Gold Hill, From The Hovis Advert

Shaftesbury Visitor Guide


Shaftesbury in Dorset, a brief insight into its history.

Shaftesbury is a town in North Dorset, positioned on the A30 road near the Wiltshire border 20 miles west of Salisbury. It is one of the highest towns in England standing at over 750 feet above sea level.

Shaftesbury may have been the Celtic settlement known as Caer Palladur but the Saxons are usually credited with founding the town. The term ‘bury’ comes from the Saxon word burgh, which meant a fortified settlement. The first part of the name is thought to come from the Saxon word sceapt, which meant ‘point’. Shaftesbury does lie on a ‘point' of land.

In the 9th century King Alfred turned Shaftsbury into a fortified town after his defeat of the Vikings. He also founded an Abbey, for his daughter Aethelgiva. This led to the later affluence of the town. The Abbey became a fashionable destination for pilgrims during the medieval period, chiefly because of the shrine of St. Edward. The boy king Edward the Martyr was murdered by his stepmother at Corfe Castle in order that his half brother could become king, and was buried in the Abbey after which Shaftesbury Abbey became a centre of pilgrimage.

In the 10th century there were royal mints in the town and Shaftesbury in addition had weekly markets. King Canute died here in 1035. By 1086 when the Domesday Book was being recorded, the town was identified as Sceapterbyrg, and owned half by the King and half by the Abbey. In 1260 the town emerges as a commercial centre for the first time with the granting of a charter to hold a market. Richard II confirmed in 1392 a grant of two markets in the town, on Mondays and Saturdays.

Catherine of Aragon is rumoured to have stayed at Shaftesbury Abbey in 1501 when she was travelling to marry Prince Arthur, Henry VIII's brother. The Abbey later became a victim of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, however the ruins have survived.

Nearby Wardour Castle was captured by Parliamentary forces in 1643 and they surrounded the town in August 1645 when it was a centre of local Clubmen activity. The clubmen were arrested and sent to trial in Sherborne.

In the late 17th century and during the 18th century the main industries in Shaftesbury were making buttons and gloving. Button making later died out in the 19th century. There were also malting industries in the town and many breweries.

Shaftesbury developed as a coaching centre in the 18th century with five turnpike roads meeting in the town. In the 19th century Shaftesbury remained a small market town and in 1800 it only had a population of around 1,000 people. Unfortunately the railway passed Shaftesbury by and the town missed out on the benefits many other Dorset towns experienced.

By the middle of the 20th century the population of Shaftesbury had reached about 3,500 and it continued to grow more quickly. Today the population of Shaftesbury is about 6,700.

In 1973 a famous advert for Hovis bread was made in Shaftesbury on Gold Hill – but the narrator spoke in a northern accent!

Disclaimer: The information in this Tourist Guide has been researched from a variety of sources including books, articles and online information. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information the reader should check any specific facts for themselves before making any decisions based upon the said information.

Shaftesbury Tourist Information Centre

8 Bell Street

01747 853514


Shaftesbury Hospital

01747 851535

Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015