Date1331 - 2008
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AdminHistoryTraditionally founded in 880 Shaftesbury claimed to be an ancient Borough but, although the town was known as and called a Borough from at least Domesday, it was not until 1604 that a Charter of Incorporation was first granted. A second Charter soon followed in 1665 with a third issued, but never adopted, in 1684 [see section DC/SYB/A]. Long before the Charter of 1604 however, Shaftesbury was a bustling market town. The focus of the surrounding farming economy and resting on a principle trade route to the West Country with a large, wealthy, Abbey in the heart of the town acting as a centre of pilgrimage (the body of Edward the Martyr was buried at the Abbey) the town prospered and grew. Following the Black Death in 1348/49, which hit Shaftesbury hard killing a half or more of the population, the town entered a period of decline. Poole and Dorchester grew in importance as centres of trade and industry, shifting the focus away from Shaftesbury. The Abbey too fell from prominence as pilgrimage declined and the Abbey's estates became less profitable. But despite this relative decline Shaftesbury remained one of the larger towns in North Dorset and South Wiltshire and remained too an important centre of local trade. With the Dissolution of its Abbey in 1539, so long the focus of the town, Shaftesbury faced an uncertain future. But while the loss of the Abbey proved hard for many the town itself entered a period of growth and increasing self-confidence. The market continued to prosper (with a new covered market cross built in 1562 and a new Guildhall added in 1569), and the sale of so much of the Abbey's property prompting a period of re-building. The Dissolution though brought one area of contention sharply into focus; that of the government of the Borough.. Although Royal grants of privilege had given the town a Mayor and certain other rights it was the Manor which exercised real power within the town. The Borough was originally divided into two Manors [see section DC/SYB/C], one in the possession of the Abbey (the Abbey Manor), and one (the King's or Royal Manor), in the possession of the Crown. However by the reign of Henry VII both Manors were in possession of the Abbess. Following the Dissolution the Manors were seized by the Crown before passing into private hands and eventually, in 1553, into the hands of the Earls of Pembroke. With the granting of the 1604 Charter an increasingly confident Borough began to claim tolls, rents and other incomes from the market bringing it into conflict with the Manor. In a series of legal disputes [see section DC/SYB/H] the Manor sought to defend its rights from what it saw as the trespass of the Borough. More often than not the Manor won with the result that the town faced near bankruptcy. However the granting of a second Charter in 1665, at the request of the Borough, clearly defined the Borough's rights and privileges. Effectively the 1665 Charter declared that it was the Borough that governed the town and not the Manor.. The next 300 years saw the gradual evolution of local government across the country. Shaftesbury too slowly moved away from the corrupt closed corporation of the 1665 Charter, where Burgesses were invited to serve by the personal invitation of existing members, to a more democratic system. The 1835 Municipal Corporations Act saw, for the first time in Shaftesbury, councillors elected by popular vote (although from a very small electorate). . The Municipal Corporations Act of 1882 saw the election of Auditors to audit the Borough's finances while the Local Government Act of 1894 saw the creation of Urban and Rural District Councils (Shaftesbury petitioned for, and was granted, permission to remain a Municipal Borough although its duties were essentially those of an Urban District Council). The 1972 Local Government Act saw Shaftesbury reconstituted as a Town Council with reduced responsibilities, although it retained its Mayor, personnel and structure.. These years saw also the Borough focus more on the provision of public services instead of the simple Medieval form of local government of enforcing of the law and the gathering of tax. For example attempts were made to provide a comprehensive water supply in 1700, while a sewerage system was created in the 1860s and electricity finally came to Shaftesbury in the 1920s [see sections DC/SYB/D and DC/SYB/E]..
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