Here we have the county town of Dorset which is situated more or less in the centre of the county, and where the seat of local government can be found housing the offices of both the Dorset County Council and the West Dorset Council.
Founded by the Romans who named it Durnovaria after taking the iron age hill-fort of Maiden Castle in 43AD. Today though Dorchester is more a Georgian town with a lot of its old buildings destroyed by fires in the late 17th and 18th centuries. Maiden Castle was the largest and strongest Iron Age fort in England and is two miles to the southwest of the present town. There are some rather intricate devices for defence at its two entrances that were so designed to repel Celtic tribesmen armed only with a spear or a club. And at the eastern end is a pile of 2,000 stones that were dug up durng excavations and are thought to be for slings.
Here is where Judge Jeffery the notorious 'Hanging Judge' of the 17th century held his bloody assizes and he lodged in what is now a restaurant in High West Street and the Antelope Hotel which is now a shopping arcade, has a room where it is said to be a courtroom where 292 rebels were held, and 74 of them were sentence to be hung, drawn and quartered and bits of them distributed around the country.
Two other famous Dorset men came from here, one is the Reverent John White who though never having crossed the Atlantic is renowned for his efforts in the county that formed the Massachusetts Company that eventually let to the founding of Dorchester in New England. He gathered together the pioneering party of 150 colonists that in 1630, sailed from Plymouth in the Mary and John.
His house is still standing today behind the church of St Peter in the middle of the town and he now rests in the church porch where the following inscription is to be seen
Outside of St Peters Church can be seen a statue of Dorsets famous dialect poet William Barnes, he was a churchwarden here before his ordinations after which he served for may years as a clergyman at Whitcombe and at Winterbourne Came, where he is buried.
The Tolpuddle Martyrs who formed the first trade union movement and were sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia were tried here in the Old Shire Hall in 1834 and the Old Crown Court is still there today.
Thomas Hardy is remembered here as this was his famous Casterbridge in his novel the "Mayor of Casterbridge" and a statue to him stands at the top of the town. He was born in Higher Bockhampton
IMAGES OF DORCHESTER
To the northwest lies Poundbury Earthworks which was another fortress which again was taken by the Romans as was Maumbury Rings which was originally a Neolithic henge and the Romans made it into an amphitheatre. Much later it became the place where public hangings were carried out and the last hanging was a woman by the name of Mary Canning in 1705 and it is recorded that at the time of her executions over 10,000 people turned out to witness it.
Today the town is a thriving place and there have been some dramatic changes here. And it is popular for its livestock market and the farmers shopping centre with a large brewery as well as the market every Wednesday and the Sheep Fair in October.