Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Wareham / Werham, Dorset ****

Wareham is a historic market town and, under the name Wareham Town, a civil parish, in the English county of Dorset. The town is situated on the River Frome eight miles (13 km) south west of Poole.

Situation and geography
The town is built on a strategic dry point between the River Frome and the River Piddle at the head of the Wareham Channel of Poole Harbour. The Frome Valley runs through an area of unresistant sand, clay and gravel rocks, and much of its valley has wide flood plains and marsh land. At its estuary the river has formed the wide shallow ria of Poole Harbour. Wareham is built on a low dry island between the marshy river plains.

The town is situated on the A351 Poole-Swanage road and at the eastern terminus of the A352 road to Dorchester and Sherborne, both roads now bypassing the town centre. The town has a station on the South Western Main Line railway, and was formerly the junction station for services along the branch line to Swanage, now preserved as the Swanage Railway. The steam railway has ambitions to extend its service, currently from Swanage to Norden, near Corfe Castle back to Worgret Junction (where the mainline and branch divided) and into Wareham again.
To the north west of the town a large conifer plantation, Wareham Forest stretches several miles to the A35 road and the southern foothills of the Dorset Downs. To the south east is Corfe Castle and the heathland that borders Poole Harbour, including Wytch Farm oil field and Studland & Godlingstone Heath Nature Reserve. Five miles (8 km) to the south is a chalk ridge, the Purbeck Hills, and ten miles (16 km) to the south is the English Channel.

The River Piddle or Trent or North River is a small rural Dorset river which rises next to Alton Pancras church (Alton Pancras was originally named Awultune, a Saxon name meaning the village at the source of a river) and flows south and then south-easterly more or less parallel with its bigger neighbour, the River Frome, to Wareham, where they both enter Poole Harbour via Wareham Channel.
Many of the villages it passes through are named after it: Puddletown, Tolpuddle, Piddlehinton, Piddletrenthide, Affpuddle, Briantspuddle, Turnerspuddle. All but two of those names now contain "puddle" rather than "piddle"; a local tradition tells that the villages(certainly Piddletown) were renamed to avoid embarrassment before a visit by Queen Victoria. However, there is no firm evidence of this and Puddletown was certainly still called Piddletown into the 1950's

The town's strategic setting has made it an important settlement throughout its long history. The older streets in the town follow a Roman grid pattern, though the current town was founded by the Saxons. The town's oldest features are the town walls, ancient earth ramparts surrounding the town, which were built by Alfred the Great in the 9th century to defend the town from Norsemen. The town was a Saxon royal burial place, notably that of King Beorhtric (800 CE); also in the town is the coffin of Edward the Martyr, dating from 978, his remains now to be found in Shaftesbury Abbey in north Dorset. The River Frome serves as a small harbour and the town was a port in centuries when boats were smaller and before the river silted up.
After the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685, Wareham was one of a number of towns in Dorset where Judge Jeffreys held the Bloody Assizes, with traitors being hanged from the town walls.

The Frome Estuary in the east of the parish

In 1762 a fire destroyed two thirds of the town, which has been rebuilt in Georgian architecture with red brick and Purbeck limestone, following the Roman street pattern. The town is divided into four quarters by the two main roads, which cross at right-angles. The medieval almshouses escaped the fire, and some of the Georgian facades are in fact disguising earlier buildings which also survived. Because of the constraints of the rivers and marshland Wareham grew little during the 20th century, while nearby towns, such as Poole, grew rapidly.

Wareham Walk Ways

In the Anglo-Saxon church of St Martin-on-the-Walls, there is a recumbent effigy of T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) in Arab clothing, sculpted by Eric Kennington. Lawrence is buried at Moreton Churchyard where every year a quantity (decreases by one each year) of red roses are left. Near the town is Clouds Hill and Bovington army camp where Lawrence died after a motorbike accident.
Wareham Town Museum, in East Street, has an interesting section on T. E. Lawrence and in 2006 produced an hour long DVD entitled T. E. Lawrence - His Final Years in Dorset, including a reconstruction of the fatal accident. The museum also contains many artefacts on all aspects of the history of the town.
Since the 15th century Wareham has been a market town, and still holds a market on Thursdays and Saturdays.

Wareham Quay

The civil parish of Wareham Town encompasses the walled town of Wareham, situated on the land between the rivers Frome and Piddle, together with the area of Northport to the north of the River Piddle, and a relatively small amount of the surrounding rural area. The parish has an area of 6.52 square kilometres and, at the time of the 2001 census, it had a population of 5,665 living in 2,642 dwellings.
The sister civil parish of Wareham St. Martin covers much of the rural area to the north of Wareham, including the village of Sandford. Taken together the two Wareham parishes have an area of 36.18 square kilometres, with a 2001 population of 8,417 in 3,788 dwellings.
Both parishes forms part of the Purbeck local government district within the county of Dorset. They are within the Mid Dorset and North Poole constituency of the House of Commons and the South West England constituency of the European Parliament

Pitt Rivers, Michael, 1970. Dorset. London: Faber & Faber.

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