Visit Wareham… It’s a town for all seasons!

Renaissance Wareham

1485 – 1604

Henry VIII and Catherine Howard
Wareham made into 'gardins for garlick'

The Tudor Period

Wareham’s Quay was an important port in Dorset, and a major source of wealth for the town. From the 12th century the port started to decline as the river slowly silted up. Poole, which was just a tiny fishing village developed into a major harbour instead. As newly developed ships were larger – they preferred not waiting for the tides to allow them passage to Wareham, choosing Poole instead.

By the 15th century most sea going vessels stopped coming to Wareham and the town continued to decline in importance. Under the reign of Henry VIII the writer John Leland commented that: “Wareham is now within the waulles fallen doun and made into gardins for garlike.”

The Priory in Wareham had been suppressed as an ‘alien house’ (controlled outside England) in 1414, and granted by Henry V to the Carthusians. It was then dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539.

Many inhabitants in the village relied on the digging of clay for the pottery industry, fishing and the small scale production of cloth.

During Henry VIII’s reign the manor and borough of Wareham were repeatedly granted to his various Queens – for example Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr both received them.

Wareham manor and borough remained in the hands of the Crown throughout the reign of Elizabeth I, governed by a Mayor and a council of burgesses. 

Wareham Castle together with the Isle of Purbeck and the Manor of Corfe was given by Queen Elizabeth I to Sir Christopher Hatten, and most of the stone was sold off or taken for use in other buildings. As a slight note of caution, many have remarked that the recorded history of Wareham Castle is mixed up with Corfe Castle during this period; ie, it’s not always clear which castle is being referred to in the source texts.

In the early 17th century a group of townsmen purchased Wareham manor from the Crown.

1642 – 51

Nearby Corfe Castle under siege
Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper

English Civil War

Wareham changed sides several times during the English Civil War. At the start of the war, Wareham and nearby Corfe were Royalist, whereas Poole was a Parliamentarian stronghold. Wareham was considered important due to its navigable river, defensive position, and its location as a gateway to Purbeck and the Royalist held Corfe Castle.

In 1643, a certain Captain Ley of Bridport and 200 men sailed from Poole towards Wareham, landing at nearby Redcliffe. They took the Royalists by surprise and chased them along the river path to the Quay where a battle raged for almost a day before the Parliamentarians took the town. 

In April 1644 a Royalist regiment attacked Wareham and managed to take back the town, dozens were killed and at least 150 Parliamentarian forces captured. By August of the same year the town was attacked again by Parliamentarian soldiers, under the command of Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, forcing the surrender of the Royalists. Sir Anthony had said that he wished to erase Wareham from the map, it being: ‘extremely ill built and the inhabitants almost all dreadful malignants.’

After the Civil War, Cromwell decreed that the walls of Wareham and Corfe castle should be ‘slighted’ (dismantled). The stone walls were removed  and much of the stone was probably used as building material in the town. Note again there seems to be an inconsistency with the historical records given that – as we saw above – the walls were originally said to have been taken down in the Norman period… Perhaps they had been rebuilt?!

Want to read more about Wareham during the English Civil War? See our excerpt from the book “Highways and Byways of Dorset”, which has some interesting stories about Wareham during this period. 


Beheading of the Duke of Monmouth
Wareham walls
Approximate position of Bloody Bank

Monmouth Rebellion

Some of Wareham’s townsfolk became involved in an uprising against the King in 1685. On June 11th the protestant Duke of Monmouth (illegitimate son of King Charles), landed his army at Lyme Regis to overthrow the Catholic King James II. The Duke, popular in the South-west of England, gained many local recruits on his march towards London including some from Wareham. 

The Duke met the Kings forces at Sedgemoor, Somerset, where he was defeated on the 6th July.  The King had Monmouth beheaded 9 days later, and his rebellious subjects in the South-west were dealt with equally severely. The King sent his Lord Chancellor, known as Judge Jeffreys to Dorchester to deal with them. Many were executed or exiled including 6 men from Wareham, who were hung, drawn and quartered on the Wareham Walls in an area known today as the Bloody Bank.

Interestingly Judge George Jeffreys’ fortunes were soon to turn. In 1688 King James was deposed and replaced by William III and Mary II. George Jeffrey attempted to flee into exile with James. Despite his disguise, he was caught by the mob, imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he died in 1689 from a rare kidney disease that had plagued him for some time.

Let's continue our travel through Wareham's history...!

Prehistoric Period

Prehistoric evidence has been found in Wareham, from worked flint to ancient huts…
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Roman Period

Take a trip back to the Roman age, where a Roman villa has been found…
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Saxon Age

King Alfred the Great’s battles against the Vikings, and the building of Wareham’s famous walls...
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Norman Age

During the ‘Anarchy’ civil war Wareham is again at the centre of British events…
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Renaissance period

Tudor to Stuart Period. Clashes in Wareham between the Roundheads and Cavaliers during the English Civil War, and the bloody executions on Wareham’s walls…
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Georgian Period

The Great Fire of Wareham and why Wareham was described as a ‘Rotten Borough' during this period… !
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Victorian Era

The industrial revolution results in a workhouse being built, but also later a brickworks, a pottery factory, and a brewery...
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20th Century

Wareham plays an important role in the two World Wars, and later in the century, while it loses industries, it gains thousands of tourists…
Let's go!

Useful links / Further reading…

The History of Parliament

  • The History of Parliament: Includes a history of Wareham and interesting details of  the administration of the town from 1386 – 1868.

Wareham Town Museum

  • Located at the Town Hall in East Street, the museum has an interesting display of finds.

‘A not-so-civil war in Dorset’

    • Interesting article on the Civil War in Dorset and Wareham.

‘Not as Black as he’s Painted’

    • Article from Dorset Life Magazine discussing whether Judge Jeffries was as bad as portrayed in history.


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