The Dorset County Boundary Survey

January 2018: The Survey is still in progress, and much of the matter below, though old, is still relevant. For the latest information, please contact Katherine Barker, telephone and e-mail below.

A major educational and research project to research the history, archaeological interest and natural history of the County's boundaries. The project will include a considerable amount of research looking at old maps and documents as well as field-work. The group meets every two months, usually on the first Wednesday.

New members are welcome to join the survey. Full training will be given at both the History Centre and in the field. Details from Katherine Barker, 01935 816764 or from John Newbould. Additional meetings will be notified through our e-mail group.


Programme as PDF: issued November 2010 (637Kbytes)

Programme as PDF: issued May 2010 (323Kbytes)

Members of the Group know we try to meet on the first Wednesday ['Woden's day] of alternate months ... a regular scheme helping with diaries. Pagan god Woden - ancestor of the West Saxon kings - was much associated with early (and important) boundaries.

Thanks - in anticipation - to members of the Group who have very kindly offered to organise/lead meetings in the coming year.

Katherine Barker, 01935 816764, katherinebarker at lanprobi dot org dot uk

Introduction and rationale of the project

Katherine Barker

The Old English shires of Wessex (counties to the Normans) were already well established by 1086 and were to remain unchanged until the revisions of the 19th century (SDNQ 1906) and 1974. The shiring of England was "a major feat of government ... an administrative system of formidable and integrated power ... notably systematic ... every shire was divided into hundreds or sub-units, retaining administrative, judicial, tax and even a military significance into the 19th century (Campbell, 1993). The office of Shire Reeve [sheriff] was already in existence by 1000, from OE scieran, "to cut". The shires of the old kingdom of Wessex appear in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in succession between 800 and 860 as units of resistance to the Danes. There are good reasons for supposing that all six shires may be a century or more older. We know that Kent, Sussex and Essex have their origins as one-time independent kingdoms.

The first reference to Dorset is for the year 845 when we read that "Dux Eanwulf with the Somerset men, and Bishop Ealhstan and Ealdorman Osric with the Dorset [Dornsaetum] men, fought against a Danish raiding-army at the mouth of the Parrett, and made great slaughter there and took the victory." In the 10th century we find Dorseteschyre and under the Norman administration, Dorsete and Dorsetscira.

Dorset is [literally] the saete, "inhabitants", of Duro- or Doro- country, that territory centred on Dorchester, the Roman-founded castra/ceaster of the indigenous Iron Age Durotriges. Its partner territory is Somerset --- this pair of shires straddle the peninsular --- "inhabitants of the summerlands"; hints here of seasonal exploitation of the moors and levels over the border; a territory administered well into historical times from Ilchester, Givelchester, the ceaster on the Ivel/Yeovil. Access to the heart of this pair of saete-named territories from the north was up the Parrett and from the south, up the Frome.

Thus the Dorset county boundary [pre-19th cent.] represents many miles of unexplored linear "landscape feature" of considerable topographical and archaeological significance on which, as yet, no systematic work has been undertaken. We know that the Dorset/Devon boundary at Lyme follows a course in existence by 774; that the natural watershed border with Somerset was adjusted --- probably by 670 --- in the setting up of a large episcopal estate at Sherborne; that the northern border limits Wiltshire's Selwudu and that the Hampshire bounds march with Bokerley Dyke.

Borderlands are "secondary" land to the economic geographer but of primary interest to the landscape historian. Comprising many acres of one-time inter-commoning, grazing and woodland, today they preserve not only the imprint characteristic of late Enclosure of the margin, but relics of much earlier natural vegetation. There are opportunities here for Dorset to bring to bear some of the fruits of latest thinking in this field. We need to investigate the physical appearance and character of the boundary itself, bank, ditch and hedgerow, flora and fauna, spatial patterns of land management past and present, terriers, surveys and charters of the communities concerned, field and place-names --- and not least --- potential in selected places for small-scale archaeological investigation. Then there will be a wider picture to be drawn; the world of the Roman civitates and British tribal lordships, Anglo-Saxon defence and Norman taxation. Boundaries are amongst the oldest features in the man-made landscape; vested interests in their maintenance remain very strong. As anyone who remembers 1974 will need no reminding!

Events we have held recently


The group conducted a number of field surveys based on Sixpenny Handley parish and its border with Wiltshire. Members of the group have also searched many historical documents relating to the Rushmore Estate, which give a valuable historic interpretation of the modern landscape. Initial results were presented as posters at the Cranborne Chase AONB conference, The Chase, the Hart and the Park, on November 4th 2006, organised by Dr K Barker.


Thursday May 24th, 2007, 10.00am--4:00pm Bokerley Dyke. Meet at the Martin Down NNR car park, at GR SU 037 202. Peter Hatherley, our leader, warns to take extreme care when making the turn. We will be working south-east looking at the Hampshire border. Bring lunch.

Wednesday June 6th, 2007, Bokerley Dyke. Meet at the Martin Down NNR car park as above at 10.00am. This time we will explore the boundary to the north-west, to see the Wiltshire boundary at Vernditch Chase. Local leader Peter Hatherley.

Saturday November 17, 10am to 5pm.
The Dorset County Boundary Survey Day School.
"The Making of Dorset's Boundary; what, where and why?" being a first-ever look at the making of the shire border and borderland. Keynote lecture by James Campbell, Worcester College. The day is organised in association with Dorset Local History Group.

Wednesday December 5th at the Dorset County History Centre, Bridport Road, Dorchester.


Saturday April 12 at Shermel Gate on the Rushmore estate.

Saturday May 31st: Lamberts Castle. Meet in the National Trust Car park at SY 365 988

Wednesday June 4th: The Museum School Room. Meet at 14.00 at the County Museum, Dorchester.

Wednesday August 6th: The boundary east of Shaftesbury. Meet at Melbury Abbas car park ST 897 208

Saturday September 20th, 10am to 1pm: Research seminar at Dorset County Museum,
A critical examination of a single length of the boundary between Lyme Regis [in Dorset] and Uplyme [in Devon] in existence by AD 774.
Two short papers will be presented, the first will walk the boundary through the eyes of an historical geographer and the second through the eyes of a naturalist.
The third part of the programme will see the launch of a digital boundary atlas taking that south-western corner of the county boundary at Lyme as its starting point - and as a model on which to build.

Wednesday October 8th, 12 noon to 4pm: Hengistbury Head: Lecture and field excursion, led by Peter Hawes. Meet at the Darwin Room, Hengistbury Head Outdoor Education and Field Studies Centre (SZ 165 913).

Wednesday December 3rd, 2008: Meet at 10.00am at the Dorset County History Centre, Bridport Road, Dorchester.


Wednesday February 11th: Pen Mill Farm, Penselwood, by invitation of Mr P. Fitzgerald. GR ST 771 313. The farm is located just north of the A303 with access from Dorset via Gillingham. This survey will explore the meeting point of Somerset and Wiltshire, with Dorset. (Note change of date). For the record this meeting was postponed until Wednesday 11 March because of freezing conditions

Wednesday 1 April: Hawkchurch. Leader Colin Bowditch. Hawkchurch is in Devon: why is that? Join us for a field excursion to look at the old boundary of a county, which was in Dorset and join in the discussions on the land ownership, which may have resulted in its transfer to Devon. Meet at the village hall opposite the Church, ST 303 004. Numbers limited to twelve as there will be only space for three cars on the site visit. Please ring Colin Bowditch on 01297 489567.

Saturday 18 April: The East Devon AONB Parishscapes Project Conference to be held at the Norman Lockyer Observatory, Sidmouth. Entitled 'The Lie of the Land; topography, biodiversity, archaeology and extractive industries in the East Devon AONB' this is a full one-day event, everyone is welcome. Speakers included Sam Turner from the University of Newcastle and KB will be giving a presentation entitled 'Seaboard and Salt; the making of the East Devon county boundary at Lyme.' Please contact KB for further details or Philippe Planel, at the East Devon AONB office, tel 0140446663.

Saturday 25 April, 10.30am: Joint meeting with the Dorset Flora Group. Shermel Gate on the Dorset-Wiltshire border. Turn north towards Bower Chalke on the east side of the village and after 0.75km turn left into Dean Lane. The meeting place is at the north end of Dean Lane, ST 989 193. Contact John Newbould.

Saturday 30 May; Exeter: Members of the Devon Archaeological Society led by Bob Higham are mounting a research seminar in Exeter [not far from Exeter Central railway station] and their subject is to be the Dorset County Boundary Survey. This will afford an excellent opportunity for us to 'link up' with our opposite numbers in Devonshire. The programme is in preparation; please contact KB for further details.

Wednesday 3 June, 10am: Purse Caundle on the Dorset-Somerset border. Meet at 10.00am at Copse House, by permission of Mr R. Knight. There is a large graveled yard (former farm yard) and they are very happy for us to use this for parking. Copse House is just south of the A30 just east of Milborne Port at almost exactly ST 710 180. Please contact Katherine Barker if attending.

Saturday July 18: joint meeting with the Dorset Flora Group on Cranborne Common. Details here or from John Newbould.

Wednesday 5 August; 10.00 for 10.30am: Stockland on the Dorset-Devon border. Meeting led by Colin Bowditch, Jean Stacey and David Westlake; further details to be announced.

Wednesday 7 October; 10.00 for 10.30am: 'Going east' ... visit to the Dorset-Hampshire border. Meeting led by Andrew Morgan and Jake Keen, further details to be announced.

Saturday 24 October: at Dorset County Museum, the Victoria Hall. Will give us an opportunity to learn something about the early administrative divisions of our southwestern neighbours from two experts in their respective fields ... Dr Oliver Padel, Institute of Cornish Studies, on the Early Divisions of Cornwall, and Dr Robert Higham, author of the recently published 'Making Anglo-Saxon Devon'. Meeting subject to confirmation.

Wednesday 2 December, 10.00 for 10.30am: Christmastide round-table meeting [with mincepies] at the Dorset History Centre, Bridport Road, Dorchester; KB to book the date with the Dorset History Centre.

We are also trying to arrange field trips to Creech and Stock Gaylord Park. Information from John Newbould.

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