SHERBORNE, a market town in the northern parliamentary division of Dorsetshire, England, 118 m. W.S.W. from London by the London & South- Western railway. Pop. of urban district (1901), 5760. It lies near the border of Somersetshire, on the southern slope of a hill overlooking the river Yeo, in a fertile, well-wooded district. The abbey church of St Mary the Virgin is a stately cruciform building with central tower, the nave and choir having aisles and clerestory. Some pre-Norman work appears in the western wall, the tower arches and south porch are Norman, and there are an Early English chapel and some Decorated windows. The church, however, was almost wholly reconstructed in the Perpendicular period, and is a fine example of that style, the interior gaining in beauty from the scheme of colour-decoration in the choir, while the magnificent stone-vaulted roof with fan tracery, extending throughout the church, excepting the south transept, is unsurpassed. The parish church of All Hallows adjoined the abbey church on the west, but was taken down after the Dissolution, when the abbey church was sold to the parish. Portions of the abbey buildings, including the Lady chapel of the church, now converted into a dwelling-house, are incoporated 'in those of Sherborne grammar school, founded (although a school existed previously) by Edward VI. in 1550, and now holding a high rank among English public schools. The almshouse known as the hospital of St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist was founded in 1437 on the site of an earlier establishment, and retains a Perpendicular chapel, hall and other portions. The abbey conduit, of the middle of the 14th century, is conspicuous in the main street of the town. Of the old castle, the gatehouse and other parts are of Norman construction, but the mansion near it was built by Sir Walter Raleigh.
As there is no evidence of Roman or British settlement, it is probable that Sherborne (Scireburn, Shireburne) grew up after the Saxon conquest of the country from the Corn- Welsh in the middle of the 7th century. It is first mentioned in 705 as the place where St Aldhelm fixed his bishop-stool for the new diocese of Western Wessex, being chosen probably for its central position. AEthelberht, king of Wessex, was buried here by the side of his brother /Ethelbald in 866. For the next eighteen years its freedom from Danish attack made Sherborne the capital of Wessex. In 978 Bishop Wulfsey introduced the stricter form of Benedictine rule into his cathedral of Sherborne, and became the first abbot. The see, which was united with that of Ramsbury in 1058, was removed to Old Sarum in 1075. In 1086 the bishop of Sarum and the monks of Sherborne held the place, which seems to have been of fair size and an agricultural centre. On the separation of the offices of bishop and abbot in 1 1 22, the abbot's fee was carved out of the bishop's manor, but did not include the town. Bishop Roger of Caen (1107-1139) built the castle, described by Henry of Huntingdon as scarcely inferior to that of Devizes, " than which there was none greater within the confines of England." Its strength made Stephen force Bishop Roger to surrender it in 1139, but during the civil war in his reign it passed into the hands of the empress Maud. It was later granted to the earls of Salisbury, who seem to have allowed it to fall into disrepair, for in 1315 and in 1319 the abbot of Sherborne was appointed to inquire into its condition. It was recovered by the bishop in 1355, and retained by the see until granted in 1599 to Elizabeth, who gave it to Sir Walter Raleigh. The abbey church was partly burnt in 1437, in a riot due to the monks' refusal to recognize the town's chapel of All Hallowes as the parish church, though they had restricted their use of the abbey church for parochial purposes. Signs of this fire are still visible on the walls, which are in part tinged red by the flames. The town, though frequently the centre for medieval assizes and inquisitions, never became a municipal or parliamentary borough, but was governed by two constables, elected in the manorial court. In 1540 Sir John Horsey, who had bought the manor and church at the Dissolution, sold the abbey to the vicar and parishioners. The Reformation made no break in the continuity of the school, which had probably existed in the abbey since the 11th century. Edward VI. by his charter in 1550 made its governors one of the first purely lay educational corporations founded in England. The town suffered severely during the civil wars, the castle being besieged by the parliamentary forces in 1642 and 1645. The fairs now held on the 8th of May, the 26th of July and the first Monday after the loth of October were granted to the bishop in 1227, 1240 and 1300. After the decline of the medieval trade in cloth, lace and buttons were the only articles manufactured here until the introduction of silk-weaving in 1740. In June 1905, in commemoration of the I2ooth anniversary of " the town, the bishopric and the school," an historical pageant, invented and arranged by Louis N. Parker (at one time music-master at the school) , was held in the grounds of Sherborne Castle, and set the model for a succession of pageants held subsequently in other historic English towns.
See William Beauchamp Wildman, A Short History of Sherborne from A.D. 705 (1902), and Life of S. Ealdhelm, first Bishop of Sherborne (Sherborne, 1905).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)