Judges keep history alive at Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum

Judges kept a centuries old tradition alive when they visited Dorchester’s ition alive when they visited Dorchester’s Ego-Dorchester Princes StreetShire Hall.
More than a dozen Judges from the Western Circuit recently visited Dorchester to keep alive a historic tradition. They attended the Dorset Legal Service in St Peter’s Church before visiting Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum.
Prior to 1971, Assize courts were held around the Western Circuit, starting at Winchester, Salisbury and Dorchester, and ending at Bristol. Judges travelled round from one assize town to another, visiting the town and hearing civil and criminal cases. Traditionally Judges would arrive in the town in a coach pulled by four horses. They would be met by the High Sheriff, who would escort them into town. The High Sheriff would then escort them to the courts to open the commission, to their lodgings so they could change, before going to church. Then the Assize business would begin.
The Hon Archivist of the Western Circuit, David Pugsley, said that in the middle of the 19th century the judges changed to using trains for transportation and then, at the beginning of the 20th century, cars. In 1971 the Assize courts changed to be Crown courts and judges did not travel round the circuit in the same way.
Mr Pugsley said that there would have been great pomp and ceremony when the judges came to Dorchester. Entertainments were put on and then for the four days or so that the assizes lasted, the locals would gather in the Georgian courtroom at Shire Hall to hear the trials and verdicts.
He said: “During the days people flocked to town, plays were performed and then everyone would go to court for more entertainment.”
The modern-day event saw judges from across the Western circuit visit Dorchester. Mr Pugsley said it was important to ‘keep the history alive.’ He added: “Dorchester is so historic, with Maiden Castle and the town. Shire Hall is a wonderful building, having preserved a lot of the High Street exterior, it is nice to have the interior restored as well.”