Removals and storage in Dorchester, Dorset
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Dorchester: A potted history
Dorchester is the county town of Dorset. A historic market town, Dorchester is on the banks of the River Frome to the south of the Dorset Downs and north of the South Dorset Ridgeway that separates the area from Weymouth, seven miles to the south.
The area around the town was first settled in prehistoric times. The Romans established a garrison there after defeating the Durotriges tribe, calling the settlement that grew up nearby Durnovaria. They built an aqueduct to supply water and an amphitheatre on an ancient British earthwork. After the departure of the Romans, the town diminished in significance, but during the medieval period became an important commercial and political centre. It was the site of the Bloody Assizes presided over by Judge Jeffreys after the Monmouth Rebellion, and later the trial of the Tolpuddle Martyrs.
In the 2011 census, the population of Dorchester was 19,060, with further people coming from surrounding areas to work in the town, which has six industrial estates. The Brewery Square redevelopment project is taking place in phases, with other development projects planned. The town has a land-based college, Kingston Maurward College, the Thomas Hardye upper school, three middle schools and 13 first schools.
Dorset County Hospital offers an accident and emergency service, and the town is served by two railway stations. The town has a football club and a rugby union club, several museums and the biannual Dorchester Festival. It is twinned with three towns in Europe. As well as having many listed buildings, a number of notable people have been associated with the town.
Dorchester’s roots stem back to prehistoric times. The earliest settlements were about two miles southwest of the modern town centre in the vicinity of Maiden Castle, a large Iron Age hill fort that was one of the most powerful settlements in pre-Roman Britain. Different tribes lived there from 4000 BC. The Durotriges were likely to have been there when the Romans arrived in Britain in 43 AD.
The Romans defeated the local tribes by 70 AD and established a garrison that became the town the Romans named Durnovaria, a Brythonic name incorporating durn, “fist”, loosely interpreted as ‘place with fist-sized pebbles’.
Durnovaria became a market centre for the surrounding countryside, an important road junction and staging post, and subsequently one of the twin capitals of the Celtic Durotriges tribe.
The remains of the Roman walls that surrounded the town can still be seen. The majority have been replaced by pathways that form a square inside modern Dorchester known as ‘The Walks’. A small segment of the original wall remains near the Top ‘o Town roundabout.
Other Roman remains include part of the town walls and the foundations of a town house near County Hall. Modern building works within the walls have unearthed Roman finds; in 1936 a cache of 22,000 3rd-century Roman coins was discovered in South Street.
The area remained in British hands until the mid-7th century and there was continuity of use of the Roman cemetery at nearby Poundbury. Dorchester has been suggested as the centre of a sub-kingdom of Dumnonia or other regional power base.
By 864, the area around Durnovaria was dominated by the Saxons who referred to themselves as Dorsaetas, ‘People of the Dor’ – Durnovaria. The original local name would have been Dorn–gweir giving the Old English Dornwary. The town became known as Dornwaraceaster or Dornwaracester, combining the original name Dor/Dorn from the Latin and Celtic languages with cester, an Old English word for a Roman station. This name evolved over time to Dorncester/Dornceaster and Dorchester.
At the time of the Norman conquest, Dorchester was not a place of great significance; the Normans did build a castle but it has not survived. A priory was also founded, in 1364, though this also has since disappeared. In the later medieval period the town prospered; it became a thriving commercial and political centre for south Dorset, with a textile trading and manufacturing industry which continued until the 17th century. In the time of Edward III (1312–1377), the town was governed by bailiffs and burgesses, with the number of burgesses increasing to fifteen by the reign of James I (1566–1625).
In the 17th and 18th centuries Dorchester suffered several serious fires: in 1613, caused by a tallow chandler’s cauldron getting too hot and setting alight; in 1622, started by a maltster; in 1725, begun in a brewhouse; and in 1775, caused by a soap boiler. The 1613 fire was the most devastating, resulting in the destruction of 300 houses and two churches (All Saints and Holy Trinity).
Only a few of the town’s early buildings have survived to the present day, including Judge Jeffreys’ lodgings and a Tudor almshouse. Among the replacement Georgian buildings are many, such as the Shire Hall, which are built in Portland stone. The town hall, the Corn Exchange, was erected in 1791 and had a marketplace underneath.
In the 17th century the town was at the centre of Puritan emigration to America, and the local rector, John White, organised the settlement of Dorchester, Massachusetts. The first colonisation attempted was at Cape Ann, where fishermen who would rejoin the fishing fleet when the vessels returned the next year, tried to be self-sufficient. However, the land was unsuitable, the colony failed and was moved to what is now Salem. In 1628, the enterprise received a Royal Charter and the Massachusetts Bay Company was formed with three hundred colonists arriving in America that year and more the following year.
In 1685 the Duke of Monmouth failed in his invasion attempt, the Monmouth Rebellion, and almost 300 of his men were condemned to death or transportation in the Bloody Assizes presided over by Judge Jeffreys in the Oak Room of the Antelope Hotel in Dorchester.
A permanent military presence was established in the town with the completion of the Depot Barracks in 1881. The High West Street drill hall was created, by converting a private house, around the same time.
Land was developed for housing outside the walls including the Cornwall Estate, between the Borough Gardens and the Great Western Railway from 1876 and the Prince of Wales Estate from 1880. Land for the Victoria Park Estate was bought in 1896 and building began in 1897, Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee year. The lime trees in Queen’s Avenue were planted in February 1897.
Poundbury is the western extension of the town, constructed since 1993 according to urban village principles on Duchy of Cornwall land owned by Prince Charles. Being developed over 25 years in four phases, it will eventually have 2,500 dwellings and a population of about 6,000. Prince Charles was involved with the development’s design.
From 1295 to 1868, Dorchester was a parliamentary constituency. This was abolished by the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885, after which Dorchester was placed in the new Dorset South constituency and in 1918 it was transferred to Dorset West, where it has remained ever since.
The town’s coat of arms depicts the old castle that used to stand on the site of the former prison.
In 2011, Dorchester was one of more than 20 towns across the country to apply for city status to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II, although in March 2012 it was revealed that Dorchester’s bid had been unsuccessful.
Novelist and poet Thomas Hardy based the fictional town of Casterbridge on Dorchester, and his novel The Mayor of Casterbridge is set there. Hardy’s childhood home is to the east of the town, and his town house, Max Gate, is owned by the National Trust and open to the public. Hardy is buried in Westminster Abbey, but his heart was removed and buried in Stinsford.
William Barnes, the West Country dialect poet, was Rector of Winterborne Came, a hamlet near Dorchester, for 24 years until his death in 1886, and ran a school in the town. There are statues of both Barnes and Hardy in the town centre; Barnes outside St. Peter’s Church, and Hardy’s beside the Top o’ Town crossroads.
Dorchester Town F.C., the town’s football team currently play in the Southern League Premier Division. Harry Redknapp and former England players Graham Roberts and Martin Chivers represented The Magpies in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Dorchester RFC is an amateur rugby union team who currently play in the Dorset & Wilts South 1 League league. Dorchester Cricket Club play in the Dorset Premier League, being last crowned champions in 2009.
As part of the regeneration at the Brewery Site in the town centre, Dorchester South railway station will become the first solar powered railway station in the UK.
Dorchester is served by two local radio stations: Wessex FM, and BBC Radio Solent.
Dorset County Hospital has its own station named Ridgeway Radio which has been on the air for 50 years.
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