Sherborne Castle, built by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1594
‘No-one can live in Sherborne for long without becoming aware of Walter Raleigh,’ wrote the author Barbara O’Sullivan. ‘He has not only entered into the mythology of England’s heroes; his presence broods over the New Castle and, in the Abbey, St Katherine’s Chapel, where he had his pew’.
The Abbey Church of St Mary the Virgin at Sherborne, usually called Sherborne Abbey. It has been a Saxon cathedral (705–1075), a Benedictine abbey (998–1539), and, now, a parish church. Saved by the bishop by surrendering the abbey to Henry VIII and converting to a parish church the abbey survived almost intact. Image credit John Armagh
Things could have been very different. Ten years previously, Raleigh had been keen to settle in his home county. On 26 July 1584 he wrote to Richard Duke, the owner of Hayes Barton, East Budleigh, in an unsuccessful attempt to buy the property. He had, he explained, a ‘naturall disposition’ to the place, ‘being borne in that howse’, and went on to write: ‘I had rather seat my sealf ther than any where els’.
And four centuries on, the Dorset community is remembering Sir Walter’s warm words about Sherborne. Members of the town’s Twinning Association are among those involved in celebrating his life.
At the Castle a new exhibition about Raleigh is being staged, and owner Maria Wingfield Digby has published a new biography of this most intriguing character.
St John’s Almshouse, Sherborne © Copyright Jaggery
Dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, and now restored and renovated, it is one of Dorset’s oldest serving almshouses and is still in use today, serving its original purpose of providing housing to 18 elderly residents of the town. It is run by trustees elected from local citizens, and holds in its archives a letter written by Raleigh.
On 27 October, two days before the 400th anniversary of Raleigh’s death, there will be a Tudor themed banquet in Sherborne’s Memorial Hall. Guests are invited to wear costume and the organisers hope to set a period ambiance with appropriate music and and entertainment, including poetry by Raleigh.