16th & 17th C



There was no fighting in the area during the Civil War although there was some suffering locally. Two Mere men were fined for taking the king’s side and the churchyard cross and coloured glass and monuments in the church were apparently damaged by Cromwell’s soldiers. They also imprisoned the vicar, Dr Thomas Chafyn in 1645. He was badly treated and died from his injuries shortly after his release. In 1651 Charles II came to Mere in disguise when fleeing after the the battle of Worcester - the final battle of the civil war.  He took refreshments at The George Inn. 

Dewes House, 1948

Image: Mere Museum


By this time the King's hunting forest ceased to exist and the land could at last be farmed.  In 1651 about 80 acres of land at Forest Deer (on the Motcombe road) were given in compensation for the loss of rights of common which the poor of Mere parish in the Forest of Gillingham. 

In the seventeenth century the economy was still a very mixed one, with many people self-sufficient.  A high proportion of the tradesmen's properties in the centre of Mere still had odd pieces of land in the surrounding countryside and often common grazing too, so that the blacksmith or shoemaker had his own patch of corn and couple of pigs or sheep and a cow.


16th century houses include the George Inn,  and the gateway to the Chantry. Homestead and Barbican cottages in Castle Street, Downlease and Dewes House in Salisbury Street are all examples of 17th century buildings. Dewes House was built in about 1660 with mullioned windows and a classical pedimented doorway. Until 1963 it was roofed with large stone tiles. The house was considerably enlarged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


An almshouse was built in Steep Street in 1638. It accommodated four poor families of the parish chosen by the overseers of the poor. The inmates were supported out of the rates. By 1877 it was ruinous and was demolished.

Just four years after the Great Fire of London, Mere had its own great fire in 1670. A total of 54 houses were destroyed. It is likely that many of the houses lost were thatched wood-framed medieval types and so much of Mere now dates from the late 17th century and later.

Market House

Image: Mere Museum

The market house was on the site of the present clock tower in The Square, and was described as ‘a medieval structure of two stairs with open arches underneath’. The Cross House or Cross Loft was above this open, covered, space and was used as a court house.

At the end of this period the Wiltshire-based traveller Celia Fiennes wrote that Castle Hill was all grassed over but that a small cell or vault had been uncovered in the hill. This seems to have provided the stimulus for further use of stone from the castle in the early 18th century when dressed stone was dug out from the castle foundations for use for new buildings.


By the 16th century,  woollen cloth making was a well-established cottage industry in Mere with spinning and weaving taking place in peoples’ homes.  The industry was controlled by merchants and clothiers but by the end of this period had declined to a relatively small scale. Fulling mills though remained busy.

The woollen trade was succeeded by a bigger flax-growing and linen-weaving  trade, particularly for making bed ticking. James Harding of this town, “cloth and tick merchant”, even traded with Hamburg, Portugal and the American colonies.  He employed carriers to bring the flax from barges on the Thames-Kennet waterway from London. Mere, not being a port and being so very far inland, was very disadvantaged when it came to trade.