Many visitors ask this question and indeed come to the village especially to find the gorge!
Although there are a number of old lanes in and around Shipton Gorge with high banks on both sides, which may appear like small gorges, there is in fact no geological gorge in Shipton Gorge!
The name of the village has like most villages altered over the years, but the first reference seems to be in the Domesday Book of 1086 when the village is referred to as Sepetone, from the Saxon meaning sheep farm. It was a manor both before and after the Norman conquest - one of the six royal estates in Dorset. The other part of the parish, now known as Sturthill, was then called Sterte or Sterta and had been given to the first Norman sheriff of Dorset, Hugo Fitz Grip, but by 1086 had passed to his widow. In 1212 Sterte was held, along with other manors, by Alured of Lincoln.
In 1231 Thomas Gorges, Sergeant-at-Arms to King Henry III was granted the tenancy of Powerstock Castle, the hunting lodge restored by Henry's father, King John. On Thomas's death the tenancy was granted to his wife Joan together with a pension other allowances. There has been some speculation that Joan was the illegitimate daughter of King John, a frequent visitor to Dorset. The de Gorge family owned both Litton Cheney and Shipton Gorge having come originally from Normandy. So it was that some time before 1285 the manor of Shipton came into the possession of the Gorges family, who had originally come to England in 1066 with William the Conqueror, although at that time it continued to be known as Shipton Maureward after the previous owner. In 1461 the Gorges family found themselves without a male heir and the estate went, with the marriage of an only daughter, to a Devon family, the Coplestones. From this time the village of Shipton Maureward became known as Shipton Gorges. It was the Coplestones who built Court House in the field just south-west of the church, still called Court field, and a branch of the family lived there for nearly two hundred years. No trace of the house remains today but there is a splendid wall just inside the field.
No other specific details are known about Shipton as it was part of the royal estates, but later another Norman family, the Maurewards, became tenants-in-chief of the manor of Shipton when it was given to Thomas Maureward in 1260.
Meanwhile, Sterte had become Stertell and there were three farms and several smaller holdings as well as a village in the southern part of it. Again, nothing remains above ground today but the site is still known as Chapel Close. The village did linger on but that too has now gone, although there was just one house still standing in 1839. The name is still preserved by two farms, Lower Sturthill and Higher Sturthill which are both still working farms today.
During the English Civil War the Coplestone family supported the King and their lands were confiscated and it was about this time that Shipton Gorge became the property of the Strangways family, also Royalists, who later became the Fox Strangways and Earls of Ilchester. They continued to own the village until 1910 when it was sold off in lots.
Many of the old names still survive - a bungalow on Church Path known as Coplestone, the Sturthill farms and the field names mentioned. Innsacre House which was built by George Samways in the 1930s is reputed to have been built with stone from the old Court House.
During its ownership by the Ilchester estate all the houses were painted in green and yellow and until nearly the end of the 20th century just one house, Virginia House, continued to have the old estate colours. When a new sign was erected at the New Inn in the 1980s the owners, Palmers Brewery in Bridport, researched the coat of arms of the Gorges family and erected a new sign with the distinctive red and white swirl which gave a link back to the origin of the name of the village. The sign was on the New Inn until 2006 when the pub was reopened by the community and a new sign, painted by Shipton artist John Rabbetts, was put up. The previous sign was retained by Palmers Brewery.
So the name Shipton Gorge has been inherited from the Gorges family who left the village with the name it still has today.