The Roman Period

It may have been considered a dark age, but it was the dawning of Bere Regis village as we know it today...
AFTER THE ROMAN
forces had departed Britain was left completely defenceless, and after some three centuries of peace and security the native Britons had no knowledge of defensive techniques, and fell easy victims to barbaric invaders and marauders previously kept at bay by the Roman soldiers.
Consequently, Britain went through a period known appropriately as the Dark Ages, during which time the settlements, towns and other marks of civilisation built up under Roman rule were destroyed.
The whole period is shrouded in the mists of obscurity, with the legendary King Arthur appearing on the scene as an uncertain national figure at some time after the Roman departure.


Whatever upheavals may have taken place during the Dark Ages, a renewed and more settled civilisation had reappeared by the year 871 when England had become unified into one Kingdom under King Alfred.
The old hill-top settlements and road systems had been abandoned in favour of villages generally sited in the valleys, and it was therefore during this period that most of the present day villages, including Bere Regis, were first established.
Such Saxon villages were usually small, consisting of little more than a manor house, farm, church and a few cottages, mostly timber built and thatched including, often, the church.
It is not possible to say exactly when Bere Regis was first established as a village, but some sort of manor house is known to have been in existence by the year 978, and to have belonged to the crown, and we may therefore suppose that a small village and church would have been associated with it.
It is probable that the Saxon church was basically a timber building, but a part of it may have been stone, and if the stone portion was retained and incorporated as a north transept into the subsequent Norman church, it would account for the odd alignment at the east end of the nave and north aisle still apparent in the present building.


The first event in national history associated with this parish to which an accurate date can be assigned, is the murder. or probably more correctly, the assassination of King Edward the Martyr at Corfe Castle on the 18 March, 978.
The Norman castle at Corfe had of course not then been constructed, but a Saxon building of some sort did exist on the site, which like the manor at Bere was crown property.
It was evening, and the young King Edward, having been hunting in the neighbourhood, had decided to visit his stepmother Queen Elfrida who was at the time staying at the Corfe house.
As Edward was a young king, it seems Elfrida, as queer. mother, was virtually ruler of the country and could use any crown property as her own.


Edward was about to drink a cup of wine he had been given before dismounting at the entrance to the house, when he was stabbed and received a wound from which he soon died, and it is said that he was dragged by the stirrup for some distance when his horse took fright and fled.
His body was for some time hidden in a nearby cottage before being buried in a humble grave at Wareham, but it was subsequently borne in great state to Shaftesbury Abbey where his tomb became a shrine for pilgrims.


It is not known for certain whether or not Elfrida was implicated in the assassination, as Edward is known to have been very hot tempered at times, especially towards his servants, so that he may have had many enemies.
However, as his death resulted in the throne coming to Elfrida's own son Ethelred, Edward's half brother, she was considered to have profited by it, and consequently suspicion fell heavily on her.
Not surprisingly, she sought refuge in one of the more secluded of the royal houses and accordingly came to stay for a time at Bere. She is said to have eventually become a nun, and to have lived a humble life of atonement.


This Saxon manor house would have almost certainly stood in what is now Court Green, and would have been the nucleus from which developed the later buildings of King John, and the still later manor house of the Turbervilles.
The pipe rolls of King John's reign (1199-1216) make no mention of actually constructing his group of buildings at Bere, but refer only to alterations, additions and repairs, suggesting that they already existed.


It is said to have been whilst staying at Bere that Ethelred received a beating from his mother Elfrida when he let it be known that he, too, believed her guilty of Edward's death.
She used large wax candles to administer the beating, nothing more suitable being ready to hand, and the Saxon chronicle, recording the incident, states:

"Wherefore Ethelred ever hated wax candles, and would have none burnt before him
all the days of his life".