1857; Victorian Day-trippers excitement… journey to Weymouth

Today, we all seem to take many things, including technology, for granted, as ever more sophisticated gadgets and inventions are unrolled into our society.

We seem to have lost the beautiful wonder and awe of the Victorian era, when every new invention or places of travel created great excitement amongst the people, such sights were gazed at in amazement, people flocked to view a new piece of mechanical machinery working or marvelled at pictures of foreign lands.

Such was one event in 1857.

The train line down to Weymouth was finally opened in January of 1857, and it was to become popular with day-trippers and tourists alike. These are the days when most travel was still by foot, horse or stagecoach……

As a child, I can remember the excitement of purchasing a ‘platform ticket’ from the machine in the station, to wave off a friend on her journey…or the excitement or going on one myself, nose pressed firmly against the window as the ever changing scenery whizzed by.

The following excerpt from the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette on 1857 explores the new wonders of steam travel and arriving at a sea side destination that many had never even heard of, let alone visited before, most travelling that day had probably had never even ventured far from their place of birth, but here they were being given the chance to go forth…

AN EXCURSION TO WEYMOUTH

Friday was a day that will long dwell, associated with pleasing recollections, in the minds of the inhabitants of Devizes. At an early hour the streets were enlivened by a stream of people-men, women, and children-in holiday costumes, and with happy faces, moving in the direction of the railway station.

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There a lengthy train was speedily filled by upwards of a thousand excurtionists. It was composed of 23 carriages-its centre occupied the station, and its extended extremities stretched far up and down the line on both sides of the building. All was excitement. Novelty-that great ingredient in the cup of pleasure-held out many attractions. To most of the party, the line itself was new; an excursion train was new; Weymouth, the place of their destination, was almost unknown.-Many had never yet travelled on a railway, and a vast number had never set eyes upon the seas which surround their island. Crowds assembled to witness the departure of their fellow-townsmen. The platform of the station, the yards adjoining it, the heights above, and even the hedges for a mile down the line, were swarmed by people, like clustering bees. At a quarter to eight, after a whistle, a tug, and a strain of the engine, the monster train was with difficulty got into motion,and, admist the cheers of the travellers and the counter-cheers of the spectators, rolled heavily from the station, but soon was merrily gliding down the declivity of the inclined plane beyond.

A more lovely, bright, and sunny day could not possibly have been selected; it was not, moreover, too hot. Rain had fallen during the night-the air was consequently cooled-the dust laid-and the verdure refreshed. The spirits of the party were, if possible, still further elevated by the beautiful prospects along the railroad. A slight veil of clouds hung suspended in the distance between the beholders and the hills towards Bratton, and, whilst it scarcely diminished the beautiful features of the scenery, increased the interest, by leaving a few shades of the picture to be filled up by the imagination, as the eye revelled over the hills in the background, enlivened by the appearance here and there of human dwellings. Every shade of green gave a variety to the fields which bordered the line of railway. The mowers paused in their work as the gigantic trail of carriages approached. Two standing with their manly forms erect, with their brawny outstretched arms resting on their scythes, whose butts touched the ground, and whose blades were turned at right angles away from the holders, formed a copy for a sculptor who wanted a model for the personification of Time.

The labourers in the hayfields or on the stacks suspended awhile their avocations.

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The shepherd paused with the stake in hand which he was about to fasten in the earth to secure his hurdled fold. The peasant riding afield on the leader of a string of horses, checked his steeds to gaze upon the strange apparition.

So, advancing, and, Falstaff-like, being the cause of admiration in others, the excursionists proceeded on their route. Melksham is quickly left behind.Its smooth, unruffled stream shone bright as glass, with its broad lily leaves expanded in places over its surface, and with its dark willows fringing its banks. A pause takes place at Trowbridge, where smoky chimneys with their long shafts, and the manufacturing aspect of the town, formed a contrast with the rural scenes just passed. Its cloths of various colours were exposed to the sun on the banks near the station, purposely, it was facetiously suggested, in charity to remind travellers by the railway, and by excursion trains in particular, of death and dying; and thence, to further the interests of the company, by silently admonishing them of the expediency of insuring their lives for the remainder of the journey.

Onward sped the train; towns were passed in rapid succession-Frome, Yeovil, Dorchester. Villages and scattered hamlets with their slate walls, and thatched roofs, their comfortable farm-houses, their fruitful orchards, their herds of red cattle, and luxuriant crops, and their downs covered with sheep, were presented to the eye in quick review.

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At length the excursionists were safely landed at Weymouth, and descended from their carriages, while the accompanying band of the Wilts Militia played on the platform of the station.

It would have required the eyes of Argus to have enables any one person to describe the various movements of the happy party during the day. After awhile it was scarcely possible to look up at a window without encountering a friendly smile, a nod of recognition, from some familiar Wiltshire faces.

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It seemed as if the Market-place of Devizes were converted into the esplanade, while Long-street and the Brittox had changed places with the streets of St Thomas and St Mary, and St Edmund.

The chief point of attraction, however, appeared to be a visit to Portland by the steamers which were passing to and fro all day long. The steep sides of the northern eminance-on which the Government are erecting a fort to protect the proposed new naval station, and which is to rival Gibraltar in strength, and is to be inaccessable-were covered with persons gazing on the blue bay on either side on the island, the town and harbour of Weymouth, the stupendous breakwater, and the hills beyond, on which George III and his steed figured on the chalky down formed a prominent object.

The Breakwater itself was crowded with wonder-stricken visitors. So many passed over it, backwards and forwards, on that day, that it is scarcely necessary to describe it.

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To a stranger it was a novel sight in the application of railways, to see three lines of rails abreast, running, for the conveyance of material, directly out into the sea for a mile and 70 yards, on 915 piles, each one hundred feet long, 30 feet apart each way, and standing 60 feet below the water, and forming, five abreast a width of 120 feet. When it is considered that this width and depth, with the addition of another intended mile in length, has been or is to be entirely filled up by masses of stone, centred by a wall of solid masonry, rising up far above the level of the water, the mind is lost in astonishment at the greatness of the undertaking. Nine years have already been consumed in its construction. When completed, guns are to be mounted along it, and a fort at the extremity and another on the opposite eastern shore, will be able to command with their cannons the remaining two miles designed to be left open as the entrance to the harbour. The largest ships of war will be able to take in coal close to the Breakwater without the intervention of boats. When the harbour inside is completed by the protection from the sea, and from the attacks of enemies, it will be the largest, the best, and the most secure in the British dominions.

Visitors to the sea for the first time on Friday last had no opportunity of seeing “the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep, when the stormy wind ariseth, and lifteth up the waves thereof, so that they are carried up to the heaven and down again to the deep.” But such as have heard that mighty sea sea roaring, and seen the overwhelming dash of its billows, may be apt to feel a pride to almost deify man, when they behold science stretching as it were a chain over the ocean, running her engines over its surface, sending her workmen in diving dresses below its waters to rivet its fetters,

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and saying“hitherto shalt thou come, but no further, and here shalt they proud waves be stayed.” But an antidote is at hand for such pride. The visitor has only to return homeward over the Chesil Bank,

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and see a barrier formed-not by the direct omnipitent power of God, but by th eordinary opertaions of nature-out of the smallest pebbles rolled together, and presenting an obstacle to the sea tenfold more durable than the neighbouring work of man.

Let him, moreover, on reaching his home, read an acoount of the stupendous operations of his fellow-worm the minute coral insect. Of how this little creature raises land out of the level of the sea;forms islands;stretches reefs a hundred feet deep and for thousands of miles in length; and cements such harbours as man would shrink from undertaking the execution of.

Having thoroughly enjoyed the pleasures of the day, the excursionists assembled in the station at a quarter past seven, the time appointed for their return to Devizes. As they marched along the esplanade at this hour, scarcely out of Italy could be witnessed more lovely blue waters, or shores bathed in a richer golden hues of the evening sun. The novelty of the day was now well neigh over, and the travellers were almost too fatigued to notice the few changes in the  scenery since the morning, as the evening shades deepened as they journeyed homewards;

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how the cattle were no longer indolently grouped together, but were feeding, scattered over the pastures; how the fields were deserted by the husbandmen; and how the villages were now filled with their wearied occupants, who cheered the passing train; or how “all the village train from labour free” sent forth groups to lounge in the adjoining fields and lanes , or to bathe in the neighbouring brook,-Drawn by three engines, at length the excursion train arrived safely at the Devizes station, where it was received by vociferous cheers of welcome from friends who assembled in crowds to witness the return of the ravellers.

Thus ended a day of great enjoyment to the inhabitants of this borough; and much cause is there for gratitude to the Giver of all Good, that the whole party retuned in health and safety;-not the slightest accident having occurred to throw a damp over the pleasure of the excursion, in the participation of which pleasure all classes of society in the town had sympathised one with another in brotherly union and universal good will.

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Check out what the 20th century visitors came to see in summertime Weymouth. https://cannasue.wordpress.com/2015/06/21/weymouth-carnival-1980/

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