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10 Facts about Dorchester

Friday, August 6th, 2010
St Peters Church & The Corn Exchange
St Peters Church & The Corn Exchange

Dorchester is a popular welcoming UK tourist destination and attracts a large number of visitors every year drawn to its historical sites, beautiful scenery and close proximity to the Jurassic Coast.

It’s a historical market town in southern central Dorset, England, just a 2.5 hours drive or train ride from London.

It has an amazing and ancient past and we hope you enjoy reading our 10 facts about this delightful town.

  1. Dorchester has been the county town of Dorset since 1305 and celebrated the 700th anniversary of its Royal Charter in 2005.  It has a population of 18,070 (2008 mid year estimate) and 8,650 dwellings. Poundbury is an experimental new town on the outskirts and the traditional style houses are built on land owned by Prince Charles.
  2. Maiden Castle, just two miles south of Dorchester town centre, is the largest Iron Age hill fort in Britain and, by some definitions, the largest in Europe. Maiden Castle originally constructed around 600 BC is one of several ancient hill forts in the area, although many are either too small to be clearly seen or have been destroyed over time.
  3. Maumbury Rings is the site of a giant Henge monument constructed at least 4500 years ago, probably by the inhabitants of Maiden Castle. Later the Romans adapted the same site creating an amphitheatre capable of holding 10,000 people. Maumbury Rings is still used today as the Romans intended, with occasional outdoor performances and historical re-enactments.
  4. Dorchester was founded by the Romans around 70D (when it was called Durnovaria). Evidence of Roman settlement and influence in the area can be seen at the Roman Town House at Colliton Park, one of the best preserved examples of a Roman Town House in England. The Roman Town House was discovered, almost by chance, in 1937 during an archaeological dig and the earliest part of the Town House dates from the first part of 4th Century.
  5. In the early years the town’s main industry was farming and during the 16th and 17th centuries it had a successful wool industry but in the 18th century it died out due to competition with northern towns. However in the 18th century Dorchester became known for its brewing industry. Much of the town was destroyed by fire in the 17th and 18th centuries and most of the buildings visible today date from Georgian times.
  6. Every town has its villain and Dorchester is famed for its ‘Hanging Judge’. In 1685 a rebellion broke out in South-western England led by the Duke of Monmouth. In 1685, Judge Jeffreys came to Dorchester and he sat in trial of the supporters of the Duke of Monmouth and their failed rebellion against King James II.  The Bloody Assizes (court trial) were held in the Oak Room (now a Tea Room) of the Antelope Hotel on the 5th day of September 1685. Jeffreys didn’t believe in half measures and became known as the Hanging Judge because of the punishments he had given to the supporters of the Duke.
  7. The famous author and poet Thomas Hardy was born at Higher Bockhampton located three miles northeast of Dorchester on the 2nd June 1840. While in Dorchester ‘Casterbridge’ you can retrace the route of the ‘Mellstock Quire’ characters from his novel ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ and climb to ‘Rainbarrow’ as Eustacia Vye in ‘Return of the Native’. The Hardy Society has published tours and trails of the individual novels and poems with biographical detail.
  8. The Crown Court was the setting for the 1834 trial of the “Tolpuddle Martyrs,” a group of 6 brave men from the nearby village of Tolpuddle who protested against pay cuts by wealthy landowners. Their bravery marked a milestone in British trade unionism and workers rights. The farm workers who went on to become local heroes were found guilty and transported to Australia – after public protest they were pardoned after 2 years. The court room and cells still remain and are preserved as they were at the time.
  9. Our award winning family friendly County Museum is the perfect starting point for an exploration of the history of town and the surrounding area. The Dorset County Museum houses a fantastic array of fascinating galleries, dealing with a wide range of subjects including archaeology, art, and history and contains the largest Thomas Hardy memorabilia collection in the world, the bulk of which was bequeathed to the Museum by his second wife Florence Hardy. For a small town Dorchester also has a marvellous collection of specialist museums to delight and educate visitors of all ages.  The Dinosaur Museum, Mummies Museum, Dorset County Museum, The Keep Military Museum, Terracotta Warriors Museum and Teddy Bear Museum are highly recommended.
  10. There is no longer a cattle market in the town, however, you can still sample the lively market day atmosphere every Wednesday. At the market you can enjoy sampling local farm produce and find stalls filled with crafts, antiques and clothes. On the first Saturday of every month a Farmer’s Market is held at Prince Charles’ internationally renowned Poundbury.

The “Discover Our Secrets” route is the perfect way to take in great views, enjoy the inviting ambiance of the town, and visit a host of notable attractions along the way.

If you would like to add you own facts about Dorchester why not add them in the comments box below.

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