Dorchester is the county town of Dorset, located just north of the coastal town of Weymouth. The site has been occupied since prehistoric times, however, it was the Romans who founded the main town in AD 70, calling it Durnovaria. Dorchester was a Saxon mint in the 10th century, a hunting centre under the Normans, and a Roundhead stronghold during the Civil War. A series of fires in the 17th and 18th centuries destroyed most of its medieval buildings.

Dorchester High Street

Dorchester High Street © TAB

St Peter's was the only church in Dorchester to survive the fires. It is mainly 15th century with a 13th-century doorway and a 14th-century Easter sepulcher. In the churchyard stands a statue to the poet William Barnes, who lived in Dorchester from 1847 to 1886.

In the Middle Ages the town was renowned for bear-baiting and as late as 1767 "Hanging Fairs" (public executions) were held. These were often attended by crowds as large as those that watched the gladiators fight in Roman times.

The Old Crown Court was the scene of a noted trial in 1834, that of the six Tolpuddle Martyrs who were sentenced to a seven years transportation after forming the 'Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers' - the start of the trade-union movement in Britain.

Thomas Hardy was born near Dorchester at High Bockhampton in 1840. The son of a stonemason, he initially became an architect but the success of his fourth published novel, 'Far From the Madding Crowd', enabled him to give up work and concentrate on his writing. His novels and poems depict the Wessex and Dorset countryside.

thomas hardy
Local towns are recognizable in his novels, although given different names: Dorchester became Casterbridge, Tolpuddle became Tolchurch, Lulworth became Lulstead, and Sherborne became Sherton Abbas. A life-size statue of Hardy stands in The Grove, Dorchester.

Attractions and Places of Interest in Dorchester

ictheosaurDorset Dinosaur Museum

Award-winning dinosaur and fossil museum with interactive displays and audio-visual presentations.

Opening times: all year, daily from 9.30am (closed Xmas) Admission Charge
Location: Icen Way, Dorchester, Dorset, DT1 1EW - Tel: 01305 269880 - Website
Facilities: parking (5O metres), gift shop

Dorset County MuseumDorset County Museum

Covers Dorset's history, from the Stone Age to the 20th century. Exhibits include; geology, natural history, archaeology and local history, including important finds from Maiden Castle. The museum's Thomas Hardy Memorial Collection includes some of the novelist's manuscripts and personal possessions. The museum also contains a section on local writer William Barnes and paintings by local artists.

Opening times: all year, Mon-Sat, 10am to 5pm (closed Xmas) Admission Charge
Location: High West St, Dorchester, DT1 1XA - Tel: 01305 262735 - Website
Facilities: gift shop

Dorset Military MuseumDorset Military Museum

Dorset Military Museum, housed in the old Castle Keep, records the history of all the Dorset regiments from 1661. Exhibits include uniforms, medals and weapons, including the sword and saddle used by Cornet Glyn in the Heavy Brigade Charge at Balaclava.

Opening times: Apr~Sep, Mon-Sat; Oct~Mar, Tue-Sat, from 9am to 5pm (closed Xmas) Admission Charge
Location: The Keep, Bridport Rd, Dorchester, Dorset, DT1 1RN - Tel: 01305 264066 - Website
Facilities: parking, gift shop

Grey's Bridge

Located on the London road, carries a plate which warns that any person damaging the bridge was liable to be transported for life; an example of the severe justice existing in the 19th century.

Hangman's Cottage

A 16th century thatched building close to the River Frome.

Napier's Almshouses

Founded in 1610 by Sir Robert Napier. The building provided lodgings for "ten poor men", but now consists of shops and a cafe.

Old Crown Court

Located in High West Street, it is a public memorial to the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who were pardoned in 1836 after prolonged local agitation.

Poundbury Earthworks

Located northwest of the town and date from the same period as Maiden Castle but are much smaller, covering about 20 acres. The site is surrounded by a single, low rampart. It was captured by the Romans who built a camp there.

Roman House DorchesterRoman House

Located next to the County Hall at Colliton Park. Several mosaic floors still survive in the foundations, which have lasted nearly 2,000 years.

Teddy Bear Museum

Family friendly museum displaying antique toy bears, many of which are over lOO years old.

Opening times: daily, from 10am (closed Xmas) Admission Charge
Location: Eastgate, High East St, Dorchester, Dorset, DT1 1JU - Tel: 01305 266040 Website
Facilities: parking (150 metres), shop

Map of Dorchester


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