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Dorset County Museum
Dorset County Museum victorian gallery.JPG
Victorian interior of the Dorset County Museum
Established 1846
Location Dorchester, Dorset
Visitors 47,000 (2016)
Founder Thomas Hardy and others.
Architect G R Crickmay and Son

The Dorset County Museum is located in Dorchester, Dorset, England. Founded in 1846, the museum covers the county of Dorset's history and environment. The current building was built in 1881 on the former site of the George Inn. The building was designed specifically to house the museum's collection and is in the neo-Gothic style.

The museum includes information and over 2 million artifacts associated with archaeology (e.g., Maiden Castle), geology (e.g., the Jurassic Coast), history, local writers (e.g. Thomas Hardy) and natural science. There are video displays, activity carts for children, and an audio guide. The collections include fossilised dinosaur footprints, Roman mosaics and original Thomas Hardy manuscripts.


The museum was founded in 1846, and includes two significant collections, the archive of Thomas Hardy's works and fossils from the Jurassic Coast. The total collection extends to approximately four million items. The museum is owned by the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society. Many items in the museum's collection have been stored at the nearby All Saints' Church. The museum was receiving approximately 45,000 visitors each year in 2014, which had increased to 47,000 visitors each year in 2016. TripAdvisor has awarded its Certificate of Excellence Award to the museum for four years in a row.

In 2016, the museum unveiled plans for a £13 million extension which would include a learning centre, cafe, library and shop, allowing the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society's full collection to hold together in one building. Three quarters of the funding for the extension would be put forward by the Heritage Lottery Fund, allowing much more of the collection to be viewed. Without the extension, less than two percent of the museum's collection is on display.


Thomas Hardy was one of the founders of the museum, and over seven thousand artefacts related to him are in the museum's collection, including an 1874 first edition copy of Far From The Madding Crowd. Other items in the Hardy archive include his handwritten manuscript for The Woodlanders, his sister's dress which is thought to be inspiration for the dress in Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and a reconstruction of Hardy's study.

The Ancient Dorset Gallery was opened by Julian Richards in November 2015 and includes Viking historical artefacts from a nearby burial site. Other artefacts include pre-historic flint hand axes, a Roman glass bowl and an Iron Age bronze mirror. The British Museum loaned three neolithic jadeite axes and mace heads to the museum to add to the display.

In July 2016, the museum opened a gallery dedicated to the work of William Barnes, telling the story of his humble roots to his legacy in poetry, novels and music. The gallery was opened by Bonny Sartin, lead singer of The Yetties.

In 2018 Dippy, a plaster-cast of a dinosaur which was usually housed in the Natural History Museum, London, was exhibited at the Dorset County Museum from 10 February 2018 to the 7 May 2018.


Dorset County Museum is on High West Street in Dorchester, Dorset. Built from Portland stone in approximately 1881, it was designed by architects G R Crickmay and Son from Weymouth. The building is two storeys high with a slate roof, it has two stringcourses on the gently sloped walls, with hood moulds over the windows and a crenellated parapet. The frontage includes a 2-storey bay with 7 transom windows. At the top of the bay there is a trefoil-headed panel displaying the Dorchester coat of arms. The cast-iron columns and the other metalwork in the aisled Victorian Hall were cast in Frome by Edward Cockey & Sons.

On the first floor there is an oriel window in the corner, above carved squinches. The door is to the left of the bay, displaying three coats of arms above. The building was designated Grade II listed building status on 8 May 1975, as part of a group with the nearby Shire Hall, Holy Trinity Church and St. Peter's Church. To the rear of the building, the museum also owns John White's rectory, where he resided whilst obtaining charters for the colonisation of Massachusetts.


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