The History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset
by John Hutchins:

(3rd Edition published 1868)

Transcribed by Michael Russell OPC for Dorchester - May 2010



Description of Dorchester - Pages 336-338

This town, the capital of the county, where the assizes are held, and the knights of the shire elected, is one of the neatest and most agreeable in the county, and exceeded by few in England; deliciously situated in the southern part of the county, about six miles north from the British channel, on a rising ground that declines gently on the north, south, and east. On the west and south it borders on corn fields. On the north its high situation overlooks spacious meadows, watered by two branches of the river Frome, bounded by hills that rise gently beyond them. One branch of this river runs on the north side of the town. This, with several seats (namely that of H. P. Weston, esq. formerly belonging to the Trenchards at Wolveton ; Lord Ilchester's at Stinsford, now the residence of Herbert Williams, esq.; and Kingston, that of James Fellowes, esq. formerly belonging to the Pitts, &c.), surrounded by groves of trees, affords a variety of objects, and forms an agreeable landscape.

At a distance, the view of the town is very pleasant, especially on the east and south. The towers of St. Peter's church, and that of Fordington, which is, as it were, a suburb to Dorchester, appear on every quarter to advantage; and (remarks Hutchins) the prospect would be completed, had the towers of the Holy Trinity and All Saints been re-built proportionably to that of St. Peter after the fire of 1613. Other fabrics recently erected have added greatly to the architectural effect, conspicuous amongst which is the spire of All Saints' church. The country about this town is level and fruitful ; abounds with arable and sheep pasture, great numbers of sheep being formerly, as now, kept within six miles round it. It is surrounded on the south and west, and part of the north and east, by pleasant walks, made about 1700 and 1712, and planted with rows of chesnuts, sycamore trees, &c., as are the roads leading into the town on the south, west, and east. The air is pure and wholesome, but occasionally sharp and keen. ("The pleasant and healthy situation of this town," write the editors of the last edition of this work, "deserves an encomium, The famous Dr, Arbuthnot, coming hither in his early days with a view to settle in it, gave as a reason for his departure that a physician could neither live nor die in Dorchester.") The town is regularly built, the streets intersecting each other at right angles. The buildings are chiefly of brick and stone, but in Hutchins's time some Flemish buildings of plaster and timber stood in the corn market and about St. Peter's church.

29 Hen. VIII. (1) the number of houses was 349. By a rental of the lands, &c. in the borough, made 1594, 36th Eliz. (2 it appears there were 113 houses in Trinity parish, 138 in St. Peter's, and 117 in All Saints; in all, 368. In the year 1763 there were 1808 inhabitants, viz. in Holy Trinity parish, including Colliton Row, 645; in St. Peter's, 600; in All Saints', 563 ; the number of houses, 350. The boundary of the town forms an irregular square; which perhaps formerly was a complete one: for the ancient course of the river, still visible, ran through the meadows due east from Mohun to Stocking Bridge ; but the channel being narrow, and the vale, by the frequent overflowings of the river, filled with water, its course was turned nearer the town, and a larger channel cut for it; and, by this means, the land was drained and improved, which before was an entire morass. But the river now, towards the middle of the town, bends away a little to the south-east, and spoils the square of it. The town consists of three principal streets broad and well-paved, which meet in the centre of it. The corn-market used to be held at the upper end of the south street, near the spot where the Cupola, or old market-house, formerly stood, in the centre of the town, but which was removed in 1782, its situation being found inconvenient, on account of the great increase of travelling. It was built in the form of an octagon, supported by eight handsome stone pillars, and covered on the top with lead, on which formerly stood a little room, capable of containing ten or twelve persons, and was made use of for some of the corporation to meet on particular business. It was encompassed with balustrades, and was in the form of a cupola, whence it had its name.

Opposite the south street is St. Peter's church; and near it The Corporation, in the year 1791, during the mayoralty of Robert Stickland, esq. erected a spacious and handsome town-hall, with a market-house under it, and behind it two rows of convenient shops, for the use of the butchers ("The present town-hall, gaol, &c, will be hereafter noticed")

The Free School, and Napier's almshouses, are situated in the south street. In the west street stands Trinity church, and beyond is placed the new Shire-hall, a plain building, having a front of Portland stone, and a pediment in the centre. The courts, &c. are well contrived, and commodiously fitted up. In the east street, commonly called the Lower Parish, stands All Saints' church; and below it, at the entrance into the town, was the County Gaol, erected in the year 1785, but, not being found sufficiently extensive, or susceptible of the improvement introduced about the beginning of the present century, in the internal management and economy of gaols, a new one was erected on the north side of the town, and the old one sold by auction for £1,220. In this street a footway was made for passengers, paved with square stones, and guarded by posts, 1762, at the expense of the Right Honourable Lord Milton, afterwards created Earl of Dorchester. In 1776 an act of Parliament was passed for paving, watching, and lighting the town; and since that time it has been considerably improved; many new and handsome houses have been built, and other improvements introduced by private persons as well as by the Corporation. The entrance into the town. from the causeway at the east end was also soon afterwards greatly beautified by taking down part of the White Hart inn, which projected into the street, and widening the bridge, but, in Hutchins's time, "some houses before St. Peter's church, and the south aisle of Trinity church, projected too far into the west street." The east and west streets now form one handsome street. Two or three of these houses about 1790 were purchased by a few public-spirited individuals, and taken down, an example worthy to be followed by those who wish to see the county-town take the lead in every improvement that may contribute to the convenience and advantage of the public., At the angle, where the south and east streets join, two houses formerly stood near together; and a room or two belonging to them were built over the street, and made a narrow and inconvenient passage. This place was called The Bow, and was pulled down in the year 1748, which opened the view of the streets. The old town hall stood over the shambles, near the Bow; the town prison, for debtors, and the blind-house, for confining disorderly people for the night, were adjoining on the north side. These buildings, having been for some time in a ruinous state, were taken down in 1792 to make room for the town hall, and other new erections.

Here are three parishes, and three churches,. Holy Trinity, St. Peter's, and All Saints . St. Peter's, although the largest and best, has been erroneously supposed to be only a chapel of ease to the Holy Trinity; it was nevertheless from an ancient period a distinct rectory, in the gift of the crown; the value of it was so small, arising entirely from Easter offerings and surplice fees, that there was no incumbent, but the living was usually held by, and the emoluments were paid to, the Rector of Holy Trinity, who officiated in it once every Sunday, and every Saturday in the year. However, as will be hereafter noticed, this rectory is now furnished with a suitable endowment.

Dorchester was anciently encompassed with a high and thick wall of stone, some remains of which appear on the west, south, and east parts of the town. Beyond this were two ramparts of earth, 1700 paces in length, which are still visible on the west, south, and east. The level of the old town, on the south, &c. was lower than the present; for the coins, mosaic work, &c. dug up here lie generally deep. This south part is mostly converted into gardens. Plans of this town may be seen in Speed's map of Dorset, 1610; and in Dr. Stukeley's Itin. Curios. vol. i. pl. lxxvii. is a plan of the Roman town. Concerning the ancient trade of the borough we have no account. But in the reign of King Edward III. the inhabitants were so reduced, as to petition the King to abate part of their fee-farm rents; for, by reason their houses were left so desolate, and trade failed among them (as the words of the petition are), they were no longer able to pay it. After this they seem to have recovered: for 9 Hen. VI. (3) an act of parliament passed, that the burgesses of this borough shall not be disturbed by the statute 8 Hen. VI (4). in their right to use their weighing within twelve miles round about the same, so as they use such weights as in the said statute are expressed. During the reigns of Elizabeth, Charles I. and James I. till the great fire and the civil wars, the cloth manufacture flourished, and the inhabitants exported and imported a great deal of merchandise at Weymouth. For this, Mr. Coker says, (page 69) they challenged the superiority of all this shire, as well for quick markets and neat buildings, as for the number of inhabitants, many of which were men of great wealth ; and after the fire, 1613, it rose fairer than before. In the civil wars it suffered greatly, after which the making of serges was the chief business; also supplying the neighbouring towns, even that of Poole, with grocery wares. "On the breaking out of the wars with France," says Hutchins, "and the prohibition of French wines, malting and brewing were carried here to great perfection, and they sent great quantities of excellent beer to London and foreign parts; but since 1725 this trade is decayed." The trade of malting however seems to have been carried on to a great extent in this town at a much earlier period, particularly during the 17th century, when Dorchester was already celebrated for its malt and beer.

    There are many entries relating to both malting and brewing in the old minute books of the corporation. " Sept. 11, 1639. This day Joseph Michell of Salisbury, comended unto the company by Mr. Bailiff Bury and Mr. Dennis Bond for his honesty and abilitie in maulting, as they are informed by good testymony, is agreed with by the company to make for one year from Michaelmas next of all the mault the hospital brewhouse shall spend and use, and to employ himself and his manservant therein diligently, and his servant is to help the brewers when they tonne their beere, and he undertaketh to make good and sufficient mault, and is to have for wages for him and his man 30 li., and in beere that his howse spend as much 31i. yearely, and the said Joseph agreeth during that tyme to use no other employment for himselfe or his man without allowance of this company, and he is to take and give account of all barley he receives in and mault delivered into the store howses." "July 13, 1631. Whereas the pavement of the towne streetes are much torn and annoyed by the brewers' carte wheeles by reason of the iron bonds, it is now ordered that none of the brewers of this towne shall after the xxiiiit" day of August next carry any beere abroad in the towne with iron bonds," &c.
The increase of this business seems to have occasioned an Act, made 9 and 10 William III. (5) to repeal an Act, made 39 Elizabeth (6), to restrain excessive making of malt. Here is now no staple trade of any kind carried on.

Genealogical Notes:-
(1). The 'Regnal' year 29 in the reign of Henry VIII which ran from 22 Apr 1537 to 21 Apr 1538,
(2). The 'Regnal' year 36 in the reign of Elizabeth I which ran from 17 November 1593 to 16 November 1594,
(3). The 'Regnal' year 9 in the reign of Henry VI which ran from 30th September 1407 to 29th September 1410,
(4). The 'Regnal' year 8 in the reign of Henry VI which ran from 30th September 1406 to 29th September 1409,
(5). The 'Regnal' years 9 & 10 of the reign of William III ran from 28 Dec 1697 to 27 Dec 1699
(6). The 'Regnal' year 39 Elizabeth I ran from 17 Nov 1596 to 16 Nov 1597

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