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via When Andromeda and the Naval Fleet went Walkabouts from Weymouth. August 1899.

When Andromeda and the Naval Fleet went Walkabouts from Weymouth. August 1899.

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And the Band Played On; Music from the British Royal Navy

NOTHE FORT AND BEYOND...

Someone once asked me why I write posts about the navy when my blog and book were entitled Nothe Fort and Beyond.

 ‘Beyond’ maybe gives a clue because the Victorian fortifications weren’t built as a stand alone defence. They were not only designed to protect our south coast from invasion but to protect the naval fleets that moored within the nearby bases, Portland Roads was one such base.

Like the resident military, when these men of the sea arrived in port their musical services were swiftly snapped up to entertain the local population and tourists alike in the nearby bandstands such as Alexandra gardens shown below and in local theatres.

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I came across this interesting article written in The Navy & Army Illustrated magazine of 1899 and added it here because I thought some might enjoy this snippet of naval history.

MUSIC AFLOAT

Everyone who has served on board…

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Yohoo, I’m back…..

Hello folks, you have noticed (or more likely not) that I have been missing for a while from my page.

That is because I have been struggling to finish my book and get it into print and with a great deal of help from my long suffering family I finally reached my goal!

Yipee…mentally turns cartwheels

So I can proudly say I am now the published author of Nothe Fort and Beyond.

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Don’t think this is just a book about the military in Weymouth though…which of course it is…but it contains so much more.

Stories of Weymouth and Portland families, tales of the harsh conditions for the convicts and local quarrymen in the Portland dust bowls.

The doings of local bobbies in their fight to keep soldiers and residents on the straight and narrow.

There’s disasters, deaths, murders, suicides, and on somewhat a happier note marriages and love affairs.

Who knows, you might even find one of your relative’s tales within its pages.

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available from Amazon at £9.99.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Nothe-Fort-Beyond-Weymouth-Portland/dp/1977592686/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1512453469&sr=1-1&keywords=nothe+fort+and+beyond

But fear yea not…I have loads of Weymouth tales ready and waiting in the pipeline, I spend an awful lot of time recumbent, day dreaming about local tales of old!

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Worth a Thousand Words?

Kathy Sharp

IMG_8249Once upon a time novels used to be illustrated. My copy of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, which belonged to my late mother-in-law, is a dull little book at a glance – until you open it and find the illustrations. Your feeling for the story – your curiosity – is awakened immediately. Who are these people, and what is their tragic entanglement? It’s an inducement to read on.

I remembered this recently when someone asked me where I saw the future for my writing. I thought long and hard about this. Would I like to sell lots of books? Of course. Win critical praise? Who wouldn’t? But what I’d really like to do is write beautiful stories and have them enhanced by beautiful illustrations.

I’m not talking about graphic novels here – I’m talking about a book containing occasional illustrations to surprise and delight the reader as they turn the…

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Granfer Henry reads the news; Every Day Lives in Weymouth; September 1884.

What I find fascinating about mooching through old newspapers is not only the sensational crimes and usual misdemeanors that fill the columns of the local papers, but also those mundane snippets that give us every day glimpses of our Victorian ancestors lives.

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In some sense, they really weren’t that much different from us.

Take The Dorset County Chronicle of 11th September 1884.

Just like we do today (well, those of us that still browse the physical pages of print rather than online) your GGG Grandfather Henry might well be sat in his plush, red velvet armchair that late summer’s afternoon, his pince-nez slid down to the tip of his nose as he perused the trials and tribulations of his fellow townsmen.

Would he have nodded in satisfaction when  he read that Reuben Newberry of Upwey  had a great year when it comes to growing his Dahlias.

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Well, of course, he knew old man Reuben was a perfectionist when it came to the floral side of things, after all, he did run Upwey Nurseries alongside his wife Miriam. They often exhibited in the local flower shows and came away with many of the prizes.

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He was also rather good when it came to cultivating families it seems, managing to germinate ten offspring.

Reuben had been showing some remarkably fine specimens of these flowers lately. Those that he had put on display being very much admired.

(Only a couple of years later and 73-year-old Reuben hung up his hose and laid down his dibber, an advert appeared advertising his very desirable and compact nursery and market garden. )

Maybe Granfer Henry’s eyes would next catch sight of a name he knew well…that caused him to sigh heavily…’What’s Wheeler been up to now’ he’d muse to himself. ‘Always trying to get himself noticed, that fellow.’

FINE ARTS the headline proclaimed. Specimens of photographic portraits &c. in every style of the art, take by Mr Wheeler of the Vandyke Studio, are now being shown by him.

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The studio was run by Harry Wheeler, a man with fingers in many profitable pies! One of them being photography.

Harry also ran a fine art studio, library and printing press, something that had got him into a spot of bother with the law in 1878. Apparently his press had been churning out defamatory leaflets concerning a certain borough magistrate, Joseph Drew, that had hit the streets of Weymouth just before  the municipal elections.

That September day though, the attending reporter waxed lyrical of Harry’s talents. He may well be proud of the work he has turned out, for we doubt whether it is possible for any photographer, either in London or the provinces to show a better collection.

Harry and Mary Marie Wheeler and their veritable brood (must be something in the Weymouth waters!) lived along Frederick Place.

When Harry passed to the dark room in the heavens (1895) his fingers in pies scheme had obviously worked their magic because he bequeathed to his wife and son, Frank Augustus Wheeler, dealer in fine arts, the princely sum of £4494 13s 11d.

But of course, Granfer would certainly have approved of the more sedate culture to be found in Weymouth’s theatres.

Mr Doryly Carte’s Opera Company were taking to the stage,  performing the fairy opera Iolanthe in the theatre (though it doesn’t actually say which one, for Weymouth had quite a few in those days.) The article claims that It will have splendid scene, effects and be most gorgeously dressed.

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But, just maybe, some of the entertainment on offer wasn’t quite to his taste.

There was a lengthy report on a Swimming Exhibition by Dr Jennings.

It was supposed to have taken place on the Wednesday, but as per usual fickle mother Nature soon put paid to those plans.

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Brave Dr Jennings, not one to be deterred, set out again on the Thursday, unwilling to disappoint his audience. Although the weather overhead was fine, the air was exceedingly cold, a “north-easter” blowing and the sea was very “loppy”.

About 300 folk had forked out their hard earned sixpenny pier toll to watch this intrepid swimmer take his leave of Weymouth’s pier.

Of course, as human nature dictates, there were always those few, about 100 more were in boats and therefore viewed this exhibition for nothing.

Ever the showman, Dr Jennings (who is a well developed man) made his appearance  dressed in an old suit. He then stepped up onto the specially prepared stage and made a great performance of putting on a pair of sturdy boots and lacing them up tightly, then donned a heavy overcoat, taking care to button it up right to his chin..

Jennings clambered down into a waiting boat and to the gasp of his audience, promptly tipped over the side and disappeared under the waves.

Of course, this was all part of his display…for he soon bobbed up to the surface like a fisherman’s cork.

Whilst fighting the tide and the swell, Jennings then proceeded to unbutton and remove his heavily sodden overcoat, followed by a jacket and then his waist coat. As each layer was discarded a great roar went up from the expectant crowd. His underwater striptease show continued with the untying and removal and his boot whilst being tossed around on the choppy surface, then off came his trousers and his shirt until at last he was down to his proper swimming attire.

He then proceeded to give a demonstration of how easy it was for man to float on seawater, reclining in a variety of postures on the troubled waves.

Not content with that, a chair was thrown to him, upon which he sat as if it was in deed on ‘terra firma‘.

All in all a jolly spiffing display.

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Not that Granfer Henry would have been overly impressed with Jennings japes, what he enjoyed most of all was perusing the columns of the naughtier Weymouth residents misdeeds.

Henry he could tut and humph with the best them.

Not much tittle tattle in todays paper he mused.

Only Granfer’s best friend, old John Vincent, who had been hoodwinked by a pretty maid entering his shop. She asked to look at diamond rings then sent John off to retrieve some from the window…and promptly took her leave of the premises, leaving John one sparkler short.

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The pretty maid then popped up in the watchmaker and jewellery shop of Henry Talzner in St Thomas Street. Thankfully he was immune to her fresh complexion and fluttering lashes and informed the police she had tried to sell a dodgy ring to him.

Weymouth’s PC Hansford knew his criminals though, he went along to stake out her mothers house in Trinity Road, where he collared her later that night as she returned home.

When questioned about the ring he noticed she was trying to remove something from her finger…something rather large and sparkly.

17-year-old Elizabeth White was convicted of theft and sent to prison for 4 months hard labour.

Maybe reading todays news had been all too much for Granfer Henry!

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Interested in Weymouth military and naval history? Why not pop on over to my other blog Nothe Fort and Beyond…

https://nothefortandbeyond.wordpress.com/blog/

Nothe fort and Beyond 261 KB

Book I Nothe Fort and Beyond is now available on Amazon
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Nothe-Fort-Beyond-Weymouth-Portland/dp/1977592686/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1512453469&sr=1-1&keywords=nothe+fort+and+beyond

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Looking for Victorian illustrations then check out my IStock folder at Getty images for 100’s of these fantastic images.
https://www.istockphoto.com/gb/portfolio/cannasue?excludenudity=true&sort=best

Weymouth’s invasion by the Dorset Rifle Volunteers; 1867.

NOTHE FORT AND BEYOND...

A taster of my book soon to be published The Nothe and Beyond…

Weymouth was about to be invaded. For the first time, in September 1867, it had been chosen as the training venue for the Dorset Battalion of Rifle Volunteers (DRV). This was the ‘citizen’s army’ hastily set up in response to the perceived threat of a French invasion a few years prior. Yet another prestigious event for the town. It would far exceed anything organised for Yeoman’s week. Mayor John Tizard was going to make sure of that. Weymouth was going to welcome the county’s volunteer soldiers with open arms and a whole load of foliage.

The week before the DRV’s arrival was one of frantic activity. Seen as a major scoop, they had to pull out all the stops to make it a memorable one. ‘Around and about and everywhere were emblems of festivity and rejoicing, triumphal…

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Naughty naughty…knocker wrenching.

NOTHE FORT AND BEYOND...

Throughout its history, Weymouth’s Red Barracks and Nothe Fort have seen various troops come and go.

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Some good, some bad, some just plain bored and a few high spirited.

Their boots marched through the town on parades, they wooed and (sometimes) wed the local girls, or maybe snatched a sneaky bit of feminine fun when they could from those who more than willingly obliged, their money filled the inns and beerhouse coffers.

But  for a few of them, their names became immortalised in the columns of the local papers.(Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser 26 Feb 1868)

Such was the case in February of 1868.

                                                                         Knocker Wrenching.

Weymouth folk were being plagued by night time mischief makers, namely the…

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Men of the sea; 1869

Not surprisingly, Weymouth and Portland folk have always looked to the sea for their favour and fortunes.

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However, old Father Neptune is a fickle master, sometimes he gives us untold riches…but he also has the ability to take those we love.

Such was the sad case in September of 1869.

You and I might think of Greenhill as a place where we dabble our toes when the weather is warm, or somewhere we sit in the pleasant sunshine to enjoy stunning views with a cup of tea or an ice cream. The long shingle beach littered with the last of the sun worshipers and the hardy bathers.

To our ancestors though, Greenhill was very much a workplace.

One September Sunday became a memorable day in Weymouth’s history.

It was when rich pickings had entered the bay, a vast shoal of pilchards spotted heading for the beach.

Of course, despite atrocious conditions, local fishermen did what had to be done, chase the liquid money. ‘During the whole of the day parties of fishermen had been engaged on the beach near Greenhill, in the pilchard fishery.’

But it also harboured tragedy for the fishermen.

The blustery weather certainly wasn’t in their favour that day, ‘the wind which was blowing in very strong gusts from the north-west’ had made for a ‘very sloppy sea.’

Our Victorian ancestors  were out in force that Sunday, partaking in the day of the Lord, dressed warmly to keep out the Autumn chill, little knowing that as they strolled ‘in the presence of hundreds of promenaders, bent on pleasure,’ they would become witnesses that were ‘entirely unprepared for the terrible sensation that awaited them.’

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Folks lines the grassy slopes along Greenhill common, watching as men dragged their wooden boats and heavy rope nets down the beach and into the water.

Time after time they rowed out into the wind swept bay, laying their nets behind them. Having circled round, they then began the hard work.

Men heaved and hauled in their cumbersome nets, moving ever closer to shore.

The sea literally boiled with thousands of erupting fish, screaming gulls circled above, diving again and again to greedily snatch their fill.

A productive days fishing was on the cards.

Men spoke of many a celebration that would be enjoyed that night at inns and taverns around town.

But about four o’clock that afternoon,‘opposite the house of Mr Trenchard,’ four men clambered into their vessel, ‘a trough, a little flat-bottomed craft.’

They too were going to grab their share of nature’s riches.

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First to climb in was fifty-seven year old William Watch. Despite his good age, William was a strong man and a powerful swimmer. He sometimes worked as a porter, but fishing was in his blood, it didn’t always pay the bills though.

William lived on Chapelhay Stairs along with his wife Elizabeth and their growing brood.

Fellow fisherman, Samuel Chick, climbed in next, he was a mere youngster at 27. Samuel Charles was the illegitimate son of Eliza Chick. Mother and son lived in Conygar Lane.

Also in the boat was William Chick of West Quay (or John, depending on which newspaper you read!)

The forth man to board that fated vessel was George Watts, a Blandford carpenter, but one who had moved recently to Wyke Regis.

During the inquest he was referred to as ‘George ‘Smuggler’ Watts.’

Maybe he was a man with a somewhat checkered past?

Rowing hard against the winds, the four headed for the tell-tell signs of the rich vein of pilchards, their vessel’s stern low in the water, weighed down by nets and rope.

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Once they reached their destination, the fishermen hurriedly began to lay their nets. Only problem was, added weight of the sodden nets dragging in the water made her stern sink her even lower.

Fate waited patiently in the wings…but only for so long.

A sudden swell swamped their low-lying boat, overturning her and catapulting all four men into choppy seas.

William Watch, Samuel Chick and George Watts tried desperately to right her again. But ‘Hampered as it is supposed they were, with the ropes or net, they could not manage it properly,  and turned her over three or four times.’  

Though it was not to be, ‘ at last, exhausted, they sank.’

Back on land, the unfolding tragedy was watched by horrified spectators.

Boats set out from the shore, rowing furiously against the waves in a desperate attempt to reach the floundering men.

One of those boats heading for the upturned vessel contained Sergeant Brine, P.C. Hansford and William Burt.

Old William Burt kept his eyes firmly on the spot where he had witnessed ‘ Watch rising and sinking,’ but once they reached the spot, he was not to be seen, only a  man’s cap being tossed around on the swell. William reached in as far as he safely could and managed to grab hold of someone’s hair.

Hauling in the fully clothed, sodden body was difficult, but the men managed and lay it out in the bottom of their boat.

He was still alive, but only just.

This was William Watch.

William Chick, (or  was it John?) had launched himself clear of the tangled nets and rope as their boat overturned. He was found exhausted, frozen, but still clinging onto an oar some way away from the boat.

William Chick was hauled ashore by one of the many men who had taken to the waters in a desperate bid to save the drowning fishermen.

By now the upturned fishing boat had righted itself again, but no sign of any of its other crew members. Fears were that they had been trapped by their own heavy nets and ropes which were now dragging the seabed.

Sergeant Brine and P.C. Hansford clambered into the empty vessel. They frantically tried to free the dragging nets,‘but the party found they had but one knife between them.’ It was a slow and arduous task as they cut one rope after another, though far too late to save anyone still entangled in the waters below.

Meanwhile, William Burt, of a goodly age, but one that hadn’t robbed him of his strength, rowed a semi-conscious William Watch towards the beach. At one stage, Watch rallied slightly and muttered “Oh, Burt,” and he moved his hands and feet,’ but soon after fell silent.

It took old William nearly fifteen minutes to finally reach dry land, where crowds had gathered.

Once ashore, Watch’s now motionless body was laid out on the shingle, he was quickly stripped of his sodden clothing.

Desperate to help, residents of Brunswick Terrace had been busy, they ‘pulled the blankets from their own beds, and hurried down to the beach.’ 

Even Mayor Devenish arrived on scene to take charge, bringing with him stone water bottles and a supply of suitable stimulants.  He ordered that troops be sent for to keep the rapidly gathering crowds back from the scene of the tragedy.

That summons for help also brought two surgeons of the 51st Regiment from the barracks, they attempted to help local doctors in their frantic attempts to revive a by now seemingly lifeless Watch.

For the next two hours, Dr Tizard, Dr Griffin and Dr Rhodes tried all within their means to resuscitate William Watch’s stone cold body, but to no avail.

Back out in the bay, fellow fishermen were still searching for the missing corpses of their comrades, George Watts and Samuel Chick.

There was not a sign of them.

The inquest on the death of William Watch was held in the Burdon Hotel Tap, where his corpse was laid out for jurors to peruse.

When Superintendent Vickery was questioned by the coroner about William Watch, he rather oddly replied that ‘he believed Watch had left eight or nine children; but Burt made a mystery about that.’

The body of 57-year-old William Watch, (father of an undisclosed number of offspring,)  was laid to rest in Wyke Regis churchyard on the 24th September 1869.

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Three days later, 27-year-old Samuel Chick followed in his friends footsteps, his body having later been washed ashore.

He was also buried at Wyke Regis.

There is no further mention of George ‘Smuggler’ Watts. Presumably old Neptune wound his cold tentacles around him and held him tight.

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If Weymouth’s military or naval history is your cup of tea try my other blog Nothe Fort and Beyond…

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https://nothefortandbeyond.wordpress.com/blog/

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My first book of Nothe Fort and Beyond is now out.

It can be purchased at the Nothe Fort Museum and Weymouth Museum.

Nothe fort and Beyond 261 KB

Or on Amazon priced at £9.99.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Nothe-Fort-Beyond-Weymouth-Portland/dp/1977592686

The Dorset Ooser

Dorset County Museum

This monstrous wooden mask, a bull’s hair and horns mounted on its low brow, was used to scare people at midwinter gatherings. Another was reported at Shillingstone and there may have been many more throughout Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire.  The Rev. William Barnes defines Ooser, oose or wu’se, as ‘a mask…with grim jaws, put on with a cow’s skin to frighten folk. “Wurse” … is a name of the arch-fiend.’

The replica Dorset Ooser mask that hangs in the Writer’s Gallery of the Dorset County Museum was carved by John Byfleet in 1975 for the Wessex Morris Men and is often used in May Day celebrations at Cerne Abbas and in dance performances.  DCM © 2015The replica Dorset Ooser mask that hangs in the Writer’s Gallery of the Dorset County Museum was carved by John Byfleet in 1975 for the Wessex Morris Men and is still used in May Day celebrations at Cerne Abbas and in dance performances. DCM © 2015

From the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society’ Volume 84, 1962, an article written by the H. S. L. Dewar. entitled ‘The Dorset Ooser

This extraordinary object, portrayed in…

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19th century New Years Eve

This New Year’s Eve musing takes on a slightly different tone.

Maybe not quite so light a subject as I would normally cover, but it’s a subject that I feel strongly about and that I think often gets brushed under the carpet.

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(The words used, though not nowadays politically correct, are ones that were used during the Victorian period. I did struggle to know whether to change them or to keep them, but decided in the end that to stay true to the Victorian values they should remain, after all, they had already been spoken and written so my evading them wouldn’t make them or the subject disappear.)

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New Year’s Eve means many different things to different people.

For some it’s time to pull out all the stops and party long and hard.

For others it’s a time for quiet reflection. A time to assess what has been and gone and that yet to come.

My main New Year’s Eve tales isn’t strictly purely Weymouth and Portland, but no doubt many of its recipients were of a local nature. Folk who through no fault of their own, had ended up somewhere they probably never thought they might.

The headlines of the lengthy penned article proclaim

                                                      ‘New Year’s Eve at a Lunatic Asylum.’

It is 31st December of 1866, a reporter from the Sherbourne Journal has been invited to attend the evening’s festivities at the Dorset Lunatic Asylum.

It is his report but I have rewritten it in my own words, accompanied by quotes from the article.

(This was the newly opened (1863) and much enlarged institute of  what later became Herrison Hospital built upon Charlton Downs. A place where my own mother was taken in the 1950’s when she suffered deep post natal depression after my birth.)

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It is 11 o’clock in the evening, the farewell night of the year 1866.

I am sat in the great hall of the new Hospital, a place that is generally referred to as the County Lunatic Asylum. I have been invited here to partake in the evening’s festivities along with the staff and inmates.

As a reporter, I suspect there is a hidden agenda perhaps. These great monuments of incarceration have received nothing but bad press in the newspapers recently.

First to enter the hall are the men of the brass band who step up on the stage and take their places. Most are artists who give their time freely, but a couple of the band’s members, so I’m told, are inmates of the asylum, one being an accomplished musician who plays the cornopean.

Then from the side enters another musician, the leader of the band.

He is physically carried in on another patient’s back, because of paralysis of his feet he is unable to walk.

So his story goes, he was a sailor, who, whilst on board his ship in the West Indies fell from the rigging and seriously injured his back. Arriving back in Weymouth some time later, he settled there, set up a school and “being a man of good abilities, did very well until he began to feel the effects of his accident, and it became necessary to send him where, kindly and humanely cared for, he might pass his days in peace.”

Not only did the poor fellow suffer from the unfortunate physical affliction caused by his accident but his mind has ultimately been affected also, “his chief delusion, I understood, was that he was chief heir to some immense estates; beyond that he was harmless.”

Once he is sat comfortably at the front of the band, the man is handed his violin. Hesitantly at first, he passes his bow across the strings a few times, eliciting discordant notes, but as he plays on so the sounds slowly begin to smooth out to more harmonious tones.

Then the double doors to the room swing open and in file the male patients “some staring vacantly upon the ground, others strutting in with all the swagger of ‘my lord,’ but all looking, clean, happy and contented.”

As they file past, a few turn their heads and nod at us, the guests seated at the front of the auditorium.  Though one rather surly fellow “got behind his attendant’s back, and did what is vulgarly known as taking a sight at me, all the time keeping his face as grave as a parson’s.” I hasten to add, somewhat disconcerted, I do not acknowledge his sour greeting.

Now that the men are seated and settled quietly, it is the turn of the women to enter the hall.

Like their fellow patients, as they pass by, their feminine faces reveal a variety of emotions and merely hint at their mental states. A couple of rather grand ladies make their particularly stately entrances, their full skirts sweeping the floor as they stroll imperiously across the hall to take their seats.

One believed herself to be a grand Duchess so I’m told, the other no less a person than Her Majesty, the ex-Queen of Spain.

Seated in the front row with us is Dr Symes, the Superintendent in charge of the institute and his family and friends.

Of course, there are the hospital staff present, those men and women whose duty it is to  care for their charges.

Not “beetle browed men or women with iron wills and arms to match such as the sensation writers of late have rejoiced to put before their readers,” these are “young men and women, neatly and modestly dressed, with good-tempered looking faces, laughing and joking with the rest.”

During the evening’s celebrations, I witness not the “slightest manifestation of violence” the patients behave impeccably,“indeed, the assembly would have set a good example to some where there is supposed to be more sense.”

One or two of the more animated inmates catch my attention and I enquire as to their means of being admitted.

Watching a man who dances in a very queer manner, “always on the hop,”  I ask why he had ended up in the asylum.

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His tale is a sad one.

Life for him, like many of us, had started out so good, so full of promise. He married a young, pretty lass and in their first few years they were happy. Then disaster struck the family, “the breath of the seducer coming over this like a cloud, a deserted home and the end-disgrace for the wife; for the husband a lunatic asylum.”

A valuable lesson to be learnt maybe, one never quite knows what life has in store for any of us really.

Another man, small in stature, catches my eye. He enters the room “with an appearance of being thoroughly pleased with himself.”

His thick head of hair is styled in the most elaborate of fashions, “it being parted in the middle, and evidently curled with great care.” Upon his delicately featured face he wears his carefully manicured moustache with great aplomb.

This man of distinction, imaginary or not, passes through the hall, only stopping briefly while he nods to the chaplain.  Upon that nod, “something was thrown across to him, which he eagerly caught at.” Looking closer I can see the item being a pair of “white kid gloves,” though they are far too large for his delicate hands and of a rather tatty state “ventilation was amply provided for by sundry slits and holes.” This does not bother the man at all, in fact “they evidently gave the wearer the greatest satisfaction.”

Once his hands are firmly ensconced within his gloves, he is convinced that he is complete in his full evening attire, then “he paraded up and down the room several times in great pomp.”

He passes me several times, and each time he stops before me, he elegantly stretches out one of his feet, keen to reveal his dancing pumps, which he admires himself so greatly, carefully turning his foot from one side to the other to enable a full view of their elegant styling.

Intrigued, I cross the room to talk to him. First, I take great pains to “complement him on his general appearance.” Something that obviously gives him great pleasure indeed as the widest of smiles stretches across his face.

“Ah” he replies proudly, “we Blandford people can do it.”

With that social exchange having been successfully concluded in his eyes, off he lightly steps to impress some other person.

The music ceases, we are all requested to take our seats while members of the staff and some of the inmates give a musical recital.

Having listened to a series of harmonious renditions from the singers and applauded their valiant efforts, the band strikes up once more.

I am now introduced to my new dance partner, a delightful young lady, “I believe she came from Cerne.”

As we waltz around the dance floor she proceeds to tell me that she is the “Duchess of Sherbourne Castle” and that she owns “various estates around the country.”

Pressing her gently, I remark that the “last time I was there a gentleman named Digby was in possession.”

That phases her not the slightest, with the merest upward tilt of her chin, she simply decrees that the man is merely “an impostor.”

During the evening’s proceedings, this sweet lady takes to the stage and performs a couple of songs and “a sweeter voice I never heard.” So pure and clear was its tone that “it sounded more like a silver bell than anything else I can compare it to.” Her “highest notes were given with an ease and clearness that was astonishing.”

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That reporter from the Sherbourne Journal wrote his sensitively drafted piece about the institution with a positive slant.

The original was a lengthy article which appeared in its shortened version in numerous  local and national papers.

A report created by “The Commissioners in Lunacy” from earlier that year reveals what exactly what and who this hospital served.

(Dorset County Chronicle 28 June 1866)

(I visibly cringe writing some of these words.)

“Three of the inmates suffered from religious monomania and one from over-study. But notwithstanding the large number of patients that have been admitted it appears that there are in this county no less than 12 lunatics, 156 idiots and 13 imbeciles…

 “13 idiots and 9 lunatics in the Weymouth Union.” 

Out of the 397 patients at the start of that year, 41 belonged to the Weymouth Union.

During 1866 the asylum employed 14 attendants, 10 nurses, 3 laundry maids and 3 kitchen maids.

No one was on the wards to supervise patients overnight.

http://www.charltondownvillagehall.info/about-us/our-history/

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On a lighter note, the years end of 1857 was not such a good one for one Weymouth fellow, a certain Mr John Jenkins Rolls. He was employed as the “Inspector of Nuisances.” I say ‘was’ because come the 31st December he suddenly found himself out on his ear!

Now, it wasn’t that good old Mr Rolls hadn’t been doing his work…oh no, in fact the reverse was true. Seemingly “his reports were as voluminous as a Parliamentary Blue Book.”

His role was that of being in control of those unruly Weymouthians and their suspect habits, such as Caroline Norris of Franchise Street, who “kept a pig at the rear of her house,” one which was “in a very dirty state, so as to be a nuisance to several cottagers near.”

Or digging unauthorised holes in the roads, that was the case against builder Stephen Brown. John Rolls had been sent to check  out the sorry state of South Parade, where he came upon “a hole, and the earth thrown in the middle of the street.” Might not have been any H&S in those days, but Rolls, wasn’t standing for it. He brought the case before the courts where he gave evidence to the fact that “There was no fence to prevent anyone falling in it nor any light during the night.”

Blighted by his constant reports of nuisances in the borough, the good old Victorian Weymouth Council employed a very 21st century tactic to dispose of him and his role.

“With the close of this year, the duties of the present Inspector of Nuisances are terminated. The appointment of the Town Surveyor and Inspector of Nuisances-blended into one office-will take place on the 31st inst.”

The author of the article declared that “had his reports been attended to by the Council there would not have been a removable nuisance left in Weymouth.” He then went on to point out that “they were thrown aside by the Council, and the Inspector was looked upon as a troublesome man.”

Upon being asked about the matter, the council replied “We are no respecters of persons; we only wish to see ‘the right man in the right place,”

HHHmmm………….

augusta-place

Never mind, it was only his prestige put out of joint, because John Rolls just returned to running his own successful business, a glover, tea and cigar stockist, situated in Augusta Place where he lived with his wife Ann.

(Dorset County Chronicle 31 Dec 1857)

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If Weymouth’s military history is more you cuppa…pop on over to Nothe Fort and Beyond…

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