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Dorset County Museum

Dorset County Museum was established in 1845 to save the natural history and archaeology of a county felt at risk from the effects of the Industrial Revolution.

The coming of the railways in the 1840s saw Dorchester’s Roman sites at Poundbury and Maumbury Rings threatened with destruction. The poet, William Barnes, Reverend Charles W. Bingham and the vicar of Fordington, Reverend Henry Moule, decided to form an organisation that would protect these sites and the natural history of the area and on 15th October 1845 the Dorset County Museum and Library was founded.

It was originally housed on the south side of High West Street in the building where the ‘Bloody Assizes’ took place following the Monmouth Rebellion. It then moved to Trinity Street and later to the site of the Old George Inn, a former public house on High West Street. But this temporary accommodation meant the Museum suffered from a lack of space and could only open on Thursdays and Saturdays – with predictable effects on visitor numbers.

To alleviate these problems in 1883, a purpose-built, gothic inspired museum, designed by architect Mr G. R. Crickmay was built and Henry Joseph Moule (son of the Reverend Henry Moule) was appointed as the first full-time curator, a post he held until his death on 13 March 1904.

After the First World War the Museum began to suffer from under-funding, so in 1928 it was decided that the Dorset Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club, whose members regularly used the Museum, would formally amalgamate with it and become responsible for its upkeep and collections. The Field Club was renamed the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society and it continues to manage and care for Dorset County Museum to this day

In 1937 the Dorset County Education Committee gave its first grant to the Museum, to encourage it to build links with local schools, and Dorset County Council continues its support today. A new Geology Gallery also opened in 1937, while the following year Thomas Hardy’s papers and the contents of his Max Gate study were bequeathed to the Museum.