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Encyclopedia > Dorchester, Dorset
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The main road through Dorchester

Dorchester is a market town in south west Dorset, England, situated on the River Frome and A35 road 20 miles west of Poole and five miles north of Weymouth. In 2001 the town had a population of 16,171 and a catchment population of approximately 40,000. There were 7,386 dwellings in 2001 and 205 shops in 1991. Dorchester has been the County town of Dorset since 1305.


A market is held in the town on Wednesdays and Sundays.


The town has two railway stations, which connect the town to London, Southampton and Bristol. In the late 1980s the town was bypassed.


Charles, Prince of Wales has recently built the self-contained village of Poundbury on the eastern suburbs of the town.


History

Two miles southwest of the town centre, sat on a steep chalk hill, is the large iron age hill fort Maiden Castle, which was one of the most powerful settlements in pre-Roman Britain. The fort was important to the Romans and the Saxons, whose invasions of Dorset weren't seen as complete until they had captured the hill.


The town, originally named Durnovaria was founded by the Romans in AD 70. The town still has some Roman features, including part of the town walls and the foundations of a Roman town house, which are freely accessible near county hall. There are many Roman finds in the county museum. In the southern suburbs is Maumbury, a Roman ampetheatre, and to the north west is Poundbury Hill, another Roman fortification.


In the 17th century the town was at the centre of the Puritan emigration to America, and local rector John White organised the settlement of Dorchester, Massachusetts. The town was heavily defended against the Royalists in the English Civil War.


In 1685 the Duke of Monmouth failed in his invasion attempt, and almost 300 of his men were condemned to death or transportation in Judge Jeffreys' "Bloody Assizes" in Dorchester.


In the 1613 and 1725 two great fires destroyed large parts of the town, but some of the medieval buildings, including Judge Jeffreys' lodgings and the Tudor almshouse, can still be found in the town centre, amoungst the replacement Georgian buildings, many of which are built in Portland limestone.

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Thomas Hardy's Cottage at Upper Brockhampton, near Dorchester

Local author and poet Thomas Hardy based the fictional town of Casterbridge on Dorchester. Hardy's childhood home can be found to the east of the town, and his house in town, Max Gate, is open to the public. William Barnes, the local dialect poet, was rector of a small hamlet near Dorchester for many years, and ran a school in the town. Both men have statues in the town centre. Both Thomas Hardy and poet Cecil Day Lewis are buried in Stinsford, 1 mile from Dorchester. A statue of Hardy stands beside the main crossroads in the town.


On the hills to the south east of the town stands Hardy Monument, a memorial to the other local Thomas Hardy, Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, who served with Horatio Nelson, which looks out over Dorchester, Weymouth, the Isle of Portland and Chesil Beach.


" a man might as well spend time in Dorchester as in any town in England". -- Daniel Defoe


External Links:

  • Dorset County Council (http://www.dorset-cc.gov.uk)
  • Census data (http://www1.dorsetcc.gov.uk/LIVING/FACTS/Census2001.nsf/6cadf4da179fc19500256663004afece/6856b1b459ecb9f480256ec80042b764?OpenDocument)
  • Dorchester Town Website (info, history, photos) (http://www.dorchester-town.co.uk)
  • Dorchester Town Disscusion Website (info, history, photos) (http://www.dorchestertown.com)

References

  • Pitt-Rivers, Michael, 1969. Dorset. London: Faber & Faber.

  Results from FactBites:
 
Dorchester - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (607 words)
Dorchester is a market town in southern central Dorset, England, situated on the River Frome and A35 road 20 miles west of Poole and five miles north of Weymouth.
In the southern suburbs is Maumbury, an ancient British earthwork converted by the Romans for use as an Amphitheatre, and to the north west is Poundbury Hill, another pre-Roman fortification.
In the 17th century the town was at the centre of the Puritan emigration to America, and local Rector, John White, organised the settlement of Dorchester, Massachusetts.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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