Welcome to Visit Shaftesbury Places
The Walkfo guide to things to do & explore in Shaftesbury

Visit Shaftesbury PlacesVisit Shaftesbury places using Walkfo for free guided tours of the best Shaftesbury places to visit. A unique way to experience Shaftesbury’s places, Walkfo allows you to explore Shaftesbury as you would a museum or art gallery with audio guides.

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Shaftesbury is the only significant hilltop settlement in Dorset. It is situated on the A30 road, 20 miles west of Salisbury, near the border with Wiltshire. The town looks over the Blackmore Vale, part of the River Stour basin. Adjacent to the abbey site is Gold Hill, a steep cobbled street used in the 1970s as the setting for Ridley Scott’s television advertisement for Hovis bread. When you visit Shaftesbury, Walkfo brings Shaftesbury places to life as you travel by foot, bike, bus or car with a mobile phone & headphones.


Shaftesbury Places Overview: History, Culture & Facts about Shaftesbury

Visit Shaftesbury – Walkfo’s stats for the places to visit

With 18 audio plaques & Shaftesbury places for you to explore in the Shaftesbury area, Walkfo is the world’s largest heritage & history digital plaque provider. The AI continually learns & refines facts about the best Shaftesbury places to visit from travel & tourism authorities (like Wikipedia), converting history into an interactive audio experience.

Shaftesbury history

There is no substantive evidence that Shaftesbury was the “Caer Palladur” (or “Caer Palladwr”) of Celtic and Roman times, and instead the town’s recorded history dates from Anglo-Saxon times. By the early 8th century there was an important minster church here, and in 880 Alfred the Great founded a burgh (fortified settlement) here as a defence in the struggle with the Danish invaders. The burgh is recorded in the early-10th-century Burghal Hidage as one of only three that existed in the county (the others being at Wareham and ‘Bredy’ – which is probably Bridport). In 888 Alfred founded Shaftesbury Abbey, a Benedictine nunnery by the town’s east gate, and appointed his daughter Ethelgifu as the first abbess. Æthelstan founded two royal mints, which struck pennies bearing the town’s name, and the abbey became the wealthiest Benedictine nunnery in England. On 20 February 981 the relics of St Edward the Martyr, the teenage King of England, were transferred from Wareham and received at the abbey with great ceremony, thereafter turning Shaftesbury into a major site of pilgrimage for miracles of healing. King Canute died here in 1035, though he was buried at Winchester. Edward the Confessor licensed a third mint for the town. By the time of the Norman conquest in 1066 Shaftesbury had 257 houses, though many were destroyed in the ensuing years of conflict, and by the time the Domesday Book was compiled twenty years later, there were only 177 houses remaining, though this still meant that Shaftesbury was the largest town in Dorset at that time. In the first English civil war (1135–1154) between Empress Matilda and King Stephen, an adulterine castle or fortified house was built on a small promontory at the western edge of the hill on which the old town was built. The site on Castle Hill, also known locally as Boltbury, is now under grass and is a scheduled monument. In 1240 Cardinal Otto of Tonengo, legate to the Apostolic See of Pope Gregory IX visited the abbey and confirmed a charter of 1191, the first entered in the Glastonbury chartulary. During the Middle Ages the abbey was the central focus of the town; the abbey’s great wealth was acknowledged in a popular saying at the time, which stated that “If the abbot of Glastonbury could marry the abbess of Shaftesbury their heir would hold more land than the king of England”. In 1260 a charter to hold a market was granted. By 1340 the mayor had become a recognised figure, sworn in by the steward of the abbess. In 1392 Richard II confirmed a grant of two markets on different days. Edwardstow, Shaftesbury’s oldest surviving building, was built on Bimport at some time between 1400 and 1539. Also in this period a medieval farm owned by the Abbess of Shaftesbury was established, on a site now occupied by the Tesco supermarket car park. In 1539, the last Abbess of Shaftesbury, Elizabeth Zouche, signed a deed of surrender, the (by then extremely wealthy) abbey was demolished, and its lands sold, leading to a temporary decline in the town. Sir Thomas Arundell purchased the abbey and much of the town in 1540, but when he was later exiled for treason his lands were forfeit, and the lands passed to Pembroke then Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, and finally to the Grosvenors. Shaftesbury was a parliamentary constituency returning two members from 1296 to the Reform Act of 1832, when it was reduced to one, and in 1884 the separate constituency was abolished. In Survey of Dorsetshire, written in about 1630 by Thomas Gerard of the Dorset village of Trent, Shaftesbury is described as a “faire Thorough Faire, much frequented by Travellers to and from London”. The town was broadly Parliamentarian in the Civil War, but was in Royalist hands. Wardour Castle fell to Parliamentary forces in 1643; Parliamentary forces surrounded the town in August 1645, when it was a centre of local clubmen activity. The clubmen were arrested and sent to trial in Sherborne. Shaftesbury took no part in the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685. In the 17th century the cloth industry formed part of Shaftesbury’s economy, though much of the actual production took place as a cottage industry in the surrounding area. In the 18th century the town produced a coarse white woollen cloth called ‘swanskin’, that was used by fishermen of Newfoundland and for uniforms. Buttonmaking also became important around this time, though with the later advent of industrialisation this subsequently declined, resulting in unemployment, starvation and emigration, with 350 families leaving for Canada. Malting and brewing were also significant in the 17th and 18th centuries, and like other Dorset towns such as Dorchester and Blandford Forum, Shaftesbury became known for its beer. The railways however bypassed the town, which had consequences for Shaftesbury’s economy; during the 19th century the town’s brewing industry was reduced to serving only local markets, as towns elsewhere in the country could transport their produce more cheaply. During the 19th century the population of the town grew little. The town hall was built in 1837 by Earl Grosvenor after the guildhall was pulled down to widen High Street. It has been designated by English Heritage as a grade II listed building. Shaftesbury Town Hall is next to the 15th-century St Peter’s Church. The Westminster Memorial Hospital was constructed on Bimport in the mid-19th century with a legacy from the wife of the Duke of Westminster. In 1918 Lord Stalbridge sold a large portion of the town, which was purchased by a syndicate and auctioned piece by piece over three days. Most of Shaftesbury’s buildings date from no earlier than the 18th century, as the Saxon and most of the medieval buildings have not survived.

Shaftesbury toponymy

Shaftesbury has acquired a number of names throughout its history. The original Celtic name is first recorded in Medieval Welsh literature as Caer Vynnydd y Paladr. Thomas Hardy used both “Shaston” and “Palladour” to refer to the town in the fictional Wessex of his novels such as Jude the Obscure.

Shaftesbury geography / climate

The old centre of Shaftesbury is sited on a westward-pointing promontory of high ground in northeast Dorset. The town is situated on the scarp edge of a range of hills that extend south and east into Cranborne Chase and neighbouring Wiltshire. Below the town to the west is the Blackmore Vale, which undulates between about 60 and 110 m (200 and 360 ft)

Why visit Shaftesbury with Walkfo Travel Guide App?

Visit Shaftesbury PlacesYou can visit Shaftesbury places with Walkfo Shaftesbury to hear history at Shaftesbury’s places whilst walking around using the free digital tour app. Walkfo Shaftesbury has 18 places to visit in our interactive Shaftesbury map, with amazing history, culture & travel facts you can explore the same way you would at a museum or art gallery with information audio headset. With Walkfo, you can travel by foot, bike or bus throughout Shaftesbury, being in the moment, without digital distraction or limits to a specific walking route. Our historic audio walks, National Trust interactive audio experiences, digital tour guides for English Heritage locations are available at Shaftesbury places, with a AI tour guide to help you get the best from a visit to Shaftesbury & the surrounding areas.

“Curated content for millions of locations across the UK, with 18 audio facts unique to Shaftesbury places in an interactive Shaftesbury map you can explore.”

Walkfo: Visit Shaftesbury Places Map
18 tourist, history, culture & geography spots


  Shaftesbury historic spots

  Shaftesbury tourist destinations

  Shaftesbury plaques

  Shaftesbury geographic features

Walkfo Shaftesbury tourism map key: places to see & visit like National Trust sites, Blue Plaques, English Heritage locations & top tourist destinations in Shaftesbury


Best Shaftesbury places to visit

Shaftesbury has places to explore by foot, bike or bus. Below are a selection of the varied Shaftesbury’s destinations you can visit with additional content available at the Walkfo Shaftesbury’s information audio spots:

Shaftesbury photo Shaftesbury F.C.
Shaftesbury Town Football Club are a football club based in Dorset . The club is affiliated to the Dorset County Football Association and is a FA chartered Standard club . They are currently members of the Wessex League Premier Division .
Shaftesbury photo Shaftesbury Town Hall
Shaftesbury Town Hall is a municipal building in the High Street, Shaftsbury, Dorset . The town hall is a Grade II listed building .
Shaftesbury photo St John’s Church, Enmore Green
St John’s Church is a Church of England parish church in Enmore Green, Dorset . The church was designed by George Alexander and built in 1842–43 . It is a Grade II listed building .
Shaftesbury photo Duncliffe Hill
Duncliffe Hill is one of the highest hills in the Blackmore Vale region in the county of Dorset, England. At 210 metres, it is the highest hill in the region.
Shaftesbury photo HM Prison Guys Marsh
HM Prison Guys Marsh is a Category C men’s prison. It is located near Shaftesbury, Dorset, England. The prison is operated by Her Majesty’s Prison Service.
Shaftesbury photo Shaftesbury Abbey
Shaftesbury Abbey was founded in about 888 and dissolved in 1539. It was the second-wealthiest nunnery in England, behind only Syon Abbey.

Visit Shaftesbury plaques

Shaftesbury Plaques 10
Shaftesbury has 10 physical plaques in tourist plaque schemes for you to explore via Walkfo Shaftesbury plaques audio map when visiting. Plaques like National Heritage’s “Blue Plaques” provide visual geo-markers to highlight points-of-interest at the places where they happened – and Walkfo’s AI has researched additional, deeper content when you visit Shaftesbury using the app. Experience the history of a location when Walkfo local tourist guide app triggers audio close to each Shaftesbury plaque. Explore Plaques & History has a complete list of Hartlepool’s plaques & Hartlepool history plaque map.