• The Dorset County Boundary Survey website

Dorset County Boundary Survey

Introduction and rationale
Katherine Barker

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.'


Dorset and surrounding
Sherborne bishopric founded 705

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.

Dorset county boundaries
Dorset BoundariesThe boundary of Dorset changed several times though out the 19th and 20th Century

Thus it is the Dorset county boundary represents many miles of a hitherto unexplored linear pre-nineteenth century 'landscape feature' of considerable topographical, archaeological and botanical significance. Such has been endorsed by the discoveries made - and continuing to be made - by the group since its founding in 2006.

Bokerley Dyke 2013
Bokerley Dyke
J Childs 2013

There are opportunities here to apply some of the latest thinking in the field. In April 2006 the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society launched a unique exercise combining both the natural history and archaeological expertise of the Society in an exploration of one of the oldest features in our man-made landscape.

The Dorset County Boundary Research Group organises a programme of exploratory field meetings along selected lengths of the Dorset border and continues to make discoveries as intresting as they are as interesting as unexpected. In complement to the Natuaral History reports already compiled, the Group has established an agreed method of field recording to embrace the whole range of data presented. A Dorset County Boundary Report is published in the annual Dorset Preceedings. For those lengths of the boundary surveyed, see the Hercological Record forms deposited in the Dorset History Centre. See also the DCC Dorset Explorer website; http//:explorer.geowessex.com

The project is open to anyone interested. For further information

email: boundary @ cernegiant.co.uk.

Our next meeting:

In the light of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic not respecting boundaries, international or county, we have been following Government advice on meetings and suspended our field visits.

We will reconvene these at a later date.

In the interim we are consolidating our past research into a form suitable to publish.


Next Field Visit - TBA.


Dorset Explorer HRF Links

The Dorset Explorer map

The site (http://explorer.geowessex.com/) has a DCBS layer with spatial links to several published HRFs

Dorset History Centre
Dorset History Centre

Dorset History Centre

Bridport Road, Dorchester DT1 1RP.


Some primary sites that provide Dorset related information.


Main site link to current county, district and parish councils


Archives and Museums

Natural History

Natural History of Dorset


Dorset County Museum due to open June 2020

Historic Links

A range of historic information sources

Coastal Imagery & Lidar

Historic mapping

Geographic information

Current mapping


Information, help and assistance in Dorset family history