Portesham, sometimes also spelled Portisham, is a village in Dorset, some six miles north-west of Weymouth, six miles south-west of the county town, Dorchester, and two miles north-east of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site at Chesil Beach.
The wider parish is quite large, covering several outlying hamlets and what were once their manors. The 2011 census recorded a population of 685 in 316 households.
In 1905, Sir Frederick Treves described the village's site as being "in a hollow among the downs" so that it was "too low to command a view of the sea", but nevertheless "in a south-westerly gale the roar of the breakers on the Chesil Beach can be heard in the village." The houses in Portesham comprise a mix of old grey stone cottages and more modern buildings in various styles. A stream runs alongside the main street.
The area around Portesham is rich in prehistoric remains. On the hills to the north of the village are several Bronze Age barrows and a Neolithic chambered long barrow called the Hell Stone, which may have been used as a resting place for people awaiting burial in the nearby Valley of Stones.
In 1024 Portesham was granted as a manor by King Canute. The lands were first given to Orc, Canute's servant and subsequently to the monastery of Abbotsbury. In 1086, at the time of the Domesday Book, the village had 34 households, 24 acres of meadow and 9 ploughlands. The lords and tenants-in-chief were Abbotsbury Abbey and Hawise, wife of Hugh son of Grip.
At the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries the manor was granted to William Paulet, Lord St. John. The manor was also held at one time by the Trenchard family. The manor was partly sold in fee to the tenants by Sir Andrew Ricard. Upon his death, in 1672, the remainder passed to his daughter Christian and she married John, Lord Berkeley of Stratton. The manor then passed down through his family.
Running through the parish is an outcrop of Purbeck limestone, which was formerly quarried. Portesham quarry operated in the 19th and early 20th centuries, producing stone that was used in domestic and ecclesiastical buildings within the local area, including Abbotsbury Abbey. A limekiln was sited within the quarry.
A week-long fair was held in early August every year in Portesham until the First World War. Known as "Possum Fes' Wik", the event included all-night dancing.
Portesham had a railway station sited across fields to the south of the village, on a branch line between Abbotsbury (the neighbouring village to the west) and Upwey (between Dorchester and Weymouth). The line and station closed in 1952.
Captain Thomas Hardy, one of Lord Nelson's commanders at the Battle of Trafalgar, lived in the village. He was born a few miles away at Kingston Russell House, lived in Portesham as a boy, and again as an older man at Portesham House. He affectionately referred to the village as "Possum" and is commemorated by the Hardy Monument, a tower 70 feet high, erected above the village in 1844 on the top of Black Down and visible over half the county.
The parish church of St Peter is part of the Dorset Wildlife Trust's "Living Churchyard Project" and manages the churchyard for the benefit of wildlife. Part of the churchyard grass remains uncut to allow the growth of wildflowers, over 70 different species of which have been identified. A 1994 survey identified over 50 species of lichen. In 2011 the church won Best New Entry in the "Living Churchyard Competition".
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