The history of Wareham...
By Lilian Ladle, MBE
The modern spelling ‘Wareham’ only became current in the late 15th century.
We have to go back to the year 784 AD when the town was first recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which stated that Beorhtric, king of the West Saxons was buried at ‘Werham’.
However, the name had been in use for at least 100 years; it was said that St Aldhelm, first bishop of Sherborne, had waited at Wareham for a ship to take him to Rome about 698 AD.
But why was the town so named?
Place-name scholars have concluded that its meaning is ‘settlement by a weir’. The settlement initially developed around the church of Lady St Mary which was then a nunnery, and the weir was a wooden fish trap constructed in the River Frome, west of the present bridge and south of the Edwardian house ‘Castle Close’ (see photo showing the Frome – west of the bridge).
That fishing (particularly for salmon) was important, is highlighted by the fact that over the centuries the location of the weir was moved several times, and the course of the river was even diverted. The ‘fishery’ of course was not for the townsfolk; profits from the lucrative fish trade lined the pockets of the nobility and well-off, and over the centuries. The once abundant salmon stocks were almost annihilated; it was only in the 1860s that these traps were finally removed and the fish returned to the river again.
The largest fish to be caught in the Frome was not a salmon but a sturgeon.
This 203lb specimen was ‘foul-hooked on 23rd July 1911 by Captain Charles Radclyffe at Bindon Mill. The 9ft 3inch fish remains the largest and heaviest to have been caught on a rod and line in an English river.
The sturgeon was given to King George V who requested that it be donated to the County Museum at Dorchester where it is still on display in the recently renovated Dorset Museum.
Lilian Ladle MBE, is a local historian and archaeologist. She has written several books on local history, and directed the Bestwall Quarry Project in Wareham. She was awarded the MBE for services to Archaeology in 2008.
Above article was published in the Winter 2022 edition of Wareham Tower Chimes.
Interested in Wareham history? Find out more about Wareham’s History Society which has regular history talks throughout the year. Visitors to the lectures are welcome. Find out more about the society.