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Dorchester is a market town in southern central Dorset, England, situated on the River Frome and A35 road 20 miles west of Poole, and eight miles North of Weymouth. In 2001 the town had a population of 16,171 and a catchment population of approximately 40,000. There were 7,386 dwellings in 2001 and 205 shops in 1991. Dorchester has been the county town of Dorset since 1305.
A market is held in the town on Wednesdays and Sundays.
The town has two railway stations, which connect the town to London, Southampton via the South Western Main Line, and to Westbury, Bath and Bristol via the Heart of Wessex Line. Dorchester South railway station on the South Western Main Line, once an idiosyncratic structure where trains running in one direction would reverse and then rejoin the through line, was rebuilt in 1989, but Dorchester West railway station on the Heart of Wessex Line is still the original Great Western Railway structure designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
In the late 1980's Dorchester was bypassed.
Charles, Prince of Wales has recently inspired the self-contained village of Poundbury on the western fringes of the town.
Dorchester Town F.C. a conference South football (soccer) team plays in the town.
Two miles southwest of the town centre, sat on a steep chalk hill, is the large Iron Age hill fort Maiden Castle, which was one of the most powerful settlements in pre - Roman Britain. The fort was important to the Romans and the Saxons, whose invasions of Dorset weren't seen as complete until they had captured the hill.
The town, originally named Durnovaria, was founded by the Romans in AD 70. The town still has some Roman features, including part of the town walls and the foundations of a Roman town house, which are freely accessible near County Hall.
There are many Roman finds in the County Museum. The Romans built an aqueduct to supply the town with water but only a few traces remain at nearby Whitfield Farm. Near the town centre is Maumbury Rings, an ancient British earthwork converted by the Romans for use as an Amphitheatre, and to the north west is Poundbury Hill, another pre-Roman fortification.
In the 17th century the town was at the centre of the Puritan emigration to America, and local Rector, John White, organised the settlement of Dorchester, Massachusetts. The town was heavily defended against the Royalists in the English Civil War.
In 1685 the Duke of Monmouth failed in his invasion attempt, and almost 300 of his men were condemned to death or transportation in Judge Jeffreys' "Bloody Assizes", held in the Oak Room of the Antelope Hotel, Dorchester.
In 1613 and 1725 two great fires destroyed large parts of the town, but some of the mediaeval buildings, including Judge Jeffreys' lodgings, and the Tudor almshouse can still be found in the town centre, amongst the replacement Georgian buildings, many of which are built in Portland limestone.
Local author and poet Thomas Hardy based the fictional town of Casterbridge on Dorchester. Hardy's childhood home can be found to the east of the town, and his house in town, Max Gate, is open to the public.
William Barnes, the local dialect poet, was Rector of Winterborne Came, a small hamlet near Dorchester, for many years, and ran a school in the town.
Both men have statues in the town centre.
Both Thomas Hardy and poet Cecil Day Lewis are buried in Stinsford, one mile from Dorchester. A statue of Hardy stands beside the main crossroads in the town.
On the hills to the south east of the town stands Hardy's Monument, a memorial to the other local Thomas Hardy, Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, who served with Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, which looks out over Dorchester, Weymouth, the Isle of Portland and Chesil Beach.
Athelhampton is a fine 15th-century manor house five miles east of Dorchester.
" a man might as well spend time in Dorchester as in any town in England". -- Daniel Defoe.
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