On Friday 9th February Tamsin Little (Interim Co-Director and Communications and Fundraising Manager) of Shire Hall Courthouse in Dorchester delivered a talk to Year 10 History students and to the Diversity Council at Wey Valley Academy in Weymouth. Year 10 have been studying a unit called Crime and Punished for GCSE History. The focus of the session was a timeline of LGBTQ+ cases throughout history  alongside other famous  cases.. The most famous case was the trial of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. In 1834 six farm workers from Tolpuddle were arrested and forced to march to Dorchester. They were held in Gaol until the morning of 15th March when they were taken to County Hall and the Old Crown Court. The Court appears today much as it did in 1834. The men swore an oath and created a union due to the way they were treated by their landlords in terms of  pay and conditions. The Grand Jury consisted of James Frampton who had been agitating for their arrest. By 18th March the maximum sentence of seven years’ transportation  to Australia had been handed down. They were pardoned in 1836 and returned to England between 1837 and 1839. Tamsin Little explained to the students ‘this is where we get the  trade union movement from today and the TUC ‘.

Another case discussed during the session was that of Elizabeth Martha Brown (1811-1856) who was the last woman to be publicly hanged in Dorset. She was executed outside Dorchester Prison after being convicted of the murder of her second husband, John Brown. The prosecution said she had attacked him with an axe after he had taken a whip to her. Tamsin Little explained that today this would be seen as coercive control and self defense. The sixteen year old novelist and poet Thomas Hardy witnessed the hanging of Martha Brown and based the fictionalised eponymous heroine Tess on her from Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1892).

One student said of the session’ I really did learn about the justice system in the past and how there was a deep sense of injustice’. Mr Chutter, Head of Performing Arts and Teaching and Learning Challenge Lead, exclaimed ‘this talk was fascinating – how one can extrapolate the past and learn for the future – thank you to Tamsin for such an illuminating session’. Shire Hall have offered for our Year 10 students to undertake their work experience at the courthouse . Tamsin Little said ‘a career in a museum is so important as you are a custodian of the past-history and herstories’. Mr Chutter informed the students that there was a new project he is currently involved with called ‘Dorchester Sheroes’ to erect a statue to a forgotten woman in Dorchester and Weymouth and that Wey Valley would be involved in this’.