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Job Burr of Shaftesbury 1824-1896

Judith Westwood has contacted us regarding JOB BURR of Shaftesbury (1824-1896.)

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Treachery at Corfe Castle AD 978

Against the wishes of King Edgar’s widow, his eldest son Edward was crowned king after his death. Queen Elfrida had petitioned for her own six-year-old son, Ethelred, to be crowned king but in this she failed. Elfrida inherited Corfe Castle where she lived with her young son and spent her time scheming and plotting the downfall of her step-son.

On March the 18th AD 978 King Edward died – killed by one of his step-mother’s servants, as she offered him a kiss and a goblet of wine.

Edward was fifteen when he became king, but for all his youth he was popular and respected by his subjects. He was eighteen when he came to the Isle of Purbeck to hunt in the royal chase; when he became separated from his party he decided to drop-in on his half-brother at Corfe Castle.  While he waited at the castle gate to be admitted a message was sent up to Elfrida who, we must assume, immediately seized the opportunity to rid herself of the obstruction to her son becoming king.

Elfrida came down the steep slope from the Keep to what is now known as Martyr’s Gate to greet Edward and invite him into the castle. Sensing he was in danger Edward declined her invitation saying he only wished to greet his brother and then be on his way. A servant arrived at the gate with a goblet of wine and as Edward raised it to his lips with his right hand the servant grabbed his left arm, twisted it behind him and stabbed him in the back.  Some versions of the story suggest that Elfrida herself stabbed Edward but it seems more likely that she distracted him with the offer of a kiss as he was raising the goblet to drink, giving the servant every opportunity to stab the king.

Edward immediately pressed his spurs to his horse, cleared the gate and galloped-off; he had been severely wounded. He fainted from loss of blood, fell from his horse and was dragged by the stirrup down the steep hill to the brook at the bottom, where the horse came to a halt.

Running after him, Elfrida’s servants found his lifeless body badly mutilated as a result of being dragged over the rough stony ground. On Elfrida’s instruction the king’s body was concealed in a well; it wasn’t found until the following year when it was buried at the church of St. Mary in Wareham. Three years later the king’s body was removed to Shaftesbury and with great pomp and ceremony was buried in the Abbey.

The young king was canonised by the Pope as Edward the Martyr. The Church at Corfe Castle, which was founded by St. Aldhelm, was later dedicated to Edward and the days of his murder and the two internments: February 18th and June 20th were ordained to be kept sacred to his memory. According to some accounts Queen Elfrida went to a nunnery in Bere Regis where she became Abbess. Elfrida’s son did become king but King Ethelred the Unready ruled over a period of conflict with the Danes, who repeatedly overran the country. He was the father of two later kings: Edmund Ironside and Edward the Confessor.

The story of the events at Corfe Castle on March 18th AD 978 is confirmed by the examination of King Edward’s bones after they were discovered during excavations at Shaftesbury Abbey. On the left side both leg and arm were broken in two places and the neck, right arm, hip and leg were fractured, these injuries being consistent with the assault on Edward, his escape, fall from the saddle, and being dragged some distance by his horse.

The Shaftesbury Byzant

The Shaftesbury Byzant

The Shaftesbury Byzant

The Shaftesbury Byzant

The military significance of Shaston would not have been lost on Alfred the Great when he built the town in 880 AD; perched on a hilltop 700 feet above the plain approaching enemies could be seen while they were still miles away. There was, however, one major drawback: Shaston had no natural water supply.

Alfred was king of Wessex from 871 to 899 but no record exists of how this problem was overcome in the early days of the town. The existing wells were not adequate for the task and the sandstone rock being very porous possibly rainwater would have been collected and stored. Shaston’s demand for water increased as it grew in importance and became a place of pilgrimage attracting medieval tourists from far and wide. At some point the Corporation came to an agreement with the Lord of the Manor of Gillingham to draw water from the springs at Enmore Green, and carting water up to the town became a source of employment for many people.

Records dating back to 1518 tell how it was the custom on the Sunday after Holy Roode Day in May for the Mayor and Burgesses to lead the people of every parish within the borough of Shaston down to Enmore Green at one o’clock in the afternoon. There followed an hour of dancing led by a couple married during the year who were born and had lived all their days in the borough of Shaston.

At 2 o’clock the dancing ceased and the serious business of the afternoon got under way. Shaston’s greatest treasure in those days was its prize Besom, the Byzant. Made by a craftsman the Byzant looked somewhat like an umbrella gilded and mounted on a tall pedestal and decorated in the style of a May garland with valuable jewels lent for the occasion by some of Shaston’s better off citizens.

The precious Byzant was offered by the Mayor to the Lord of the Manor of Gillingham who accepted it as payment for the right to draw water from the spring. So valuable was the Byzant to the people of Shaston they had no intention of giving it away even for the right to draw water and they would take with them gifts with which to buy it back.

Tradition has it that the Mayor presented the Lord of the Manor with a pair of white gloves, two wheaten loaves, a calf’s head and a gallon of ale all for his own use. The Lord of the Manor would then hand the treasured Byzant back to the Mayor and invite him and all the people of Shaston to stay awhile. There followed a further hour of dancing before the Mayor and Burgesses led a procession of townsfolk back up Tout Hill to the town where the rest of the day was spent dancing and making merry.

After over four hundred years the ceremony ceased in May 1830, a time when many of the townsfolk were living in poverty and it was felt the considerable cost of staging the ceremony, with large sums being spent on feasting and drinking could not be justified. The minutes of a meeting on the 3rd of May 1830 read, “The Corporation resolved to approach Lord Grosvenor to dispense with the ceremony.” Lord Grosvenor (created Marquess of Westminster in 1831) was then the Lord of the Manor of Gillingham and he agreed to abolish the ceremony but he kept the borough’s Byzant.

The ceremony was briefly re-introduced in 1972 and by all accounts was an attraction that was a great success.

The Byzant found its way back to Shaston (nowadays known as Shaftesbury) in 1924 after the death of Lady Theodora Guest, daughter of the 2nd Marquess of Westminster. Her daughter, Miss Augusta Guest, presented it to the Shaftesbury Town Council. For many years it resided in the Mayor’s parlour but more recently its home has been the Shaftesbury Town Museum where it is on permanent display.