(Coat of Arms)

Dorset is a county in southern England, and where I was born. It has many interesting geographical features and towns, and has been home to some famous and important people.

Its geographical features include Durdle Door, a rock arch eroded away by the sea; the chalk figures of The Cerne Giant (yes, that picture is genuine) and King George III; Chesil Bank; a number of prehistoric earthworks; and some great beaches.

The Cerne Giant is 180 feet high. He is claimed to be either the Celtic god Nodons or a Roman-British representation of Hercules. The figure is fenced in and maintained by the National Trust. The Giant can be seen on Giant Hill, Cerne Abbas, north of Dorchester.

The chalk figure of King George III was carved by the citizens of Weymouth in 1815. This was in gratitude for the prosperity that his visiting the town had brought to them. It shows him riding eastwards on horseback, and is situated on the south-facing slope of the downs at Osmington, near Weymouth.

Chesil Bank is a long pebble beach. It links the bleak Isle of Portland to the mainland. Many buildings in Dorset are made of Portland Stone, quarried from the Isle of Portland.

The most important earthwork is the hill fort, Maiden Castle, near Dorchester. It was first occupied before 2000 BC by Stone Age settlers, but what is visible today dates from the Iron Age. It was captured by the Romans in about AD 43. In AD 70, they built the town of Durnovaria, which is now Dorchester, in its vicinity. Inhabitants of Dorchester are known as Durnovarians. English place names that end in -chester, -caster, -cester and -ter show that they were once Roman settlements.

Dorchester is a county town. It is in the heart of Thomas Hardy's Wessex, and the Casterbridge of his novels. In 1937-38 it was excavated, and Roman remains plus several mosaics were found. Recent excavations in the area of the old hospital have uncovered another mosaic. Today, Dorchester is a small, friendly, bustling market town.

Bournemouth is one of the most popular holiday resorts in England. It has miles of splendid beach and the waters of Poole Bay make it the greatest attraction in Bournemouth. One of the newest features in the town is the outstanding "International Centre" ("BIC"), built on the cliffs. All under one roof, it includes a splendid leisure pool and a foyer that is the focal point of the entire complex.

Weymouth's main claim to fame is that it is the place where the Black Death/Plague entered England in 1348. It contains many of features of a typical English seaside town, including the Esplanade and a beach. There are fine Georgian houses on the sea front. There's also "Rossi's", a fabulous Italian ice cream (e.g. white vanilla) shop, which has been in Weymouth for many years.

Shaftesbury's Gold Hill is a very famous cobbled street. For many years, the television advertisements for "Hovis", a British brand of bread, were filmed there.

Lyme Regis is the place where Mary Anning discovered many fossils in the 1800s. "The French Lieutenant's Woman" was filmed there. Jane Austen set part of "Persuasion" there, too.

The Dorset dialect is very distinctive, and can be difficult to understand. The poet and author William Barnes (1801-1886) wrote in dialect and ordinary English. This is an example of his dialect writing:

"The zwellen' downs, wi' chalky tracks
A-climmen' up their zunny backs,
Do hide green meäds an' zedgy brooks,
An' clumps o' trees wi' glossy rooks,
An' hearty vo'k to laugh and zing,
An' parish churches in a string,
Wi' tow'rs o' merry bells to ring,
An white roads up athirt the hills."

One of William Barnes many books is "Tiw", on the subject of speech, written in 1862.

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) was Dorset's most famous novelist and poet. His books include "The Mayor of Casterbridge", "Tess of the D'Urbervilles", "Far From The Madding Crowd", "The Trumpet Major" and "Jude The Obscure". His birthplace at Higher Bockhampton is now a National Trust property, and is open to the public. The National Trust is a charity that owns many ancient monuments, castles, stately homes and ordinary houses, and maintains them so future generations will also be able to see them. This is one of Hardy's poems, written around 1912:

"The Voice
Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one that was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.
Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!
Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?
Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling."

Judge Jeffreys conducted one of his many 'Bloody Assizes' in Dorchester. He tried 300 supporters of the Duke of Monmouth (an illegitimate son of Charles II), after the Duke's unsuccessful attempt to secure the English throne at the Battle of Sedgemoor, of which 292 were condemned to death. 74 of them were hanged, drawn and quartered and their remains displayed in the towns and villages throughout Dorset.

Perhaps the most famous people of Dorset were The Tolpuddle Martyrs. This group of men formed their own trade union, were sentenced to transportation in 1834 and later pardoned. This is their story.

"Hedging and ditching,
To plough and to reap
How can a man live
On nine shillings a week?"

That was the rhyme the farm labourers chanted as they worked long hours on low pay.

Nine shillings a week! (45p in new pence) George Loveless of Tolpuddle in Dorset found it absurd. He made every effort to feed his family, but they were near starvation and all they could afford to eat was potatoes.

Boldly, George went to the farmers to ask for more money for the labourers. He was a bright man who had taught himself to read and write. He put the case so well that the farmers promised to increase the wages to ten shillings. It seemed a miracle!

But the promise was never kept. The weeks went by and the wages were not increased. Then the farmers said, "Nine shillings is too much. We can only afford to pay eight." The men were desperate and they looked to George for leadership. "We cannot live honestly on such small means," said George. "I shall write to a big Society in London and perhaps they will help us."

Not long after, some men came to Tolpuddle on the coach from London. They were officers of the Society, which was called The Grand National Consolidated Trade Union. "We'll back you up," they said, "but our Union has enemies. You must swear to keep our rules and our secrets."

So that night, the Tolpuddle men met in secret at George's cottage. The people who were there were George and his brother, their sister's husband, Thomas Standfield and his son John, young James Brine, James Hammett – and William Legg. They all swore a solemn oath of loyalty to the Union they had just formed, the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers.

But the Squire, the vicar and the farmers heard about it. William Legg had told them! They were furious, and wrote to the Government to complain that their workers were banding together.

The Government said it was not a crime to ask for more wages – even for a union. However, they also said it was a crime to take an oath of loyalty to anyone except the King.

On a chilly February morning, George Loveless was arrested as he set off for work. He was told that he had broken the law – he had taken an oath against the King. George's friends were also taken to prison.

The trial went very badly. The jurymen were farmers and landowners, men who themselves paid their workers very little wages. Worst of all, William Legg gave untruthful evidence against them. The verdict was guilty!

They had been arrested, tried and convicted under the Mutiny Act of 1797. George and his friends were sentenced to transportation. That meant that for seven years, they were to work as convicts on the other side of the world. They knew that many men died in the convict settlements, and they might never see their homes or families again.

Then one day, in far off Van Diemens land (now Australia), George Loveless came across an old newspaper. It said the cruel treatment of the Tolpuddle men had shocked so many people that in 1836 the Home Secretary, Lord Russell had pardoned them.

Many months later, a coach bowled along the road from Dorchester to Tolpuddle. It was the return journey for the men who, four years before, had trudged under arrest and had been going to their trial. Now they had been released and were going home! It was a miracle!

In Tolpuddle, their wives, families and all the village waited for them. Now they were celebrities, known throughout the country as the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who had suffered to make it possible for ordinary men to join together to improve their working lives and the lives of their families. This case helped to establish the rights of trade unions in Britain.

I hope you have found this report on some of the places and people of Dorset interesting.

Click here to see a gallery of Dorset pictures

Acknowledgements and links

Eldridge, Pope & Co. Ltd beer coasters used for information on the Cerne Giant, Thomas Hardy, Judge Jeffreys and the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

Some information and images obtained from "The Batsford Colour Book of Dorset", © John Hyams 1975, published by Batsford in 1975 and reprinted in 1983.

I believe I obtained the Tolpuddle Martyrs story from a very old Blue Peter (very long running BBC children's programme) annual.

"Thomas Hardy Selected Shorter Poems, chosen by John Wain" published by PAPERMAC in 1966.

"Town Tours In Britain" published by Readers Digest.

Dorset County Council

Pictures of Dorset and Southern England

The Cerne Giant

Maiden Castle, other hill forts and earthworks

William Barnes

Thomas Hardy

Judge Jeffreys (this link also includes information about the Tolpuddle Martyrs)

The Tolpuddle Martyrs