Milton Abbas Local History Group
Old Town of Milton/Middleton Project
for progress on this project see these pages on our website:
Joseph Damer, Lord Milton Moves the Highways
Calling Family Historians
This is our largest project at the moment with a subgroup of about 10 members resarching.
This is an exciting project – exploring one of the largest experiments in social engineering of the 18th century.
The impact of an enforced move on the lives of ordinary Dorset people in the 18th century – exploring the archives.
This is a unique project – no one else has examined the impact of the removal of a town on the inhabitants. No other history group has transcribed the Overseers of the Poor Books for the second half of the 18th Century.
Milton Abbas Local History Group have begun a large project on the community and social history of the Old Town of Milton Abbas. We know that the old town of Middleton had been in existence from the foundation of the monastery in 934 and was once one of the largest towns in Dorset. It became a hub of the road network until all was swept away by Lord Milton and Capability Brown in the 1770s, leaving the new village of Milton Abbas an isolated rural community well off the beaten track. In fact, this was the largest wholesale move of a community in the 18th century, with 150 houses and three inns being demolished, the school removed, and the roads diverted. The site of the former town is now a Scheduled Monument “Deserted town of Milton Abbas” Historic England List entry Number: 1002434
What these 18th-century changes meant to the ordinary people is a mystery, nor do we know who moved into the new village or who left the area. The whole episode must have been traumatic for the community. It is probable that the yeoman class left Middleton for good, and the new village was just for the estate workers, resulting in a complete change of its social structure.
To create a social history of the old town of Middleton by researching the lives of ordinary people. This is a unique project and we cannot find any examples published of a similar rural village. The results will be published as booklets, presentations and exhibitions. Our exhibition was 27 Jul 2019 at the Street Fair.
There are many threads which need to be researched, including family history, wills, Churchwardens Accounts, Overseers of the Poor Accounts, baptisms, marriages, deaths, 18th-century social changes, pests, plagues, agricultural improvements, religion, education, etc. We have access to an archive in a private collection which includes the Overseers of the Poor Books 1771 – 1836. This has been completely transcribed and we have 30 000 records in a searchable database. There is also a good run of documents for this period for Milton Abbas at the Dorset History Centre, including settlement and removal orders, Quarter Sessions, leases, maps, surveys, plans, Churchwardens, Church Registers, wills. We are making good progress on transcribing these.
A section of the Overseers of the Poor Book, 1771.
We have a core team of enthusiastic people who have already identified a large number of sources of original material which will unlock this history. There is certainly much work to be done in researching, transcribing and writing up. We would like lots of people across Dorset or elsewhere to help, share and join in our fascinating work as we look at a thriving market town that turned into a rural village.
What makes this project different is that it will focus on the lives of the ordinary people, who tend to leave less of a record than the landowners.
We have the facilities for research and for the publication and exhibition of our findings. We have an initial core of volunteers from Milton Abbas but anyone interested in this fascinating social engineering project can join us for free and have access to original documents. Family historians are especially welcome.
Training will be given in reading 18th century handwriting if needed.
We have now worked out a framework for writing up the results of our research.