In the second of Cindy’s articles for the Queen Elizabeth Day Commemorative Booklet, she takes readers on a written tour of the town as she she pours rapturous praise on its historical highlights.
If you’re unfortunate enough to miss a Cindy tour this will give you an idea of what to look out for as you walk around the town.
Sherborne and its Treasures
Sherborne derives its name from two Old English words,
Scír – meaning bright and clean, and
Burn – meaning spring or stream.
So Sherborne is The Place on the Bright and Clear Stream.
The stream in question is almost certainly the Coombe Stream which flows over chalk beds and is clear. The honey-brown interior oolite from the local quarries yielded the mellow building stone for ecclesiastic and domestic uses. But it was from Somerset’s Ham Hill that the luxurious and seductive stone came to enhance the townscape and crown it with gold.
As an introduction, the town should be viewed from the slopes just above its southern boundary- the river Yeo. Dominating the river is the Abbey Church of St. Mary the Virgin, harmoniously enfolded by narrow streets lined by buildings of architectural and historic value.
The medieval shape of the town is clearly visible, despite later developments around the periphery. The two castles sit as satellites to the town centre, and much of the surrounding lands, as well as parts of the town, are still held by the Digby family, owners of the New Castle for nearly 400 years. Their emblem of an ostrich holding an upturned horseshoe in its beak can still be seen around the town, exemplifying their motto Deo Non Fortuna.
Strolling through the town allow 2-3 hours, (it is impossible to go fast in the town), for each area has so many interesting buildings.
Starting at the Tourist Information Centre in Digby Road, face the Abbey and walk towards it, turning left to face St Johns’ Almshouse; founded in 1420 and built in 1438. This is a complete example of a medieval Almshouse, and the best surviving one in Wessex. The original house is on the left, with a good Victorian extension to the right. The chapel has a superb late 15th Century Tryptic.
Enter the Abbey close, which retains the tranquillity of other ages, and has a delightful semi-circle of old dwellings edging the grass. The Abbey is the most important architectural monument in the ancient county of Dorset. The nave, flooded with light from large perpendicular windows, has splendid panelled pillars and breath-taking fan vaulting (often cited as the best example in the country). Note the rose colouring on the pillars supporting the tower; a reminder of the great fire that threatened the Abbey in the early C15th. This continues through the crossing into the Choir, a reminder of the glorious achievements of the monastic era. At the Dissolution of the Benedictine Monastery in 1539, the parishioners acquired one of the most magnificent parish churches in England.
Retrace your steps to the gates of Abbey Close, and turn left and continue to a long 16th century building, the former Church House. It houses three shops now, including an Indian Restaurant. Except for the partitions of the upper storey, it is almost exactly as it was in the days of the first Queen Elizabeth, when it formed a single room hired out for social gatherings and plays. ‘Her Majestie’s Players’ performed here, and it would be nice to imagine that Sir Walter Raleigh and Lady Bess attended some events.
Turn left into narrow Cheap Street, the main street and lively heart of Sherborne.
The wide pavement is The Parade, a market place, and the interesting hexagonal building is the re-sited early 16th century lavatorium (washing place) known as the Conduit, given to the town by the School in 1933. It is said that by superstition, the Boys do not walk through the building.
Walk up Cheap Street, and at Abbey Road turn left and follow the road until you see the main entrance of Sherborne School to your left. The town has many schools, but this is the oldest, being re-founded in 1550. Look from the archway across the Courts to the Abbey. Generations of boys have worked here in the shadow of the great Church, and in buildings permeated with Medieval beauty. It has educated many of the great and the good of our nation’s history, including Alan Turing whose work cracking the Enigma code most certainly shortened the Second World War.
Return to Cheap Street and turn left. The 16th century timber-framed building, Abbeylands, now a school boarding house, still retains its Roman numerals cut into the timbers for easy assembly. Higher up Cheap Street on the left hand side is “Shoemakers”, a delightful and beautiful conserved timber-framed building of 1500. Further still up to the top of Cheap Street you will find on the right “La Julianny’s Inne” dating from the 16th century, now called simply The Julian. Visitors are welcome to step inside the shop housed there to view the ground floor’s moulded timber beams. Two of the ceiling bosses have the Abbey’s coat of arms.
Next to the Julian is The George Inn. It is 16th century, built on the site of an earlier Inn, and is Sherborne’s oldest Inn. Just outside The Julian, by the pavement, note the triangular “splash back” stone, put there to prevent late night nuisances in the corner from departing patrons of the Inn.
At the top of Cheap Street, on the left, is the area known as The Green. Proceed past the Georgian red-brick houses you will find a large building now owned by the boys’ school. This was a wealthy Clothiers house, and is the best preserved 17th century merchant’s house in Sherborne. Opposite was the Angel Inn, which was an important Staging Coach Inn. Note the “Licensed to Let Post Horses” over the porch. Now the building is residential accommodation.
Return to the top of Cheap Street and turn left into Newland.
This is an area of town ‘Ribbon Development’, new in 1227-28, when it was created a Borough by Richard la Poore, Bishop of Salisbury. The ‘rent’ money collected helped to pay for the building of Salisbury Cathedral.
Continue walking along Newland until a high 18th century brick garden wall is reached on the left. Behind is the impressive classic three-storied Sherborne House. Designed by Thomas Bastard, mason and architect of Blandford Forum. Sadly now inaccessible to the public, the house is star listed because of murals by James Thornhill in the staircase hall featuring a polychrome Diana on the ceiling.
Continue walking along all of Newland past the small garden area where there was once a Medieval Cross. This was the Medieval market place. At the end of the road, turn left, and immediately cross over the road into Castleton. At the end is the entrance to the 12th century Old Castle, originally the fortified palace of Roger de Caen, Bishop of Salisbury and Chancellor of England, which Sir Walter Raleigh leased from the crown in 1592, before going on to build Sherborne Lodge nearby (later becoming the ‘New’ Castle). Here, facing the Georgian church, are three beautiful gold houses. These are all that remains of the ancient Borough of Castleton, demolished in 1850 when the railway came through. St Mary Magdalene Church is a charming house of prayer, consecrated in 1715. Return to the main road, and Cheap Street via Long Street, which is full of architectural gems, this will bring you back to where you started.
Although Sherborne is largely created by its ecclesiastic, historic, scholastic and architectural interests, to many perhaps its dual charm lies in its beautiful and natural environment of low lying hills, green woods and verdant pastures.
Sherborne, Alma Mater! Home of great men, and burial place of kings. Your glorious past charms all who come within your influence or fall under your spell.
If you would like a copy of the original booklet a limited number are (at time of posting) still available for a donation from the Sherborne Tourist Information Centre.