In 1973, Shaftesbury's steep street was made famous by a TV ad for a brand of bread named Hovis:
Curiously, the commentator speaks with a North Country rather than a Dorset accent. This publicity was followed by a funny spoof [which seems to have sadly disappeared from our Internet world]:
In my articles written in August 2007 entitled End of English excursion [display] and Dorset ancestral anecdotes [display], I described my genealogical pilgrimage to Blandford, which is not far away from Shaftesbury.
I've often been intrigued by the fact that the names Skeffington and Shaftesbury have almost identical etymologies. Let me explain. The remote ancestors from whom I acquired my Skyvington surname were Normans who sailed across the English Channel with William and usurped a Saxon settlement (tun) in Leicestershire whose patriarch was called Sceaft, meaning shaft. Maybe this Saxon elder had earned this name through his skills in spear-throwing. In any case, this fellow was not an ancestor of the Norman invaders who chased the Saxons away. The Anglicized name of the place where my Norman ancestors settled down, Skeffington, was simply a reminder of the original Saxon name. I have no reason to imagine that any of the original Saxons mated with the Normans invaders, giving rise to offspring with genuine Sceaft genes... because I'm a lousy spear-thrower. In the case of Shaftesbury, too, the Norman invaders appear to have usurped a Saxon stronghold (burg) created by a patriarch called Sceaft.
Apart from that, whenever Shaftesbury and Dorset are mentioned, I think immediately of the beautiful face of Nastassja Kinski in the film Tess  by Roman Polanski. In fact, although the novelist Thomas Hardy [1840-1928] located Tess of the d'Urbervilles in Dorset, Polanski's movie was actually shot in the north of France. Now, I'm letting myself get led astray...
In the 17th century, a Dorset fellow named Anthony Cooper, with no outstanding qualities or world-shaking talents, nevertheless persuaded the king to name him the Earl of Shaftesbury. Later, his descendants left the town with the steep hill and moved to a tiny place in Dorset named Wimborne St Giles, where they erected a red-brick mansion, and transformed themselves into posh aristocrats.
The Shaftesbury earldom still exists. As in all old families, some peers were fine men, whereas others were nincompoops. [Young readers might need to look that word up in an old English dictionary.]
In France today, we're hearing a lot about the 10th Earl of Shaftesbury, Lord Anthony Ashley-Cooper, whose decomposed body was found in April 2005 at the bottom of a rubbish-strewn ravine on the French Riviera. He had been strangled in November 2004 by his brother-in-law, Mohamed M'Barek, now serving a 25-year jail sentence.
Last night, at the end of an appeals trial in the splendid Provençal city of Aix, the late lord's third wife, Jamila [shown in the above photo with her barrister, at her first court appearance, in May 2007], was sentenced to 20 years for complicity in this crime.
Getting back to etymology, we might say that the outcome of the appeals process in Aix-en-Provence confirms that—as they say in the classics—Shaftesbury got shafted. The ingredients of this sordid affair [wealth, sex, cupidity, stupidity, crime... themes that you can look up on the web] form a more dramatic cocktail than anything the Dorset novelist Hardy would have ever imagined. Polanski, on the other hand, would surely be capable of tackling such powerful stuff.