Wanderings in Wessex eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 275 pages of information about Wanderings in Wessex.
of Roman buildings were discovered while excavations were being made in High Street about twenty years ago.  Alfred rebuilt the town and founded St. Mary’s Abbey, with his daughter Aethelgiva as first abbess.  The removal of the body of the martyred Edward hither from Wareham, after his murder at Corfe Castle, gave Shaftesbury a wide renown and caused thousands of pilgrims to flock to the miracle-working shrine.  For a time it was known as Eadwardstow and the Abbess was a lady of as much secular importance as a Baron.  The magnificent Abbey Church was as imposing as any we have left to us, but not a vestige remains except the fragmentary wall on Gold’s Hill and the foundations quite recently uncovered and surveyed.  One of the most interesting discoveries is that of a twisted column in the floor of the crypt that is thought to be part of the martyr’s shrine.

[Illustration:  GOLD HILL, SHAFTESBURY.]

Shaftesbury once had twelve churches, but one only of the old structures remain.  This is a fine Perpendicular building of simple plan, chancel and nave being one.  The tower is noble in its fine proportions and the north side of the nave aisle is beautifully ornamented and embattled.  Holy Trinity and St. James’ are practically new churches, although rebuilt on the ground plans of the original structures.  On the west side of the first-named is a walk called “The Park” that would make the fortune of any inland health resort, so magnificent is the view and so glorious the air.  The hill on which the town is built rises abruptly from the valley in a steep escarpment, so that the upper end of High Street is 700 feet above the sea.  There is therefore only one practicable entrance, by way of the Salisbury road.  Of actual ancient buildings there are few, although at one time there was some imposing medieval architecture in this “city set on a hill,” if we may believe the old writers.  It once boasted a castle besides the Hostel of St. John Baptist and its many churches.  It may have been in this castle that Canute died in 1035.

The station for Shaftesbury is Semley, just over the Wilts border, but it is proposed to take the longer journey to Gillingham, nearly four miles north-west, which is the next station on the South Western main line.  This was once the centre of a great Royal “Chase,” disforested by Charles I. It was also the historic scene of the Parliament called to elect Edward Confessor to the throne, and at “Slaughter Gate,” just outside the town, Edmund Ironside saved Wessex for the Saxons by defeating Canute in 1016.  The foundations of “King’s Court Palace,” between Ham Common and the railway, show the site of the hunting lodge of Henry III and the Plantagenet kings.  Gillingham church was spoilt by a drastic early nineteenth-century restoration.  The chancel belongs to the Decorated period.  There are several interesting tombs and a memorial of a former vicar over the arch of the tower.  He was dispossessed as a “malignant” during the Commonwealth, but returned at the Restoration.

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Wanderings in Wessex from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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