Dorchester is a market town situated in Dorset just five miles away from the popular seaside resort of Weymouth. Immortalised as "Casterbridge", the fictional town featured in Hardy's novels, Dorchester continues to act as an agricultural centre for the area. On the outskirts of town lies one of the most important Roman sites in England and the largest hill fort in Europe, Maiden Castle. Other attractions include the Maumbury Rings, once home to bloody gladiatorial battles and the more peaceful, Athelhampton House with its spectacular gardens.
Dorchester was founded in circa AD70 by the Romans who gave their new settlement the name Durnovaria. Evidence of their presence here remains in surviving parts of the town hall and the foundations of a Roman Villa. Excavations have uncovered many interesting relics which are now on display at the Dorchester County Museum. As well as the astounding Maiden Castle, tourists on the Roman trail will also want to visit the Maumbury Rings. Originally built in the Neolithic era, the site was taken over by the Romans and adapted to serve as an amphitheatre and entertain the public with gladiatorial combats. The bloody theme continued long after the Romans departed with the site being used for bear-baiting and hanging right up till the Middle Ages.
Two fires in the 17th and 18th centuries destroyed much of the town but there remains an abundance of tourist and historic sites to be enjoyed here. A large statue in town commemorates a local literary giant, Thomas Hardy, one of the greatest English writers. A tour of the town will reveal the inspiration for his bleak outlook in life. In Hardy's novels, common workers such as dairymaids or stonemasons are trapped by unrelenting poverty within an unforgiving society. In Jude the Obscure one child hangs his siblings before committing suicide so as to not to be a burden upon his parents any longer. Tess of the D'Urbervilles offers an equally bleak future with a young maiden who is raped and involuntarily set upon a winding path to destruction. The fiction is a fair representation of the harsh life which most of the population of England enjoyed at the time. Testament to this is the historic courthouse which witnessed the trial of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. A group of men who campaigned for a fair wage, they were sentenced to transportation by 'Hangman' Judge Jeffreys. An infamous figure, he was dubbed the 'Hangman' after sentencing 292 men to death for their involvement in the Monmouth Rebellion. You can visit the courthouse in which he presided and the prisoner cells where the Tolpuddle Martyrs were once locked up.
Dorchester offers more attractions for the historically inclined with the much acclaimed Tutankhamen Exhibition, a fantastic and faithful replica of the original tomb of this powerful Pharaoh. On a different note, the Dinosaur Museum is a must for amateur and professional palaeontologists alike. On the outskirts of town, you can also visit the former homes of Thomas Hardy or the beautiful gardens of Athelhampton House.
Dorchester : Sightseeing and Attractions
|the Old Crown Court and Cells|
At the Shire Hall you will see the courtroom in which the trial, presided over by "Hangman" Judge Jeffreys was held. The courtroom has been preserved in its original state and you can also visit the cells where the prisoners were held. .. more
Address: 58-60 High West Street, Dorchester,
Postcode: DT1 1UZ Street Map
Contact: PH 01305 252241
|Max Gate – Former Home of Thomas Hardy|
Built in 1885, this Victorian Villa was designed by the author himself and created the environment he wished to live and write within. .. more
Admission: £2.10 Adults £1.10 Children
Address: Max Gate, Alington Avenue, Dorchester, Dorset
Postcode: DT1 2AA Street Map
Contact: PH 01305 262 538
|Dorset County Museum|
The museum's exterior belies the extent of the collections hidden behind the façade. The Dorchester Gallery details the history of the area from prehistoric times to the present. The Archaeological Gallery has a wealth a Roman artefacts found in the area with many Iron Age artefacts excavated from Maiden Castle. The main gallery at the Dorset County Museum is the Victorian Hall housing an eclectic selection of objects which tell the tale of Dorset's past. Amongst the artefacts you'll find here are Roman Mosaics, Tudor art and modern sculptures. In 'A Writer's Dorset' there's the the most extensive Thomas Hardy collection in the world. Donated to the museum by his second wife, Florence Hardy, the collection includes manuscripts, diaries, books, photos and a reconstruction of his study using an authentic desk and writing materials. Other attractions at the Dorset County Museum includes the Art Gallery, Dorset Wildlife Gallery, Geological Gallery and the Farming History Gallery. Regularly held temporary exhibitions range from photography and art to Natural Science.
Admission: £5.00 Adults
Address: High West Street, Dorchester, Dorset
Postcode: DT1 1XA Street Map
Contact: PH 01305 262 735
An internationally acclaimed exhibition of a recreation of Tutankhamen's tomb and the treasures buried alongside him. Tutankhamen's tomb was discovered by Howard Carter in 1922. One of the most important archaeological finds in history, Tutankhamen was buried in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. This brilliant museum is now frequently the setting for documentaries on the subject as access to the original site is limited.
Admission: £6.00 Adults
Address: High West Street, Dorchester, Dorset
Postcode: DT1 1UW Street Map
Contact: PH 01305 269571
An acclaimed hands-on exhibition, the Dinosaur Museum will engage amateurs and palaeontologists alike. Real skeletons and fossils are intermixed with audio-visual and interactive displays. Recently voted Dorset's Family Attraction of the Year, the Dinosaur Museum is the only museum solely dedicated to the subject in Britain. Meet vegetarian Hypsilophon and watch carnivorous Megalosaurus attack Scelidosaurus, a frequent scene you may have witnessed in Dorset some 65 million years ago!
Admission: £6.00 Adults £5.25 Children
Address: Icen Way, Dorchester, Dorset
Contact: PH 01305 269 741
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