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About the Shire Hall Project

Find out about plans to transform Shire Hall into a major visitor centre.

Dorchester's Shire Hall is set to become an internationally important heritage centre. Shire Hall, which includes the Old Crown Court and Cells, is famous for the trial of the Tolpuddle Martyrs in 1834. Author Thomas Hardy also sat there as a magistrate. Time has stood still at the court, which appears today almost as it did in Georgian times.

Planning permission was granted in June 2014 to convert the Grade I listed building in High West Street to a justice-themed visitor centre.

The bid made to the Heritage Lottery Fund for £1.5m was approved in July 2015 and West Dorset District Council has pledged £1.1m of match funding.

What does the Shire Hall Project include?

  • A paid-for visitor attraction using engaging and immersive interpretation where visitors will follow a spiral route through the building to the cells, courtroom and Grand Jury room - the route from prisoner to the local elite
  • A learning and training space in the former council chamber
  • A Justice Gallery featuring contemporary justice themes, temporary exhibitions and a café
  • Relocation of Dorchester's Tourist Information Centre to Shire Hall
  • A reception and shop
  • Venues for events, performances, talks and functions
  • Accessible routes and lift access to all floors
  • Two flats for rent

The Shire Hall (Dorchester) Trust (SHDT) will manage and run Shire Hall under a lease from the owners, West Dorset District Council. The attraction is set to open in autumn 2017.

Keeping in touch

For the latest news and information about the project join our Justice Cafe Facebook page. We regularly update our album of Shire Hall photos on Flickr to show development activity and other events going on inside the building.  

If you would like to receive email updates about Shire Hall please contact the project team.

  • The history of Shire Hall

    Find out more about the fascinating story of this important building.

  • Vision for Shire Hall The vision for Shire Hall

    We want Shire Hall to be a heritage resource and a community asset which can be used by everyone - local people, visitors to Dorset, young and old alike.

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