Visit Dorchester and the surrounding villages and stay in bed & breakfast accommodation:
Dorchester, Dorset. The county's capital makes a fine first impression if approached from East to West, its main street climbing from the River Frome. Its buildings, of pale-grey Portland stone, are architecturally disappointing, partly because they were damaged by a series of fires in the 17th and 18th centuries and consequently rebuilt without the uniformity or inspiration of Blandford. Nevertheless, of ancient foundation, it has much that is of interest.
Romans seem to have founded it shortly after capturing Maiden Castle. 1½ miles South West, in c. A.D. 43, walled it and made it one of their main towns in the South-West. The Normans gave it a castle, thought to have been one of the hunt-loving King John's numerous temporary residences, and a friary, both since vanished. In the Middle Ages, it manufactured cloth and was famous for its ales. In the 17th century it became very Puritan, a shipload of its citizens founding New Dorchester in New England c. 1628, and keenly supporting the Roundheads in the Civil War. In 1685, after the Monmouth rebellion, Judge Jeffreys presided at a “bloody assize” in the town, having 74 men hanged, chopped up and bits of them exemplarily distributed about the country. The house in the High Street where he lodged is now a restaurant named after him, and a room in the Antelope Hotel in South Street is thought to have been his court room. In 1834, the old Shire Hall in the High
Street was the scene of another famous trial: that of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. The court room is now owned by the T.U.C. as a memorial and is open to the public.
These days Dorchester is a livestock marketing and farmers' shopping centre with a big brewery and other light industries. It has been made famous by the novels of Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), whose posthumous fame it has eagerly cultivated. He was born at Higher Bockhampton nearby and lived his last years on the town's eastern outskirts at Max Gate.
St Peter's Church is mainly 15th-century, restored by a local architect with the young Thomas Hardy as assistant; it has an effigy of Denzil, Lord Holles, one of the five “the birds are flown” M.P.s whom Charles I went to the House of Commons to arrest. Just outside is a statue of William Barnes, the l9th-century dialect poet who, like Scotland's Burns, tends locally to be more honoured than read. The Shire Hall is a few doors up, and a little further on is a statue of Hardy by Eric Kennington. Some 200 yds North, in Colliton Park near the new County Hall, is an excellent example of the foundations and tessellated pavements of a Roman villa.
About 2/3 mile South beside the Weymouth road is a Roman amphitheatre, built on the site of a Bronze Age stone circle known as Maumbury Rings. It was used till the Middle Ages for beast-baiting and till the 18th century for public, and well-attended, executions. On the way to it, in South Street is one of the town's oldest buildings, Napier's Almshouses (1610), now shops. The most attractive church is St George's, Fordington, reached by turning South off the High Street immediately West of the river. It has an extremely fine Norman tympanum showing St George piercing Saracens with his sword on the behalf of the Crusaders. The Walks, avenues of limes, chestnuts and sycamores which girdle three sides of the town, are said to follow the line of the Roman walls.
Some 1¾ miles South South-East. at Winterborne Came is the small church where William Barnes, the poet, was rector from 1862 until his death in 1886, and the thatched rectory where he lived, all in open park-land dotted with oak trees. Here also is one of the best-looking Palladian houses in Dorset, which was built in 1754 by the architect-builder Francis Cartwright for John Damer, one-time M.P. for Dorchester, younger brother of the creator of Milton Abras. It is well seen from the road and open by appointment.
Near Charminster, 1½ miles North, is Wolfeton House, l5th-century ancestral home of the Trenchard family, which can be seen by appointment. Chariminster church has a l3th-century porch and a dominating 15th-century tower.
Nearby towns: Beaminster, Blandford Forum, Bridport, Portland, Sherborne, Sturminster Newton, Wareham, Weymouth, Yeovil
Nearby villages: Abbotsbury, Bincombe, Broadmayne, Broadwey, Cerne Abbas, Chaldon Herring, Charminster, Cheselbourne, Chickerell, Compton, Dewlish, Godmanstone, Grimstone, Little Bredy, Long Bredy, Maiden Newton, Milborne St. Andrew, Nether Cerne, Notton, Osmington, Overcombe, Owermoigne, Piddlehinton, Piddletrenthide, Portesham, Poxwell, Puddletown, Radipole, Ringstead, Tolpuddle, Upwey, West Chaldon, Whitcombe, Winfrith Newburgh, Winterborne Abbas, Winterborne Monkton, Winterborne Steeplet, Woodsford
Have you decided to visit Dorchester or the surrounding villages? Please look above for somewhere to stay in:
- a Dorchester bed and breakfast (a Dorchester B&B or Dorchester b and b)
- a Dorchester guesthouse
- a Dorchester hotel (or motel)
- a Dorchester self-catering establishment, or
- other Dorchester accommodation