Dorset County Boundary SurveyIntroduction and rationale
The Old English shires of Wessex (which became counties to the Normans) were already well established by Domesday and were to remain unchanged until the revisions of the 19c (SDNQ 1906) and 1974. 'The shiring of England was a major feat of government ... an administrative system of formidable and integrated power ... notably systematic ... every shire was divided into hundreds or sub-units, retaining administrative, judicial, tax and even a military significance into the 19c' (James Campbell, 1993). The office of Shire Reeve [sheriff] was already in existence by 1000. From Old English scieran, 'to cut,' the shires of the old kingdom of Wessex appear in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in succession between 800 and 860 as units of resistance to the Danes. There are good reasons for supposing that all six shires may be a century or more older. We know that Kent, Sussex and Essex have their origins as one-time independent kingdoms.
The first reference to Dorset is for the year 845 when we read that 'Dux Eanwulf with the Somerset men, and Bishop Ealhstan [of Sherborne] and Ealdorman Osric with the Dorset [Dornsaetum] men, fought against a Danish raiding-army at the mouth of the Parrett, and made great slaughter there and took the victory.' In the tenth century we find Dorseteschyre and under the Normans it is Dorsete and Dorsetscira.
Dorset is [literally] the saete, 'inhabitants', of Duro- or Doro- country centred on Dorchester, the Roman castra/ceaster of the Iron Age Durotriges. Its partner territory is Somerset - 'inhabitants of the summerlands' - hints here of seasonal exploitation of the moors and levels over the border. Somerset was administered into historical times from Ilchester, Givelchester, the Ivel/Yeovil ceaster. Access to the heart of this pair of saete-named territories from the north was up the RiverParrett and from the south, up the River Frome. The bishopric set up at Sherborne in 705 was cited on the border. Until 1566 Dorset and Somerset shared the same county sheriff - 'shire reeve.'
Borderlands are 'secondary' or marginal land to the geographer of primary interest to the landscape - and natural - historian. Comprising many acres of one-time inter-commoning, grazing and wood and wood pasture, they preserve not only patterns of Parliamentary Enclosure but relics of an earlier natural vegetation. Borderlands have a cultural identity all of their own.