Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum, Dorchester
Over 200 years of justice – and injustice – brilliantly brought to life in this atmospheric, interactive museum, with fun events for the whole family, great cafe and gift shop
One of the most imposing buildings in Dorchester – almost unchanged since it was built in 1797 – the Shire Hall was Dorset’s centre of law, order and government for over 200 years.
This where the six farm labourers who became known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs were tried and sentenced in 1834, an event which lead to the formation of the modern day trade union movement. Thomas Hardy, who was a magistrate here, was inspired by a 1856 domestic abuse case to write Tess of the D’Urbervilles. There are many more stories.
Today, the historic courthouse is an interactive museum, which uses real-life stories and iPad guides to allow visitors to discover what it was like for the adults and children whose lives were changed (and sometimes ended) by events here. Find what it’s like it down into the cells, walking up through the corridors into the courtroom and standing in the dock.
There are digital interactives, trails, quizzes and dressing up for kids every day and special activities over the school holidays.
There’s always something going on – plays, music, talks and exhibitions – their recent ‘Drinks in the clink’, cocktail-making sessions in the cells were inspired! See what events are coming up.
Even if you’re not visiting the museum, the cafe’s well worth a visit for locally sourced brunches, lunches and afternoon teas (kids’ meals and high chairs, too) as is the gift shop, selling Dorset jewellery, scarves, artworks, cider, gin and beer.
Normal opening hours are Monday to Saturday 10-4pm (last entry to the Museum at 3pm). Tickets are an annual pass giving free entry for a year.
High West Street, Dorchester, Dorset DT1 1UY
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