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Tell your story for being in the dock
PEOPLE in West Dorset who found themselves on the wrong side of the law are being asked to give evidence to a local history project about their experience in the county town’s dock.
Staff who worked at the old Crown Court in Dorchester and jury members are also being sought to contribute to the Shire Hall Oral History Project.
The project is linked to plans to turn the Shire Hall in High West Street, Dorchester, into a major visitor centre.
These plans could see the Grade I listed building transformed into an internationally important heritage centre.
Inside the centre visitors would hear about the court from people who remember life there before it closed in 1955.
The work of capturing and recording these memories will be undertaken by Joe Stevens.
Mr Stevens, participation worker at digital:works, who is leading the Shire Hall Oral History Project, said: “I want to capture the memories of anyone who can recall the Old Crown Court or the Shire Hall.
“If they have any memories of being part of a trial or perhaps doing building work there, please contact me as I would love to record your experiences for posterity.”
It is hoped that the recordings will be used as part of the exhibition if the Shire Hall becomes a multi-million pound visitor centre.
West Dorset District Council is preparing a bid for £1.1million Heritage Lottery Funding to create the centre with exhibitions and education resources. If it secures lottery funding it will also contribute more than a million pounds towards the scheme.
Robert Gould, pictured left, leader of West Dorset District Council, said: “Creating a major heritage attraction in the heart of Dorchester will safeguard our history and attract more visitors to West Dorset.
“We are working with interested groups to help decide how this remarkable place can be developed into a successful visitor attraction. Standing in the Old Crown Court you get an overwhelming sense of history, because it has hardly changed since Georgian times.”
The court is famous for the trial of the Tolpuddle Martyrs in 1834. Author Thomas Hardy also sat there as a magistrate.
The district council is discussing plans with interested groups including the Trades Union Congress, Dorchester Museum and the Thomas Hardy Society.
If the project goes ahead Dorchester’s award winning tourist information centre will move to Shire Hall. The district council has owned the hall in High West Street since 1974.
Anyone with memories of the Shire Hall or Old Crown Court, should contact the Shire Hall Oral History Project on 01305 252226, or email firstname.lastname@example.org