Shire Hall

The town of Dorchester in Dorset will be home to a major new attraction, Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum, when it opens its doors to the public on 1st May.

The museum inside Shire Hall will allow visitors to explore the history of law and order, as well as past and present efforts to achieve justice for all people.

The hall is where the Tolpuddle Martyrs were brought to trial, which sparked the Trade Union movement. This, among many other historic stories of both justice and tragedy, will be showcased in the museum.

What to expect from the museum

Visitors will be able to walk in the footsteps of people who were tried and sentenced in the court and use the interactive displays to find out what happened to them. 

From exploring the depths of the cells to standing in the dock of the famous courtroom, visitors will be able to discover the remarkable stories of the people who passed through the building. 

Plus, you’ll get to explore what crime really means, what is wanted when society demands punishment for those crimes and how we can all make the present-day world fairer.

Around 200 years of justice, injustice, crime, and punishments will be brought to life through the stories of people executed for arson, transported for asking for fair pay, and sentenced to hard labour for stealing clothes or food.

The centrepiece of the new museum is the historic cells and courtroom, which appear today almost as they did in Georgian times. There will also be a programme of events and exhibitions with details to be revealed shortly.

About Shire Hall

Shire Hall first opened in 1797 when it served as the County Hall for Dorset and was a centre of law, order and government for more than two centuries. 

The museum has connections to one of Dorset’s most famous sons, Thomas Hardy. The novelist and poet served as a magistrate at Shire Hall. He had been made Justice of the Peace for the Borough of Dorchester from 1884, sitting in court on almost forty occasions from then until 1919.

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