High Street, Shaftesbury
Shaftesbury shown within Dorset
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|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|EU Parliament||South West England|
|UK Parliament||North Dorset|
Shaftesbury // 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. It is the only significant hilltop settlement in Dorset, being built about 215 metres (705 ft) above sea level on a greensand hill on the edge of Cranborne Chase.
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. About 2 mi (3 km) to the west of the town is the conical mound of Duncliffe Hill, visible for miles and home to Duncliffe Wood and a nature reserve.
Many of the older buildings in the town are made of the local greensand, while others are built from the grey Chilmark limestone, much of which was salvaged from the demolished Shaftesbury Abbey. Adjacent to the abbey site is Gold Hill, the steep cobbled street made famous in the 1970s and 1980s as the setting for Ridley Scott 's iconic television advertisement for Hovis bread.
In the 2011 census the town's civil parish had a population of 7,314.
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, and the use of "Shaston" (//) was recorded in 1831 in Samuel Lewis's A Topographical Dictionary of England and in 1840 in The parliamentary gazetteer of England and Wales. Thomas Hardy used both "Shaston" and "Palladour" to refer to the town in the fictional Wessex of his novels such as Jude the Obscure ("Caer Palladour" in the Brythonic language is "Caer Vynnydd y Paladr" or "The Hillfort of the Spears"), though the general use of "Palladour" was described by one 19th-century directory as "mere invention".
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. By the early 8th century there was an important minster church here, and in 880 Alfred the Great founded a burgh (fortified settlement) here as a defence in the struggle with the Danish invaders. The burgh is recorded in the early-10th-century Burghal Hidage as one of only three that existed in the county (the others being at Wareham and 'Bredy' - which is probably Bridport).
In 888 Alfred founded Shaftesbury Abbey, a Benedictine nunnery by the town's east gate, and appointed his daughter Ethelgifu as the first abbess. 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.
King Canute died here in 1035. By the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066 Shaftesbury had 257 houses, though many were destroyed in the ensuing years of conflict, and by the time the Domesday Book was compiled twenty years later, there were only 177 houses remaining, though this still meant that Shaftesbury was the largest town in Dorset at that time. Around this time the town's ownership was equally shared between king and abbey. In the mid 12th century Shaftesbury took a small role in the civil war between Queen Matilda and King Stephen, in which a small castle was built on Castle Hill..
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. During the Middle Ages the abbey was the central focus of the town; the abbey's great wealth was acknowledged in a popular saying at the time, which stated that "If the abbot of Glastonbury could marry the abbess of Shaftesbury their heir would hold more land than the king of England". In 1260 a charter to hold a market was granted. By 1340 the mayor had become a recognised figure, sworn in by the steward of the abbess. In 1392 Richard II confirmed a grant of two markets on different days. 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, on a site now occupied by the Tesco supermarket car park.
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.
In the 17th century the cloth industry formed part of Shaftesbury's economy, though much of the actual production took place as a cottage industry in the surrounding area. In the 18th century the town produced a coarse white woollen cloth called 'swanskin', that was used by fishermen of Newfoundland and for uniforms. Buttonmaking also became important around this time, though with the later advent of industrialisation this subsequently declined, resulting in unemployment, starvation and emigration, with 350 families leaving for Canada. In the 18th century the turnpike roads which met at Shaftesbury ensured that the town had a good coaching trade. The railways however bypassed the town, and this influenced the subsequent pattern of its growth. During the 19th century the population of the town grew little.
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. The town hall is next to the 15th century St. Peter's Church. The Westminster Memorial Hospital was constructed on Bimport in the mid-19th century with a legacy from the wife of the Duke of Westminster.
In 1918 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:
"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.
Shaftesbury is in the North Dorset parliamentary constituency which is currently represented in the UK national parliament by the Conservative Member of Parliament Simon Hoare. In local government, Shaftesbury 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, Shaftesbury is divided into four electoral wards: Shaftesbury Central, Shaftesbury Christy's, Shaftesbury Grosvenor and Shaftesbury Underhill. These, together with twenty-two other wards within the North Dorset District, elect councillors to North Dorset District Council. In county council elections, the four wards together form Shaftesbury electoral division, one of 42 divisions that elect councillors to Dorset County Council.
At the parish level - the lowest tier of local government - Shaftesbury is governed by Shaftesbury Town Council.
The old centre of Shaftesbury is sited on a westward-pointing promontory of high ground in northeast Dorset, on the scarp edge of a range of hills that extend south and east into Cranborne Chase and neighbouring Wiltshire. The town's built-up area also extends down the promontory slopes to lower ground at St James, Alcester and Enmore Green, and eastwards across the watershed towards the hill's dip slope. Shaftesbury's altitude is between about 165 metres (541 ft) at the lowest streets below the promontory, to about 235 metres (771 ft) at Wincombe Business Park on the hilltop in the north, with the promontory and town centre being at about 215 metres (705 ft). Below the town to the west is the Blackmore Vale, which undulates between about 60 metres (200 ft) and 110 metres (360 ft).
Geologically, Shaftesbury's hill mostly comprises Upper Greensand, which is overlain by Lower Chalk in the east. These date from the Cretaceous, with the greensand having been formed in the Albian and early Cenomanian, and the chalk also in the Cenomanian. The greensand is composed of three beds: the oldest and lowest is a layer of Cann Sand, which is found in the lower parts of the town, such as St James and Alcester, that are below the promontory; above this is a layer of Shaftesbury Sandstone, which generally forms the steepest slopes around the promontory, and on top of this is a layer of Boyne Hollow Chert, which is found on top of the hill and on which most of the town is built. Below the Cann Sand, on the lower slopes of the hill to the north, west and south of the town, are extensive landslip deposits.
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.
In the 2011 census Shaftesbury's civil parish had 3,493 dwellings, 3,235 households and a population of 7,314. The average age of inhabitants was 43, compared to 39.3 for England as a whole. 22.1% of inhabitants were age 65 or older, compared to 16.4% for England as a whole. Previous census figures for the total population of the civil parish are shown in the table below:
|Census Population of Shaftesbury Parish 1921—2001 (except 1941)|
|Asterisks (*) indicate a boundary change
Source:Dorset County Council
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. Since 2013 there has been an annual Snowdrop Festival to encourage tourists to see the snowdrops in flower. Highlights of the festival include the Snowdrop Art Exhibition and the Snowdrop Lantern Parade.
In 2014 Shaftesbury Snowdrops started a Heritage Collection of rare and unusual snowdrops. 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.
Sport and leisure
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.
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- "Shaftesbury Snowdrop Festival - starts 15th Feb". http://www.blackmorevale.co.uk/. Blackmore Vale Magazine. Retrieved 22 January 2015.
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