In correspondence relating to the recent application planning application west of Shire Lane, I received an enthralling note on the history of the Devon:Dorset border at Shire Lane.
Katherine Baxter, of the Dorset County Boundary Research Group and an Honorary Research Fellow of Bournemouth University, confirms that Uplyme and Lyme Regis have been on opposite 'sides' of a border since the seventh century, when Shire Lane seperated the Anglo Saxons of Lyme from the Celtic Uplymers, even down to an indication of a 'border control' building on the site of Ware House.
Katherine makes a case for the protection of Shire Lane...
"The Devon/Dorset boundary between Uplyme and Lyme Regis is probably the oldest county boundary length recorded anywhere. This boundary was well-established by AD 938 when it was legally registered by charter, a boundary which almost certainly dates to the final decades of the seventh century in the making of a formal administrative border between Anglo-Saxon Wessex and Celtic Dumnonia [Devon]. This boundary also marked the border of the Glastonbury Abbey estate on the west side (Uplyme/Devon) and the trading estate, ‘mansio’, granted to the newly-instituted, hitherto landlocked Sherborne bishopric on the east side (Lyme [Regis]/Dorset) legally registered in AD 774.
Before the days of accurate mapping, an estate boundary was legally defined by a list of features found along its length. The entries in the AD 938 charter betray a deliberately-made boundary in the use of the word ‘shire’ and ‘landshire’ ie ‘division’ ‘land-division,’ in complement to a wider formal administrative structuring. (English ‘Shires’ became Norman ‘Counties’).
This is reflected on the ground to this very day. The county/shire boundary running up from just below Uplyme Mill follows what was once Sherelane, ‘Shire Lane,’ across the Up/Lyme lane and road at the Old Black Dog, up Launcheycroft, ie ‘Landshire Croft’ continuing up the hill swinging southwards marked by the langshereaysshe ‘land shire ash [tree] (a huge veteran ash tree stool still presents) and on along today’s Shire Lane. Over Sidmouth Road and on down to the coast.
Implied here in this ‘shire’ wording is that this deliberately-made boundary was originally designed as a route way running between two manmade banks, a ‘double bank,’ which will have made possible a formal ‘bound-beating’ of the episcopal estate. Shire Lane is the only length to retain an element of this original structure – and still in use. Duly confirmed by the 1820s OS meresmen’s notebooks which show the county boundary running along the centre of the road. You will note that through the gateway at its northern end the boundary is reduced today to a single prominent bank on the Dorset side - and supporting that historic ‘landshire ash.’
The East Devon AONB were interested in learning about the boundary at a talk I gave in Sidmouth in 2011. This length of the Dorset/Devon boundary has formed the subject of several academic papers and can supply references if needed.
A length of this boundary was destroyed in the development of Launcheycroft earlier in the twentieth century and it would be tragic if this unique, only-surviving length represented by Shire Lane was (for example) cleared and widened following the proposed development along its western, Devon side. Claire Pinder, Dorset County Council Senior Archaeologist, has already assisted with and ratified a methodology regarding the identification of a ‘BCI’ – a ‘Boundary of Conservation Importance.’
This length of the Devon/Dorset boundary is currently entered for listing and protection in Dorset’s HER, Heritage Environment Record."
The map above accompanied an academic paper Katherine wrote for the Dorset Proceedings vol 129 in 2008. Bearing in mind this was drawn to show the main points on this pair of boundary recitals – that of AD 938 was ‘re-issued’ in 1516 presumably for some legal reason. Thus this map does not label today’s Up Lyme Mill, the Old Black Dog, Launcheycroft – or Shire Lane - which follows this well defined double-hedge routeway towards what was then the ‘Colyfordway’ (ie Sidmouth Road) and then the coast to the Wacheknappe ‘look out hill’ and Sigilmere which implies something shining – probably a beacon/farus of some kind now – of course – long lost to coastal erosion.
This makes for a very interesting piece of exploration and all along the length, now seriously unmanaged and heavily overgrown, this wide, ‘double-hedge’ feature is present.
The metre-by-metre boundary record is now deposited in the Dorset History Centre. Including veteran trees hitherto recorded by neither ‘side’!
The Sherborne episcopal estate formally registered in AD 774 is thus this ‘wedge-shaped’ area of land on the west side of the Lim. This was formerly Lyme Abbots; Lyme Regis, the royal manor, was on the east bank.
The town geography east and west of the River is distinctive to this day; Broad Street very much a formal episcopal piece of ‘town planning’ presenting a form characteristic of a 13c borough plantation; over the river things not so well laid out. After the Dissolution of course, the two estates as it were ‘came together.’
Lyme was a very prosperous, early trading port; the Cobb an attempt by at least one Bishop (this harbour structure lies west of the Lim) to counter that never-ending coastal erosion!
Today’s Ware House was the site of Werboldiston ‘ware buildings tun’ and the reference here to a Weygate, ie ‘wagon’ or ‘way’ gate goes far to support the one-time existence here of a shire/border control – literally a one-time ‘ware house’ on the old road up from the harbour where customs/dues were once paid, a watering place too as implied by Withylake – which is still wet!
Katherine has an infectious enthusiasm for historic Lyle and has given several lectures here over the years as an historical geographer. Her original interest lay in identifying that mansio of land granted to Sherborne listed in AD 774 as located ‘on the west bank of the Lim . . . where it runs into the sea.’
"The AD 938 Glastonbury Abbey charter boundary neatly skirts round it . . . it just jumped off the map"
It was this feature at Lyme which inspired her to launch the Dorset County Boundary Survey....