On Monday 24th February 1834 the six farm workers from Tolpuddle were arrested and forced to march to Dorchester. They were held in Gaol until the morning of 15th March when they were taken to County Hall and the Old Crown Court.
The Court appears today much as it did in 1834. The men were held in dark, damp, smoke filled cells until they brought into the dock of the imposing court room.
Judge John Williams had just been appointed by the Whig government. He was ambitious and anxious to please. The Grand Jury agreed the basis for the charge against the trade unionists. This was hardly surprising as it included James Frampton who had been agitating for their arrest. He son and friends made up the rest of the Grand Jury and the case was remitted for the trial that took place just two days later.
The Petty Jury was made up of twelve local farmers who had no love for the union. A tradesman from Bere Regis named Bridle, was disqualified from the jury because he had heard George Loveless preach in the Methodist Chapel!
By 18th March the maximum sentence of seven years' transportation had been handed down.
West Dorset Disrict Council has moved out of the building in which the Old Court is a the centre.
Historic court and cells will make Dorchester proud
The Shire Hall is set to become an internationally important heritage centre after winning Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) support towards a project which should see the Grade I listed building transformed into a major visitor centre with high quality exhibitions and educational resources.
West Dorset District Council launched the funding bid to help safeguard the county town’s unique history and attract more visitors to the area as part of a proposed heritage quarter for the town.
Under the plans, the new heritage centre could be run by the Dorset County Museum. Local people will be asked for their views. Consultations are also ongoing with other interested groups including the Trade Union Congress. The project could also see Dorchester’s award winning Tourist Information Centre move to Shire Hall.
The district council has owned Shire Hall in High West Street since 1974 and has long aspired to turn it into a high quality attraction that befits its historic significance. If you would like to find out more about the project visit www.dorsetforyou.com/shirehallproject
Visit the Old Court
More information on the Shire Hall Project and the online consultation can be found at www.dorsetforyou.com/shirehallproject
58-60 High West St
Dorchester, Dorset DT1 1UZ
01305 267 992
Train: Dorchester West Rail Station
For more details see: The Old Crown Court