Dorchester's Shire Hall Tolpuddle trial building plans approved

Shire Hall, Dorchester The old courts and cells are now set to be transformed into a £2.9m visitor centre

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Plans to transform Dorset's Tolpuddle Martyrs trial court building into a tourist attraction have been approved.

Dorchester's Grade-I listed Shire Hall was the scene of the significant moment in the history of the trade union movement in the 1800s.

Planning permission for the old courts and cells to be transformed into a £2.9m visitor centre has now been granted by the district council.

A bid for £1.1m of Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) cash is being put together.

If the Shire Hall Trust is successful in its bid this summer, West Dorset District Council will match the funding.

The project was initially awarded £69,000 by the HLF and £100,000 from the authority.

The Old Crown Court at Shire Hall The visitor centre is expected to include live performance as well as audio and video guides

The six Tolpuddle Martyrs were agricultural labourers who formed a "friendly society" - a forerunner to a trade union - and swore an illegal oath to protect their falling wages in 1834.

They were sentenced to seven years' transportation to an Australian penal colony.

However, outrage about their punishment caused protests across England and after four years they were pardoned and returned home.

Novelist and poet Thomas Hardy was also magistrate at the court for 15 years.

As well as further funding the proposals for the building, on High West Street, also need the agreement of the secretary of state.

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