By Tim Lambert
Early Blandford Forum
Blandford Forum began as a Saxon settlement by the River Stour. (It’s believed the river’s name is derived from a Saxon word meaning strong or mighty). At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, Blandford was called Blaneford. It’s not certain where the ‘Blane’ part of the name came from. It may have been Blay Ford (blay is a type of small fish). Forum, the Latin word for a marketplace was added to the name when it became a market town. It’s not known exactly when markets were first held but by the 13th century, they were flourishing. By the 13th century, Blandford also had annual fairs.
In 1605 King James I gave the town its first charter of incorporation so by then it was a place of some importance. The Old House was built circa 1660 and Ryve’s Almshouses were built in 1682 by George Ryves. By the 17th century, there was a school in Blandford.
During the English Civil War, most of the people of Blandford Forum supported the king but the town was plundered by a Parliamentary force in 1644. Nevertheless, the town soon recovered and in the late 17th century it thrived.
Blandford Forum suffered fires several times in history. The first was in 1564. Blandford suffered another fire in 1677. The town suffered two more fires in the early 18th century. The first happened in 1713. The second fire, in 1731 destroyed most of the houses in the town as well as public buildings.
But Blandford Forum was rebuilt and today it has many noteworthy 18th century buildings including the Town Hall, which was rebuilt in 1734, and the Church of St Peter and St Paul. The Great Fire Monument was first erected in 1760. In 1772 Assembly Rooms were built in the town for dances and games like playing cards.
In the 18th century, there was a button-making industry in the town as well as an important brewing industry. Button-making ended in the 19th century but brewing continued.
In the 18th century and early 19th century Blandford was also a stagecoach town as it was on the main road from London to Exeter.
Modern Blandford Forum
During the 19th century and 20th centuries amenities in the town improved. In 1837 Blandford gained gaslight. A corn exchange was built in 1858. A workhouse was built in 1859. (In the workhouse life was made as unpleasant as possible to discourage ‘idlers’. A cottage hospital was founded in 1888.
Meanwhile, the railway reached Blandford in 1860 but it closed in 1966. However, in the 19th century, Blandford was still only a small town. In 1901 it only had a population of 3,649. The population remained less than 4,000 until the 1980s when it began to grow rapidly.
Today Blandford is a flourishing town. It now has an industrial estate, Blandford Heights. Blandford is also a local shopping centre. Blandford Forum Town Museum opened in 1985. Blandford Fashion Museum opened in 1996. Today the population of Blandford Forum is 11,000.