Market Place, town centre
Blandford Forum shown within Dorset
|OS grid reference|
|– London||118 miles (190 km)|
|Civil parish||Blandford Forum|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Post town||BLANDFORD FORUM|
|EU Parliament||South West England|
|UK Parliament||North Dorset|
Blandford is notable for its Georgian architecture, the result of rebuilding after the majority of the town was destroyed by a fire in 1731. The rebuilding work was assisted by an Act of Parliament and a donation by George II, and the rebuilt town centre has survived to the present day largely intact. Blandford Georgian Fayre, a one-day celebration of the town's Georgian heritage, takes place every other year in May.
Blandford has been a fording point since Anglo-Saxon times, when it was recorded as Blaen-y-ford and as Blaneford in the Domesday Book. The name Blandford derives from the Old English blǣge, and probably means ford where gudgeon or blay are found. By the 13th century it had become an important market town with a livestock market serving the nearby Blackmore Vale with its many dairy farms. At the start of the 14th century it returned two members of parliament and was also known as Cheping Blandford. The Latin word Forum, meaning market, was recorded in 1540. It was an important break on the journey between the port of Weymouth and the capital London.
In Survey of Dorsetshire, written by Thomas Gerard of Trent in the early 1630s, Blandford was described as "a faire Markett Towne, pleasantlie seated upon the River ... well inhabitted and of good Traffique". In the 17th-century English Civil War Blandford was a Royalist centre; most inhabitants supported the king.
In the 18th century Blandford was one of several lace-making centres in the county; Daniel Defoe stated that lace made in the town was "the finest bonelace in England... I think I never saw better in Flanders, France or Italy". In the 17th and 18th centuries Blandford was also an important malting and brewing centre.
Almost all of Blandford's buildings were destroyed on 4 June 1731 by the "great fire", which was the last of several serious fires that occurred in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The fire began in a tallow chandler's workshop on a site that is now The King's Arms public house. Within a few hours almost 90% of the town's fabric had gone; all fire-fighting equipment had been lost to the fire and the church's lead roof had melted. Even properties west of the river in Blandford St Mary and Bryanston were burned, though notable buildings that survived in the town include the Ryves Almshouses and Dale House in Salisbury Street, Old House in The Close, and much of East Street. An Act of Parliament was introduced that stated that rebuilding work must be in brick and tile and should begin within four years. With assistance from the rest of the country—including £1,000 given by George II—the town was rebuilt over the next ten years to the designs of local architects John and William Bastard. Bottlenecks were removed and streets realigned in the new town plan, which also provided a wider market place. As well as residential and commercial property, new buildings included a new town hall, school and church. The redesigned town centre has survived to the present day virtually intact.
After the post-fire reconstruction the fabric of Blandford changed little until the first half of the 19th century, when houses for wealthier inhabitants were built to the north alongside the roads to Salisbury and Shaftesbury. Later in the 19th century, perhaps following the installation of piped water, more densely packed buildings were built to the northeast, replacing gardens and barracks for the poor (that had been erected following the fire) between the roads to Salisbury and Wimborne Minster.
Blandford's weekly animal market disappeared in the 20th century, perhaps a casualty of motorised transport that enabled larger markets to be held in fewer centres (the market at nearby Sturminster Newton increased significantly). By the middle of the 20th century Blandford Fair, a seasonal sheep fair held in summer and autumn, had also disappeared, due to changes in animal husbandry and a reduction in sheep numbers in the county.
In the early 21st century a number of private housing developments were built in and around the town.
Blandford Forum is in the North Dorset parliamentary constituency which is currently represented in the UK national parliament by the Conservative Member of Parliament Robert Walter. In local government, Blandford is governed by Dorset County Council at the county level and North Dorset District Council at the district level.
In national parliament and district council elections, Blandford civil parish is divided into five electoral wards: Blandford Damory Down, Blandford Hilltop, Blandford Langton St.Leonards, Blandford Old Town and Blandford Station. A sixth ward, Portman, covers Bryanston and Blandford St Mary west of the river; these are not within the parish of Blandford, but the town's built-up area extends into Blandford St Mary parish. These six wards, together with twenty others within the North Dorset District, elect councillors to North Dorset District Council. In county council elections, the five wards in Blandford parish together form Blandford electoral division, one of 42 divisions that elect councillors to Dorset County Council. Blandford St Mary is within neighbouring Winterborne electoral division.
At the parish level - the lowest tier of local government - Blandford is governed by Blandford Forum Town Council.
Blandford is situated between Cranborne Chase and the Dorset Downs, to the south east of the Blackmore Vale, 24 km (15 mi) northwest of Poole and 35 km (22 mi) southwest of Salisbury. It is sited in the valley of the River Stour, mostly on rising ground northeast of the river, but with some development south of the river at Blandford St Mary. The underlying geology is Cretaceous chalk bedrock that in places is overlain by Quaternary drift: alluvium in the river's flood plain, head deposits around the town's southwest, south and southeast borders, and clay with flints at the highest part of the town in the north. The town is almost surrounded by land that has been designated as having landscape value of national significance: the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) to the west and the Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs AONB to the north and east.
Most of the buildings in Blandford's centre are Georgian, due to the rebuilding after the 1731 fire and the absence of subsequent change. Pevsner stated that "hardly any other town in England can be compared with it". Buildings that have received Grade I listing by English Heritage are the parish church of St Peter and St Paul, the town hall and corn exchange, The Old House, Coupar House, Pump House, the Natwest building, and several properties around the Market Place.
The parish church of St Peter and St Paul was built between 1732 and 1739 and is a classical building with a cupola on top of the tower. Outside of London, it is one of the few Georgian churches in the country. The design by John Bastard originally specified that the tower would have a steeple, but lack of money resulted in the wooden cupola instead, a decision that disgusted Bastard, who stated that "it will not keep the wett nor the weather out". Sir Frederick Treves was not a fan of the church's appearance, describing it in his 1906 Highways & Byways in Dorset as "ugly, and only tolerable from a distance". The interior remains relatively unaffected by Victorian interference and retains its font, pulpit, box-pews and mayoral seat. In 1893 it was enlarged by moving the apsidal sanctuary out on rollers onto new foundations and building a new chancel behind it. The Victorians did install galleries to accomodate an increasing congregation, though these were removed in the 1970s, a change that Pevsner called "a visual blessing".
The town hall and corn exchange occupies a site in the Market Place close to the site that was occupied by its predecessor. It dates from 1734 and has a two-storey three-windowed frontage of Portland stone ashlar. The ground floor has three semi-circular arches leading to an open portico or loggia, called The Shambles, that previously was part of the market. Toward the back of the building is the old corn exchange, a late 19th-century assembly hall with "interesting elliptical roof-trusses".
Coupar House, dated around 1750, is the largest private house in Blandford that dates from the post-fire period. It has a richly decorated interior with a notable staircase, and is unique among the town's private dwellings for having Portland stone dressings to its brick façade, though the design of this frontage has been described as "curiously amateurish" with "little attention ... paid to rules of proportion".
The Old House was probably built some time between 1650 and 1670 by a German doctor who practised in Blandford after graduating from Queens College, Oxford. Its unusual design, which includes a steep hipped roof with wide spreading eaves, has elements of artisan style popular at the time, though it was described by John Hutchins as "an architectural graft from the 'fatherland' planted by the worthy doctor on the soil of his adopted country".
Pump House fire monument was built by John Bastard in classical style to commemorate the fire. It dates from 1760, is of Portland stone and stands adjacent to the churchyard wall. The inscription on its rear wall states its purpose is "... to prevent by a timely Supply of Water, (with God's Blessing) the fatal Consequences of FIRE hereafter". In 1768 Bastard provided an endowment of £600. The monument was repaired in 1858 and the pump was replaced by a fountain in 1897.
To the south of the town a six-arch stone bridge spans the River Stour; it is built mostly of greensand with some heathstone and was extensively restored in 1726. The water meadows between it and the town are crossed by a causeway and two smaller bridges.
In the 2011 census the five electoral wards within Blandford Forum civil parish—Blandford Damory Down, Blandford Hilltop, Blandford Langton St.Leonards, Blandford Old Town and Blandford Station—had a total population of 9,983. Dorset County Council estimate that in 2013 the civil parish had a population of 10,610. The built-up area of Blandford extends south of the River Stour into the civil parish of Blandford St Mary; in 2013 the population of Blandford St Mary and Blandford Forum civil parishes combined was estimated as 12,110.
Previous census returns for the town show that it had a population of less than 4,000 until 1981, after which it increased rapidly; in the 2001 census, the town had 4,524 dwellings and a population of 8,760, of whom 96.5% were White British. Some of the population increase however can be accounted for by a boundary change which incorporated housing estates that already existed but were previously within a different parish (Pimperne) on the town's northern side. Unemployment varied between 0.5% and 2.3% between 1997 and 2009. Census figures for the town are shown in the table below:
Census 1931 1951 1961 1971 1981 1991 2001 Population 3,370 3,670 3,570 3,650 3,920 7,850 8,760
Important sectors in Blandford's economy include government, health, the military, retail and education. There are five industrial estates and business parks in and around the town: Blandford Heights Industrial Estate (9.47 hectares or 23.4 acres), Holland Way Industrial Estate (7.32 hectares or 18.1 acres), Sunrise Business Park (5.6 hectares or 14 acres), Uplands Industrial Park (1.34 hectares or 3.3 acres) and Clump Farm Industrial Estate (1.30 hectares or 3.2 acres). These are sited mostly toward the bypass road to the north-east of the town.
Major government employers in the town include North Dorset District Council, Dorset County Council and the Environment Agency. North Dorset District Council has its main office in the town, on Salisbury Road; in 2014-15 it had a gross expenditure of just under £26.8 million and employed 118.1 full-time equivalent employees. Major employers that are funded by government include Dorset HealthCare University NHS Foundation Trust and the communications wing of the British Army, the Royal Corps of Signals, based at Blandford Camp about 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) north east of the town. Blandford Camp incorporates a modern technology training college and the Royal Signals Museum – a museum of items relating to the history of the Royal Signals since its inception.
Major retail employers in the town include the Co-op (previously Somerfield) and Tesco. In 2005 there were 110 shops in the town, with a total floorspace of 9,800 square metres (105,000 sq ft). Other national chains with a presence in the town include Argos, Boots, Homebase and WHSmith. An outdoor market takes place weekly in the town, and there is a bi-weekly indoor market held in the Corn Exchange.
In education, important employers in the area include Bryanston School, Clayesmore senior school at Iwerne Minster about 5 miles (8.0 km) to the north, and The Forum School at Shillingstone 5 miles (8.0 km) to the northwest.
Other important employers in the town include Damory Coaches, the brewing company Hall and Woodhouse, Hospital Metalcraft, metal tube manipulators Iracroft Ltd, trolley maintenance company KJ Pike & Sons, Signpost Housing Association, Wessex Homes Park and Leisure Ltd.
The town lies at the junction of the A350 and A354 main roads but is skirted by an eastern bypass. The main road running through the town is the B3082, connecting Blandford Forum to Wimborne Minster. Buses run from the town to locations including Poole, Bournemouth, Salisbury and Shaftesbury with the primary operator being Wilts & Dorset.
The town is 15 miles (24 km) from Bournemouth Airport.
The town is 15 miles (24 km) from Poole railway station.
From 1860 to 1964, Blandford Forum was an important stop on the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway, which ran from Bath to Bournemouth, until the line closed to passengers in 1966. Located between Templecombe and Broadstone, the railway was still open until the closure of the Blandford's goods yard in 1969, after which the track was lifted. The station was immortalised in 1964 in the song "Slow Train" by Flanders and Swann.
Blandford Forum has two primary schools, Archbishop Wake and Milldown schools. A new Archbishop Wake school, built on the old St Leonards Middle School site at the bottom of Black Lane, opened in November 2008. The other feeder schools for The Blandford School are Blandford St Mary, Downlands, Dunbury and Durweston, Pimperne, and Spetisbury Primary Schools. Pupils move at the age of 11 to The Blandford School, which is a secondary school lying in the West of Blandford; the school also has a sixth form.
Art, culture and media
A one-day Georgian Fayre is held in the first week of May every other year in the town centre. The event combines Georgian celebrations with cultural presentations, stalls, and a fun fair on the meadows along the banks of the River Stour.
BFBS Radio broadcasts across Blandford on 89.3FM from a studio at the military base as part of its UK Bases network.
Sport and leisure
Blandford Forum has a Non-League football club, Blandford United F.C., who play at Blandford Recreation Ground. Blandford Bowls Club play in several mens and womens leagues and have a six rinks green, also on the recreation ground on Milldown Road.
The Blandford fly (Simulium posticatum), a small (2-3mm) biting fly belonging to the family Simuliidae or 'blackflies' lives in the area. In recent years the weed beds in the river have been sprayed to reduce numbers.
Blandford is the birthplace of three 18th-century bishops: William Wake (1657—1737), Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Lindesay (1656—1724), Archbishop of Armagh, and Samuel Lisle (1683—1749), Bishop of Norwich. The sculptor Alfred Stevens, who created the Duke of Wellington 's monument in St Paul's Cathedral, was born in Blandford.
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And there came Stoure with terrible aspect, Bearing his sixe deformed heads on hye, That doth his course through Blandford plains direct, And washeth Winborne meades in season drye.
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