A MUSEUM in Dorchester has been awarded a highly prestigious award, putting it in the esteemed company of Stonehenge, Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London.

Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum collected the Sandford Award for Heritage Education at a ceremony held at the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood in London.

The quality mark award, from the Heritage Education Trust and Bishop Grosseteste University, recognises excellence in heritage education programmes.

The Grade-I listed Georgian courthouse in Dorchester re-opened as a new tourism attraction, Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum, on May 1 last year.

The museum is a registered charity, run by the Shire Hall Trust. It was restored thanks to a £1.5m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which was match-funded by West Dorset District Council, which used to be based at Shire Hall.

Since the museum opened more than 17,000 visitors have come through its doors from around the world.

Learning manager at the museum, Anne Brown, said: “We’re over the moon, we still can’t believe we have won this award for our learning programmes in our first year.

"We’ve had thousands of school and university students through the doors since we opened, and we have worked hard to create tailored sessions for schools.

"The volunteers and researchers have put so much time into this project, so it’s wonderful for them to receive this recognition – it’s a very collaborative process and I couldn’t be more delighted we have won.

“Creating the learning programme from scratch has been a fantastic and hugely rewarding challenge– there’s such a rich history at Shire Hall and we are discovering new stories all the time. This means our learning offer is constantly evolving and I can’t wait for schools to see what we have been working on.”

Shire Hall delivers a wide variety of programmes for schools to fit around different elements of the curriculum including History, Literacy, PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education), SMSC (Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural development), British Values and creative activities.

Programmes include workshops looking at individual child criminal case studies, crimes and their punishments, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, Victorian life and 'literature on trial'.

The Sandford Award judges praised the team at the museum, saying: “A visit to Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum is one children will long remember.”