Corfe Castle
The River Frome

Wareham Visitor Guide

Introduction

Wareham in Dorset, a brief insight into its history.


The town is located between the River Frome and the River Piddle at the head of the Wareham Channel of Poole Harbour. Wareham Quay is the highest point of navigation on the River Frome and because of this the riverside town of Wareham has a history which spans over 2,000 years. Until the Middle Ages it was an important port but eventually the harbour began to silt up and Poole became the main port in the area.

The older streets in the town are laid out in a Roman grid pattern, although the present town was probably created by the Saxons. The town is surrounded on three sides by earthen defences dating from the time of Alfred the Great after the town had been captured by the Vikings in 876. The defences were refurbished during the Norman period and were actually heightened on the west during the Second World War. The town was a Saxon royal burial site, notably that of King Beorhtric (800 AD). Also in the town is the coffin of Edward the Martyr, dating from 978, although his remains now are in Shaftesbury Abbey.

In the southwest area of Wareham is a great mound with a Victorian house standing on it. This was the site of Wareham Castle which was probably built almost immediately after the Norman Conquest.

Since the 15th century Wareham has been a market town, and still holds a market on Thursdays and Saturdays.

Following the 1685 Monmouth Rebellion, Wareham was one of several towns in Dorset where Judge Jeffreys held the Bloody Assizes, with traitors being hanged from the town walls. The North West walls include an area called 'Bloody Bank' where a large stone can be seen which was used for beheadings.

In July 1762 a fire destroyed two thirds of the town, over 140 buildings. One of the few survivors of the fire is St Martins Church. Positioned in the middle of the north wall it is thought to be constructed on the location of a Roman temple. It is notable in that it is the only Saxon church in Dorset which survives in anything like its original state. The building dates from 1030 AD. After the fire Wareham was rebuilt in Georgian architecture with red brick and Purbeck limestone, following the Roman street pattern. The medieval almshouses also escaped the fire, and some Georgian facades mask other buildings which survived.

The Church houses a splendid effigy, sculpted by Eric Kennington, of Lawrence of Arabia (T.E. Lawrence) in Arab clothing who was killed close by at Clouds Hill in 1935.

Wareham was used as a garrison during the First World War for troops heading off to the trenches and in 1917 there were about 7,500 men camped on the town's outskirts. Wareham was utilised as a training area during the Second World War. 

The Rex Cinema in West Street is a gas-lit early cinema which is still in business.

The revival of tourism during the 1950s and 1960s coincided with the decline of more established industries like pottery making, although clay mining is still very prominent. Because of the constraints of the rivers and marshland Wareham grew little during the 20th century, while nearby towns such as Poole, have grown quickly.

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.

Wareham Tourist Information Centre

Trinity Church
South Street
Wareham
Dorset
BH20 4LU

01929 552740

Email tic@purbeck-dc.gov.uk

Wareham Community Hospital

Streche Road
Wareham
Dorset
BH20 4QQ

01929 552433 

Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015