THIS county is bounded on the north by Wiltshire and somersetshire; on the west by Devonshire; on the east by Hampshire: and on the south by the British Channel. It is every where irregular in form; its long northern side having a great angular projection in the middle, and its seacoast running out into points and head-lands. From north to south in the center it measures thirty-four miles; from east to west, exclusive of a projection into Devonshire, about fifty-three. Its area in square miles is 119,9. It is divided into thirty-four hundreds, and five divisions.

Dorsetshire has been called the Garden of England; this, however, must be taken with great allowance, since there are large tracts of it which will by no means answer to this description. The northern parts are generally level, and were formerly covered with wood, but are now chiefly converted into rich arable and pasture. Across the middle runs a ridge of lofty chalk-hills, which having carried us through every county from the south-eastern part of the kingdom, cease at length in this, no considerable beds of it being found westward. On the coast chalk cliffs extend into Devonshire about ten miles beyond Lyme.

From the Hampshire border to the center of the county along the coast runs a heathy common, which takes off from its general fertility; but this is compensated by the rich vales on the south-western side. The arable land is about one third of the whole, and the waste land about a ninth. The practice of watering meadows is well understood in it, and contributes greatly to its fertility.

The products of Dorsetshirc are corn, cattle, butter, sheep, wool, timber, flax and hemp, and cyder. It is particularly remarkable for its sheep; which, on the downs declining towards the sea, are fed in great multitudes, affording their fine fleeces for the use of the western woollen manufhctnres Dyer has enumerated this tract among the most favourite spots for the breeding of this useful animal.

such Dorcestrian fields,

Whose flocks innumerous whiten all the land.


The principal sheep country is round Dorchester, within eight miles of which place near 170,000 sheep and lambs are supposed to be kept, of which about 45,000 are sold every year. The whole number reared in the county is estimated at 800,000, and the annual export at 150,000. Many of the ewes are bought by the farmers within forty miles of London, for the sake of their lambs, which are yeaned earlier than almost any others, and are fattened for the London markets. Besides the peculiar Dorsetshire breed, there is a very small kind in the isles of Portland and Purbeck and the neighbouring coast, inferior in size to the Welsh sheep.

Dorsetshire is crossed in a direction from west to southeast by two principal rivers. Of these, the Stour rises on the edge of Wiltshire, arid after reaching in a southern direction the town of Sturminster, bends towards the east, washing Blandford, Sturminster-Marshal, and Wimborn, and entering Hampshire, falls into the sea in that county. The northern part of its course leads through an extensive vale distinguished for its rich pasture and dairy land, that of Blackmoor.

The Frome or Froom, coming from the north-western part ,of the county, and receiving some smaller Streams, arrives at Dorchester, whence it passes to Wareham, about three miles below which it enters Poole harbour. A smaller stream called the Piddle, rising between the two last, and taking a similar course, passes on the northern side of Wareham, and flows separately into Poole harbour.

With the town of Poole we shall begin the survey of the porsetshire coast. This town is situated at the extremity of wide and naked heath continued from the Hampshire border, and opens into a capacious bay, branching into many creeks, and forming several islands. The harbour admits only vessels of moderate size, but for them it is very secure. Poole rose to some consequence several centuries ago, when the ancient town of Wareham fell into decay. It now ranks high among the sea-ports of England, and its trade and population are rapidly increasing. The principal branch of business here is the Newfoundland fishery, to which it sends annually a large number of vessels, which carry out provisions and commodities, and bring back cargoes of fish caught on the great codbanks for Spain, Portugal, and Italy. This port has also a large importation of deals from Norway, and a general commerce to America and various parts of Europe. Great quantities of corn are sent from it coastwise, and it imports Newcastle coal for all the eastern part of the county. Near the mouth of Poole harbour lies an oyster bank, upon which are employed, during the season, a number of smacks, which carry away vast quantities of oysters to be fattened in the Essex and Thames creeks for the London market.

Poole is a parliamentary borough; and among other public buildings, has a new Market House, built at the joint expense of Joseph Guiston, Esq. and lieut-colonel Caleraft, their representatives, in 1761.

Wareham, a borough town, situated on a peninsula formed by the Frome and Piddle near their entrance into Poole harbour, was anciently a place of consequence, containing eight churches; but by various changes of fortune, and the choaking up of its harbour, has been reduced to a small population. It has still three churches; and the misfortune of a great fire in 1762 has had the usual effect of improving its mode of building. From its port, which is accessible to coasting vessels, great quantities of pipe-clay, obtained from pits around the town, are exported for the use of the difflreiit potteries. In its extensive gardens vegetables are cultivated of which considerable quantities are sent by water to Poole and Portsmouth.

From Poole bay begins the isle of Purbeck, insulated by the sea and rivers, a rough and heathy tract, which has long been famous for its stone quarries. The principal of these lie at its eastern extremity, near Swanwidk, from whence the stone is exported. It is of the calcareous kind, but distinguished into numerous sorts, of which the finest take a polish, and deserve the name of marble. These are nearly black, and some abound in shells, and are used for chimney-pieces, grave-stones, hearths, &c. The coarser kinds are made use of in paving. Tobacco-pipe clay is dug in several parts of the isle of Purbeck, of which much is exported from Corfe castle, particularly for the use of the Staffordshire potteries.

Text: England Described etc (1818) by John Atkin M.D.

Map: Cary’s Traveller’s Companion or a Delineation of the Turnpike Roads of England and Wales etc.,(1812) by John Cary.

Jane Austen References

Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 5th september 1796

Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 17th November 1798

Letter to Anna Austen dated 10th August 1814