Maumbury Rings - Dorchester's Multipurpose Ancient Monument

Friday 14 July 2017

Maumbury Rings - Aerial View

Neolithic henge, Roman amphitheatre, Civil War fort, execution field, farmland, community venue, and perhaps many other purposes which have not been recorded…..the people who have lived by the River Frome in what is now Dorchester have certainly made good use of Maumbury Rings.

The ancient monument, virtually in the centre of the town, was originally constructed more than 4,000 years ago, and in those days had a ditch around the inside of the banking which has long-since been filled in. There is no clear explanation of what the henge was used for, although it is likely to have been for some sort of ritualistic purpose. In fact, there may have been many different purposes over the thousands of years until the Romans settled here in the first century AD.

The Romans built the town believed to be Durnovaria, and adapted the henge for use as an amphitheatre, including levelling the interior floor to form an arena and modifying the banks for seating. The arena was in use for possibly up to 300 years before being abandoned. We have no record of the games played here, although remains of bones have been found – let’s leave it at that!

It’s not clear what, if any, use was made of the Rings for the next 1000 years. The next clear evidence of use is during the English Civil War when the Rings were modified once more for use as an artillery fort to guard the southern approaches to Parliament-held Dorchester. A gun platform and ramp was added at this time as well as the internal terrace.?

Maumbury Rings - Inside View

The site was used for executions in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. It is believed that 80 rebels were sentenced to death here in 1685 by Judge Jeffries after the Monmouth Rebellion. Another notable execution was that of Mary Channing, a 19 year old woman sentenced to death by strangulation and burning after being found guilty of poisoning her husband. The site was then used more peacefully as farmland (as it probably has been many times in the past).

In more recent times, the Rings appear in some of Thomas Hardy’s works. These days, now hemmed in by roads and railways, the site is occasionally used for theatre, music and community events, as it has been on and off over many millennia.

The ancient monument is maintained by Dorchester Town Council, and is an open site with free access. Although the site is now mostly grassed over, and is sometimes allowed to become a little unkempt, you can still stand in the middle of the “arena” and imagine the events which have been played out at this very point over thousands of years.

Maumbury Rings is a ten minute walk from Aquila Heights, on the way into the town centre. You can book rooms online here or call us on 01305-267145 to discuss your requirements.

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Visited Dorchester last weekend for a Christening and booked in to Aquila Heights without looking at reviews just on webpage description. The welcome, service, room and food were simply the best we have experienced. Thankyou Derek and Wendy - wonderful hosts. 

Steviebarley - via TripAdvisor
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