Dorchester, Dorset - The County Town and the home of Thomas Hardy
Dorchester is a vibrant town for sightseeing and shopping but also a fantastic centre for visiting the area!
Visit Dorchester's museums and shops, walk the walks, drink great coffee, eat great food and take trips to the Jurassic coast.
Visitors find a town with one foot in the past and another firmly in the future, with some of this country's best preserved Roman ruins moments away from a thriving high street and one of the most exciting current retail and residential re-development projects in the UK at Brewery Square.
Dorchester's history has included many well know people including:
He became known as the Hanging Judge because of the punishments he had given to the supporters of the Duke of Monmouth as a result of a failed rebellion.
In 1685, Judge Jeffreys came to Dorchester and lodged at 6 High West Street Dorchester, (now the restaurant, Judge Jeffreys). The Bloody Assizes were held in the Oak Room (now a Tea Room) of the Antelope Hotel on the 5th day of September in that year. Judge Jeffreys is said to have a secret passage from his lodgings to the Oak Room.
In total seventy-four people were executed, one hundred and seventy five were transported and twenty nine were pardoned. Executions were carried out in towns and villages close to Dorchester.
Thomas Hardy was born in Higher Bockhampton, a small village just three miles outside Dorchester, in 1840. When he was eight, he went to a local school in the town and in 1856, by the time he was 16, he started working for John Hicks, a local architect whose offices were at 39 South Street, Dorchester.
He designed the house Max Gate, which was built by his brother on the edge of Dorchester, in 1885.
He went on to write a number of novels, and in his later life went on to write eight volumes of poetry, his last being Winter Words, in 1928, the year he died, aged 87.
A statue of Hardy, sculpted by Eric Kennington, was erected in 1931, and is located at the top of town in Dorchester.
Places to Visit
Maiden Castle is the largest hill fort in England extending 45 acres and lies about 2 miles to the south of Dorchester town centre. The hill fort was first occupied around 3000 BC, and contains a complex arrangement of ramparts and ditches.
Maiden comes from the Celtic 'Mai Dun', meaning 'great hill', and this great hill can be seen today with the huge earth walls rising up to 6 metres high. In the Neolithic period a barrow some 540m long was constructed east to west across the site.
Maiden Castle was a bustling town populated by the Durotriges Tribe. In AD43, the Romans attacked the inhabitants of the town and a hard battle was fought focussed towards the eastern entrance. As you walk around the hill fort today, you might imagine how the Romans under Vespasian, must have found it very difficult to overcome the steep array of ditches before defeating the inhabitants of the castle.
In around the 4th century a Roman temple was build, the foundations of which are still visible today in the north east sector of the fort. Maiden Castle is maintained by English Heritage, and is open all year round and free to enter for the public. The Dorset County Museum has a number of items found on or near Maiden Castle on display.
Dorset's award winning County Museum situated in High West Street, Dorchester is your first port of call for information about Thomas Hardy, a host of other Dorset literary figures, the Jurassic Coast, the county's history and much more. There is also a continuous programme of special exhibitions in the ground floor Exhibition Gallery.
This the perfect starting point for an exploration of Dorchester and the surrounding area. Discover Dorchester's amazing history from Maiden Castle to Judge Jeffreys and the Tolpuddle Martyrs.