Verwood - A Brief History

 

Written June 2000 by Jill Coulthard, a founder member and Archivist of Verwood Historical Society
with information gained by the Society over the years.   (Updated June 2004)

Living in busy, bustling, ever-growing Verwood, it is hard to reconcile it with a nineteenth century description

“An extensive tract of heathy land, of a wild and desolate aspect”

Today it has become a commuter town of some 12,000 residents and grows further by the day.


This is in no small part due to the heathland which is not productive for agriculture and is therefore seen as prime for development.   However it is good to look back and understand the nature of the settlement which in many ways retains its traditional village feeling.

The first found written mention of Verwood is in a charter dated 8th December 1377 when William de Bello Bosco, a local landowner, presumably of Norman descent, granted to Walter, Vicar of Cranborne amongst others “all the lands, tenements, meadows, woodland, heath, marsh, pasture, rents and services” which he then held in Lesteford, Fairwoode and Boverige.

Fairwood was the accepted name for the area for many centuries and only made the transition to Verwood in fairly late years, the written form being governed by the Dorset vernacular speech.  The name Bello Bosco, or Beau Boys as it is sometimes known in Old French,  means a beautiful or fair wood and it is a matter of some discussion as to whether the settlement took its name from the family or more probably vice versa.

Verwood grew from a scattering of farms along the River Crane with ancillary cottages for workers.   Even until the early years of last century it was more a collection of hamlets grouped under one name and was part of the vast parish of Cranborne in East Dorset.

Verwood stands at a Crossroads where the River Crane runs equidistant from the ancient market towns of Ringwood and Cranborne.   Roads ran north and south towards the established towns of Fordingbridge, Salisbury, Wimborne and Poole and even today the Crossroads is considered the focal point of the town.
 
 

VERWOOD CROSSROADS LOOKING NORTH IN THE VERY EARLY PART OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
THE CONSERVATIVE OR UNIONIST HALL IS THE ONLY BUILDING IN VIEW

Today presents a completely different scene with shops, flats and offices.
The land on the lower right, once known as "Ferrett's Green" has been landscaped
The new Town Car Park is behind "The Potters Wheel", now a Heritage Centre


 

THE DRYING AND MAKING SHED OF THE LAST VERWOOD POTTERY AT THE CROSSROADS TO SURVIVE UNTIL 1952
IT HAS NOW BECOME THE VERWOOD HEATHLAND HERITAGE CENTRE
THE DISUSED YARD IS NOW THE NEW VERWOOD TOWN CAR PARK

There was a great influx of population into Verwood during the nineteenth century, brought about by its heathland nature which is greatly influencing population expansion today.   In those days it was more the products of the heath which could be exploited, clay and timber for example.   Today it is work in nearby towns, coupled with the advantages of a semi-rural lifestyle.

Enclosure Acts had meant that families in traditional villages could no longer use all the land their forefathers had been entitled to and like modern families they sought a better life for themselves.   Verwood, with its large tracts of unused heathland, was seen as an opportunity even though the living was hard won.

Local landowners turned a blind eye or charged a nominal rent for a family to settle.   An acre was carved out of the common and with diligence turned into a workable patch of vegetables and domestic animals which could support a family together with the breadwinner’s wage, the great majority of whom were agricultural workers.  Men frequently worked far into the night, after a hard day’s work,  with the aid of lanterns to tend their gardens and animals.  The women and children played their part in cottage industries such as knitting gloves whose high quality being  most sought after and well renowned, added valuably to the family budget.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth centry, institutions such as the various denominations of churches and the  village schools together with inventions such as steam threshing machines, railways, postal services, electricity and gas supplies began to modernise the village and weld it into a tighter knit community.

It remained a rural outpost of some 2,000 inhabitants until the 1960s and 1970s when the new spur road connected it directly to Bournemouth, mains drainage was laid on and new estates began to be built.

Today it is a town of some 12,000 inhabitants but in many ways, thanks to the many ongoing flourishing church congregations, schools, clubs and societies, it still retains its "village feel".    Even if somewhat insular in past ages, Verwood has long been used nowadays to welcoming newcomers from all parts of the United Kingdom and around the globe.

A short walk on the northern common to Stephen's Castle proves that it is still a "Fair Wood" with scarcely any roofs visible of the thousands of dwellings beneath the canopy of trees.   This is a peaceful retreat from the hurly-burly of the town centre traffic and affords panoramic views, on a clear day, over to the Isle of Wight, Bournemouth and Purbeck.   Verwood is very well placed, strategically, in the midst of varied inland and coastal, stunning scenery with access to several major towns, railway stations, Channel ports and the main road to London whilst still enjoying its semi rural isolation.   It also enjoys a very mild climate.  

Very many more people than its forefathers could ever have envisaged now join together in calling Verwood "home".

 

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