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The Keep Today


There is a monogram carved on the front of the first floor balcony, above the entrance. This was designed and made by Mr Ben Grassby, founder of Dorchester stonemasons Grassby and Sons.

The entrance to the Keep was once flanked by two Great War guns. These were requisitioned and melted down as scrap metal during World War Two.

On the back wall of the Keep there is a clock with a bullet hole between the numeral 6 and the centre of the hands. There are several theories as to the origin of this hole including a shot accidentally fired by a soldier cleaning his rifle in the very last barrack block, at the far end of the parade ground. Whatever the truth, the incident did not affect the workings of the clock which still has to be wound daily.

The Ground Floor

Today you enter the Keep through what were the old guard room and the prisoner's rest room. This is now glassed-in but was originally the main roadway through the barracks. Next is the cell area with one cell retained and reconstructed to give a stark reminder of what conditions were like in the late 1800s. The jungle display to the left of the cell has been built in the old powder magazine room. Look up at the arched ceiling. This was to help cushion an explosion should one have occurred.

The Old Lift

Once through the jungle display you will come across the old lift in the West Tower. This lift was used to transport arms, ammunition and heavy stores to the upper floors. It was made by Burnett and Co. of New Cross and was designed to lift 5 cwt (354 kgs) by hauling on a rope connected to mechanisms which can still be seen at the top of the tower.

The Upper Floors & West Tower

The spiral staircase alongside the lift leads up the West Tower to the three upper floors. These floors were originally used for storing around 2500 weapons, their ammunition and accoutrements. Today they display the history of the constituent regiments including Hitler's desk, a fine collection of medals and artefacts dating from 1685 to the present day. The floors themselves measures 54 feet by 4 feet and are supported by iron columns. There was originally a 3 inch (76mm) water main running up the staircase, and each floor had a water hydrant. The water for these was held in a 1000 gallon (4546 litre) tank situated at the top of the West Tower, above the lift mechanism.

The View from the Roof

The West Tower eventually leads out of the roof near the top of the two imposing round towers which stand 20 metres above the street. Here there are spectacular views over Dorchester. From the front you look out over the town centre towards Fordington and Puddletown. You can see three parish churches and the old Eldridge Pope Brewery Chimney. From the right are the modern buildings of West Dorset Hospital, beyond which are Maiden Castle and the Ridgeway hills. From the back you look out over the old parade ground (now a car park), the 'Little Keep' and the Gymnasium (now the Post Office). In the middle distance is the Iron Age Poundbury earthworks. Looking out to the east, the red brick building directly below you is the old Royal Artillery Barracks, now the TA Centre. At the top end of the High Street, at the end of the Top O' Town car park is a grey-stone house, now called Top O' Town House and owned by the council. This was once the home of the Depot's Commanding Officer.

The East Tower

.Situated on the East Tower turret of the roof was the disinfecting room which was used for treating 'the itch', the slang name for scabies. Scabies is an extremely itchy skin condition caused by a tiny mite which burrows into the skin to lay eggs. As the eggs hatch, the skin develops an allergic reaction and rash. Scabies is highly contagious and spreads quickly by physical contact, particularly in cramped and over crowded living conditions. An army barracks was the ideal home for the scabies mite. Sufferers were therefore isolated to try to stop the spread on infection and access to this room was from the roof only. There is no public access to this room today.