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Dorchester Town Wall

In the civil parish of Dorchester.
In the historic county of Dorset.
Modern Authority of Dorset.
1974 county of Dorset.
Medieval County of Dorset.

OS Map Grid Reference: SY690903
Latitude 50.71166° Longitude -2.44029°

Dorchester Town Wall has been described as a probable Urban Defence.

There are masonry footings remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


Scant remains of Roman stone wall utilized post-Conquest. (Bond)

The town wall was mainly of Roman construction but was probably considerably altered in Mediaeval times.It was standing in full strength until the Civil war, but deteriorated thereafter. In 1723 Stukeley mentions that part of it was standing on the west side, was 12 feet thick and made of ragstone, etc. The ditches were levelled and planted from 1702-12. Colonel Drew trenched the northern and western sides in 1938, finding traces of masonry on the earlier raised rampart on the west, but no evidence of masonry was found on the north (Drew 1938).
Dorchester was encompassed by a thick wall of stone, some remains of which appear to the west, south and east parts of the town. Beyond this were two ramparts of earth 1700 paces in length. The town had a wal and fosse all around (Hutchins).
Only one fragment of the wall remains in the west, but there is evidence that for triple ditch at the SW angle (Drew 1937).
Remains of the very wide fosse are still visible on the south and west sides (Moule 1895).
The town had a wall on three sides and part of the fourth. When a surface water conduit was laid in 1911-2, it was concluded that the wall was laid exactly over the spot made by the cutting in Salisbury Walks. On the east side, Salisbury Walks is on the line of the wall. On the south, the present avenues and walks occupy the line of the main ditch, the wall line more to the north where the houses now stand. On the west, West Walks and Colliton Park overlie the line of the wall (Ackland 1915).
Speed's Map of 1610 shows what can almost certainly be taken as a masonry wall from about Friary Hill in the north to the north-west corner of the town, then along the west side of the town where it is labelled "The Ruins of the Old Wall", then along the south side of the town. From the south-east corner a wall, curving slightly outwards, extends to the north to approximately the junction of Salisbury Street with Salisbury Walks. At this point it ends abruptly and from here to Friary Hill nothing is shown. Hachures are shown on the outer side of the wall and also on the inner side on the west side only. (Speed; Pope; Farrah; Barnes)
The course of the town wall was supplied on the 25" plan as follows:
In the east and north, from 'A'-'B' by prolonging the course of the wall, then taking the general line of the crest where the land falls steeply away to the north. No evidence was found to support this line except a rough line on the OS 6" displayed in Dorset County Museum. This line places the Mediaeval priory outside, and the Mediaeval North Gate inside, the wall. Conjectural course only.
From 'B' to the West Gate on the crest of a pronounced rampart which, in the NW corner, has an outer drop of 6.0m. The general straight was taken to join it to the West Gate, supporting evidence is the 1938 cutting and section. Course of wall.
From the West Gate to 'C', the points were joined. No supporting evidence but the logical course of the wall.
At 'C' the rubble core of a wall remains. It is protected and a plaque reads: 'Remains of Roman Wall'. From 'C' to the SW corner and to the South Gate. A straight was taken along a generally broad rampart and made to join to the South Gate. Probable corse of Rman wall. From the South Gate to the SE corner, a straight was taken to include the South Gate, point 'D', which is on a slight rampart which falls to the south. A general curve was made around the corner on Gallows Hill to the East. Probable course of wall.
From 'E' to 'A', the course was supplied by plotting the water conduit from a plan in the Borough Engineer's Office. The line falls along a slight rampart. Course of wall.
No trace of the masonry wall was found except at 'C'. The outer slopes shown in the west and south are shown by Miles Barnes. They are pronounced and are evidently the mutilated remains of an outer ditch. From the crest the land falls away on both sides in the west (F1 JR 01-Sep-1954).
The known defences of Durnovaria consisted of an earthen bank and ditch system forming an irregular quadrilateral enclosing 70-80 acres, constructed not earlier than 130, but probably in the latter half of the 2nd century, and with a stone wall added to the front of the bank perhaps as late as the 4th century. a fragment of the wall comprising a rubble core 28 feet long and 8 feet high is extant at SY68949063, and at SY68919088 a section of wall footings 8.5 feet wide was exposed under a footpath of Colliton Walk in 1938. Except for the NE part of the town between Friary Hill, (SY693909) and High East Street (SY695907) where no Roman features have been recorded, the earthworks, where not visible, are recorded with tolerable accuracy. The earthen defences were unusually large and elaborate, and the bank, where best preserved, is some 80 feet wide overall. In Colliton Park (SY689908), initially the bank seems to have been 50 feet wide at the base, and some 60 feet wide in its secondary phase; the triple ditch system varied from circa 125 feet to 155 feet wide overall, including the counterscarp bank traceable on the south. Construction is generally of chalk rubble and loam.
Borough records of the late 14th and early 15th centuries, clearly apply to earthworks but not the walls. Camden in 1586 ascribed the ruins of the walls to the danes. By the beginning of the 17th century, little more remained of the walls than is now apparent. The destruction of trhe castle (SY69SE34) and the Friary (SY69SE77) on the north, and the development of Fordington to the east, had probably contributed to the destruction in these areas. The survival of earthworks elsewhere may be attributed to their having formed an economical boundary between the burgesses and the tenants of Fordington, and were considerable enough, with the addition of bulwarks and outworks at the exits, to form the basis of the defence against the Royalists in 1642-3. Between 1702-43, the banks were partly landscaped in laying out and planting the walks on the N and W sides of Colliton Park, West Walk (SY689904), Bowling Alley Walk, (SY691903), and South Walk, (SY694904). The banks have been excavated at Colliton Park and Bowling Alley Walk, and the bank and ditch have been located more recently in several areas during redevelopment of the town. The rampart deposits at Bowling Alley Walk (SY69129035) included 1st-2nd century Samian and coarse ware (RCHME; Cunnington; Drew and Collingwood; Farrah; Penn). (PastScape)

Speed's plan of c. 1611 shows a near intact circuit, but no gates, marked as "The ruins of the ould wall."
Turner says there is no documentary or excavation evidence that walls were maintained in the Middle Ages.
Most of the bibliography will concentrate, sometimes exclusively, on the Roman period of the walls. Given map reference for South West corner of the circuit.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:28

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