Our Museum is now open, bringing over two centuries of justice history to life.
Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum uncovers moving and important stories of everyday people’s interactions with the justice system since the late 18th century. It shows how the law affects all of us, and how we can also affect the law. The Museum makes this extraordinary building and these fascinating stories available and enjoyable for all.
From interactive galleries to the immersive cells and courtroom, Shire Hall offers something for everyone, from all backgrounds and of all ages.
Behind Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum lies the Shire Hall (Dorchester) Trust, an independent charity created to protect and share this rich building and its history.
We are an ambitious, forward-thinking institution with amazing stories to tell. Our mission is to create a place that engages visitors with the history of justice and injustice in Dorset, which inspires people to make a difference to society, politics, and justice for all.
Shire Hall’s history
Shire Hall was an active courthouse from 1796 until 1955. Through that time, it saw everything from the deportation of the Tolpuddle Martyrs to the 19th century 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 WWII.
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. It was designed by architect Thomas Hardwick. Apart from being a well-known architect in his own right, he was also the tutor of Turner, before advising the latter to focus on painting.
After ending its life as a court in 1955, Shire Hall was used as offices for West Dorset District Council, thus preserving the Georgian architecture for future generations.
Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum is managed by the Shire Hall (Dorchester) Trust, a Charitable Incorporated Organisation, registered charity number 1163252. Our polices, developed to guide the running of the Trust and the Museum, can be downloaded here (coming soon).
We are not currently recruiting.