Shire Hall in Dorchester was Dorset’s courthouse from 1797 until 1955. Through that time, it saw everything from the 1834 trial of the Tolpuddle Martyrs to the 1856 domestic abuse case that inspired Thomas Hardy to write ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’, to victims of mesmerism, child perpetrators and American GIs tried during the Second World War.
Alongside its human history lies Shire Hall’s intrinsic architectural value, as one of the best-preserved buildings of its kind. This is recognised in its Grade I listed status, awarded in 1950. It was designed by architect Thomas Hardwick. As well as being a well-known architect in his own right, Hardwick was also the architectural tutor of the artist J.M.W. Turner, before advising him to focus on his painting instead.
After ending its life as a court in 1955, Shire Hall was used as offices for West Dorset District Council (previously the Rural District Council), thus preserving the Georgian architecture for future generations.
This illustrated talk by Anne Brown, Learning Manager at the new Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum, is free to members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society, while non-members may pay £3 at the door.