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The Tutankhamun Exhibition
What could be more unexpected in an English county town than to discover an exhibition dedicated to the Ancient Egyptian boy king, Tutankhamun!
The name Tutankhamun has become symbolic with Ancient Egypt, since the discovery of a 3000 year old unopened tomb in 1922 caused a worldwide sensation. Ever since the discovery by Howard Carter and the subsequent revelation of the fantastic treasures within the tomb has been surrounded by intrigue, rumour and speculation. Was there really curse on those who entered the tomb? How did the boy king Tutankhamun die – was it murder, an accident or disease? What of his family tree? Why was he buried in a tomb meant for a senior official.
The exhibition explores all these questions as well as many other issues, such as how the tomb was discovered. Tutankhamun’s tomb and treasures are exactly recreated depicting that moment in November 1922 when Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon entered the tomb for the first time, and in response to Carnarvon’s question “can you see anything yet?’ Carter said “yes gold, everywhere the glint of gold.”
Another unexpected museum is that dedicated to the Terracotta Warriors based on the terracotta army of Qin Shi Huang the First Emperor of China.
6,000 of the original terracotta warrior figures were discovered in a pit quite by chance in 1974 in China, when local farmers were digging a well. Since then further pits with more warriors and associated goods have been discovered. The warriors were individually modelled and life-size. Each face is different leading to the belief that they were modelled on the royal guard of Qin Shi Huangdi. The terracotta army became known as the ‘eight wonder of the ancient world’.
A visit to the Terracotta Warriors Museum, in Dorchester, lets you share some of the sense of wonder those farmers must have felt when they made their discovery. Technicians and craftsmen in China have used the same techniques and skills to re-create the majority of the warriors on show. The figures are in all respects identical to the originals having been made near the emperor’s tomb from the same clay and fired in the same way as the originals.
Dorset’s award-winning County Museum
The museum is 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.
Here the story of Dorset’s rich landscape unfolds in a range of fascinating displays. The Museum was founded in 1846 to help protect and record the county’s unique historical and natural environment. The building itself can be considered an exhibit with its magnificent Victorian Hall. There is also a continuous programme of special exhibitions in the ground floor Exhibition Gallery.
The Keep Museum
The most spectacular military museum in the South.
This museum literally cannot be missed as you come up High West Street, Dorchester. What makes this museum so special is that until 1958 the Dorset Regiment’s Depot and Barracks were in active use so the building itself is living history.
The museum features computer and digital presentation, realistic battle environments, together with exhibitions and the tales of courage, humour and sacrifice spread over 300 years. A vast array of campaigns is represented and put into a historical context in the video introduction in the bunker. Curios on exhibition include Hitler’s desk!
The Roman Town House
Our Roman Town House dating from about the 4th Century AD was discovered during excavations during the 1930s.
The site has been partially covered to protect the mosaic floors but the site is open to the public and free to enter.
It is in the grounds of County Hall, close to the town centre and can be accessed from the walls walk from Glyde Path Road.
Behind the three imposing green doors, the entrance to a Georgian Portland Stone building on the north side of High West Street, lies the harrowing story of six Dorset farm workers.
In 1834 the six were sent to penal servitude in Australia, when all they had done was try to obtain a decent living wage with which to feed their families.
These six men, with the help of the press, amassed nationwide support for their plight when they formed a Trade Union for agriculture workers, to further their cause for a fair wage.
Come and hear the story of their struggle, see where they were tried and view the cells which were used to house prisoners, from 1797 until 1955 while they awaited their fate in the dock. Take a guided tour, the court is open during office hours but a guided tour gives access to the cells and the dock, which are the highlight of the tour.
The River Walk
Unknown to many visitors, the River Frome, which rises in Evershot some 10 miles north west of Dorchester and flows into the sea in Poole harbour, runs around the bottom of Dorchester and offers delightful walks.
Access these from the High Street either by taking Glyde Path Road just above the Council offices in High West Street and walking down the steps where it turns a sharp corner or by walking right down the High Street and turning left after crossing the little bridge. You will suddenly find yourself in a world of calm accompanied only by walkers, ducks and moorhens.
The river can also be followed out towards Kingston Maurward by crossing the road at the bottom of High East Street. On the outskirts of Dorchester there are a number of riverside footpaths.
Maumbury Rings, just off the Weymouth Road, was originally a Neolithic Henge monument from around 2500 BC.
It was the Romans who lowered the central area and built up the banks to create an amphitheatre capable of holding 10,000 people.It was used as a cannon emplacement during the Civil War, guarding the town’s southern approaches. Mary Channing was executed here in 1705 for poisoning her husband. She was strangled and burnt.
It seems so peaceful now when the only disturbance is the occasional concert or performance, but its long bloody history fascinated Thomas Hardy who witnessed excavations on this site when he was in his sixties. The site is mentioned in his novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge.
The Great Henge
Any new development within a town with such a rich long history as Dorchester is preceded by an archaeological excavation.
This happened in the centre of the town when the new Waitrose supermarket was built in the 1980s.
Enormous timber post holes were discovered, under laying the Roman and medieval finds. These have now been identified as an extensive henge monument which appears to have covered a large part of old Dorchester from the High Street to South Walks and extending downhill across the river – the first settlement in what we now call Dorchester.
Since that time other post holes have been found in curious places in the town. Take a guided tour and find out more about these exciting finds, you can still see where the posts holes were found: see the large red circles painted on the concrete of the lower floor of the Waitrose car park, come and see!
Dorchester Town Crier, Alistair Chisholm has been running regular ghost walks in Dorchester and though they are mightily chilling no one has yet died of shock on one!
His walk explores the old town of Dorchester – a place steeped in history.
One tale relates to the original Hangman’s Cottage down by the river and an indelible imprint on the memory of a 16 year old Thomas Hardy who watched as the hangman performed his grisly role on one Martha Brown who had murdered her husband.
Walks start at 8pm on a Thursday at the Kings Arms Hotel. Adults £5 and children £2.
The Sculpture Trail
Begin by Top O’Town roundabout at the top end of the High Street. Set back a little from the road is a statue of Thomas Hardy.
Stroll down High West Street past the plaque on the wall of the Old Crown Court commemorating the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Past Dorset County Museum and in the grounds of St Peters Church you will see the statue of William Barnes – a man of many talents but more famous in his day than Thomas Hardy for his Dorset dialect poems.
Cross the High Street and walk up Trinity Street. Take a right opposite the Tourist Information Centre and halfway up Princes Street set back from the road is a Roman inspired Fountain. Back down Princes Street into Antelope Walk and then across South Street into Durngate Street you will find a statue of the Dorset Shepherd inspired by one of the poems of William Barnes.
Finally walk to the far end of South Street and stroll along the tree lined South Walks. At the far end a set of three figures by the celebrated sculptor Elisabeth Frink represents martyrdom.
Judge Jeffreys’ “Bloody Assize”
Along High West Street on the south side there is a very attractive black and white Tudor style building, now a restaurant.
In this building the hated Judge Jeffreys, a supporter of James II, lodged when he came to Dorchester to hear the trials of men who took part in the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685, now known as the “Bloody Assize”
Tradition tells us that these trials took place in the Oak Room just behind the lodging house (also now a cafe/restaurant entered from Antelope Walk). The trials were of men who had supported James Duke of Monmouth (illegitimate, protestant son of Charles I) in his attempt to overthrow his Catholic uncle King James II. Hear details of the punishments given to these poor men, 312 were accused and sentenced, learn some more of the darker side of Dorchester’s history, book a guided tour now!