Dorchester is the county town of Dorset and the seat of local government, housing the offices of both the Dorset County Council and the West Dorset District Council.
The town was founded by the Romans, who named the site Durnovaria shortly after capturing the Iron age hill-fort of Maiden Castle in 43 AD. Today Dorchester is essentially a Georgian town, many of its old buildings having been destroyed by a series of fires in the late seventeeth and eighteenth centuries.
Dorchester was the birthplace in 1575 of Reverend John White. Though he never crossed the Atlantic, it was his efforts and energy in Dorset that formed the Massachusetts Company and led to the founding of Dorchester in New England. He had gathered the pioneering party of 150 colonists who would sail from Plymouth in the Mary and John in 1630. White's house stood behind St Peter's church, in the middle of the town on the north side of High West Street. He is buried in the church porch and has a fitting inscription:
Judge Jefferey's lodgings in High West Street is said to be where the Judge stayed in 1685 during the Bloody Assize, and the Antelope Hotel, (Now alas a shopping arcade), has a room said to be the courtroom where the trial of 292 Rebels was held. 74 men were sentenced to be hanged, drawn & quartered and bits of them distributed around the country.
The Old Shire Hall still contains the Old Crown Court where in 1834 the six Tolpuddle Martyrs were sentenced to seven years transportation to Botany Bay.
At the top of the town stands the statue of Thomas Hardy. Born in Higher Bockhamton, Hardy made Dorchester famous in his novel The Mayor of Casterbridge.