Shaftesbury was one of three Dorset 'burhs' built on a flat-topped spur of a high
down in the northern part of Dorset founded around 880 AD. Alfred founded a Benedictine
abbey for nuns in 888 AD which grew to be the largest and richest nunnery. The nunnery's
fortress walls offered protection for the nuns and may have been intended to safeguard
the grave of Edward the Martyr which lay within the grounds.
By the time of the Domesday Survey the town had in the region of 1,000 inhabitants
and was the largest of Dorset's five Domesday boroughs. In 1252 the town gained a
royal charter which provided visits from the king's justices. The 14th century saw
the entrance of a mayor and constables. The abbey and the king continued to benefit
from the town market and tolls.
Inevitably friction grew between the abbey, with its prestige and wealth, the town
and surrounding areas. The population of Sherborne would have made do with a far
lesser church and there would have been restriced access to the grounds of the wealthy
In 1539, after the abbey's dissolution, the moastery was granted to Sir Thomas Arundell
whose heir let the monastery deteriorate until its stone was used for other purposes.
Today the monastery has an award-winning museum where visitors can see the casket
thought to have held Edward's remains, undertake an audio tour, and experience an
interactive virtual tour.
Walk around the foundations of the Abbey Church and sample the aromas of the Anglo-Saxon
herb collection in the peaceful garden.