Dorset – Local History

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by Jayne Vowles  |  26th Jun, 2019

Dorset has had its fair share of poets, writers, heroes and villains throughout history. Here are a few of the famous names associated with the county over the years.

Thomas Hardy

Dorset’s most famous literary figure is undoubtedly Thomas Hardy.  He wasn’t the most cheery chap and many of his stories are about loss and misery.  He lived at Max Gate outside Dorchester, the town which inspired the creation of Casterbridge in his novels. He is responsible for some of the greatest works of English Literature – including Far From the Madding Crowd, Jude the Obscure and  Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

He died in 1928 – although he had wanted to be buried beside his first wife, Emma, his body was interred in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey, and only his heart was buried in Emma’s grave at Stinsford.

William Barnes

Poet William Barnes was born in Bagber near Sturminster Newton in North Dorset in 1801. He became curate at Whitcombe near Dorchester and also ran a school in the county town.

His poems are seen as a valuable record of the old Dorset dialect and working people’s lives in the 19th Century.

Jane Austen

Hardy and Barnes aren’t the only writers to have been inspired by Dorset’s people and landscapes. Jane Austen visited Lyme Regis in 1804 and her novel Persuasion is partly set in the West Dorset resort.

Beatrix Potter

Children’s author Beatrix Potter spent a holiday in Lyme in 1904, and used some views of the town for the story, Little Pig Robinson.

Enid Blyton

Enid Blyton’s adventure stories were inspired by the Isle of Purbeck countryside. She first came to the area in 1931 and some Dorset landmarks became places in her books – Whispering Island is based on Brownsea Island and Corfe bears a remarkable likeness to Kirrin Castle in the stories.

Mary Anning

Mary Anning was born in Lyme Regis in 1799. Her discoveries of dinosaur fossils along the Jurassic Coast were ground-breaking at the time and laid the foundations for much of our knowledge of dinosaurs.

She was known as “Princess of palaeontology”. Each year the Philpott Museum holds a special Mary Anning weekend of events to commemorate her life.

Judge Jefferys Restaurant in Dorchester

Lord Chief Justice Jeffrey. One of Dorchester’s more infamous residents was Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys – the ‘hanging judge’.  Judge Jeffreys lodged at 6 High Street West, now a restaurant, and held his ‘bloody assizes’ in 1685 during which 74 people were executed.

Sir Walter Raleigh

Explorer and buccaneer Sir Walter Raleigh lived at Sherborne Castle in North Dorset. He was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I who granted him ownership of the lands of the 12th Century Sherborne Castle on which he built Sherborne Lodge.

He explored America, bringing back potatoes and tobacco to Britain.  He eventually fell out with the Queen and was sent to the Tower of London, and was later beheaded for treason by James I.

Tolpuddle’s Village Green

The Trade Union movement was effectively born in Dorset. The ‘Tolpuddle Martyrs’ were all farm labourers who decided to set up a Union in Tolpuddle to give them bargaining strength to curb their impoverished conditions.

George Loveless, James Brine, James Hammett, James Loveless, John Standfield and Thomas Standfield were all transported to Australia for ‘administering illegal oaths’ but the injustice of their sentence led to a massive campaign across the country.

The martyrs are commemorated each summer at a special festival in Tolpuddle which attracts trade unionists from around the world.

The Powys brothers

Writers John Cowper Powys, TF Powys and Llewelyn Powys feature Dorset heavily in some of their work. John Cowper Powys wrote several Wessex-based novels including Weymouth Sands (1934) and Maiden Castle (1936).

T.F Powys’s novels and short stories were set in Dorset and Llewelyn Powys’s Dorset essays are regarded by some as the best ever written about the county.  Of  the eleven Powys’s siblings, six of them published books.  Several of the children went to school in Sherborne and the family lived for a time in Montachute. John had a period in living in Dorchester forming the inspiration for the setting of his novel Maiden Castle.