Sherborne (sher-born) is a market town in northwest Dorset, England. It is sited on the River Yeo, on the edge of the Blackmore Vale, 6 miles (9.7 km) east of Yeovil. The A30 road, which connects London to Penzance, runs through the town. The population of the town is 9,350 (as of 2001). 27.1% of the population is aged 65 or older.
Sherborne is famous for its historic buildings, including its abbey, a manor house, its famous independent schools, and two castles (the ‘old castle’ ruins of a 12th century fortified palace, and a ‘new’ 16th century mansion, known as Sherborne Castle, built by Sir Walter Raleigh). Much of the old town, including the abbey and many medieval and Georgian buildings, is built from the distinctive ochre-coloured ham stone.
The town was named scir burne by the Saxon inhabitants, a name meaning “clear stream” (see: Bourne (placename)) and is referred to as such in the Domesday book.
Sherborne was made the capital of Wessex, one of the seven Saxon kingdoms of England, and King Alfred’s elder brothers King Ethelbert and King Ethelbald are buried in the abbey. In 705 the diocese was split between Sherborne and Winchester, and King Ine founded an Abbey for St Aldhelm, the first bishop of Sherborne. The Bishop’s seat was moved to Old Sarum in 1075 and the church at Sherborne became a Benedictine Monastery. In the 15th century the church was deliberately burnt down during tensions between the town and the monastery, and was rebuilt between 1425 and 1504, though some of the Norman structure remains. In 1539 the monastery was bought by Sir John Horsey and became a conventional church. Sherborne was for many centuries the centre of a hundred of the same name.
In the 12th century Roger de Caen, Bishop of Salisbury and Chancellor of England, built a fortified palace in Sherborne. The palace was destroyed in 1645 by General Fairfax, and the ruins are owned by English Heritage.
In 1594 Sir Walter Raleigh built an Elizabethan mansion in the grounds of the old palace, today known as Sherborne Castle.
Sherborne was also home to Captain Christopher Levett, a Yorkshire native who came to the West Country as His Majesty’s Woodward of Somersetshire, and who remained in Sherborne as he turned to a career as a naval captain and early explorer of New England.
Other notable historic buildings in the town include the almshouses of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, founded in 1438 and expanded in the Victorian era in indistinguishable medieval style architecture; the conduit, hospice of St Julian, and Lord Digby school, now known as Sherborne House (designed by Benjamin Bastard). Sherborne House, famed for its mural by Sir James Thornhill. was a subject for the BBC’s “Restoration” program in 2004, and was sold by Dorset County Council to a developer, Redcliffe Homes, for £3 million in 2008. Its renovation included rebuilding an unstable rear wall.
Sherborne has an active green community, with various environmental and sustainability organisations in the area. The Quarr Local Nature Reserve at the northern end of the town makes use of an old quarry and landfill site, Sherborne Area Partnership oversees a successful environment forum and, in 2009, Sherborne became an official Transition Town, running a number of projects and events as a community response to climate change and peak oil.
Sherborne is a founding member of the Douzelage, a town twinning association of 24 towns across the European Union.