Dorset’s seven best kept secrets – which ones did you know?

Dorset is famous for many things – Durdle Door, Jurassic fossils and more – but there is perhaps more that the county is unknown for.

Classic books have been written here, secret tunnels have been dug, and famous kings have left landmarks as their legacy.

Read on to discover seven of Dorset’s best kept secrets and see how much you already knew.

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1 – Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in Dorset

The Scottish novelist and travel writer is famous for his adventure story treasure island and collection of poetry A Child’s Garden of Worms, among other books.

But its new gothic jekyll and hyde, first published in 1886, has become so well known that the name of its protagonist, with his split personality, has become part of common parlance.

The sickly Stevenson was bedridden with tuberculosis when he wrote the 30,000-word short story, having recently suffered a pulmonary haemorrhage.

The idea of ​​a man turned into a monster by a drug may have been inspired by the author’s own experience of cocaine, which was prescribed to him for the disease.

He was advised to move to Bournemouth – a place he visited regularly anyway – due to the warmer weather.

2 – Bridport is home to Britain’s only thatched-roof brewery, which has been brewing beers from local spring water since 1794

Next to the River Brit, just a mile from Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, is Palmers Brewery. With Maris Otter malt and whole leaf hops, they brew using water drawn from their own rising spring.

Visitors can tour the beautiful brewery and learn how local beers like Copper and Dorset Gold have been brewed for generations.

And the company has recently branched out into whiskey, gin, lemonade and ginger beer, all of which are sold in dozens of South West pubs.

3 – Christchurch was in Hampshire until 1974

The easternmost town in Dorset has been part of the unitary authority of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole since 2019, before which it was a borough of the county of Dorset.

But before 1974, the historically small and rural settlement of Christchurch was part of the county of Hampshire. This changed with the Local Government Act 1972.

The law reorganized local authorities in light of population movements. Christchurch was ripe for reorganisation, its population having recently quadrupled from 11,000 to 45,000.

4 – Wimborne would host Dorset’s biggest fireworks display

Wimborne and Colehill Bonfire and Fireworks Night is held every November at St Michael’s Middle School.

Lasting around fifteen minutes and launching around 1,000 fireworks every minute, it sees a whopping 1.4 tonnes of explosives hurled into the night sky.

As well as representing great value, the display raises thousands of pounds for good causes every year. Although canceled in 2021, organizers hope to see it return in November.

Other regular attractions include a bar, bouncy castles, family entertainment, and a supervised fireworks zone for young fireworks enthusiasts.

5 – Famous fossil hunter Mary Anning found her first ichthyosaur in Lyme Regis when she was just 12 years old

Mary Anning was a pioneering paleontologist whose work on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast changed the way the world viewed prehistory.

While most people still believed the planet was only a few thousand years old, as described in the Bible, his findings provided the first evidence that it was in fact much older.

Final make-up touches for actress Kate Winslet on the first day of filming ‘Ammonite’ at Lyme Regis in Dorset, playing Mary Anning – famous 1840s fossil collector

Despite this, she spent most of her short life in poverty – being a woman, she was excluded from professional and social circles that could have brought her fame and fortune.

His ichthyosaur was the first to attract wide scientific interest and his skull is still part of the collection of the Natural History Museum in London.

Kate Winslet starred in a film about her life, Ammonite, which filmed scenes in Lyme Regis.

6 – Secret tunnels under Dorchester are said to have been used by the infamous “hanging judge” Judge Jeffreys during the bloody assizes of September 1685

The year 1685 saw rebels in the West Country launch a two-month campaign to overthrow King James II and replace him with the Duke of Monmouth, known as the Monmouth Rebellion.

Quickly suppressed by royalist forces, the brief uprising was followed by a long persecution of those who had dared to defy the Crown.

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This included traveling trials, overseen by Lord Chief Justice George Jeffreys, who sentenced hundreds of rebels to death, earning him the nickname “The Hanging Judge”.

While seated in Dorchester, Jeffreys used a secret tunnel under Antelope Walk to get from his lodgings to the Assizes safe from the risk of mugging or assassination.

7 – Alfred the Great founded Shaftesbury Abbey

Shaftesbury Abbey is now just low, crumbling walls in a small field, but at one time it was the second wealthiest convent in England (after Syon Abbey in London).

Dissolved in 1539 during the English Reformation of King Henry VIII, it had been founded more than six centuries earlier by the Saxon king Alfred the Great.

Shaftesbury Abbey Garden
Shaftesbury Abbey Garden

Alfred installed his daughter Æthelgifu as first abbess, described by the Welsh monk Asser as “consecrated to God by her holy virginity”.

In 981, the abbey received the remains of Saint Edward the Martyr, who was buried with full honours. The abbey became the center of a religious cult venerating the murdered king.

Did we miss something you consider a hidden Dorset gem? You can comment below with your opinions.

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