The historic hot spots of Dorchester
Situated on the banks of the River Frome, Dorchester is one of Britain’s most picturesque market towns; featuring cobbled streets, historic architecture and sites of abundant natural beauty. Aside from Dorchester’s visual delights, the town also has an incredibly rich history, and sites erected during the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman occupation and even the Neolithic era can still be viewed today. Here is a list of some of the town’s most exquisite historic hot spots, perfect for those looking take a trip back in time and gain some insights into the cultural traditions of our ancestors.
Maumbury Rings is arguably Dorchester’s most famous site, and it was originally the location for a vast Neolithic monument. However, during the Roman occupation of Dorchester (approximately 100 AD), the site was transformed into an amphitheatre, used to host vast spectacles and entertain up to 10,000 people at once! During the 17th century, the site was transformed once again to become an artillery fort during the English Civil War. In the modern day, the site which was once used for gladiatorial games and public executions is now a popular spot for live bands and other festivities. Located only a few minutes away from the centre of town, Maumbury Rings is a must-visit if you are discovering Dorchester, particularly during the summer months.
When exploring Dorchester, the Victorian Borough Gardens is an excellent place to catch a bite to eat, whether you’re bringing your own packed lunch or eating at the site’s popular refreshment kiosk. The site is also home to a stone obelisk, erected in 1899 and dedicated to the soldiers of the 1st Battalion Dorset Regiment who died during the Tirah campaign of 1897-98. Dating back to 1905, the gardens are also home to a stunning iron-cast clocktower, decorated in red, green and gold.
The Bloody Assizes
In the late 17th century, an uprising against King James II would come to a bloody climax in the heart of Dorchester. The rebel leader, the Duke of Monmouth, and his subjects were tried in Dorchester by Judge Jeffreys, who took up residence in 6 High West Street for the duration of the trial (which came to be known as the Bloody Assizes). Jeffreys sentenced all 251 of the rebels to death, as was customary for men who committed reason, and the location he stayed in during this period has become famous ever since. The site of Jeffreys’ lodgings has now been transformed into a rustic restaurant, where you can be served a pint of ale along with a traditional British meal.
St Peter’s Church
Adjacent to the site where Judge Jeffreys rested his head is St Peter’s Church, famous not only for its elegant design but also for its statue of William Barnes, Dorchester’s renowned 19th century poet. Over the course of his life, Barnes wrote over 800 poems and was known for integrating the Dorset dialect into his work. Barnes was also the tutor of esteemed novelist and author Thomas Hardy, who is arguably Dorchester’s most noteworthy historic figure.
Roman Town House
Discovered by chance during an archaeological dig in 1937, Dorchester’s Roman Town House has since been excavated and is now the only example of a fully exposed Roman Town House in Britain! Before visiting, you can take a virtual tour to get yourself acquainted with the site and its history. The site features Roman mosaics, Roman art and plaques describing the historic usages of each of the rooms. The Roman Town House is an excellent place to take some outdoor photographs, but please remember these key tips to ensure that your snapshots don’t come out blurry or unusable!