Blandford, or Blandford Forum, is a country town in southern England in the county of Dorset. From the time of the Norman conquests, in the 11th century, to the present day it has enjoyed a long and rich history. Nearly 400 years after a visit from King John, King James I granted the town in 1605 a Charter of Incorporation. Later, King Charles I was to read the lesson in Blandford Church.
In 1731, the Great Fire of Blandford destroyed most of the town. Donations were received from all over the country for its rebuilding. This reconstruction was masterminded by the Bastard bothers which gave the town its distinguished present day Georgian style. In the past, the town gained a reputation for the making of perukes (gentlemen’s wigs), fine lace and Blandford buttons. Now it is better known for the brewing of Blandford Badger Beers. Back in 1790, there were 21 inns in the town but sadly there are far fewer now. The year 1831 witnessed two men being condemned to death for their involvement in the Blandford Riots. However, following widespread protests, they were reprieved. In 1863, Blandford Station opened and that year, the Town Band won the National Brass Band Championship. Later, the town had its popular Mouth-Organ Band. From 1859 to 1895, controversial editor James Bartlett published the local newspaper, the Blandford Express after which this website is named. In 1906, the town celebrated its Tercentenary when 1,600 locals enjoyed a free tea in Bryanston Lower Park, the latter being made available by Lord Portman.
Nearby, is Blandford Down, now Blandford Camp, where the Blandford Horse Races were held annually.. This became a major social event with attendees including the local gentry, Lord Palmerston and the Duke of Wellington. Barbaric sports such as cudgel and cock fighting were regular events. Blandford Military Camp opened in 1914 and was occupied by the Royal Naval Division and then the Royal Air Force. Both King George V and Winston Churchill visited the Camp in 1915. Three years later, Blandford born Jack Counter was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery. During the Second World War the Camp was reopened by the British Army. Towards the end of the War and in preparation for the 1944 Normandy Landings, a large United States military hospital was constructed there.
Around Blandford, there are many attractive villages such as Pimperne, Shapwick and Stourpaine. Pimperne once had a distinctive Maze, Shapwick its infamous Monster while Stourpaine was reckoned to be, in the 19th century, one of England’s poorest villages. Among the local gentry, the Portman family lived in the nearby village of Bryanston for many years. The family owned valuable real estate in Central London while Emma Portman was a close confidante to Queen Victoria.
Such is the varied history of this North Dorset town.
(Illustration: Tercentenary Celebrations in Salisbury Street -1906)