Justice in the Balance

Tuesday 1st May 2018, marks a momentous day in the history of Shire Hall, the Old Crown Court in Dorchester, when it will open its doors to the public as a major new historic courthouse museum.

Shire Hall’s most significant story is that of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who were held in the cells for 3 days before being tried and sentenced in the courtroom to 7 years transportation.

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Shire Hall will help people of all ages explore the history or law and order, and past and present efforts to achieve justice for all people. As well as exploring the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, visitors will also be able to walk in the footsteps of the many other people who were held, tried and sentenced in the court and use the interactive displays to find out what happened to them.

We are lucky to have access to an incredible archive of court and other documents at The Dorset History Centre through which we bring to life 200 years of justice, injustice, crime, and punishment.

As well as Shire Hall’s visitor attractions, it will have a wide and varied programme of lifelong learning and community engagement. Using stories from the archives to link historical and contemporary issues around the theme of justice, we will be looking at the lives of people then and now.

School visits for all Key Stages will form a large part of our programme. As well as uncovering real case studies through archival evidence, students will explore and recreate the stories in the cells and mock trials in the courtroom. These will particularly focus on child criminals and notable local cases such as the Tolpuddle Martyrs. For younger visitors, role play and mock trials using familiar fairy tales will be used to teach the workings of the court system.

Behind the scenes, we have been working hard to develop partnerships and opportunities for other areas of the lifelong learning programme. We will be delivering regular sessions from themed hands-on creative activities for pre-school children and their adults, through to object-based reminiscence for people with dementia and their carers - plus everything in between.

The adult learning programme will consist of a wide variety of learning opportunities, including courses, workshops, talks, activities and events with topics ranging from the strictly justice based to informal community opportunities such as functional and practical skills as well as health and well-being based activities. These will be delivered in-house and through partnerships with providers, we are hoping to also provide accreditation opportunities where relevant.

Skills development is also an important focus of our work, we have a volunteer team of 100+ people, each of which can access our training programmes. We will be providing work experience, student placements and apprenticeships as part of our on-going commitment to heritage workforce development.

The next few years are going to be busy as we build up Shire Hall’s programme and reputation as a hub of activity and lifelong learning. Get in touch if we can link to, or support, your learning.

To find out more about the Shire Hall go to the website - http://shirehalldorset.org/ or contact [email protected] or 01305 26184

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Anne brown

Anne Brown is Learning Manager at Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum and has a background in Adult and Community Learning, with over 14 years’ experience in Museum and Heritage Learning. 

Anne is developing and delivering the Lifelong Learning programmes using the wonderful building and the stories of people whose lives were linked to Shire Hall to connect with people and communities today.