Easter at Weymouth in 1896

Weymouth is basically a tradition bucket and spade seaside town, that is how we began our rise as a resort in Georgian times, and so it has been ever since!

The town council has the task of helping to promote the town, as it always has done, but as the recession has hit, they have had to juggle ever decreasing finances, and make unpopular decisions which meant they had to axe certain events in the resort due to lack of finances.

None of this is new…even way back during the Victorian era, the council had to juggle their finances, while still attracting tourists and keeping the locals happy.

The resident military and naval companies were often first port of call for the towns entertainment, they provided bands to play in the resort, put on theatrical shows to help raise funds for local charities.

In April of 1896 it was the first Bank holiday of the year, and the start of the tourist season.

Walter Robert Wallis was the secretary for the Town’s Amusement Committee, as the name suggests it was their focus to organise and arrange any events in the town. (He has already cropped up in another story about pugilistic councillors on here, he certainly was a character)

Originally there was supposed to have been a sham fight arranged for that weekend between the military in the area and the navy, a great crowd puller for the resort. However at the last moment plans were changed and  the military had to pull out . On hearing this the town current Mayor, T. H. Williams contacted the Vice-Admiral, Lord Walter Kerr of the Fleet, asking  if they could provide some other form of entertainment for the town instead. Kerr agreed to supply a band to give performances in the Alexandra gardens, and for his men to partake in the Regatta that was already organised.

The weather was set fine for the Easter holiday, sunny, if not on the fresh side, but this didn’t stop the tourists and day trippers flooding into the seaside town. Tourist numbers were up this year!…as normally happens with good weather, which of course, it still does today, forecasters predict sunny weather, and everyone and their aunts heads for the coast!

Special train excursions laid on to Weymouth poured in from all directions, Bristol, Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Yeovil, trains run by the Great Wetern Railway, while the South-Western brought passengers in from places such as Plymouth. Thousands of excited, eager  adults and children disgorged from the station and streamed up through King Street and onto the seafront , some heading straight for the beach, where they could paddle in the shallow waters of the bay, or even swim from the bathing machines if they were feeling brave enough.

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Others took the opportunity to stroll along the esplanade, some towards the harbour, others went in the oposite direction, away from the busy throng.

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The local boatmen were reported as to having a very busy start to their season.

Walter Wallis had been tirelessly working behind the scenes in the meanwhile, organising Monday’s Regatta with the help of the Navy. He had helped to collect private subscriptions from local people of standing, and due to his persistance had managed to collect a total of £60 in prize money for the contestants.

Bank holiday Monday dawned fine and bright. Perfect conditions for the Channel Fleet Regatta, and perfect for drawing more tourists to the town to watch the antics. Under the stern eye of Commander Williams of H.M.S. Resolution, the racing began out in the calm bay. A variety of the ships men competed for the prize money and the honour of winning in their class. There was six oared gigs racing, marines in cutters, five oared whalers, stokers in cutters, pinnaces, double banked….they had certainly laid on plenty of exciting entertainment for locals and tourists alike.

Later, in the evening, the boys from local H.M.S. Boscowen entertained the crowds on the pier with their musical prowess. Further along, in the Alexandra gardens, the massed band of the Fleet performed before a packed audience. It was reckoned that between 2-3,000 people attended in this little space, no doubt may more watched and listened from outside the low walls, reluctant, or unable to pay the admission fee. Their rousing performance had raised a grand sum of £20.1s 8d, this would go towards the Garden committee’s funds, a good start to their season!

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Their evening was brought to a close with the playing of the National Anthem, and due thanks given to the men of the Fleet and the Town Mayor and councillors for the work that had gone into the event. The bandsmen were then taken to the Crown hotel in town where they were treated to a slap up meal.

The Weymouth holiday season of 1896 was off to a bang.

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