Dorset museum chronicles 200 years of justice

A museum exploring the history of law and order will open on May 1 in Dorchester.

Visitors to the Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum will be able to walk in the footsteps of people who were tried and sentenced in the court – exploring the cells and standing in the dock of the famous courtroom.

Shire Hall is where the Tolpuddle Martyrs were brought to trial, a case which sparked the trade union movement.

Two centuries of justice, 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.

Shire Hall opened in 1797 and has connections to one of Dorset’s most famous sons, novelist and poet Thomas Hardy, who served as a magistrate at the court.

His memories of Martha Brown, the last woman to be publicly hanged in Dorset, were said to have inspired Hardy to write Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

The first exhibition at Shire Hall will look at the civil rights movement in the US and protest movements in the UK.

The renovation of the museum was made possible thanks to a £1.5 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which was match-funded by West Dorset District Council.