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Shaftesbury Town Defences

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;

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

OS Map Grid Reference: ST859228
Latitude 51.00441° Longitude -2.20231°

Shaftesbury Town Defences has been described as a probable Urban Defence.

There are no visible remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


Burh of Alfred, apparently not fortified after the Conquest. No remains of pre-conquest fortifications but an inscribed stone has been found and suggested as relating to C10/C11 town wall and gate way.

Centred ST 859228. The Saxon burh of Shaftesbury appears to have been situated west of the abbey church on the steep-sided promontory spur. It is recorded in the Burghal Hidage with an assessment of 700 hides indicating a wall length of 2,888 ft. and was probably one of Alfred's "de novo" burhs. Asser writing circa 890 refers to the nunnery (or abbey) next to the burh by its east gate, possibly indicating that the burh was established between the foundation of the nunnery c.871x877 and when Asser was writing after 890. Alternatively, the burh may have been an earlier foundation. Although there is no direct archaeological evidence, it is assumed that the Burghal Hidage rampart bisected the promontory and various suggestions for the line of the rampart have been asserted.
Taylor describes a "low rise in the ground passing through gardens and a school playground" athwart Abbey Lane which might be the result of garden activities according to Penn. The "line of Magdalen Lane" (Hill and Rumble) and a line following Lion Walk are also probabilities.
The Medieval town grew up outside the abbey gate, either before or after the Conquest when the burh was deserted. Bimport, the spine road (extending from ST 85772276 to ST 86172303) is the only street likely to have early origins, and its name also suggests that it dates from the period of the burh. (Penn; Scheduling Report)
Centred ST 858229. Late Saxon urban area east of Castle Hill. An open grassed area, including the probable north-west part of the late Saxon burh. Scheduled. (RCHME)
Research on the extent of the burh as stated in Charter 655, dated AD 958, as a grant of King Eadwig suggest that the lands refered to in the charter correspond very closely with those bounded by St Peter's parish (Rutter).
Asser's 'Life of Alfred' states that:
"King Alfred ordered the...monastery to be built near the East gate of Shaftesbury as a residence for the nuns."
This supports the idea that that the monastery was built after the creation of the burh. It is classified as a major borough and was seen as a suitable refuge for the nuns of Wilton during the reign of Ethelred II. It was a middle-ranking mint from the reign of Athelstan onwards, (Hill and Rumble). (PastScape No. 206558)

A fragment of inscribed stone, carved between circa 975 and 1050 was found on the site of the abbey church in 1902 and evidently belongs to an inscription seen in the abbey chapter house by William of Malmesbury about 1125 AD. The stone ascribes the traditional foundation of Shaftesbury to King Alfred in 880 AD and Malmesbury also recorded that it had been brought from the ruins of a very old wall. From the reconstructed inscription, R.C.H.M. considered that the stone derived from an important early 11th century secular structure, which is unlikely to have been anything but a stone-built town wall; the most probable position for the inscription being in association with a gateway (RCHME).
Penn refers to the inscribed stone and its possible association with a stone gateway but does not suggest a town wall here (Penn). (PastScape No 206560)
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:27

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