Walking with Dorchester’s Ghosts
PUBLISHED: 15:43 30 October 2020
Alistair Chisholm is famous for the chilling Dorchester Ghost Walks, which he leads with Chris Gallarus
The authenticity of any ghost story is difficult to establish with any degree of certainty. However, stories and experiences, repeated by different people over a period of time, begin to acquire a degree of popular authority. After 25 years of offering Dorchester Ghost Walks, I remain open-minded about the existence of ghosts; any stories I share on my tour are an interpretation of hearsay, imagination and history.
Dorchester is built on an ancient site and boasts ghosts from the Stone Age to the modern era.
It has been the county town of Dorset since the 14th century when the first “County Gaol” was established at the bottom of High East Street. The site of the gaol moved to the corner of Icen Way and High East Street, this second location now being marked with a blue plaque, before being re-located to North Square where it remains to this day.
While there, Icen Way became referred to as “Gallows Hill” as condemned prisoners took their last journey up the gentle slope to the site of the gallows now marked by the evocative “Martyrs” statue by Dame Elisabeth Frink.
Residents of Icen Way speak of hearing the ghostly sound of a galloping horse thundering up the street to the site of the gallows. How might this sonic manifestation be explained?
Well, apparently, in Dorchester as in a number of other county towns, it was traditional for the condemned prisoner, taking their last walk from the gaol to the gallows, to be offered a final drink by the landlord of any public house they might pass. This role was fulfilled by “The Bell”, now, sadly, long gone.
The story goes that on one occasion the condemned prisoner, perhaps intent on meeting his Maker in a sober state, refused the proffered drink and, reaching the gallows slightly sooner as a result was duly dispatched. No sooner had he been “dropped” than a horseman galloped up Icen Way carrying with him the poor man’s last-minute pardon...This may explain the ghostly sound of thundering hooves, though it may also serve as a lesson to us all never to refuse a free drink!
Join Alistair Chisholm and Chris Gallarus for the Dorchester Ghost Walk on 31 October at 8pm from The King’s Arms. Find out more at dorchesterghostwalk.co.uk