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Gillingham is a town in the Blackmore Vale area of Dorset, England. The town is the most northerly in the county. The earliest known settlement in Gillingham is of a 2500BC Lake dwelling at Bay but it is from Roman times that continuous habitation is certain. In the Commonmead Lane area much evidence has been unearthed. In the Museum Roman pottery, coins and roof tiles are on display. It is believed that a substantial farm settlement was established around 200AD, and remained for several hundred years.

Evidence of Saxon occupation probably from c. 660, in the form of part of a Saxon Cross which is in St Mary's church, and the town's name Gillingham is of Saxon origin - Gylla being probably the name of a local chief and ham is interpreted as a village or homestead. Edmund Ironside fought and defeated King Canute at nearby Penn and drove them down the hill to be finished off at a place still called Slaughtergate. Edward the Confessor was declared King at Gillingham in 1042

The settlement and church of St Mary's is mentioned in the Domesday book. King John spent hundreds of pounds building a moated hunting lodge at King's Court, surrounded by parkland and large area was declared as the Royal Forest of Gillingham. The hunting lodge was further extended by Henry III, into an extensive palace and used by Kings for over 200 years.

The oldest substantial building in the town apart from the church is Wyke Hall. Parts date from Tudor times and although much altered over the years is now in good order and divided into several separate dwelling units.

The artist John Constable was a friend of the Reverend John Fisher vicar of Gillingham, and he visited Gillingham in 1820 and 1823. As a result five oil paintings of the area, and four sketches were produced. A near actual size copy of each of these is in Gillingham Museum.

The coming of the railway in 1859, opened opportunities for Gillingham to grow and thrive. Many industries were established and the main street furnished with a variety of shops. important among new industries were several serving the farming community, particularly for dairy products, which could now be dispatched several times daily to London and other large towns to arrive in a fresh condition.

Brick and pottery works, gloving, engineering, glue making, brewing, bacon factory, were the main manufacturing industries with markets, service and retail businesses covering virtually every need of the Victorian age.
 

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