The History of Askerswell Parish

Eggardon Hill

Pre-Roman: Askerswell Parish has a history of settlement spanning over 4,200 years with the earliest archaeological evidence being finds from Eggardon Hill, which date from Neolithic period and pre-date the hill fort. Among the record of 31 archaeological records for all eras on the national website
are several barrows of the Middle Bronze Age (before 1,200 BC). Three kilograms of pottery were recovered from one of them. There is pre-medieval archaeology scattered across the Parish but Eggardon Hill and its southern slopes feature most frequently. For instance, a hoard of seven bronze age axes were found S.W. of Eggardon Hill. They had never been used with unsharpened cutting edges and so appear to be a merchant's hoard. Six of these axes are in Dorset County Museum (DCM) and the seventh is in Bridport museum.

Roman and Medieval periods: The Romans left some evidence of their presence in the area with a brooch (in DCM) and fragments of both Roman pottery roof tiles and blue tiles that may indicate a villa was formerly positioned south of Eggardon Hill. There is also a Roman-style culvert on the private road just west of North Eggardon Farm that may indicate that the Roman house at N Eggardon Farm was of unusually high status.

There is no archaeology from the early medieval period before the Norman Conquest. The lands presumably belonged to Ordulph a nephew of King Aethelred and a man enormous strength, stature and wealth. He and his wife provided numerous manors presumably including that in Askerswell on the foundation of Tavistock Abbey in 981. The abbey is listed as tenant-in-chief of Askerswell in the Domesday Book (1086). It is recorded in that work as Oscherwille with 30 households. It was in Eggardon Hundred, formerly the larger division of a county than a Parish first recorded in the laws of King Edmund I (939-46). It was an area of sufficient land for 100 households raising about £100 per year in tax.

Weymouth is where the Black Death first reached England in the summer of 1348. It reached Bridport later that year and it is certain that it killed people in Askerswell including its vicar.

Post-Medieval: Askerswell also features in the need to maintain archery skills in the English population during the reign of Henry VIII. The King expected all men "to exercise" at the butts and keep a bow and arrows at home. Routine archery practice in Bridport was conducted at the butts just west of St Mary's Church in the town. However, exercises took place in the light sleeveless armour worn by archers after they marched to a drum to Eggardon Hill (page 35, in Legg, 2003, ISBN 1 84114 232 8). Askerswell may have been larger in the past than now or has moved its centre, as there are the remains of a post-mediaeval, shrunken settlement that covers 5 acres to the West of The Burrywells.

Dorset had a long history of smuggling just like other south coast counties. The Napoleonic wars forced the price of continental wheat and liquor to a prohibitive level for the poor who could earn more than a week's wages in one night working for smugglers.

Isaac Gulliver

World War I and II Members of the community served in these wars. Askerswell House was requisitioned for the war effort in 1941. It was used at various times as a base for USS solders who landed on Omaha Beach and to house German Prisoners of War who worked on Farms in the Parish.

Listed Buildings: There are 2 Grade II* and 14 Grade II listed building plus four listed tombs in the churchyard. Descriptive texts are available on a national website. Only about 5.5% of all listed buildings nationally are Grade II*. One is St Michael and All Angels Church the architecture of which is considered on the Church section of the website. The other building in this category is South Eggardon House parts of which date back to the 16th century.

Detailed and Recent History: Askerswell School opened in 1857, as a local initiative, and became an elementary school in 1871. It was enlarged in 1901 to cater for seventy children and closed in 1965. The School is now a private house. Recollections of the School and village life are recorded in Askerswell Millennium Folder which is available for short-term loan from the Parish Meeting Chair.

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