West and Central Dorset
This area which includes Dorchester, Bridport, Weymouth and outlying villages became a centre for emigration to the ‘New World’, particularly under the encouragement and auspices of John White (1575-1648), the Rector of Holy Trinity and St. Peter’s churches in Dorchester from 1606 until 1642 when he briefly left the town. He returned to Dorchester and died there in 1648. He is regarded by many as one of the leading lights of the Puritans in the early 17th century and played a major role in establishing the Massachusetts Bay Company. With his friend the Rev. Walter Newburgh he managed financing for expeditions to the colonial archetype Dorchester; now part of Boston.
Our tour of Dorchester will take us back to the 17th century and the times of John White. Through our local historian you will learn how the townsfolk lived and what affected their lives. Our visit will encompass the many buildings in Dorchester dating back to the 17th century as well as the local museum and the alms houses started during White’s time. In particular we will visit the Oak Room, now a Tea House of the Antelope Hotel used by Judge Jeffries for a session of the Bloody Assizes in 1685 following the failed Monmouth Rebellion.
White is buried in the porch of St. Peter’s Church, where there is a plaque to that effect. His Rectory still stands behind St. Peter’s.
Weymouth, some nine miles to the south of Dorchester became one of the main embarkation ports in South West England together with Plymouth in Devon. John Endicott from Chagford in Devon who became many times Governor of Massachusetts set sail from here in 1629. Prior to that White held a local service for John Winthrop who helped found the Dorchester Settlement and became the first Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Company. Francis Higginson and Samuel Skelton, chosen and approved by White as Ministers, sailed for the colony in 1629.
Tudor House, close to the present Harbour Front, is one of the United Kingdom’s best preserved Tudor buildings. It is now an interesting museum containing many early 17th century pieces of furniture and other artefacts. A 40-minutes guided tour is a well spent visit giving a vivid impression of the living conditions in the period of the migrants to the New World.
Bridport, our nearest town, is one and a half miles from our base in Symondsbury. With its harbour at West Bay and the river Brit once navigable up to Bridport it was best known for rope making during many hundreds of years, particularly in the years of sail. Rope making is still an important part of the local economy although the output is now more in specialised products such as cargo nets, aircraft carrier nets and many new sailing cords. The town is still a vibrant commercial centre with a small museum that will be on the tour’s agenda. There are two street markets on Wednesday and Saturday with the latter being very popular bringing visitors from all over southern England.
We will also take a short tour into the countryside to get an impression of the local topography and the difficulties faced by 17th century farmers in making a living and providing for their ever-growing families: factors that drove many to make the Atlantic crossing to a new life.