Wareham is a pretty riverside town where the rivers Frome and Piddle meet as they flow into Poole Harbour. The town is the gateway to the Isle of Purbeck, a peninsula jutting out into the English Channel and the most eastern part of the Jurassic Coast.
The town’s oldest features are the town walls, ancient Saxon earth ramparts surrounding the town. In 876, Alfred the Great rescued Wareham from the invading Danes. He created a network of fortified settlements called “burhs” across his kingdom. In the event of a Danish attack, all the men would gather in the local burh to fight. Wareham was surrounded by an earth bank with a wooden stockade on top.
However, Wareham was more than just a fort. It was also a flourishing little market town, and part of the Saxon street pattern still survives. Wareham also contained a royal mint, showing it was quite an important place.
Up until medieval times, Wareham had been an important port.
However, the growth of nearby Poole and the gradual silting of the River Frome between Wareham and Poole Harbour caused a decline in trade. By the end of the 13th century, most of the foreign trade had transferred to Poole. Local trade continued to be handled at the quay.
Arrival of the Railway
With the arrival of the Corkscrew Railway, connections between Wareham and Dorchester and to Southampton, brought more prosperity to the town.
However, Wareham has remained a small market town of great character.
Lawrence of Arabia
T.E. Lawrence lived nearby at Clouds Hill, a former forester’s cottage that he rented and then purchased in 1925. It is just a few miles from Bovington Camp where he was stationed at various times in his military career. He is of course most famous for his work in the Middle East before during and after World War I when he became known as Lawrence of Arabia.
In 1935, Lawrence left the Royal Air Force and retired to Clouds Hill. A few weeks later, at the age of 46, he suffered severe head injuries in a motorcycle accident close to the cottage. He died in the Bovington Camp hospital on 19 May 1935. The following year the cottage was given to the National Trust. It is now a museum, open to the public and dedicated to Lawrence.
St Martin’s parish church in Wareham, built in the 11th century, has an effigy of T.E. Lawrence carved in 1939 by Eric Kennington.