Thursday 18 April 2019
Visit to Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum
As I was arriving at the Shire Hall Museum at 10.15 a.m. the first group of 17 people were just about to start their museum tour, having had their refreshments.
The second group duly mustered in a room designated in 1956 as the Dorset County Council chamber for tea and coffee. Our volunteer museum guide this morning was none other than our own Ken who, I have to say bubbled over in his desire to give us as much information as possible during our visit.
Ken started off by telling us of the history of the buildings, one Georgian, built between 1795/7 for Assizes and Quarter Sessions. He also issued us with multimedia machines on which we would be able to follow one of four cases – Tolpuddle Martyrs, Elizah Upjohn, Daniel Upjohn or Martha Brown as we walked around.
Since my last visit some 10 years plus ago I was amazed at the transformation of this important historic attraction but, the £3m plus to convert it to its present condition has been well carried out and the blend of the use of modern technology with the reality of seeing rooms and cells as they were has been very tastefully done.
When we went in the small individual holding cells built in 1880 to replace communal cells, they were clean and hygienic but, back in the day they undoubtedly would have been cold, dark and smelly. We visited the cell where the Tolpuddle Martyrs were held, the Grand Jury room and the Court. Interestingly secondary glazing was fitted to the large windows in the Court room in 1880, no not to keep warmth in but, to keep noise out. Our secretary David donned Judges Raiment together with wig and dispensed a few words of wisdom.
The conclusion of the visit was to see the work of Jason Wilsher-Mills on the Tolpuddle Martyrs using IPADS – quite unusual but fascinating.
Ken comprehensively covered the social history of our country from King George 111 through to Queen Victoria in great detail and certainly made the whole visit interesting and informative. I just hope that the first group had a similar experience with their guide.
As you know on such visits I like to report quirky things. Today I was intrigued to learn that when Queen Victoria visited Dorset if her itinerary involved going through a village or river with Piddle in the name it was changed to Puddle! The Shire Hall had a nuclear bunker facility which Ken said would not have worked. ‘Pigtails’ were the chains used to open cells doors, just like those now used on our doors to see to see who is outside. Finally do you know what a Phrenologist studies? I do.
Ken said there is another tour ‘Behind the scenes’ which explores the history of the building. Thank you Ken, for organising this event and for carrying out guide duties. Super job.