Sitting proudly on top of a hilly promontory on the Dorset/Wiltshire border, is an ancient Saxon market town of tremendous historic interest as well as being a lovely place to live or visit. However, it is one street that really puts Shaftesbury on the map even though this modest twisting cobbled lane only has buildings on one side and requires a certain amount of effort to climb up and down due to its steepness.
Gold Hill Shaftesbury
Gold Hill is one of the most iconic and recognisable streets in the country although many people don’t actually know where this romanticised idyll of a traditional English country town is. With its higgledy piggledy period cottages and sweeping backdrop of the beautiful countryside of North Dorset’s Blackmore Vale, it has appeared on countless chocolate boxes, biscuit tins and calendars.
Gold Hill really came to fame in 1973 as the star of director Ridley Scott’s television advertisement for Hovis bread showing a young grocer boy valiantly pushing his bike up the steep hill to make his deliveries to the musical accompaniment of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9. In 2006 it was voted by the public as the most loved advertisement ever. Ironically the voiceover was made in a Northern accent and the music performed by a brass band giving the impression that the scene was actually in Yorkshire rather than Dorset!
The history of Shaftesbury, Dorset
Shaftesbury was established in the 9th Century by Alfred the Great as a fortified settlement where he also founded a nunnery for his daughter Ethelgifu in 888. The abbey was the burial place in 979 of Edward II, known as Edward the Martyr, who was murdered at Corfe Castle and is also where King Canute died in 1035. The stone wall bordering Gold Hill is believed to be part of the defences of the abbey which was destroyed following Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1539.
With the loss of the abbey, Shaftesbury’s prosperity faded and in the 17th and 18th Centuries its economy was based mainly on cloth and button making, brewing and as a coaching hub. Nowadays the town is a vibrant community and has many excellent amenities including a range of independent shops, boutiques, cafes, restaurants and inns as well as a large supermarket and a twice weekly farmer’s market on the broad High Street. There are also doctors and dentist surgeries, a cottage hospital, an arts centre, sports facilities and reputable state run primary and secondary schools. The town is immortalised in the World of literature as Thomas Hardy’s ‘Shaston’.
When the Tudor guildhall was pulled down in 1827 to widen the High Street, the Earl of Grosvenor built a new one in a commanding position at the top of Gold Hill with the salt cellar underneath it now a café serving delicious meals and a great place from which to enjoy the fine views. Originally Gold Hill was one of the main means of accessing the town but this building blocks the way to anything but pedestrian traffic. Adjacent to it is the small but fascinating Gold Hill Museum and St Peters, a fine 14th Century church.
Before venturing up Gold Hill, one might want to fuel up at Ye Olde Two Brewers pub on St James’s Street, a lane of pretty stone cottages. On arriving at the top, one can reward oneself with a drink at The Mitre Inn or at one of the many tea rooms on the High Street. For fine dining there is the Grosvenor Arms, a smart boutique hotel and a favourite place to stay for the London set.
Located towards the lower end of Gold Hill and accessible by car is Folly Cottage, a late Victorian end-of-terrace cottage which is on the market with Rural View. The modest red brick exterior belies the extent and charming character of the accommodation inside. Stylishly refurbished in recent years, the property enjoys a lovely outlook at the back and offers scope to make further improvements including converting the existing top floor studio room into a fourth bedroom. The guide price is £425,000 and more information is available from the town property estate agents Rural View on 01722 716895.