HENRY VIII, in order to be better prepared for any war in which he might have become involved, decided to carry out a census of all the able bodied men in England who could be called upon in such an eventuality.
For this purpose, reliable men in each locality were required to compile musters or lists of the men in each parish, stating the weapons they possessed (or lacked) and their ability to use them.
Most were either billmen or archers, and if the latter, they were compelled to practice regularly at the `butts.'
Where the cultivated strips of the old open fields ran parallel to the con-ours of a steep slope, centuries of ploughing in the same direction resulted in the formation of a series of terraces with banks between, known as butts, and where these lay
conveniently close to a village they were doubtless used at this time for archery practice.
Such a case occurs at Bere Regis where a tongue of the large open middle field reached down to Tower Hill, and where the terracing and butts can still be
clearly seen in the small field immediately west of Barrow Hill. Coupled with the fact that Butt Lane, to which this field originally extended, is so-called, there seems little doubt that this was the site of the 16th century archery butts.
Many other towns and villages have streets or other localities where the word butts figures in the name-Butt Close, Puddletown; Lower Butt Street, Poole; Hillbutts, Wimborne; and Butts Pond, Sturminster Newton to name but four in Dorset.
The Bere Regis muster roll was compiled in 1542, and commences with a lengthy loyal auctress to tine king, together with a rather obscure explanation of the way in which the abilities of the archers and billmen have been set down :
Every person being an able archer and very good, thes too lrs aA and upon the name of evy pson being of the sede sorte and yt wyll serve a time this letter A nut a pricke and lykewyse upon the names of them yt be able bylrnen, thes too lrs ab uppon the names or them that bythe of ye sede sorte and wyl syrve, tnis rr b with a prycke.
It is interesting to note that several of the surnames on the roll still survive in Bere Regis after more than 400 years, although the spelling has usually undergone changes over the course of the years.
In addition, other names appear on the roll, which occur in other connections with the parish - John Daw, whose
name is carved on one of the old church bench ends; Roger Gye named as bailiff of the Bere manor in an account of 1535; and Nicholas Grout, John Sargent and George Hart who signed the inventory of church goods in 1552.
Some of the terms and abbreviations used in the roll should perhaps be explained (harnise = armour; most pvid = must provide; di'S. off arr = two sheafs of arrows; a byll = a bill, a Kind of spear on a wooden shaft; sallett = helmet; a p of spiets = a pair of splents, small pieces of armour to protect the arms.)
The following list includes portions of the roll for Bere Hundred and Barrow Hundred relating to Bere Regis itself and Shitterton, other tythings within these two hundreds, Milbourne Stileham, Winterbourne Kingston and Turnerspuddle etc, being omitted: