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During the half-term break, Dorchester’s Shire Hall reopened its doors to visitors for guided tours of the building.

The hall is one of the town’s most important historic buildings, as it contains the courtroom where the Tolpuddle Martyrs were tried and sentenced for transportation in 1834. Due to the reopening, visitors such as those staying in Dorset holiday cottages were able to tour the Old Crown Court and cells where these defendants, amongst others, would await their fate.

Since the temporary reopening, the Shire Hall has received many positive comments, which has raised hopes that a £1.5 million Heritage Lottery Fund will be granted to those managing the building. Until then, the building will remain closed, with the project team finding out if they’ve been successful at securing the funding at the end of June.

Potential for a new educational attraction for Dorchester

This funding would allow the hall to become a permanent tourist attraction, which has seen previous guests really engage with the fascinating history of the building. Unlike many commercial museums, it’s possible to see the actual environment where events took place and the conditions that prisoners were kept in.

The Dorset Echo quotes Kate Hebditch as saying: “We've had a lot of interest, including people who were born here but have never got round to going before. People are always fascinated to hear the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. There's a lot of admiration of their bravery standing up to their injustice.”

Other stories that can be uncovered by visiting the Shire Hall include the tale of a man who was tried for theft and sent to Australia, who then became the hangman who hanged Ned Kelly. The justice system was very different to that of today, and the Shire Hall in Dorchester helps showcase this, as well as informing people of the bravery shown by the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who stood up for their injustice.

Read more about the Tolpuddle Martyrs here.