
Following the Normans defeat of King Harold in 1066, a Norman Abbess was installed at the Abbey. The town declined in size but was still an important place.
Medieval Shaftesbury
By c. 1295 a castle had been built in the town, justice was being dispensed by travelling judges and Shaftesbury was represented by two Members of Parliament. It was becoming an important market town for the area and numerous churches and chapels were being built in the town.
Disaster struck in 1348 when the ‘Black Death’ (Plague) entered Dorset through the port of Weymouth and decimated the population. Nevertheless, the town recovered and by 1352 a Mayor had been appointed under a previously granted Charter.
Dissolution of the Monasteries
The Abbey prospered and the town with it. The Church was involved in many of the commercial activities of the town and prosperous parishioners formed Church Guilds to protect their interests. All this power and wealth being vested in the Abbey’s Church led to the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
When the Abbey was dissolved in 1539 and all its wealth and lands were redistributed, the fortunes of the town changed. It went from being a Royal town to being privately owned by aristocrats. The Arundell family were the first owners.
Charter of Incorporation
In 1604 Shaftesbury gained the rights to self-government under a Mayor and City Burgesses through a Charter of Incorporation granted by King James I. The town was an important market town for the surrounding area. Shaftesbury was the hub where the London-Penzance road and four other major routes met.
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English Civil War
During the English Civil War (1642-46) Shaftesbury fell into the hands of the Parliamentarians. A dissident group of Dorsetmen called ‘the Clubmen’ tried to keep Shaftesbury out of the war but the Parliamentarians confronted them and imprisoned them. Oliver Cromwell visited the prisoners and promised to release them if they promised not to fight for the King. They agreed to this and Shaftesbury passed fairly easily into Parliamentarian hands.
Dorset had been a hotbed for dissidents for centuries and during the 18th century Shaftesbury attracted many of the non-conformist preachers and churches. The original Quaker Meeting House and graveyard established in 1745 still survives.
Industrial Revolution
The major employment in the 18th and 19th centuries was button-making and weaving. These cottage industries collapsed with the invention of machines to do this work. The subsequent poverty drove many Dorset families to emigrate to America and Australia seeking a better life.
In the mid 18th century the major roads became important coaching routes and Shaftesbury built many inns and hostelries to cater for the coaching traffic. It is still a popular tourist town.  
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