1870; The Queens Own Regiment of Dorset Yeomanry Cavalry week at Weymouth.

Weymouth down through it’s past history has quite a link with the military.

In the late 1700’s The famous Red Barracks that sits up on the Nothe, its Georgian built accommodation blocks towering above the quayside cottages below, were built, first to house the cavalry troops, but then later converted to house infantry troops.

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The Nothe fort that was constructed in the mid Victorian era was to become  the home of the Coastal Artillery, built to protect our shores in response to a threat of invasion by Napoleon and France.

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Not only did we have the static soldiers that were based here, but Weymouth also became a favoured destination for those voluntary troops, such as the Militia, Rifle Volunteers, and of course the glamorous dashing young men on horseback, the yeomen, or to give them their full title, The Queens Own Regiment of Dorset Yeomanry Cavalry.

So important were their yearly visits to the town viewed by the council and traders that they went all out to make it  a special occasion. A fund would be started by a designated committee, this would have been used to provide entertainment for the mounted troops and their officers that arrived in the town. There was good logic behind this, for with the men came the crowds, rich and poor, poured into the area to watch the weeks spectacular fun and entertainments, it ultimately became viewed as the start of the season for Weymouth..

Each year, the papers would fill columns with the news of the weeks camp and entertainments.

What follows is a report from the year 1870;

On a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon in May the men of the Dorset Yeomanry started to gather at Corfe Hill, about 2 1/2 miles from Weymouth town,(not totally sure where this was, as Corfe and Corfe Mullen is far further away). This was to be their designated meeting point, the volunteer mounted soldiers and their steeds would travel from all over the county, excitement mounting, they had an action packed 8 days before them in Weymouth to look forwards to.

As was usual on these auspicious occasions large crowds of locals had started to gather, many making their way up to Corfe Hill to watch the men and their steeds as they arrived, and to make that journey down into the town with the procession.

Down in Weymouth more local military men were gathering to greet the arrivals. The Rifle Corps complete with their drum and fife band under the command of Captain Thresher and Lieutenant Tizard were mustered at the Kings statue. Joining them were the men of  the Portland Artillery, Captain Brown keeping a strict eye over them with the help of his 2 trusty lieutenants, Eliot and Andrews.

That year Lord Digby was ‘indisposed’ so taking command of the men was Lord Richard Grosvenor, the Lieutenant Colonel.

At 5 0’clock orders were given to “form fours”, the men finally were on their way. Leading the Yeomanry was a team of grey horses, each one carrying a member of the brass band, the mounted procession started to make their slow paced journey down into the town.

The nearer to Weymouth they got, the thicker the welcoming crowds became.

When they reached Lodmoor Hill, here they met the men of the rifles and artillery and the customary compliment of presenting  arms took place, then with the Yeomen leading the way, and the rifles and artillery bringing up the rear  the whole force moved along down the hill heading for the Kings statue. Once they arrived at their destination the lengthy human and equine procession reached from the Statue back to the Belvidere.

The men were ordered to “return swords and break away.” That was their signal that they were free to find their accommodation at last and settle in for the  week.

354 men were here to enjoy themselves (as well as train of course) and they wasted no time in finding amusements for the evening.

The Esplanade was heaving, packed with locals, visitors, soldiers and visiting sailors, many headed towards the Royal hotel where the Yeomanry band was playing under the baton of Mr Eyres.

Sunday was started with church parade for the soldiers, a march on foot led them to the door of St Mary’s where they listened to a rousing sermon by Rev T A Greaves, the local vicar, who took the opportunity to appeal for generous donations towards the Dispensary in town.

After lunch the band was called into action again, this time in the New (Alexander) gardens, the Mayor had generously opened the gardens to one and all…and one and all arrived! They were packed, people were stood outside and on the esplanade and sands listening to the rousing performance.

The Monday saw the start of the working week for the men. Once they had gathered at the Kings statue, they were led by the band towards Lodmoor, here they would learn to perform the drills and routines that would turn them into fighting soldiers.

cassels 1904 yeomanry 2

When they had finished the military exercises, the men were all presented with their brand new weapons, a Westley Richards breech-loading Enfield rifle carbine, state of the art hardware compared to what they had previously been using.

Tuesday morning was more of the same, practise practise, practise, men and horses working as one thundered across the turf as they learnt the necessary skills that would  make the foe quake before their charging lines and keep them alive in battle. The afternoons entertainment was thundering hoofs of a different variety. Everyone moved to the flat sands on the beach where horse racing was the order of the day. Lords and ladies, chimney sweeps and strumpets lined the promenade, betting took place, money to be earnt here!…pounds or pence, it didn’t matter, it was the thrill of the chase!

Once again the men went through their complex routines on the fields at Lodmoor on the Wednesday and Thursday morning. The afternoon and evenings were kept free for the fun that the council laid on…aquatic sports around the harbourside, races on the beach, music in the gardens, soirees and afternoon teas, many a pub to visit, many a wench to woo, the men of the Cavalry troop fitted as much in as they possible could, after all this was their week of freedom and excitement, the annual escape from the every day worries and toil of life.

All too soon it was Friday…the big day!

The grand Review.

Lodmoor was packed, the surrounding slopes filled with carriages of the rich and the gentry, all jostling to stake the best view of what was to come. All walks of life were here, admiring females, wily pickpockets, farm labourers and washerwomen, what they were about to witness was as exciting as it got without actually being on the battlefield itself.

For an hour and a half the dashing men and their gleaming steeds formed columns, wheeled left and right, a form of equine poetry as man and beast walked, trotted, cantered and galloped in tight formation….culminating in a blood curdling charge…full out speed, swords extended, mens faces yelling murder, horses hoofs thundering as they swept past the  excited crowds…a sight to behold, who wouldn’t quiver before that!

charging 1

The last night was the annual officers Ball held at the Assembly Rooms in the Royal hotel. for the ordinary rank and file it meant another evening enjoying the delights of the town, mixing with the many pretty (and not so pretty) ladies who’d ventured in hoping to meet a dashing soldier. The local Inn keepers slapped them on the back and welcomed them in to their hostelries, hoping that the star struck followers would follow.

woman sat at ball

Another successful year for the men and their officers, and a right good start to the season in Weymouth.

Saturday morning and the mounted men said farewell to their friends and colleagues new and old, riding for home with grand stories to tell (or not !) of their weeks escapades in Weymouth town.

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