Fifth leg Dorchester to Blandford Forum (16 miles).
Henry VII continued his gradual progress towards London on Wednesday 8 Nov 1497 (Julian calendar). The Catholic old calendar dedicates this day to the Holy Four Crowned Martyrs (curiously, there were nine of them).
As can be seen in the 1724 map of Dorset above, the London Road turns north east going out of Dorchester. It soon separates from the Roman road and passes through Puddletown on the River Piddle and the ancient Yellowham Wood. Puddletown is where nowadays we say goodbye to the A35, which heads east to Wimborne, where Henry’s maternal grandparents are buried at the Minster (Henry and his mother visited in 1496). This is not far either from Athelhampton House, which was greatly expanded and improved during Henry’s reign and survives today.
However, we are sticking with Henry on the London road, the modern A354, which continues over Devil’s Brook at Fryer’s Bridge until we reach Milborne St Andrew, which is halfway to Blandford (just ‘Milborn’ on the 1724 map). John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury, one of the most notable architects of the Tudor state, was born here. He was a close companion of Henry but wasn’t with him at this time, having just travelled from the royal palace of Woodstock (close to today’s Blenheim Palace) to Westminster the day before. The two men remained in constant communication by letter.
A year earlier, August 1496, Henry had stayed nearby at Faulston, probably a guest of John Bayntun, one time Sheriff of Wiltshire, but there’s no evidence he paid a visit on this occasion.
The road twists evermore northwards as it passes through Winterborne Whitechurch and Thorn(i)combe before reaching the River Stour at the bottom end of West Street in Blandford (Blaen-y-ford) Forum (market). There was a bridge here, pons de Blaneford, since at least 1268 . However, the causeway which raised the road above the surrounding marsh wasn’t built until 1726, so it may have been a sticky ride at this time of year. Leland didn’t describe the bridge but used it only as a reference point relative to other bridges up and down the Stour. The medieval remnant of the bridge, if any, is vestigial today.
Blandford itself, almost the entire town, burned down in 1731. The street plan survived, in essence, shown below, but the modern town seems almost devoid of any history before this date. The only medieval building to have survived is a part of St Leonard’s Chapel.
Where would Henry have stayed? It’s hard to say, but here are some “starters for ten”. Nearby Kingston Lacy (where Henry’s mother, Margaret, grew up) was part of the royal estate of Wimborne which had further estates within Blandford. Also the manor of Pimperne (visible on the 1724 map), immediately to the north of Blandford was another royal estate. So Henry had numerous property interests in and around the town and may have been his own guest. Failing that, the neighbouring monasteries such as Milton Abbas (five miles away) almost certainly had town houses in Blandford prior to the dissolution in and around 1539.
Although Henry had been taking the journey at a pretty easy pace, he was obviously working up to a break, because after his next hop, he would spend the rest of the week in Salisbury.