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This article is about the town in Dorset, England. For other uses, see Shaftesbury (disambiguation).
High Street, Shaftesbury - - 1440129.jpg
High Street, Shaftesbury
Shaftesbury is located in Dorset
 Shaftesbury shown within Dorset
Population 7,314 [1]
OS grid reference ST861228
District North Dorset
Shire county Dorset
Region South West
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district SP7
Dialling code 01747
Police Dorset
Fire Dorset
Ambulance South Western
EU Parliament South West England
UK Parliament North Dorset
List of places

Coordinates: 51°00′21″N 2°11′49″W / 51.0059°N 2.1969°W / 51.0059; -2.1969

Gold Hill

Shaftesbury /ˈʃɑːftsbəri/ is a town and civil parish in Dorset, England. It is situated on the A30 road, 20 miles (32 kilometres) west of Salisbury, near to the border with Wiltshire. The town is built 718 ft (219 m) above sea level on the side of a chalk and greensand hill, which is part of Cranborne Chase, the only significant hilltop settlement in Dorset. It is one of the oldest and highest towns in Britain.[citation needed]

In the 2011 census the town's civil parish and four electoral wards had 3,493 dwellings,[2] 3,235 households and a population of 7,314.[1]

Many of the older buildings in the town are of the local greensand, while others built from the grey Chilmark limestone, much of which was salvaged from the demolished Shaftesbury Abbey, and have thatched roofs. Tourism is one of the main industries.

The town looks over the Blackmore Vale, part of the River Stour basin. From different viewpoints, it is possible to see at least as far as Glastonbury Tor to the northwest. A particularly scenic road is Gold Hill, the steep cobbled street that film director Ridley Scott used as the setting for an iconic television advertisement for Hovis bread that was frequently broadcast in the 1970s and 1980s. Shaftesbury is also celebrated for its ruined abbey and the nearby Wardour Castle. About 2 mi (3 km) to the west of Shaftesbury rises the conical mound of Duncliffe Hill, visible for miles and home to Duncliffe Wood and a nature reserve.


Writing of Shaftesbury in 1905 in his book Highways & Byways in Dorset, Sir Frederick Treves referred to several different names for the town:

The city has had many names. It was, in the beginning, Caer Palladour. By the time of the Domesday Book it was Sceptesberie. It then, with all the affectation of a lady in an eighteenth century lyric, called itself Sophonia. Lastly it became Shaston, and so the people call it to this day, while all the milestones around concern themselves only with recording the distances to "Shaston".

—Sir Frederick Treves, Highways & Byways in Dorset (1905)

Some of these names may have been used more than others. The town was recorded in the Domesday Book as Sceptesberie,[3] and the use of "Shaston" (/ˈʃæstən/) was recorded in 1831 in Samuel Lewis's A Topographical Dictionary of England[4] and in 1840 in The parliamentary gazetteer of England and Wales.[5] Thomas Hardy used both "Shaston" and "Palladour" to refer to the town in the fictional Wessex of his novels such as Jude the Obscure[6] ("Caer Palladour" in the Brythonic language is "Caer Vynnydd y Paladr" or "The Hillfort of the Spears"),[7] though the general use of "Palladour" was described by one 19th century directory as "mere invention".[8]


There is no substantive evidence that Shaftesbury was the "Caer Palladur" (or "Caer Palladwr") of Celtic and Roman times, and instead the town's recorded history dates from Anglo-Saxon times.[9] Its first written record as a town is in the Burghal Hidage. Alfred the Great founded a burgh (fortified settlement) here in 880 as a defence in the struggle with the Danish invaders. Alfred and his daughter Ethelgiva founded Shaftesbury Abbey in 888, which was a spur to the growing importance of the town. Athelstan founded three royal mints, which struck pennies bearing the town's name, and the abbey became the wealthiest Benedictine nunnery in England. On 20 February 981 the relics of St. Edward the Martyr were transferred from Wareham and received at the abbey with great ceremony, thereafter turning Shaftesbury into a major site of pilgrimage for miracles of healing. In 1240 Cardinal Otto (Oddone di Monferrato), legate to the Apostolic See of Pope Gregory IX visited the abbey and confirmed a charter of 1191, the first entered in the Glastonbury chartulary.

King Canute died here in 1035. In the Domesday Book the town's ownership was equally shared between king and abbey. In the Middle Ages the abbey was the central focus of the town.

Shaftesbury took a small role with the civil war between Queen Matilda and King Stephen, in which a small castle was built on Castle Hill.[citation needed].

In 1260, a charter to hold a market was granted. In 1392, Richard II confirmed a grant of two markets on different days. By 1340, the mayor had become a recognised figure, sworn in by the steward of the abbess.

Edwardstow, Shaftesbury's oldest surviving building, was built on Bimport at some time between 1400 and 1539. Also in this period a medieval farm owned by the Abbess of Shaftesbury was established (where the Tesco supermarket car park is today).

In 1539, the last Abbess of Shaftesbury, Elizabeth Zouche, signed a deed of surrender, the (by then extremely wealthy) abbey was demolished, and its lands sold, leading to a temporary decline in the town. Sir Thomas Arundel of Wardour purchased the abbey and much of the town in 1540, but when he was later exiled for treason his lands were forfeit, and the lands passed to Pembroke then Anthony Ashley Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, and finally to the Grosvenors.

Shaftesbury was a parliamentary constituency returning two members from 1296 to the Reform Act of 1832, when it was reduced to one, and in 1884 the separate constituency was abolished.

The town was broadly Parliamentarian in the Civil War, but was in Royalist hands. Wardour Castle fell to Parliamentary forces in 1643; Parliamentary forces surrounded the town in August 1645, when it was a centre of local clubmen activity. The clubmen were arrested and sent to trial in Sherborne. Shaftesbury took no part in the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685.

St Peter's Church and the town hall

The town hall was built in 1827 by Earl Grosvenor after the guildhall was pulled down to widen High Street. It has been designated by English Heritage as a grade II listed building.[10] The town hall is next to the 15th century St. Peter's Church.[11]

The major industries in the 18th and 19th centuries were buttonmaking and weaving. The former became a victim of mechanisation, which caused unemployment, starvation and emigration, with 350 families leaving for Canada.[12]

The five turnpikes which met at Shaftesbury ensured that the town had a good coaching trade. The railways, however, bypassed Shaftesbury, and this influenced the subsequent pattern of its growth.

The Westminster Memorial Hospital was constructed on Bimport in the mid-19th century with a legacy from the wife of the Duke of Westminster[13] (today it is a small community hospital with about 20 beds, a radiology department, a daytime minor injuries department and out-patient clinics).

In 1919, Lord Stalbridge sold a large portion of the town, which was purchased by a syndicate and auctioned piece by piece over three days.

Most of the Saxon and Medieval buildings are now ruined, with most of the town dating from the 18th century to present. Thomas Hardy, whose Wessex name for Shaftesbury was Shaston (or Palladour), wrote:[14]

"Vague imaginings of its castle, its three mints, its magnificent apsidal abbey, the chief glory of south Wessex, its twelve churches, its shrines, chantries, hospitals, its gabled freestone mansions—all now ruthlessly swept away—throw the visitor, even against his will, into a pensive melancholy, which the stimulating atmosphere and limitless landscape around him can scarcely dispel."

During the 1950s and onwards a large amount of low-cost housing has been established around the outskirts of Shaftesbury[citation needed].


Shaftesbury Snowdrops is a Diamond Jubilee Community Legacy with the aim of creating a series of free and accessible Snowdrop walks by planting Snowdrops within the publicly open spaces and along the pathways throughout the town. The project was started in the winter of 2012 with the planting of 60,000 bulbs.[15] Since 2013 there has been an annual Snowdrop Festival to encourage tourists to see the snowdrops in flower.[16] Highlights of the festival include the Snowdrop Art Exhibition[17] and the Snowdrop Lantern Parade.[18]

In 2014 Shaftesbury Snowdrops started a Heritage Collection of rare and unusual snowdrops.[19] These are held in trust for the people of Shaftesbury and displayed in Shaftesbury Abbey during the annual Snowdrop Festival. The collection is being built through sponsorship and donations.


Shaftesbury has a successful small economy with many independently owned shops on the High Street and elsewhere, as well as some national shops. In addition to cafés and antique shops, there are also several clothes shops and estate agents, as well as an independent wine shop, a butcher, bookshop, travel centre, and other amenities, including a swimming pool. Shaftesbury's main source of revenue is tourism. Significant employers include Pork Farms, Stalbridge Linen (a commercial laundry), Guys Marsh Prison, Wessex Electrical and the Royal Mail. Wincombe Business Park houses some small enterprises. There are currently two primary schools and a secondary school.

A site has been identified for a projected parkway station on the West of England main railway line. It would be situated to the north of the town, beneath the A350 road, and a bus service would connect it with the town.[citation needed]

Sport and leisure[edit]

Shaftesbury has a Non-League football club Shaftesbury F.C. who play at Cockrams.[20]

Notable people[edit]

Actor Robert Newton, best known for his portrayals of Long John Silver and Bill Sikes in the 1948 David Lean film Oliver Twist. Architect Richard Upjohn, famous for his Gothic Revival churches in the United States, including Trinity Church in New York, was also born in Shaftesbury.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Area: Shaftesbury (Parish).". Neighbourhood Statistics. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  2. ^ "Area: Shaftesbury (Parish). Dwellings, Household Spaces and Accommodation Type, 2011 (KS401EW)". Neighbourhood Statistics. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  3. ^ "The Domesday Book Online. Dorset S-Z". 1999–2013. Retrieved 19 November 2013. 
  4. ^ Lewis, Samuel (1831). A Topographical Dictionary of England. S. Lewis. p. 61. Retrieved 17 December 2012. 
  5. ^ England (1840). The parliamentary gazetteer of England and Wales. p. 94. Retrieved 17 December 2012. 
  6. ^ Ross, Alexander (1986). The Imprint of the Picturesque on Nineteenth-century British Fiction. Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press. p. 136. Retrieved 19 November 2013. 
  7. ^ Brut y Brenhinedd (mid 13th century document largely regarded as an accurate account of the early history of the Britons)
  8. ^ Cooke, George Alexander. Topographical and Statistical Description of the County of Dorset. p. 134. Retrieved 20 November 2013. 
  9. ^ North Dorset District Council (c. 1983). North Dorset District Official Guide. Home Publishing Company Ltd. pp. 23–24. 
  10. ^ "The Town Hall". Images of England. Retrieved 29 December 2007. 
  11. ^ "Church of St Peter". Images of England. Retrieved 29 December 2007. 
  12. ^ Tony Burton-Page (August 2009). "More to it than a brown loaf". Dorset Life. Retrieved 20 November 2013. 
  13. ^ The Cottage Hospitals 1859-1990. Dr Meyrick Emrys-Roberts, 1991. Tern Publications, Motcombe, Dorset. ISBN 0951713604
  14. ^ In: Hardy, Thomas (1895). Jude the Obscure, part fourth, chapter I. Retrieved 17 December 2011.
  15. ^ "Hundreds of Shaftesbury snowdrops planted after Diamond Jubilee". Blackmore Vale Magazine. Retrieved 22 January 2015. 
  16. ^ "Shaftesbury celebrates the snowdrop". Blackmore Vale Magazine. Retrieved 22 January 2015. 
  17. ^ "Shaftesbury Snowdrop Festival Art Exhibition 2013". Blackmore Vale Magazine. Retrieved 22 January 2015. 
  18. ^ "Shaftesbury Snowdrop Festival - starts 15th Feb". Blackmore Vale Magazine. Retrieved 22 January 2015. 
  19. ^ "Shaftesbury Snowdrops Heritage Collection launched". Blackmore Vale Magazine. Retrieved 22 January 2015. 
  20. ^ "Shaftesbury". Retrieved 8 February 2013. 
  • Pitt-Rivers, Michael, 1979. Dorset. London: Faber & Faber.
  • The 1985 AA illustrated guide to the country towns and villages of Britain.

External links[edit]