Gillingham, Dorset

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The Square, Gillingham - - 1636257.jpg
High Street, Gillingham
Grid reference: ST805265
Location: 51°2’15"N, 2°16’29"W
Population: 9,323  (2001)
Post town: Gillingham
Postcode: SP8
Dialling code: 01747
Local Government
Council: Dorset
North Dorset

Gillingham is a town in the Blackmore Vale of Dorset. The town is the most northerly in the county. The town’s station is a principal stop is on the railway between London and Exeter.

The important on the railway line, Gillingham is off the major through roads, 4 miles south of the A303, on the B3095 and B3081. Shaftesbury is 5 miles to the southeast. Neighbouring hamlets included Peacemarsh, Bay and Wyke. These hamlets have now however become part of Gillingham as it expanded.

John Constable's painting of the old town bridge is in the Tate Gallery.

The name of Gillingham is pronounced with a hard initial 'G', unlike the Gillingham in Kent, whose initial 'G' is soft, pronounced like the 'J' in 'Jill'.


There is a stone age barrow[1] in the town, and evidence of Roman]] settlement in the 2nd and 3rd centuries; however the town itself is an English creation, of the Anglo-Saxon period. The parish church, St Mary the Virgin, has a Saxon cross shaft dating from the 9th century.[2]

The name Gillingham was used for the town in its 10th century charter, and also in an entry for 1016 in the annals, as the location of a battle between Edmund Ironside and the Danes under Cnut. In Domesday Book (1086) it is Gelingham, and later spellings include Gellingeham in 1130, Gyllingeham in 1152 and Gilingeham in 1209. The name implies a "homestead of the family or followers of Gylla", a model consistent with the occupation of Dorset by the Saxons from the 7th century.

50% of the town's population of 2000 died of the Black Death in the four months following October 1348.[3]

In the Middle Ages, Gillingham was the site of a royal hunting lodge, visited by Kings Henry I, Henry II, John and Henry III. A nearby royal forest was set aside for the king's deer. The lodge fell into disrepair and was destroyed in 1369 by Edward III.

Gillingham was the centre of the Liberty of Gillingham.

Gillingham became a local farming centre, gained the first Grammar School in Dorset in 1516 and a mill for silk in 1769. Gillingham's church has a 14th-century chancel, though most of the rest of the building was built in the 19th and 20th centuries. Many other buildings in the town are of Tudor origin.

In the 1850s, the arrival of the railway to the town brought prosperity and new industries including brickmaking, cheese production, printing, soap manufacture and at the end of the 19th century one of the first petrol engine plants in the country.

In the Second World War Gillingham's position on the railway from London to Exeter was of key importance to its rapid growth.


The town's population has grown rapidly from 6,187 in the 1991 census, and 9,323 in the 2001 census, to an estimated 12,000 today. 35% of the population are retired. Gillingham has good transport links, being 4 miles south of the A303, the main road from London to the West Country, and having a station on the Exeter to London railway line. Salisbury is about 30 minutes away by train, and 50 minutes by car.

Sport and leisure

  • Football: Gillingham Town FC, who play at Harding's Lane
  • Rugby: North Dorset Rugby Football Club

Until 2009, when it ceased for financial reasons, Gillingham hosted an annual 10 day festival of music and sport.

Gillingham has had a brass band since 1928; they are currently nationally graded in the 3rd Section, and perform at civic events and carnivals. Gillingham has the only night club in North Dorset.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Gillingham, Dorset)


  1. The Dorset Page's Gillingham Page
  2. St Mary the Virgin
  3. Times 1/2/07 Simon de Bruxelles Lost documents shed light on Black Death