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Gillingham (/ˈɡɪlɪŋəm/) is a town in the Blackmore Vale area of Dorset, England. The town is the most northerly in the county. It is 3 miles south of the A303 lying on the B3092 and B3081. It is near to the town of Shaftesbury which lies 7 miles to the south east. Neighbouring hamlets included Peacemarsh, Bay and Wyke. These hamlets have now however become part of Gillingham as it expanded.

Gillingham is pronounced with a hard initial ‘G’ as in ‘gas’. It is not to be confused with Gillingham in Kent, in which the initial ‘G’ is pronounced like the ‘J’ in the name ‘Jill’.

There is a stone age barrow in the town, and evidence of Roman settlement in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The town was really established by the Saxons. The church of St Mary the Virgin has a Saxon cross shaft dating to 800-900AD.

The name Gillingham was used for the town in the Saxon charter of the 10th century, and also in the annals of 1016 as the location of a battle between Edmund II of England and the Danish Vikings. In the Domesday book of 1086 it is Gelingham, and later spellings include Gellingeham in 1130, Gyllingeham in 1152 and Gilingeham in 1209. The name implies a “homestead of the family or followers of a man called Gylla”, a model consistent with the occupation of Dorset by the Saxons from the 7th century.

In October 1348, fifty percent of the 2,000 people living in the town died of the Black Death in the following four months.

In the Middle Ages, Gillingham was the seat of a royal hunting lodge, visited by King Henry I, Henry II, John and Henry III. A nearby royal forest was set aside for the king’s deer. The lodge fell into disrepair and was destroyed in 1369 by Edward III.

Edward Rawson, the first secretary to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was born in Gillingham.

Gillingham became a centre for local farming, gained the first Grammar School in Dorset in 1526 and a mill for silk in 1769. Gillingham’s church has a 14th century chancel, though most of the rest of the building was built in the 19th and 20th centuries. Many other buildings in the town are of Tudor origin.

In the 1850s, the arrival of the railway to the town brought prosperity and new industries including brickmaking, cheese production, printing, soap manufacture and at the end of the 19th century one of the first petrol engine plants in the country. In the Second World War, Gillingham’s place on the London to Exeter railway line, was key to its rapid growth. In 1940 and 1941 there was large scale evacuation of London, and other industrial cities, to rural towns, particularly in the north, southwest and Wales. Gillingham, being on the railway, grew rapidly because of this, and has not stopped growing since. Gillingham’s position 4 miles south of the A303, the main London to southwest England road, means it remains a popular commuter town.

Gillingham was the centre of a Liberty of the same name. John Constable’s painting of the old town bridge is in the Tate Gallery.

In the 2001 census, the town had a population of 9,323; a large increase from 6,187 in 1991, but the population is now estimated at approximately 12,000.

Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and street map visuals are courtesy of Google.


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