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The History of Dorset's County Town

The Dorchester Gallery tells the 6,000-year story of Dorchester from prehistoric times to the present day. It begins with Iron Age settlements then moves on to the foundation of the Roman town of Dorchester or Durnovaria after the Roman invasion of AD 43. The Romans built bath houses, aqueducts and town houses, and brought a completely different way of life to Durnovaria. In the Dorchester Gallery you can see fragments of Roman frescoes, roof tiles and pottery.

Later came Anglo-Saxon settlement, the Norman Conquest and the medieval period - the Gallery has a rich display of medieval pottery. From there, we move into the 1600s and the period of Civil War in England - a bloody battle that saw the execution of King Charles I in 1649. His son, Charles II, reigned until his death in 1685, when his illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, landed at Lyme Regis and declared himself King. Monmouth's rebellion was defeated and his supporters were tried in Dorchester by the King's Chief Justice, Judge Jeffreys. Seventy-four were put to death in what has become known as the Bloody Assizes.

In the 1800s Dorchester became a lively market town and a centre for the development of specialist trades. Towards the end of the 19th century many permanent shops were established in the town together with a number of large workshops and factories.

After 1900 an increasing number of tourists were drawn to Dorset to explore the places that inspired Thomas Hardy’s Wessex novels including Dorchester itself: Hardy’s Casterbridge.

Model of the traditional brewing process

Model brewery

This model of the traditional brewing process was made by apprentice coppersmiths at the Eldridge Pope brewery and is so accurate it can be used to brew a thimbleful of beer.

In 1880 Eldridge Pope built its impressive new brewery on land near Dorchester South station and instantly became the largest employer in the town. The company cleverly used the long history of brewing in Dorchester to promote itself and its products. In the 1920s the image of a smiling huntsman was adopted to promote beer sales and which gave its name to a new brand image, Huntsman Ales. This helped link Eldridge Pope’s beers to the Dorset countryside and the English way of life.

Brewery technology looked very much like this model until the 1950s when copper stills were replaced by stainless steel. You can follow the whole brewing process using this model which shows the making of India Pale Ale – one of Dorchester’s most important exports.