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Wareham Town Council
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Middle Ages
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During the reign of Ethelred the Unready, after 100 years of peace the Danes again invaded and in 1015 King Canute left the town in ruins.

The Norman Conquest of 1066 changed the face of England completely. William the Conqueror decided he needed to know exactly who owned what in the country that he had just conquered. To do this he commissioned the Doomsday Book, an inventory of all the assets previously owned by the Saxons. Wareham’s entry reveals that in 1066 there were around 350 houses in the town, although some had been destroyed, possibly to make way for a huge motte and bailey castle built on high ground in the south west quarter of the town. During this period, Wareham developed as a cross channel seaport and flourished despite life under the feudal yoke of the Normans.

During the wars of Steven and Matilda in the 12th century Wareham Castle took on the role of state prison. Important captives were held there and on more than one occasion the town was under siege in an effort to recover them. By the late 12th and early 13th century Wareham Castle had become very much out of favour with the king.

King John passed through Wareham on his way to his favourite hunting lodge at Corfe Castle. Corfe became a much grander affair and was almost impregnable, becoming King John’s state prison with legend having it that 12 knights were locked up in its dungeons and left to starve to death.

The castle at Wareham fell into decline and dereliction; by the 1580s it was sold by Queen Elizabeth to Sir Christopher Hatton and was used almost as a quarry with pre-cut stone from the castle being sold off for building purposes.

One strange custom that is a relic of those medieval times is the Wareham Court Leet, an early form of “trading standards office” which ensured that the traders gave good measure when brewing ale and fair weight when baking bread.
Court Leet 1960
Wareham Court Leet 1960
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Doomsday Book
Wareham entry in Doomsday Book
Stephen Matilda
King Stephen Empress Matilda
Artists impression of Wareham Castle
Artists impression of Wareham Castle
 
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