Dorset, county (1991 pop. 645,200), 1,025 sq mi (2,655 sq km), SW England, on the English Channel. The county seat is Dorchester, and the county is divided into six administrative districts: West Dorset, Weymouth and Portland, North Dorset, Purbeck, East Dorset, and Christchurch. The rolling country is crossed by the North Dorset and South Dorset downs, chalk ranges running east and west. The rocky coastline has a harbor at Poole, historically part of the county but now administratively separate. The fertile valleys (the Vale of Blackmore, the Stour, and the Frome) are devoted to agriculture. Sheep, cattle, pigs, and poultry are raised, and barley, kale, wheat, oats, beans, and peas are grown. There is also dairy farming. Portland and Purbeck marble are quarried in Dorset. Tourism is increasingly important to the economy; Bournemouth, also now administratively separate from the county, has been a resort since the late 19th cent. The county's pre-Roman antiquities include Maiden Castle. Dorset, also known as Dorsetshire, was part of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex. Thomas Hardy was born there and treats the region in some of his novels. In 1974 the county was reorganized as a nonmetropolitan county, and a section of Hampshire was added.
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