Dorset's magazine James Kingston visits Wareham, the 'Gateway to the Jurassic Coast'
PUBLISHED: 11:05 02 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:39 20 February 2013
A great fire and Judge Jeffreys' Bloody Assizes are all part of this town's rich history, as James Kingston discovers on a visit to this 'Gateway to the Jurassic Coast'
A great fire and Judge Jeffreys Bloody Assizes are all part of this towns rich history, as James Kingston discovers on a visit to this Gateway to the Jurassic Coast
On a crisp winters morning, it is easy to recognise Warehams strategic position as the gateway to Purbeck. Protected on three sides by massive Saxon earth banks, the fourth side is bounded by the River Frome and its water meadows, which, in February, can be a mass of glittering ice, frozen sedge and shimmering reeds.
Wander along the Frome
Dorsets second longest river is best approached downstream from the South Bridge in Wareham. A gentle path follows the south bank of the river where boats bob gently at anchor, but a more adventurous path follows the northern side to Swineham Point where the Frome runs into Poole Harbour. You can find the start of the signed footpath at Bestwall, where East Street has run out.
Wareham Quay is a peaceful place in winter, but up until the 13th century the quay would have been a busy place as it was the main trading port until Poole took over. To the Quays visitors, thoughts of history usually take second place to whether they will dine at the Quays hostelry or the Italian restaurant or the riverside restaurant and coffee lounge.
Dorset writer Monica Hutchings wrote in 1967: Wareham always strikes me as a brisk, happy sort of little place, always busy but never choked by commerce, up-to-date although still traditional. Warehams traditional markets date from Saxon times. There are weekly quayside Thursday Markets, and monthly Farmers Markets on the fourth Thursday, plus Antiques and General Sales at East Street Salerooms every other Tuesday.
Monica would have approved of Warehams independent and traditional shops, including probably Dorsets best privately owned hardware shop. The butcher sells locally produced meat and the bakers shop smells heavenly. Restaurants and cafs are excellent, and Warehams fish-and-chips are legendary. The 18th-century Black Bear in South Street replaced the Bear Hotel, which burned down in the Great Fire.
A Bit of History
The Great Fire
Warehams Great Fire started on Sunday 25 July 1762 at the Bulls Head in South Street, spreading quickly through timber houses and thatch. A plaque on the banks wall commemorates the terrible event. Great swathes of the town within the walls were destroyed. The most prominent buildings which survived are the Streche Almshouses in East Street and the Manor House in South Street.
After the Great Fire of London in 1666, private fire brigades first appeared in the city. The first seems to have been the Hand-in-Hand in 1696, followed by Sun Fire in 1710. During Warehams 1762 fire, Sun Fire Assurances firemen went straight to any buildings displaying Sun Fires plaques. East Streets Streche Almshouses still display the original Sun Fire plaque. Calcrafts Rempstone Estate cottages were collectively covered by fire insurance. Most of these cottages are also in East Street and they are still marked with maroon discs, the current Rempstone Estates house colour.
John Streche endowed Warehams original almshouses in East Street in 1418 for six antient men and five women. The 1741 building you see today is currently divided into private flats. A much bigger almshouses complex was built outside the walls in Worgret Road, also in 1741. These fine out-of-town homes are surrounded by lawns and well-tended gardens.
Lawrence of Arabia Effigy
St Martins Church dates back to the 11th century. It was built alongside the old North Gateway before William the Conqueror arrived in England. As you approach the church along the stone pavings, the tower facing you is 16th-century, with the south doorway set into it. In 1939, Eric Kennington carved an effigy of Lawrence of Arabia for the church, although Lawrence is actually buried at St Nicholas Church in Moreton.
Reverend John Hutchins
Hutchins mighty History and Antiquities of Dorset, printed in 1773, is an essential reference for everybody researching Dorsets landed gentry and local history. The Reverend John Hutchins, Rector of Lady St Mary Church, lived at The Rectory in Pound Lane. The original rectory was destroyed in the Great Fire, and it was only the bravery of his wife, who rescued his notes in his absence, that allowed this magnificent work to be published at all.
The Bloody Bank
Warehams massive defences, thought to have been built to repel Saxon invasion in the 7th century, have been strengthened many times since then. Stone walls were built along the top around the 11th century and repaired during the Civil War. The West Street section is called Bloody Bank because Judge Jeffreys ordered multiple hangings there following the 1685 Monmouth Rebellion.
Summer Flower Festival
Lady St Marys 15th-century west tower dominates the southern side of Wareham and is visible across the water meadow from Redcliff, Stoborough and the bypass. The building was established around the 8th century, with 12th- and 14th-century additions, but Victorian improvers completely rebuilt the nave in 1842. The Summer Flower Festival, with different Christian themes annually, attracts thousands of visitors.
Things to do and see
6 February: Corfe Castle during the Civil War during this day school discover how the brave Lady Bankes protected her familys home from the Parliamentarians. 10am-3.30pm. 10 or 25 including lunch. Booking essential,
11 February: Walk: Roman Sandals to Steel Toe Caps, 10.30am-12.30pm. Meet Kings Arms, Langton Matravers. 2, booking essential, 01929 480609
13-21 February: Enjoy some half-term fun at Corfe Castle with their Knights and Princesses Castle Quest and see if you can find the hidden shields in the castle grounds (10am-3pm) or help weave a dragon out of willow (17 and 18 February, 11am-3pm). Call 01929 481294
13-21 February: Family Fun at Swanage Railway, enjoy some half-term fun on this award-winning steam railway.
01929 425800, www.swanagerailway.co.uk
16 February: A Smugglers Tale a 2-hour family walk around Corfe Castle village in the footsteps of the 16th-century smugglers. Meet 10.30am Corfe Castle Ticket Office. 2, booking essential 01929 480609
17-18 February: Dragon Willow Weaving. Corfe Castle. 01929 481294 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Further information: Purbeck Information and Heritage Centre, South Street. Telephone 01929 552740 or
Have you got an event in Wareham?
Wed love to hear about it, share it with us at dorset.greatbritishlife.co.uk.