Dorchester, Dorset

Historical Description

Dorchester, the county town of Dorsetshire, a municipal borough, a market-town, and head of a poor law union and county court district. The town stands on the Ridge Way, the Via Iceniana, and the river Frome, with stations on the L. & S.W.R. and G.W.R. 135 miles from London and 8 N of Weymouth. Its site is an eminence, sloping on one side to the Frome, and bordered on other sides by open downs. It is the Caer-Dori of the ancient Britons, the Durnovaria and the Dunium of the Romans, and the Dom-ceaster of the Saxons. It was strongly fortified by the Romans, made a mint-town by Athelstan, burnt in 1003 by Sweyn the Dane, burnt again in 1613 and 1662, desolated by the plague in 1595, fortified against Charles I. in 1643, taken and held afterwards by both parties in the war, and made the scene of a " bloody assize " by Jeffreys in 1685. The ancient Roman roads from it are still used as highways. The Roman walls around it enclosed about 80 acres; seem to have been grouted, or formed of two parallel walls, with interior fitting of stones, flint, and hot mortar; and, though generally destroyed in making walks and otherwise, are still recognisable in remaining portions, 6 feet thick, and of herring-bone work. An amphitheatre, called Maen-bury or Maumbury, situated beyond the walls, by the side of the Roman road to Weymouth, and of the railway stations, is the most perfect antiquity of its class in the kingdom; has been generally regarded as a Roman work of the time of Agricola, but may have been previously formed by the ancient Britons; comprises an oval earthwork 30 feet high, with a diameter of 350 feet; would afford accommodation to so many as 13,000 spectators, and was used, in 1705, for the burning of a woman's body after execution in the presence of about 10,000 persons. Roman coins, a Roman gold ring, a bronze Roman Mercury, and a considerable fragment of a Roman pavement have been found in the town and its vicinity. An ancient camp called Poundbury, of irregular shape, protected by a lofty vallum and ditch, and thought to have been constructed by the Danes, crests a hill on the NW, commanding an extensive view. Another ancient camp- one of the largest and most perfect in the kingdom- called Maiden Castle, with three earthen ramparts, the innermost one 60 feet high and a mile or more in circuit, occupies an eminence by the side of the Ridge Way, 2 miles to the SSW. Great numbers of barrows also dot the hills to the south. Dorchester has been made widely known by Mr Thomas Hardy's charming novel "The Mayor of Casterbridge."

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient County Dorsetshire
Diocese Salisbury
Hundred Dorchester Borough
Poor Law union Dorchester (1836-)
Registration district Dorchester
Registration sub-district Dorchester

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Civil Registration

Dorchester was in Dorchester Registration District from 1837 to 1949 and Weymouth Registration District from 1949 to 1974

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Dorchester from the following:

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Dorset is available to browse.


Online maps of Dorchester are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the Dorset County Chronicle and the Sherborne Mercury online.

Villages, Hamlets, &c

Colliton Row

Visitations Heraldic

The Visitation of Dorset, 1623 is available on the Heraldry page.

DistrictWest Dorset
RegionSouth West
Postal districtDT1
Post TownDorchester