Re­dis­cov­er­ing Dorch­ester

Dorset - - Bridport - WORDS & PHO­TOS: Margery Hook­ings

Our county town has a rich his­tory that goes back to the Ro­mans, but with the open­ing of new shop­ping ar­eas and ad­di­tional vis­i­tor at­trac­tions it has been un­der­go­ing some­thing of a trans­for­ma­tion

There has been a set­tle­ment at Dorch­ester for at least 6,000 years. The town was founded by the Ro­mans after de­feat­ing the Durotriges tribe at Maiden Cas­tle in 43AD. Many el­e­ments of its an­cient past re­main, in­clud­ing Maiden Cas­tle, the largest and most com­plex Iron Age hill­fort in Britain, which looms south west of the town. Pound­bury hill­fort, a smaller, mid­dle Bronze Age con­struc­tion, over­looks the town to the north-west. Be­low the north­ern ram­part ran the sev­en­mile Ro­man aque­duct, and just out­side the hill­fort was a large Ro­mano-British ceme­tery, which was ex­ca­vated dur­ing the 1970s.

More re­cent re­minders of Dorch­ester’s past are ev­ery­where, from the Corn Ex­change, a Grade II* Listed Build­ing in the cen­tre of town with its dis­tinc­tive clock tower known as Galpin’s Folly; to Brew­ery Square, a mag­nif­i­cent col­lec­tion of ren­o­vated build­ings that once housed the Eldridge Pope Brew­ery.

These, along with an ar­ray of brand spank­ing new apart­ments, have cre­ated a stylish new shop­ping, en­ter­tain­ment and res­i­den­tial area by the Dorch­ester South rail­way sta­tion. Brew­ery Square is cur­rently the tem­po­rary home to Dorset County Mu­seum, un­til Satur­day April 27 when it goes on ‘tour’ around the county, while its 1880’s home in High West Street un­der­goes an ex­ten­sive 21st cen­tury re­fur­bish­ment prior to re­open­ing 2020.

A stone’s throw from Brew­ery Square and the rail­way sta­tion is Maum­bury Rings. This Ne­olithic henge is a large, cir­cu­lar earth­work, 85 me­tres in di­am­e­ter, with a sin­gle bank and an en­trance to the north east. The Ro­mans adapted Maum­bury Rings to use as an am­phithe­atre, it was an ar­tillery fort dur­ing the English Civil

War, and dur­ing the late 17th and 18th cen­turies, it was used as a place for pub­lic ex­e­cu­tion in­clud­ing 19-year-old Mary Chan­ning who was stran­gled and burned at Maum­bury Rings in 1705 for poi­son­ing her hus­band. Thank­fully, these days, there is a much calmer air to the place. It’s now a pub­lic space used for con­certs, fes­ti­vals and re-en­act­ments.

‘The Ro­mans adapted Maum­bury Rings to useas an am­phithe­atre’

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