Having married into the Lovelass family (a variant spelling of Loveless), I considered myself fairly well versed in the story of George and James Loveless and the Tolpuddle Martyrs…

…until I visited Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum that is!

When it opened last year, I was keen to take my husband along to find out more about the place where judgment was passed on his ancestors. But life got in the way and we only finally managed to call in a few weeks ago, together with my mum and dad.

It was a sunny Sunday and we headed to Dorchester (just under an hour’s drive west of Bournemouth into rural Dorset, or 45mins by train).

Admission is £9.50 for adults, £5.00 for children or you can pick up a family pass for £20 – and the ticket price includes free return visits for a year.

You walk through the gift shop on the way to the start of the tour. It’s tempting to want to browse before you’ve seen the museum, so I had to muster restraint!

The Lovelass group with their headphones at shire hall

We were given easy-to-use audio guides and asked to select someone’s story to follow. You can choose one of four characters from history and you ultimately find out more about their crimes and punishment when you reach the courtroom.

The museum is designed around the actual cells and old courthouse which is infinitely more interesting than a generic exhibition space. You get those goosebump-inducing, spine-tingling moments as you read or hear stories of real people detained in these very rooms.

It’s not a huge museum but there’s a lot to discover in each area with some lovely interactive elements in the courtroom. It took us about an hour and a half to work our way through and what a wonderful treat awaited us on the other side…

Dressed up for a day in court at shire hall

I’d booked afternoon tea for four and the catering staff couldn’t have been more accommodating. I was trying to fit in some other activities around our visit so must have changed our ETA at least three times. But nothing was too much trouble for Kirsty and the team. On top of which, the tea itself was exquisite – it was £15 per person and included a (very welcome) glass of prosecco, salmon sandwiches and a cheeky Eton mess on the side!

Cream tea at shire hall

Tummies full, we dragged ourselves up the staircase for a squizz at the special Tolpuddle Martyrs exhibition. It was a combination of interactive portraits of the men that so profoundly changed history and interviews with their descendants. I admit I shed a tear listening to these fellow Dorset locals bursting with pride at their remarkable ancestry.

Before leaving, I was ‘allowed’ 10 minutes in the shop. I picked up a mug for Mr Lovelass – as a builder, he can literally never have too many. I only hope he takes good care of it on site. More than just a reminder of a fun afternoon, it conjures up over 200 years of history!

Blog Written by Grace Lovelass

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