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Shire Hall Historic Courthouse

This weekend, Lily, Jamie and I were invited to visit the Shire Hall Historic Courthouse in Dorchester. The museum is famous for the Tolpuddle Martyrs trial and promised an interactive and engaging day out for all the family. We certainly weren't disappointed.

From the moment we arrived, we could feel the absolute enthusiasm the staff and volunteers have for the stories behind Shire Hall. We were handed audio tour sets and found the commentary really interesting. The cases and stories really brought each room to life. In fact at the start we were asked to choose a case that we followed around the museum, becoming more and more eager to find out the verdict.

The films helped to humanise an understanding of law throughout the duration of Shire Hall's history. Each area had an interactive activity, designed to pique the interest of younger visitors. Whilst Lily is only 10-months old, there was so much to keep her entertained. She loved the films and exploring the cells in particular. The cells were astonishingly small and it was interesting to experience being ‘locked up’ for just a moment.

The Tolpuddle Martyrs is a central story for Shire Hall and is reflected throughout the museum, from the Tolpuddle Martyrs room, to the augmented reality exhibition, featuring commentary from direct descendants and case notes in the courtroom. I particularly found this story interesting as I had heard of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, but had not really learnt anymore. Their story is more relevant today than ever and their message of workplace ethics is a message we should all consider.

The courtroom was our favourite room, not just because of the array of dressing up props, which added colour to the different roles that make up a trial. I found the interactive trail game highlighted how biased the administration of law was in the early days of Shire Hall. Jamie particularly enjoyed reading the case notes for our selected trials, to find out the verdict. There was definitely some shocks in store.

After a busy morning of learning, role play and interactive games, it was time for lunch. I normally dread museum cafes that only offer cake, soup and a few unhealthy options, but Shire Hall have got it right. There was brunch options, jacket potatoes and sandwiches to cater for all tastes, alongside a good range of soft drinks, snacks and children's options. We both opted for jacket potatoes which were a good portion size and had the perfect amount of filling. Lily has beans on toast, which was so refreshing. Normally the children's option is not suitable for weaning babies, so this was very well thought out. We had tea, soft drinks and a couple of snacks to take with us and were please to see Nakd bars rather than chocolate on offer.

Finally we had a look around the shop, which really surprised us. Normally museum shops are a little dull, but Shire Hall's gift shop was packed full of local produce and unique gifts. I adored the girl power section, including socks, badges, books and mugs with empowering messages on eye-catching designs. I could have brought the whole range!

Thank you so much Shire Hall for inviting us to visit, we had a great time, learnt a lot and left still talking about the stories we had experienced. The museum from start to finish is buddy, baby and breastfeeding friendly and Lily had been so engaged in the sensory experience, she fell straight asleep in the car. That is the highest praise we can give!

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