“The perfect example of a small English town”
Imagine walking down the quaint main shopping street, lined with old grey stone buildings, interspersed with early timber-framed, gable-ended houses and local Ham stone structures. The daily bustle is even more noticeable on market days twice a week when stalls are set out by the Conduit, the early 16th century washing area used by the monks of Sherborne Abbey.
The Abbey – founded in 705 as a Saxon cathedral – is a magnificent building, surprising for such a small town, but reflecting the town’s one-time importance. It is famous for its glorious fan vaulting of which Simon Jenkins says in his book England’s Thousand Best Churches, “I would pit Sherborne’s roof against any contemporary work of the Italian Renaissance”.
The town runs down to the bottom of the valley where the River Yeo meanders along, a favourite place for dog-walking. Follow the river for 10 minutes and you come to Sherborne’s castles, not one but two. By an 18th century church you find the ruins of a 12th century castle captured by Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War after a 16 day siege, calling it “a malicious and mischievous castle”. ‘New’ Sherborne Castle is over 400 years old and was built by Sir Walter Raleigh. The Digby family purchased the castle in 1617 and has lived there ever since. In 1753 Capability Brown created a 50 acre lake and much of the current gardens and parkland creating one of his finest Lakeland landscapes.
Back in the town, you may see uniformed school-boys walking through the streets as they move from one lesson to another. Sherborne has always been associated with education and in 1539, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, came the licensing of the Free Grammar School of King Edward VI, originally for poor boys from the town but gradually enlarged and enriched by fees from boarders until in 1871 it became an independent public school. The town now boasts five independent schools plus an award-winning state school.
At the top of the town, part of Sherborne’s rich history is hidden behind a tall brick wall. Sherborne House dates mainly from 1720 and its chief glory is a mural by Sir James Thornhill who also worked on St. Paul’s Cathedral and Blenheim Palace.
When you are tired of admiring this beautiful little town, there are independent, characterful coffee shops, restaurants and pubs in which to refresh yourself…and lovely hotels and B&Bs to stay the night in. Time it well and you can attend one of the many concerts that take place in the Abbey or the free lunch-time Friday concerts or attend a showing of Sherborne Flicks…there’s always something happening!