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A BIT OF HISTORYJust visible in one of our walls is a blocked-up arch, the marks of what might have been a building that would once have stood at right angles to the hotel, running outwards into the street. The late Roger Ross-Turner believed the arch to be pre-Norman, and the building to have been either the market hall, or the home of the Guild set up just after the Abbey’s foundation in 1024. Edward I gave Abbotsbury a charter for a market in 1271, presumably held in the square at the head of Market Street. The 1774 edition of Hutchings’ “History of Dorset” refers to “a very ancient but mean market house in the middle of town now divided into three tenements”, but the Victorian edition of the book adds the words “which has since been removed. The site is known by the vulgar appellation of Tal-hal, doubtless a corruption of the Toll hall”. There have been other changes over the years ~ the large arch under the central gable is surely not just decorative, and the keystone to the lintel of one of the ground floor windows is well off-centre. Was this once the Ship Inn ? A pub of that name features in the 18th century story of Elizabeth Canning, a London girl who claimed to have been kidnapped by a gang whose alibi was that they had been in Abbotsbury at the time, an alibi which was supported by witnesses all the way up to, and including, the Lord Mayor of London, suggesting the importance of the gang to the lucrative Dorset smuggling business and its well-heeled customers. At any rate, the alibi was good enough to have the original trial verdict overturned. In March 1808, the Ship was host to a feast for the entire village (around 1000 people at that time) to celebrate the 21st birthday of the then Earl of Ilchester. Queen Victoria is reputed to have visited the inn on a visit to Abbotsbury in 1846, while waiting for her coach wheel to be repaired. The Ship Inn is listed under that name in the 1871 and 1875 directories, but the Ilchester Arms first appears in the 1889 edition. Tom Cooper, the landlord of the “Ilch” in Victorian times wrote, in 1884, one of the earliest guidebooks to the village, and made sure that his readers knew all about his five-star, royalty-patronised establishment.
9 Market Street, Abbotsbury, Dorset. DT3 4JR UK
Fridays (Winter October-March) 9pm