Long High West Street past the museum and William Barnes statue, remembered independent shops selling “clothes for gentlemen”, and leather goods for the rural leisured. A few remain in the shadow of closures, charity shops and the retail hopeful at best quirky, more often mournful.
At the top Dorchester Castle visited (for some reason) on a family excursion back in the 60s where the local military had Hitler’s desk on proud display.. And on High Street and down Cornhill, cafes offering genteel teas, historically prejudiced as tea-bound farmers’ wives taking a break after the weekly shopping round and meeting husbands done with bartering livestock. I struggle to equip the women with rubber boots and get them to the market too but I think it was not so.
And then the museum with its British Celtic defender from the battle against Vespasian’s Legio II Augusta (at what is now known as Maiden Castle) with a ballista bolt buried in his spine. Vespasian is remembered at Vespasian House (a Covid vaccination centre).
And the wonderful old museum hall full of objects from Dorchester’s history with Hardy’s study at the end. Now emptied of content, a space for events, elegant and architectonically fine but for me, with the memory of how it once was, too barren, a space for those with panic fear of the intruding object. The museum revamp was otherwise better than I dared hope, even the bookshop has perked up, allowing space for more volumes of Dorset interest although the obscure shelf warmers that I loved have gone.
And at the bottom not all the way down to Maumbury Rings but in that direction, the two stations, Dorchester West much as it always was but ghostly quiet with porter replaced by digital help point. And Dorchester South rebuilt to remove the nineteenth century vestigial terminus to allow trains to go straight through to Weymouth without reversing. Weird that it took so long to do this (was the idea of an extension to Exeter so long lived?).
Beside the South station, there was the brewery, Eldridge Pope. Industrial activity close to the town centre, at the same time clamorous and calm, all very West England, and now all gone, swept away by brewery consolidation, which unmired Dorset from its fastening in an earlier capitalism. Now it’s Brewery Square shopping and entertainment centre. As an architectural solution, I don’t dislike it. It’s not tabula rasa. Old buildings have been repurposed and we can imagine the area’s history not completely unanchored. But the quiet mellow where I peacefully thrived has gone.
The market is on the other side of Weymouth Road, its present state unknown although I suspect it is not what it once was. And beyond at the beginning of the rolling green relic-strewn country, there is Poundbury, with its imitation historic architecture, and the heavy royal hand with its Queen Mother Square and all the rest. Some individual buildings I like but it’s all appearance, the modern buildings are there behind the façade. And the styles are jumbled – it’s part village, part town and the community feels more socially upscale and dormitory than organic settlements. And it lacks connection to the glory of the surrounding countryside, reminding me more of a circle of covered wagons protecting against the outside wild.
Sometimes I feel mournful when I return, especially in winter, feeling estranged among the chic.
But I wouldn’t like it either if there was only the Dorset of my memories hanging on in shabby survival in slow collapse. All that’s living has to develop but I am at times Greekly nostalgic returning “home” in pain.