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Today the Keep Military Museum is a striking landmark in the heart of Dorchester. Completed in 1879, it was designed to resemble a Norman Castle, and is built of Portland stone which gives it a white appearance. In 'British Barracks 1600-1914', James Douet explains that:
'The 'keep' or armoury at Dorchester was an unusually realistic interpretation of a medieaval castle, by the army's standards, which must have been in response to local sensibilities over the historic character of the town.'
The design did not find favour with everyone. Pevsner, in 'The Buildings of England" describes it thus:
'The monumental gatehouse is a knock-down affair. Two round towers to the front, the archway between. Three storeys of long slit windows. Rock faced with a vengeance. Today it is a grade 2 listed building. The designer was probably Major AC Seddon R.E, head of the War Office Design branch at this time...The barracks behind were humble by comparison.'
A contemporary report in the Dorset County Chronicle and Somerset Gazette, 27 Mar 1879 was more complimentary:
'...a gateway of random rockwork in Ridgeway stone, with round and massive towers and battlemented surrounding...The Keep is to rise to a height of 65 feet...At the basement of the ponderous and formidable structure are guardhouse and prisoners cells, with all the necessary accessories. A range is provided for the supply of hot water to warm the three cells. At the rear of the cells is a yard for the exercise of prisoners.'
One of the three cells remains today and the museum has reconstructed it to give visitors an impression of life in a prison cell.
The Function of The Keep
The Keep was originally the gatehouse for the Depot Barracks of the Dorsetshire Regiment as well as the County Armoury. It was completed in 1879, in time for the amalgamation of 39th and 54th Regiments of Foot who become the 1st and 2nd Battalions The Dorsetshire Regiment in 1881. The Depot Barracks were the administrative centre for the Dorsetshire Regiment and its centre for recruitment and training. The Depot carried out this function between 1879 and 1958 with only one break. This was during World War Two when the barracks was used by the 701st Ordnance Light Maintenance Company and the 1st Quartermaster Company of the American Armed Forces.