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An Introduction To Gillingham
Gillingham is a ‘gateway town’ the most northerly town in Dorset and within the Blackmore Vale situated on the confluence of three rivers: the Stour, the Lodden and the Shreen. Gillingham has been a settlement since the Stone Age, its name originating from the Saxons.
There was a battle nearby between Edmund Ironside, King of the English, and the Vikings. In medieval times Gillingham was a favoured Royal Forest and there is still evidence of a Royal Palace at King’s Court with a Park Pale nearby.
The Queen’s Palace was at Thorngrove, but very little evidence remains today. The forest provided good hunting and the timber collected was used to supply building materials for royal palaces and ships. Gillingham became a thriving centre for the local farming community and built the first Grammar School in Dorset in 1526.
John Constable RA, the famous landscape painter, was a visitor to Gillingham in 1820 and 1823, staying with his closest friend, Reverend John Fisher. Constable painted many local scenes including the Town Bridge which can be seen in the Tate Gallery, London. Visit Gillingham Museum to see the exhibitions. The renowned Victorian novelist and poet, Thomas Hardy, referred to Gillingham as Leddenton in his novels. The beautiful rural landscape can be accessed by the many footpaths and an annual walking festival gets way during the first week of September.
The High Street is a mixture of old and new buildings. The oldest part being near the parish church of St Mary the Virgin, a 14th century building which was largely rebuilt in the early Victorian period. The High Street offers two banks (Lloyds and TSB), post office, opticians, dentist, soft furnishing and a furniture shop.
The town has five large supermarkets: Aldi, Asda, Iceland, Lidl and Waitrose. There are a few cafes and pubs including local sourced food available at the two well-stocked garden centres.
Specialist family-run shops include bicycles, lighting, jewellers and an art shop. Larger centres for shopping can be found by visiting Salisbury, a short train journey away and Yeovil, via train and a bus ride.
Local places of interest: Shaftesbury Arts Centre and Gold Hill (a half-hourly bus service at the station), Sherborne (14 minutes by train) and Stourhead ((6 miles, National Cycle Route 25), one of the country’s most popular National Trust properties with its world-famous gardens.