History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
A 'must see' destination for visitors to Dorset, the historic town of Shaftesbury suffers some inevitable effects of its popularity, but it is thankfully far enough off the beaten track to have escaped the tourist hordes. One who did make it here was Thomas Hardy, who renamed the town "Shaston" in his novels.
The market town of Shaftesbury was one of the Saxon burhs, or fortified towns, founded by Alfred the Great to solidify his victory over the Danes. Shortly after the town was established in 880 AD, Alfred also founded Shaftesbury Abbey, the first monastery in Britain solely for women, and Alfred's daughter Aethelgiva was the first Abbess. The town grew up around the abbey during the late Saxon period, and gained in importance to the point where it was granted the right to have no less than three money minters under Aethelstan.
A few steps down from the church entrance is Gold Hill; anyone who has ever poured over a tourist board brochure will be familiar with the view down the cobbles of Gold Hill, with pretty thatched cottages in the foreground and the Blackmore Vale in the distance. It is one of the classic views of historic England, and one that never ceasees to draw photographers. This iconic vista was used in a memorable Hovis advertisement for many years. A large statue of a Hovis loaf stands on the High Street, just above Gold Hill, beside the Town Hall.
A short stroll from the High Street brings you to Castle Hill, which gives wonderful views north towards Somerset and Wiltshire. Somewhere on Castle Hill, in a yet undiscovered location, a castle was built during the civil war between supporters of King Stephen and Quen Maud. There are numerous historic buildings within the old core of Shaftesbury. One of these, Ox House, was used by Thomas Hardy as Old Grove Place in his novel Jude the Obscure.
Shaftesbury was a transportation hub in the 18th century, with no less than 5 turnpike roads converging on the town. Extra horses were required to pull the coaches up Tout Hill. The coming of the railway left Shaftesbury something of a backwater, with the nearest station at Gillingham. A few miles away is historic Old Wardour Castle.
Shaftesbury holds two annual events, the Gold Hill Fair in July and the Shaftesbury Carnival in October.
Just two miles from the town is the fancifully named ZigZag Hill, which provides excellent views across Cranborne Chase, and has been officially recognised by the AA as the bendiest stretch of road in the Britain (and they should know!).
Address: Shaftesbury, Dorset, England
Attraction Type: Town
OS: ST861 229
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
We've 'tagged' this attraction information to help you find related historic attractions and learn more about major time periods mentioned.
Historic Time Periods:
Find other attractions tagged with:
11th century (Time Period) - Alfred the Great (Person) - castle (Architecture) - Civil War (Architecture) - Edward the Martyr (Person) - King Stephen (Person) - Medieval (Time Period) - Saxon (Time Period) -
NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
Shaftesbury Abbey Museum and Garden - 0 miles (Abbey)
Shaftesbury, St Peter's Church - 0 miles (Historic Church)
Gold Hill Museum - 0.1 miles (Museum)
East Knoyle, St Mary's Church - 4.9 miles (Historic Church)
Old Wardour Castle - 5.2 miles (Castle)
Larmer Tree Gardens - 6.4 miles (Garden)
Mere, St Michael's Church - 6.6 miles (Historic Church)
Fiddleford Manor - 6.9 miles (Historic Building)
Nearest Accommodation to Shaftesbury: