A Hub of Heritage - Dorchester's Museums
PUBLISHED: 14:27 10 January 2011 | UPDATED: 21:41 20 February 2013
From dinosaurs to a dictator's desk, terracotta warriors to teddy bears, Kate Hall enjoys a day exploring Dorchester's amazing range of museums
From dinosaurs to a dictators desk, terracotta warriors to teddy bears, Kate Hall enjoys a day exploring Dorchesters amazing range of museums
As you walk from the top of High West Street to the bottom of town you will pass six very different museums. In this tour well be exploring some of the heritage highlights that Dorchesters museums have to offer, and maybe entice you inside during the winter months. Come with me on the museum half mile
The Keep Military Museum
Starting at the top of town, first is The Keep. Completed in 1879 and designed to resemble a Norman castle, it is home to 300 years of military history of the Dorset and Devon Regiments. Here I met John Murphy, full-time custodian of 15 years and retired soldier. He quickly demonstrated his passion for military history by telling me some wonderful stories about the precious objects in his care.
In amongst the medals and memorabilia is a wooden desk of substantial proportions, taken from the Chancellery in Berlin in 1945 by a British Officer; the original owner of the desk was Adolf Hitler. At the end of the Second World War Major General Bishop was Commissioner for the North Rhine and in a letter to the museum he indicates that the desk was offered to him and he accepted it, using it in his own study.
The desk generates a mix of reactions, as John recalls. Whilst on duty one Saturday three elderly people walked in, asking if they could spend 10 minutes in the museum before their coach was due leave for the homeward journey. John let them in for free and they went to the first floor after he told them that Hitlers desk was there. No sooner had the lift got to the first floor when it commenced its journey downward, emitting the two ladies who were visibly shaking. They both said that they simply could not walk past the desk knowing to whom it had belonged previously.
This is an understandably disturbing exhibit, but history cannot be erased, however uncomfortable.
WHERE: The Keep Military Museum, Bridport Road, Dorchester DT1 1RN 01305 264066
LOCATION: To the west of Dorchester town centre, near the Top o'Town Roundabout
OPENING TIMES: Winter (October - March) Tues - Fri 10am - 4.30pm (last admission 3.30pm); Summer (April - September) Mon-Sat 10am-5pm (last admission 4pm)
DISABLED ACCESS: Lifts to all floors
MORE DETAILS: keepmilitarymuseum.org
This first of the World Heritage Exhibitions, currently shown in Dorchester, was established after the success of the Treasures of Tutankhamun Exhibition at the British Museum. The Exhibition is unique for its innovative approach. It features Tutankhamuns major treasures meticulously recreated, wherever possible in their original materials, and has been extensively featured in television programmes and major documentaries. It was also the first exhibition outside Egypt to feature an exact anatomical recreation of Tutankhamuns mummy, a recreation that took over two years of research, X-rays and measurements.
In addition, Tutankhamuns tomb has been accurately recreated, together with all the tomb furniture and treasures, making it possible for you to imagine the wonder of its discovery when Howard Carter entered the tomb for the first time in 1922.
The Golden Room particularly has real wow factor. In an all-black room you are struck by the glistening Golden Mask and Golden Throne of the Boy King. With so much fascination still generated by this famous pharaoh and new research helping us to discover more about his life, the exhibition maintains its freshness and contemporary feel.
WHERE: Tutankhamun Exhibition, High Street West, Dorchester DT1 1UW; 01305 269571
OPENING TIMES: Open all year daily 9.30am-5.30pm; November - March weekdays 9.30am-5pm, weekends 10am-5pm
DISABLED ACCESS: Two small steps
MORE DETAILS: http://www.tutankhamun-exhibition.co.uk
Dorset County Museum
Its hard to pick out one item or collection to illustrate the County Museums many and diverse treasures. Museum Director Jon Murden immediately chose the Ballista Bolt as an exciting if somewhat gruesome winner.
As part of the History of the World project, the museum selected the Ballista Bolt as an object that helped shape both the world and the county. Its story, like so many objects of antiquity, still evolves and theories alter according to updated research and knowledge. This particular object was found lodged in the vertebral column of one of two skeletons excavated from a mass grave in 1930. It demonstrated how effective and accurate the ballista could be, with the Romans using it to greatest effect, as David Ashford, a volunteer at the museum, explains. The Ballista can fire bolts and arrows and you would not want to be under its barrage. It was certainly significant and deadly for our Celtic ancestors defending Maiden Castle during an attack on the hill fort. This collection of human remains is a poignant reminder of a dramatic time in the history of Dorset.
The County Museum is teaming with wonderful examples of local heritage and culture and is home to some great collections, as well as a centre for a whole range of diverse activities for all ages.
WHERE: Dorset County Museum, High Street West, Dorchester DT1 1XA; 01305 262735
OPENING TIMES: Open 1 April - 31 October Mon-Sat 10am-5pm; 1 November - 31 March Tues-Sat 10am-4pm
DISABLED ACCESS: Set down point in front of Museum. Nearest disabled parking at 'Top of Town' car park. Access to ground floor and Jurassic Coast Gallery via lift
MORE DETAILS: http://www.dorsetcountymuseum.org/home
The Dinosaur Museum
As you enter the museum you encounter a complete skeleton of the infamous meat-eating Megalosaurus mounted over a set of very rare footprints made by that dinosaur near Swanage. The footprints, along with what appears to be a tail drag impression, have added to the discussion that instead of carrying their tails these dinosaurs may have run dragging them across the ground: a bit of local palaeontology that adds further to Dorsets Jurassic pedigree.
Dinosaurs never lose their attraction and now in its 25th year and fitting within the Jurassic Coast experience, the museum offers life-sized reconstructions of dinosaurs with fossils and dinosaur skeletons to create an exciting hands-on experience for all the family. Stegosaurus Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops are safe to touch. These ones dont bite!
WHERE: The Dinosaur Museum, Icen Way, Dorchester, DT1 1EW; 01305 269880
LOCATION: The Museum is just off High East Street and near the main car parks
OPENING TIMES: Open 7 days a week all year 10am-5pm (November - March 10am-4.30pm)
DISABLED ACCESS; Ground floor accessible
MORE DETAILS: http://www.thedinosaurmuseum.com
Terracotta Warriors Museum
Dorchester is a long way from Shaanxi Province in China where the original terracotta warriors were discovered in the early 1970s, but this exhibition allows you to share in a small part of what is now referred to as the eighth wonder of the ancient world. More than 8,000 life-sized clay warriors were created to protect the tomb of the First Emperor of China. The museum also houses some original artefacts from the ancient world
You can get up close and personal with these surprisingly tall warriors, they stand up to 2 metres tall, which are not the originals but expertly crafted replicas made on the site of the excavation using the same clay the originals were made from. The warriors featured include crossbowmen, a charioteer, an officer and a general. Each individually detailed and no two faces the same.
As you come face to face with these remarkable facsimiles you can only marvel at the incredible story of their purpose and the human endeavour that created something so extraordinary.
Also featured in the Museum are fabulous costumed recreations of the First Emperor of China and his uniformed officers.
WHERE: The Terracotta Warriors Museum, Eastgate, Dorchester DT1 1JU; 01305 266040
LOCATION: Corner of High East Street and Salisbury Street; the Museum is pedestrian signposted from car parks
OPENING TIMES: Open 7 days a week all year 10am-5pm (November - March 10am-4.30pm)
DISABLED ACCESS: Two small steps at entrance
MORE DETAILS: http://www.terracottawarriors.co.uk
Dorset Teddy Bear Museum
I could feel a smile breaking across my face as I entered the Dorset Teddy Bear Museum. The teddy bear touches the child in all of us, says its curator and bear fanatic, Tim Batty. We hang on to our bears almost as if we are hanging on to childhood.
The museums residents are not all small cuddly types; there are also large adult set pieces beautifully crafted for the museum by theatrical costumiers. A favourite is Grandpa Bear sleeping in an armchair just be careful not to trip over his outstretched legs! The presentation is set out as an Edwardian home, it even has a life-size Mother Bear busy in the kitchen!
The museum traces the history of the teddy bear up to the present. It includes award-winning bears produced by contemporary artists in the industry demonstrating the vibrant art form. It is also home to one of the oldest bears, Michael (from 1906), which represents the beginning of our love affair with soft, cuddly bears. The intriguing story of how an American President lent his name to this little furry toy can be discovered in this enchanting little museum, which will fascinate children (big and small), as well as more serious collectors.
Best of all, touching is allowed!
Do I have a favourite museum? Thats a difficult one. For me, collections and objects that tell us about who we are and where we have come from are irresistible; being able to engage with the past allows us to ask questions about the present and the future. Each one of the Dorchesters museums has something different to offer. But dont wait for a rainy day to try them out!
WHERE: The Teddy Bear Museum, Eastgate, Dorchester DT1 1JU; 01305 266040
LOCATION: Situated on the first floor of the same building as terracotta warriors. No lift access
OPENING TIMES: open 7 days a week all year 10am-5pm (November - March 10am-4.30pm
MORE DETAILS: http://www.teddybearmuseum.co.uk