Blandford Forum is a picturesque market town in north Dorset. It was a prominent town in the late medieval period, lying on the crossroads of the road between Salisbury and Dorchester and the route between Poole and Shaftesbury at a point where the roads are compelled to cross the River Stour.
Readers of the novels of Thomas Hardy will recognise the town as that of “Shottesford Forum”. In modern terms Blandford is situated between two hilly areas of outstanding natural beauty. Cranborne Chase lies to the north east. The Dorset Downs are to the west. The A350 takes a path north east from Blandford Forum, winds between the hills, skirts the edge of a fertile area of dairy farmland known as the Blackmore Vale then reaches the historic abbey town of Shaftesbury. Poole is 15 miles to the south east along the A350. Salisbury is 22 miles to the north east along the A354. The town is now longer a busy cross roads. A bypass skirts the eastern fringes. The nearest railway station is in Poole. The Wiltshire and Dorset bus company operate services between Blandford and the local towns of Poole, Dorchester, Bournemouth, Shaftesbury and Salisbury.
Blandford is a delightful place for a stroll. It is renown for its Georgian architecture.
In 1731 the town suffered a great fire. In the following years all but 40 of the old houses were demolished and replaced by Georgian buildings. The houses were designed by John and William Bastard. Their early Georgian buildings date from 1730 to 1760 and are a delight. The Georgian buildings cluster around a large market square. The most notable buildings are the Corn Exchange and the parish church of St Peter and St Paul which dates from 1732. Only two buildings in the town predate the fire. These are the Old House on the Close and the Ryves Almshouses on Salisbury Street. Fortunately, the modern houses on the outskirts have been tastefully designed to blend in with Georgian style. Once a year in the first week of May Blandford holds a Georgian Fayre which celebrates its Georgian heritage.
Blandford always has been a market town. It is a good place to buy agricultural produce. Contrary to what one would expect the title Forum does not date from Roman times. The title was first recorded in 1540 to describe the market town. The town still has a weekly outdoor market. An indoor market takes place in the Corn Exchange every other week.
There are a number of tea shops and public houses to sample in some of the most attractive buildings in town. In Bere Yard one can visit the town museum. Admission is free. In Lime Tree House one can visit the Blandford Costume Museum . The fashion collection contains exhibits from the 1730s to the 1970s.
Away from the town centre there are several interesting bridges across the slow moving river Stour on the southern outskirts of the town. One is a six arch stone bridge. The other is a modern pedestrian suspension bridge.
There are a number of other places of interest in the vicinity of Blandford.
The scenic village of Milton Abbas is nine miles to the south west. This picture post card village of identical white thatched cottages is sometimes regarded as England’s first planned settlement. In 1780 the local landlord, Joseph Danner, the 1st Lord Dorchester uprooted an entire village at Middleton and relocated it to Milton Abbas because it spoiled the view from his home at Milton Abbey. The site of Middleton was landscaped and now lies below an ornamental lake. Despite the eighteenth century hardships the site now seems idyllic.
Chettle House is seven miles from Blandford. It is a privately owned Queen Anne house dating from 1710. The house is unusual because it has no sharp corners. All corners are rounded. The house is set in landscaped gardens. Hours are restricted. The house is open on Easter Sunday and the first and second Sunday of the month from April until October.
At Blandford Camp which is a military base is just two miles north east of the town centre one can visit the National Signals Museum. The museum tells the story of the Royal Corps of Signals from the Crimea War to the Gulf War.
On the last weekend in August the village of Tarrant Hinton hosts the Great Dorset Steam Fair. The fair is a gathering of steam engines, traction engines and their enthusiasts from all over the UK and Europe. In some years the event attracts 250,000 people over one weekend. Tarrant Hinton is some 4 miles to the northwest of Blandford on the A354 Salisbury road.
Blandford Forum is an interesting little market town in an interesting and unspoilt area of the Dorset countryside.