History of Dorset

History of Dorset

Early history

History of DorsetDorset’s history contains a fascinating record of ancient Britain and the landscape particularly by the coast contains many examples of burial mounds from the Early Bronze Age, tumuli which date from around 2,200 – 1,200 BC.

In the Iron Age 800 BC-43 AD the Celtic tribe the Durotriges, dominated Dorset at this time and during this period they built over 27 hill forts. Maiden Castle is one of the best examples of Durotriges hill forts which can be found just outside Dorchester.

English Heritage website- Maiden castle

Their reign in Dorset was only finally brought to an end by the might of Rome which conquered Britain from 43 AD.

The Romano-British period lasted from 43 AD to 410 AD and there are some excellent examples of their time in Dorset among the best of which is the Roman House in Dorchester which can be found behind the Dorset County buildings. The mosaics on display here are excellent.

Roman Town House

Saxon Britain 600 AD-1066 AD the Saxon period sees the establishment of the rural settlement pattern which still survives. Saxon Dorset was the scene of one of the first visits of Viking ships in the South in about 790 AD.

The Vikings were finally defeated by a combination of King Alfred and a storm which wrecked a large number of their longships in Swanage Bay.

History of Dorset - Corfe CastleThe Norman conquest had more of an effect on the ruling classes with Saxon overlords being replaced by Norman Castles examples of which can still be found in Corfe and Sherborne. Indeed most of today’s villages are found listed in the Domesday book which although made as a record of Norman Britain is a record of Saxon England.

Sherborne Castle
Corfe Castle
Domesday bookSave


The Middle Ages

Dorset played its role in one of the most significant events to hit England in this time, the Bubonic plague – the Black Death, which arrived in England through the port of Melcombe Regis (Weymouth)June 1348. It is estimated that subsequently between a quarter and a half of the population of the county died from this disease.

The monasteries, many dating from the 10th century, were the source of much of Dorset’s wealth which emanated from the wool trade. Ironically it was this wealth which finally brought about their dissolution in 1530 under the reign of Henry VIII who appropriated their wealth as part of the religious separation of England from Rome.

The county was divided by the English Civil War 1642-46 with Dorchester, Lyme Regis, Weymouth and Poole siding with Parliament and Sherborne and Corfe siding with the King.

The Monmouth Rebellion 1685 which followed the reinstatement of the monarchy was a challenge to James II by one of his father’s illegitimate sons, the Duke of Monmouth. Monmouth landed at Lyme Regis and he recruited many Dorset men to support his cause. His army was made of farm workers and artisans and they were swiftly defeated at Sedgemoor. There was swift retribution led by the hanging judge, Judge Jeffries who sentenced 74 of the rebels to death by hanging in Dorchester and many more were deported.

The Monmouth RebellionSave


Modern History

Dorset skipped the industrial revolution which at the time meant that the county was less wealthy by comparison with many other industrial counties in England. Although ironically it was this that kept Dorset as a rural idyll which remains largely unspoilt to this day.

Along the coast where the ‘black economy’ thrived Smuggling was particularly rife.

Jurassic Coastal walksAmong many one of the most famous was Isaac Gulliver (1745-1822) whose gang ran 15 Tuggers from the continent to the Dorset coast running gin, lace, silk and tea and ran operations from Poole in the East to Lyme Regis in the West.

The King of Smugglers

The Georgian period also saw a renaissance in Dorset as George III liked to visit Weymouth and it became a fashionable tourist destination and tourism remains a very important part of the modern Dorset economy.

Dorset played a very significant contribution to the two World Wars in the 20th Century with the Lulworth army range opening in 1916 and the sequestration of Tyneham village in 1943 to extend the range.

With preparations for D Day in Poole or the testing of Barnes Wallace’s bouncing bomb on the Fleet.

Tyneham VillageSave


Dorset has played a pivotal role in the history of England since the dawn of time and it’s all here waiting for you to explore and discover its wonderful history.Save