Sidney Groves Memorial Hall; 1900-1987.

One of the beautiful old buildings that Weymouth lost during a period of modernisation was what was locally known as the Sidney Hall, this intricately styled  building sat in pride of place along the harbourside where Asda car park now stands.

There is a tragic family history that laid behind the building of this hall.

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The Groves family were wealthy business people who owned a very successful brewery over in Hope Square. Thankfully, the buildings of which still stand, but have since been converted to luxury apartments.

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John Groves was the chairman of the family business, Messrs John Groves and son.

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The family lived in Rodwell Villa, a large house that was set in extensive grounds, which later became better known as Rodwell Lodge. This large rambling house was converted to a hotel in the mid 1970’s, but sadly, later went the way of most of these large old houses, completely demolished and replaced by apartments.

John was a well respected business man in the town, he served as Town Mayor three times between 1886 and 1889. He was also one of the Guardians for the parish, and was known for his generosity towards those less than fortunate inhabitants of his parish. At Christmas time he would personally send out a bushel of coal to all the poor families under his care.

Living in their luxury home was John and his second wife Emily, along with John’s children.

John had three sons from his first marriage to Rosina Kerslake, Herbert, Ernest and Sidney and five daughters, Rosina, Alice, Emily, Lizzie amd Mildred.. The children, both the boys and girls, had  attended a private boarding school in Richmond Surrey, perhaps they had been sent there after their mothers premature death in 1869.

The picture below which was kindly sent to me by one the family descendants was taken about 1885.

Stood in the back row are Herbert and Ernest, the youngest lad, Sidney is seated to the right of his father, leaning into his body as if for support and one of his sisters has her hand protectively resting upon his shoulder.

The young girl sat in the front holding her fathers hand was Mabel Constance, the only child between John and his second wife, Emily Dods.

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In the 1891 census 22-year-old Sidney is employed as a solicitors clerk. But he was so much more than that.

Like his father he became involved with military matters, and became a Lieutenant in the Weymouth Company of Rifles, referred to as E Company. This was a band of volunteers that had originally been set up in 1859, part time but trained soldiers who could be called upon should the need arise. Sidney was also involved with many other voluntary groups including the Gordon Boys Brigade.

Sadly, money and wealth does not protect the family from heartache.

In 1889, John’s daughter Alice died not long after giving birth to her third child.

Then in July 1895 the family were about to be hit yet again with tragedy.

John’s youngest son Sidney was taken seriously ill with pleurisy, an infection of the membranes that covers the lungs. He was being cared for at the family home, and at one point seemed to be recovering.  On the Thursday, 18th July, Sidney suddenly took a turn for the worse, his loving parents were by his bedside when he drew his last breath that fateful night, he was only 26.

Heart broken, John prepared the funeral plans for the burial of his second child, but so admired and loved had Sidney been by everyone who knew and met him, that John had to concede to a public funeral.

On the following Monday afternoon the grieving females of the family set out from Rodwell Villa in their carriages and made for the small chapel at Weymouth cemetery, here they waited for the body of their son and brother to arrive.

At 3 0’clock the funeral procession left the house, Sidney’s last journey was to be a funeral with full military honours.

His coffin was conveyed throughout the streets in an open  hearse, the top covered with the Union Jack and his helmet.

Marching behind the carriage was the firing party that contained 40 of his military collegues. Also marching were members of the 1st Dorset Rifle Volunteers, they were going to make sure that Sidney had a good send off, one that he deserved.

Behind the straight backed soldiers came the family.

In the first mourning carriage was his heartbroken father John and his two elder brothers, Herbert and Ernest.

Behind the male members of the family came the procession of carriages of wealthy and elite families of the town and county, the Groves were socially well connected. The Pope family from Dorchester, they too were a brewing dynasty. The Weymouth Town Mayor decked in his official regalia.

But the average working man and boy was well also represented, they too had wanted to show their respects for the young lad and his family.  The Gordon Boys Brigade formed a smart company as they marched behind the carriages, followed closely behind by members of the Hope Brewery tenants and Hope Brewery employees.

People lined the streets to say their last farewell to this popular young lad.

By the time the cortege had reached the small chapel, the crowds had swelled enormously. His comrades in arms carried Sidney’s coffin into the chapel where it was laid while the sermons were read. Inside was packed with close family and friends. Hundreds more stood outside attempting to hear what was going on. Out of respect for the family those not related or acquainted stood outside the walls of the cemetery, it was estimated that the crowd numbered in the thousands.

No consolation at such a sad time for his family, but must have comforted them after knowing that he had been so popular and well liked by the local residents of the town.

Once the service inside the chapel was over, his coffin was carried out to the graveside, as it was slowly lowered down into the cold earth the clear voices of the choir rang out across the cemetery with their rendition of The Lord is my Shepherd. Tears flowed freely from family, friends and well-wishers alike. Death might have been more common during the Victorian era, but that never made it any easier to bear.

Laying by the side on the mound of earth that would later cover the coffin were the wreaths, marks of respect for the lad.

One wreath was from his own men in his Company,“From Major George, non-commissioned officers and men of E Company. With sincere regret and deepest sympathy.’Farewell, dear and respected comrade, till we meet at the last grand parade.'”

Many of those volunteer soldiers that had served alongside Sidney and were stood at his graveside would themselves be meeting him sooner than they had anticipated, with WWI waiting in the wings, they would be off to fight.

John over the next couple of years had thought long and hard, he wanted something meaningful and lasting built in memory of his son,  something that would be relevant to his short lifetime, but would also serve the community of Holy Trinity.

Finally arriving at the idea of erecting a fine building that would be used by the Church Lads Brigade amongst others, John contacted Crickmay, the well known local architect, and between them they arrived at the building that became such a  well known and much loved sight in Weymouth over the years.

The Foundation stone was laid in 1897 and the completed building was  opened on the 18th April 1900, the  Sidney Groves Memorial Hall was officially opened  by Lord Chelmsford. This was John’s lasting gift to the young men of the Holy Trinity parish in memory of his dear departed son Sidney.

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Besides the main hall were further buildings, the Small Sidney Hall that sat to the side and rear became the drill hall. Over the years various branches of the military forces used the building as a base from which they operated. The Dorset Fortress RE, the Volunteers, many a band led their way out of those doors with soldiers smartly filing behind.

During WWI  it became a temporary hospital for the sick and wounded as they returned from the French battle fields.

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During WWII, among other things,  it was used as an emergency school for the  children whose school had been bombed out at Chapelhay during the fierce air raids that plagued Weymouth.

A boxing program below from 1942 held in the Sidney Hall.

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Many local residents will remember it for the roller skating that used to take place in the vast wooden floored hall, I certainly do, long lines of skaters holding hands often swinging the unfortunate ones that were on the end of the line into the barrier!

It became popular for every sort of event, bingo, shows, all manner of entertainment.

Sadly, the large old building didn’t reach its century. In 1987 it was demolished  to make way for the football ground and the building of the new supermarket (now Asda.)

All that remains of Sidney’s legacy is the large stone carved Borough coat of arms that had once sat high above the arched doorway, and the foundation stone that John Groves laid in what he hoped would be a long lasting memory of his young son.

They are displayed in a wooden decorated section of the wall at the end of the Asda car park, rather oddly they seem to be almost hidden at the far side of the wall, well away from the footfall of most people.

I wonder how may people even realise that they are  there?

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Story about one of the soldiers that found himself at the Sidney Hall in 1915; http://rcnarchive.rcn.org.uk/data/VOLUME054-1915/page261-volume54-27thmarch1915.pdf

One of the regiments that used the hall; http://www.drillhalls.org/Counties/Dorset/TownWeymouth.htm

Check out this Groves family silver service for anyone who would like to own a beautiful part of the Groves heritage.

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Weymouth’s St John’s Terrace Gardens.

I know…it’s just outside the Victorian era, but close enough I thought.

rocks album st johns church

St John’s gardens are situated at the end of the long terrace of houses that run along the start of the main Dorchester Road, known as St John’s Terrace, past St John’s church which stands proud at the end of the sea front,  on the opposite side to the  old vicarage.

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I would think that they are possibly the smallest gardens in the area, and probably the majority of people have driven or walked past them time and time again without ever really noticing them. Only when you stop at the road crossing to let pedestrians cross, you might chance to glance to your left, and see them, but may think no more of it.

We would occasionally go in there on our way home from school, which being St John’s primary school, was only at the other end of the terrace.  The school has since been demolished, and now a block of flats stands there (this seems this happens more and more now, demolish one building, and replace with a whole block of flats), not surprisingly these flats were then named as St John’s Court!

Even in those days though, some less than salubrious characters hung around in these gardens, so we would check first to see if it was safe to enter.

As it was such a small park, it never seemed to be somewhere that you would head for with a purpose, just a place that you might stop off in while on your way to other destinations, apart from a few local dog walkers who used it regularly, and it seems still do.

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This small, derelict area at the end of the terrace was donated to the Council by Sir Frederick Johnstone, who had already handed over the larger gardens at Greenhill to the town. Though even the beginnings of Greenhill gardens hadn’t been without its problems, with it’s prior legal battles over ownership of the land.

At the same time as these St John’s gardens were under development and construction, the council were in negotiations with Mr. Young, Sir Johnston’s land agent, with reference to purchasing a further piece of land between the existing Greenhill gardens, and the Sluices at Greenhill. these were to later become the area of the bowling green and the Sluice Gardens, which is where the beach huts and sand and paddling pool now are are.

These gardens were started  during the boom era of the local Corporations providing open spaces for everyone to enjoy. Of course, even more importantly, in growing seaside towns like Weymouth during the Victorian era, where a large source of their income was from visitors (and of course, still is to this day), they wanted to be able to offer beautiful open spaces that would be added attractions for their visitors. Every tourist was hard fought for with all the new sea side resorts springing up along the South coast.

In the minutes of the Garden and Street Committee of Dec 1902 they were discussing as to what to do with the St Johns plot,a small triangle of derelict land that stood at the end of the terrace. It obviously took them a while to come up with anything, because it wasn’t until eleven months later, in the October of the following year that they finally requested the town surveyor to prepare a plan of this piece of land.

A further sub-committee was then appointed to decide what should be done with it.

This sub committee was then, a couple of months later, instructed to call at the surveyors house to discuss the laying out of the land…. either the poor chap was permanently on call, or it was an excuse for a social evening to decide business.

However, during that time, they had obviously managed to come to some sort of a decision between them  because by February of 1904 the surveyor had submitted his plans for the plot to the Gardens Committee, who decreed that the land should now be fenced, and cleared.

When I’ve been reading through the minutes of the various borough meetings, I never cease to wonder at the workings of these committees. Judging by the amount of arguing, wrangling and passing the decisions to others sub committees to make, how on earth any decision ever got taken I’ll never know, in fact, the wonder that anything got done at all!

But get done it did.

Eventually!

Work finally started on the plot in March/April time. First came the  rustic fencing which was erected around the site, it was supplied by a Mr. Riley and had been chosen from an illustrated book that contained all his pattern designs. Weymouth had wanted pattern no 181, this came in at the grand total of £48.17s 9d.

Creating parks and gardens, both public and private, were becoming big business in those days. Quick to jump on the bandwagon, many companies that supplied wrought iron work, garden furniture and other necessities to create stunning gardens bought out illustrated catalogues and pattern books that showed their designs and structures such as bandstands, seating, lighting.

Before they could even begin work, they had to bring in  350 loads of soil which were tipped on the site to build up the levels and then the work could start on the little park beginning with the  narrow pathways being pegged out.

The sub committee who had finally ended up with the task of creating these gardens from scratch and on a shoe string  had been told to work to a budget of £150.00 for the laying out and planting of the gardens.

Luckily for them, major changes were also afoot in one of the Alexandra gardens at the same time, with the thatched shelters being added, and new flowerbeds being cut. So a spot of recycling was in order. The discarded turf, shrubs and flowers were moved to the St Johns gardens. Despite many of them being large mature specimens, and it having been  a hot dry summer, it seems the shrubs managed to survive, and did well.

Once the decisions had finally been made, work seem to have proceeded at a pace, because three months later, in July, the gardens were ready for their grand opening as reported by a local paper.

The following article in the Southern Times dated July 21st 1904, gives a more personal view of the opening of the gardens.

 

                                   OPENING OF ST. JOHN’S TERRACE GARDENS.

                       THE MAYORESS GRACIOUSLY PERFORMS THE CEREMONY

Dorset, Weymouth, St John's Gardens

 

What his Worship (Alderman Groves) in his brief speech aptly described as an “eye sore” has been transformed into a picturesque open space at the northern end of the borough. In the “good old days,” before Weymouth had extended to anything like it’s present proportions the land at the higher end of “ the Front” and extending in a northerly direction was, in winter gales, swept by seas, and on occasions the waters of the Backwater and sea became united. But with the tides of progress such historical associations have been relegated to a by-gone age, and what was formerly known as “The barrows” has given place to bricks and mortar; and a row of houses have taken a firm foundation upon what originally formed nothing but a quagmire. Opposite St John’s church a commanding line of houses was erected and named after the sacred edifice; and at the northern end for many years has been a waste piece of land running parallel with the terrace which has been fittingly characterized as one of the “undesirables” of the “loyal and ancient” “The old order changeth, wielding place to now,” thanks to the generosity of Weymouth’s ground landlord, Sir Frederick Johnstone, Bart. During the Mayoralty of Alderman John Bragg, J.P., the ground in question was offered to the Corporation by Mr. H A L Young, the local agent to the estate, acting on behalf of Sir Fredrick on condition that the Town Council laid out and enclosed it. The munificence of the worthy baronet was immediately accepted, and the thanks of the town were accorded him for his generous gift. The conditions of the contract were set in motion without undue delay, and after the somewhat wearying period of time necessary for filling up and settling had elapsed, what was eventually to be “a thing of beauty and joy for ever” was turned over to the Garden Committee to effect the necessary transformation. With the advent of the ideal shelters in the Alexandra Gardens, which now forms one of the best improvements carried out during late years in Weymouth, mould, turf, shrubs, flowers, &c., consequently had to be removed, and these proved acceptable material for form-inganncleus to work upon. The Garden Committee, with it’s indefatigable Chairman (Alderman T.H. Williams, J.P.) and an able lieutenant in councilor E. C. Watts, together with the co-operation of other members, with commendable promptitude, took the work in hand, with the result that in an incredible period of time the “eye sore” has been converted into a veritable paradise.

Under the direction of the committee, the town’s head-gardener (Mr. Smith) is to be congratulated on the admirable manner in which the St John’s-terrace gardens have been laid out, and the economy, which has resulted to the town, by utilizing material “salved” from the Alexandra Gardens when ruthlessly pulled up for effecting the construction of the shelters.

 The addition of an open space to Melcombe North will not only be warmly welcomed by the inhabitants of that portion of the borough, but will be enhanced in value owing to the picturesque bearing which St John’s-terrace Gardens will lend to the fine avenue of trees bordering either side of the Dorchester-road.

avenue trees dorchester road

Around the triangular piece of garden a rustic fencing has been erected by Mr. Riley, who constructed the garden shelters, and inside bushy shrubs have been planted which apparently have “struck” remarkably well, notwithstanding the dry season. In the centre of the lawn, flower beds have been made, and the plants being now in bloom greatly add to the enchantment. As the autumn approaches trees, shrubs, and plants will be planted and creepers to perfectly cover the black wall of St. John’s terrace, so that in the course of time the appearance of the gardens will be further improved.

Wednesday afternoon, in glorious summer weather, was fixed for the ceremony of opening and dedicating the newly laid out gardens to the benefit of the public. Shortly before three o’clock the Weymouth Season Band entered the grounds, and the gates which are immediately opposite Lindisfarne, the residence of Miss Dansy, were locked by one of the two Town Sergeants who were present in attendance on Weymouth’s Chief Magistrate. Punctual to the hour fixed for the preceedings the Mayoress and Mrs Selby drove up in a brougham and were joined by His Worship, who had been attending a gathering at Sutton Poyntz.

Amongst those interested in watching the ceremony there were to be seen Aldermen Williams, Welsford, Whettam, Bagg, Councillors Dennis, Watts, Gregory, Evans and De Meric, Sir R. N. Howard (Town Clerk), Dr. Jones (Medical Officer of Health), Mr. W. B. Morgan (Borough Surveyor), Mr. W. R. Wallis (Committee Clerk), Sir John and Lady Groves, Colonel Sanders, Mr. and Mrs. H. A. L. Young, Surgeon=Colonel Lloyd Barrow, of Barrowdene, Misses. Groves, Mrs. R. C, Watts, Mrs. Selby, Mrs. W. B. Morgan, Colonel Russell, &c. Immediately outside the gates.             

The MAYOR speaking from his brougham, said; Ladies and Gentlemen, I have a pleasing duty to perform this afternoon, that is to ask my wife, the Mayoress, to open the gates of this new garden. (Applause) For many years past this piece of ground has been a waste and an eyesore to the public. Now, through the liberality of Sir Frederick Johnstone, the Corporation, through the energy of the Gardens Committee, have been able to lay it out as a garden for the service and enjoyment of the residents and visitors. (Applause.) It was during the Mayoralty of my predecessor, Alderman John Bragg, that the fee of the land was conveyed to the Corporation through the kind offices of Sir Frederick’s agents, Mr. Foster and Mr. Young. As recently as the year 1804 this piece of land was washed over by the Backwater, being indeed part of the Backwater. All the houses you see in the neighborhood in a due westerly direction, and in the Park district have been built since that period, and on land reclaimed from the Backwater. This shows that Weymouth has made progress, although perhaps not so fast as some of us may have desired; but I am sure if we can secure open spaces, and lay them out in this way, it will add to the picturesque ness of the town and be a good thing for Weymouth. (Applause.)

gardener watering can 1887

All the shrubs and plants you see have been transplanted from our own Corporation gardens, and, as time goes on, we hope to replace many of them with some of a more ornamental kind. (Applause.) I will now ask the Mayoress to open the grounds. (Applause.)

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The public either promenaded or were accommodated with chairs, and for an hour, Mr. Howgill’s band discoursed a pleasant selection of music.

I do remember sometimes sitting in these gardens with my Mum as a very small child, probably having a rest while walking to or from town. As I grew older, and began to attend St Johns, I passed by them morning and night, and can vividly remember hiding in there once, too scared to go to school, all because I hadn’t bothered to learn my times tables which we always seemed to have to recite every morning. Some kind soul must have spotted me lurking there, and informed the school, because while I was trying to decide what to do next, a teacher came marching along and hauled me off to stand in front of the headmaster.

 

It wasn’t until I started researching about the parks and gardens that I realised just how much of the Weymouth I know has been built on reclaimed land. I had always heard tales from my Dad of how the sea and the backwater nearly met along the seafront, called the Narrows. If you study old maps of the town, huge areas that we now live, work, play on, were originally marshy lands, or water.

You could and still can often judge the popularity of a resort or the gardens by how often they appeared as postcards, in peoples photos, or mentioned in the newspapers or guidebooks of the era. I have only ever seen two postcards of the St Johns gardens, both taken around the same time, at the start of the gardens life.

Sadly, these days the gardens seem to have a rather neglected feel to them, the grass looks unkempt, the shrubs and roses look as if they have seen better days, whilst the only people there were a couple of ladies were walking their dogs.

LONDON MAGAZINE 11 1904 DOG SHOW

This I would suspect is probably what they are most used for these days, a green space to dog walk, and judging by the amount of dog poo on the grass, not all owners were responsible ones, despite a sign on the gate outside asking people to clear up after themselves. Poor gardener who has to work in this dogs toilets.

The little shelter that sat at the end no longer contains a seat, but from comments made, I suspect that this might be more to do with stopping undesirable people from using the privacy it gave them, from sleeping rough to using and then discarding needles.

The old statue plinths stand there empty, just hinting at a slightly more luxurious past.

 

Such a sad ending for the little gardens that started out with such big hopes.

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Old Weymouth High Street; life in the 1850’s.

I just love rummaging through ancient newspapers, dusty old books and random records, catching snapshots of the lives of those who lived in our area.

One district of Weymouth that is undergoing major redevelopment at the moment is along the quayside of the inner harbour.

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In the past, this North Quay and back harbour  was the place where the everyday working boats moored up, with their wooden hulls, elegant tall masts, yards of rope rigging  and heavy canvas sails the order of the day.

But times have changed and it is now a place of pleasure and relaxation, a popular marina, where some of the Weymouth working boats, and of course those fancy sleek cruisers and modern day yachts moor to the extensive web of pontoons that criss cross the waters.

Thankfully, many of those ugly, modernist municipal buildings that indolently sprawl along its waterfront are at last being done away with, the beating heart of Weymouth is slowly transforming yet again.

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Whereas before the fire station and  the soulless, grey concrete council offices held these prime sites, plans are afoot to reintroduce more sympathetic housing to front the water. Something that will hopefully nestle in more comfortably with the historic, eclectic jumble  of cottages and buildings further down the road. (As of the writing the first section of the rebuild is still well and truly under wraps…so time will tell!)

This part of the old original Weymouth could boast many ancient and interesting buildings, from grand Tudor houses to Georgian villas, such treasures that were simply swept away in the name of progress, despite ferocious opposition and campaigning by many.

This is also where the old High Street stood, a remnant from way, way back in time when Weymouth and Melcombe Regis were once two bitterly opposing and separate towns across the harbour, and fierce, sometimes deadly, conflict was very much the order of the day.

This narrow street had witnessed so much history, from the sounds of fierce conflict, deadly musket fire, fleeing soldiers and the site of much bloodshed and death, when Weymouth became heavily embroiled in the Civil War.

Later it took a heavy pounding during WWII as German bombers did their best to blow Weymouth harbour to smithereens.

High Street Weymouth.

Large sections of the old High street were severely damaged during  these frequent air raids.

Who knows what other long forgotten history is lurking deep in the ground beneath this modern day tarmac and concrete.

I can recall as a child wandering through the remnants of these bombed out buildings, mesmerised by the remaining walls, some with wallpaper hanging off, once cosy and intimate bedroom fire places open to the world, the ubiquitous Budlleja sprouting, softening the harsh lines of destruction. Many locals of a certain age will tell tales of these tumble down ruins as their childhood adventure playground.

Later this whole section of the old High Street and waterfront buildings were swept away as part of the slum clearances, first turned into a temporary carpark and taken over by the council for their new offices.

Demolition of old Weymouth.

Thankfully, a few concerned locals took the time to grab photos and copious notes of these buildings before they were demolished, not least famous Weymouth historian Eric Ricketts, much of which he talks about in his book ‘The Buildings of Old Weymouth; Part One.’ It’s a set of books that I can’t recommend highly enough for those interested in Weymouth’s checkered history.

As time passes and those folks with their memories of the old town, it’s characters, traditions and history take their place at the Pearly Gates, so many small, personal details  of old Weymouth gets lost forever.

Luckily  we can still catch little glimpses of the families who once lived here from the old census records, Post Office directories and poll books, some of those native families still live in the area, some moved on as fortunes dictate.

Eric R map

(Eric Rickett’s map of the area from “The Buildings of Old Weymouth; Part One.’)

What follows is a snap shot of some of those people who were born, lived, loved and worked in the old High Street of the 1850’s.

I have added numbers to those that were listed, but between 1850 and 1860 these were changed…unless everyone in the street suddenly upped sticks and moved house in the street, a bit like musical properties.

Let’s gird our loins and go for a nostalgic stroll through time and the street of old Weymouth town.

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Holy Trinity.

We stop first at no 10 High Street, here lives 45-year-old Charles Buck, he is a coal merchant.

Love and matrimony came late to Charles, at the ripe old age of 40 he finds himself waiting nervously at the alter of Holy Trinity church for his bride to be. On Christmas day of 1851, Rebecca Tompkins makes her way down the aisle towards her beloved, man and wife were set for a long and happy future in a place they both loved. Sadly though, their marriage didn’t last for long, on the 11th November 1857, the hard working coal man, Charles, passed away, leaving a bereft Rebecca to carry on alone.

Carry on she certainly did, still residing in the High Street, one can only assume that the coal business had been fairly healthy and she had been left reasonably well off as she was listed as a home owner and of independent means.

Rebecca died in 1891 at the age of 69.

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Moving on to the house of no 13, here we find a newly married couple, Charles Hibbs and his wife Susan (nee Bond). Charles is earning his living as a plumber and glazier. Having worked hard and built up a thriving business, the couple up sticks and move across the water by the 1861 census to larger premises in St Thomas Street.

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No 15 is known as Longhill, the home of wealthy widow, Mrs Phillis Horsford, a grand dame who has reached the ripe old age of 72. She was married to Joseph Horsford Esquire for many years, an extremely  affluent and influential business man and councillor in and around town. Joseph died in 1850 leaving his wife more than comfortably off.

Phillis now lives in her opulent home alone, barring her servants, a sure sign that she was certainly no pauper, and perhaps demonstrates that parts of the old High Street undoubtedly had some very desirable residences indeed.

A little while later, at the start of 1856, and Phillis breathes her last. In her will, besides many other items of value, she leaves to her only grandson her ‘silver salver and six silver forks.’

The rest of her estate is put up for auction, no doubt many of her curious neighbours and acquaintances took this opportunity to have a wander through her house and poke through what was once her precious belongings.

An advert placed in the local paper gives a tantalising peep into her world of accumulated wealth.

Paintings adorn her walls, many by acclaimed artists such as Thorne, Collier  and even Gainsborough.

The grand rooms are filled with sumptuous furniture, precious items such as an ornately carved sofa, richly gilded and covered in striking silk satin, an item that once belonged to no less than George III himself when he resided in Gloucester Lodge, the contents of which were auctioned off in 1853.

Josephs extensive library is being sold off too, including ‘a large number of works suitable for an attorney’s library,’ something which gives us a clue into the Master Horsford’s working and social world and the source of his wealth.

But death favours no one, rich or poor, at the end of the day, no matter how wealthy they may have been, how high they flew in society’s social circles…they all end up in a 6 foot hole in the ground.

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A little further down the road and we arrive at  the home of Joseph Balson and his wife Sarah who live at no 18. Sarah was a bit of a cougar!…She was 44, nine years older than her husband.

The pair run their own grocery business, one of the many bustling little shops that serve this area.

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Next door, at no 19, lives Edward Bartlett, an ex-employee of the HM Coastguard Service, a life spent pursuing smugglers and pirates on the seas around our coastline, he’s a retired Captain of a revenue cutter. Edward married Grace White Stanford on the 27th August 1850, this was love second time around for both of them.

Not surprisingly, the couple have chosen to set up home near to the waters edge, a mariner never likes to venture very far from those sights, sounds and scents that remind him of a life on the sea.

Edward dies in 1856 at the age of 75, but during his lifetime he has obviously acquired a very good standard of living, including, it seems, a healthy stock of liquer.

In his Last Will and Testament he leaves the majority of it to his wife and her daughter Susannah. besides a considerable amount of money he goes on to declare that “I give and bequeath to  my wife the said Grace White Bartlett absolutely all the household goods and furniture pictures, prints, books, plate silver,….. glass, wines, liqueurs and provisions, watches, chains,….and effects which shall at my death be in and about the dwelling house or the outbuildings  and premises  wherefore I now reside being no 19 High Street Weymouth…”He also leaves Grace  his “premises situate in Wellington Place, Weymouth.”

By the time of the next census, 1861, Grace, still resident in the High Street, living with her is her unmarried daughter Susannah, who earns her own living as a “teacher of music and dance.”

Grace is rather grandly referred to as a “landed proprietress.”

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At no 20 lives Mrs Charlotte Bussell, wife of John, a local seaman who’s more often than not away from home.

That’s not a problem for Charlotte, she is an independent woman who earns her own living as a straw hat maker. Her beautiful bonnets and colourful chapeaux adorn the heads of many a fashionable lady walking the streets of Weymouth, but Charlotte is only too aware that she needs to keep up with the latest fashions. With the invention of mass produced hat pins women were moving away from the all-encompassing fabric bonnets and taking up wearing jaunty little straw hats perched at an angle to show off and flatter their features.

Come the summer months and Charlotte’s nimble fingers are kept occupied, what with the arrival of the Dorset Yeomen, the yachting regattas, horse racing at Lodmoor, Weymouth’s social season means every lady needs to look her best.

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Even in 1871, at the ripe old age of 73, Charlotte is still busy plying her trade as a hat maker to the women of the town.

It’s not until 1876 that Charlotte hangs up her ribbons and bows, drapes her final bit of lace, and lays down her feathers, her final hat finished.

She was buried in Wyke Regis churchyard at the age of 81.

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Next door to Charlotte’s shop, (at no 21) resides Mrs Mary  H Comben, whats more fascinating, a Comben that has escaped from the isle of Portland?(You have to be local to get that one!)

Mary is another widow having reached the ripe old age of 76. She too is wealthy enough to be living off her own means and is lucky enough to have a retinue of  servants in the house. (There must surely be something in this sea bathing malarky and fresh air theory, for Weymouth can certainly boast many persons of a good age.)

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A retired Master mariner lives in the next dwelling along, at no 22. This is 86-year-old  William Langrish, with him is his wife of 54 years, Grace Fowler, (nee Flew,) the couple were married at Wyke church way back in 1797.

Sadly, they are not destined to live out their lives in their home of many years. William and Grace, no longer in the first flush of youth reluctantly move away from Weymouth and all her comforting beauty to live with one of their sons in dusty old London, and here they both die, far away from the soothing sounds and smells of the sea.

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Again, we jump a few numbers to reach no 38. This is the home of George Notley and his wife Agnes along with their rather extensive brood. George was an incomer (as were many of the other residents much to my surprise, Victorians moved around as much as todays population.)

George started out life in Haydon, but moved his business to Weymouth. A wise man goes where there’s money to be made, and with the coming of the railways, Weymouth was thriving as a popular seaside resort. George was kept busy as the local baker and corn dealer.

The couple trade successfully in High Street until George’s death in 1877, but stoic Agnes carries on with the family business, working as a baker alongside other members of her family.

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Another incomer to the area is 54-year-old Samuel Penny (a Sherbourne lad) who is installed at the address of no 42 High Street. Samuel is another shop keeper, but this time, he’s not just an ordinary  grocer, he deals in speciality wines and spirits keeping the cut glass decanters of the men of the town well topped up. Oh, and besides that he stocks a few rather odd items too…as we can see from his advert of 1847.

Lump salt probably isn’t that strange an item to find in a grocers…but 20 tons of manure, I wonder where he stored and displayed that?

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Living and working along side him in their bustling store is his wife Kezia and their children, everyone had a role to play right down to the youngest.

The Penny’s have been successfully trading here for a long time, they have lived and traded in this street for at least 15 years,  another family that mingle with those of the more wealthy Weymouth residents in the street.

Samuel died in 1870 and his widow Kezia followed soon after in 1872.

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Next door to them (43) lives a family I know a little bit about because one of their sons crops up in a piece of my previous research.

They are the Tomkins family, Robert and Eliza and their children. Dad Robert trades as a shoe maker, but his son, Joseph Russel Tomkins, was destined for higher things. He started out life as a lowly carpenter, but went on to become a builder with his own business through hard work and diligence.  Joseph  became an eminent Weymouth fellow and reached the great heights in his career as a Judge, then he moved his family to London. But Joseph never lost his love for his place of birth, he became a member of the Society of Dorset Men and wrote many an articles for them. (this is an actual likeness of Joseph in his twilight years.)

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We find another bakery shop  at no 48, this time run by Robert and Catherine Cox, they are both of a good age, 67 and 63 respectively. By the time of the 1861 census they have moved their business over onto Portland where they are now running their bakery in Easton.

Robert by now is 75!

In the 1800’s there is no safety net of state help or a pension to look forwards to, if you didn’t have a pot of money put by for your old age, you relied on family to look after you, that or you literally worked until you dropped. For the less fortunate, some found themselves ensconced in the last place the’d ever want to be, the dreaded workhouse, separated from loved ones, with the only way out being feet first in a wooden box!

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No 36 is a house of multiple occupancy…and a mystery.

One of its tenants is twenty-six year-old William Henry Latty who elegantly coiffs the hair of  the Weymouth elite.

By 1851, despite his tender age, William it seems has 2 children under the age of 2, two-year-old Jane Susannah and her baby brother, 6-month-old William… and not a single sign of a wife.

Living with him, but listed  as his housekeeper, is Amelia Escott along with her 4-year-old son George.

Both are on the census as unmarried.

In fact Jane Susannah (who is in fact an Escott not a Latty) was christened in 1848 over in Melcombe Regis, she is actually the daughter of Amelia Escott…‘a single woman.’

Later, in 1850, little William is also christened over in Melcombe Regis, far away from prying eyes and gossip maybe? his parents of course are William and Amelia.

William and Amelia  finally decide to make their relationship legal, maybe there are good reasons why they couldn’t do so before. The couple are married in 1856, but their certificate also reveals some facts. William claims to be a bachelor, and Amelia a spinster.

Come the next census and the family are all living together along with quite a few additional siblings. The couple are still running the hairdressers in the High Street, but now son George is training at his fathers side.

By 1901 the couple have moved and set up shop near Birmingham, a far cry from the softly spoken folk of Weymouth town, but they  are soon lured back to their native home, and safely ensconced in Melbourne House in Lennox Street.

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John Sergeant, 53, a married school master lives in the house adjoining, at no 49.

John is a pillar of the community, he not only runs a school in the nearby Town Hall, but he has also been an assistant overseer for the parish for many years and recently  appointed as collector of the poor rates.

Despite all the outward appearance of respectability, in May of 1855 the High Street is agog with horror and scandal concerning poor old John.

An unsuspecting lodger in his house awoke one morning, and on coming downstairs discovers the front door wide open and the doorstep covered in blood. Upon entering the closet he finds yet more blood splattered around the walls and floors, lying in amongst the congealing blood there is a tarnished knife. Fearing the worst he calls out for his wife and then dashes off to get help. Having gathered a large search party, they then proceeds to look for the injured victim.

A trail of bloody footsteps lead them first down through the garden, but this soon peters out…where should they look next?

By now everyone in the area is searching for John…or his body.

Suddenly someone espies dark tell tale hand prints smeared across and down the harbour wall, so the desperate hunt moves down to the harbour. As the waters slowly lower with the outgoing tide, it doesn’t take long to spot the still blood soaked footprints in the exposed mud, they are heading straight for the deep water channel, about 30 yards from the wall.

Men spend the next few hours dragging the waters for a body, but to no avail. Nothing or nobody is found. It’s not until later that afternoon that the corpse of John Sergeant is discovered laying in the mud, washed on the incoming tide a mile further upstream from where he first entered the water.

His body is removed to the Albert Hotel, where it is held for his inquest.

As per usual, the eager Victorian reporter describes the gruesome scene in all its full glory, “the Jury proceeded to view the body, which was placed in the bowling-alley, and presented a most ghastly spectacle, the front of the dress being saturated with blood, which had flowed from a deep wound in the throat of about three inches in length, the edges being jagged and mangled in a manner that showed the desperate earnestness with which the unfortunate man had set about his self-destruction.” 

What ever reasons lay behind John’s impulsive decision to end his life, we will never know. His somewhat erratic actions over the two week period before his untimely death had led to a close friend recommending to his wife that he should see a doctor, but he didn’t.

Consequently, John took his dark secrets with him, to his unhallowed grave.

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At no 59 live William and Catherine Dennis along with their family.

William is employed to keep an eye on those pesky traders around town, forever trying to diddle their customers, to line their own pockets, he is an Inspector of Weights and Measures.

You might well imagine that people aren’t too bothered about such things in the Victorian times, but there have been standards, statutes  and laws for Weights and Measures for well over a 1000 years.

In the markets of the 1850’s a 4 1/2 lb loaf is now selling for on average 6 1/2d to 7d, but the wily bakers often try every means in the book to squeeze more profit out of their wares. A tad underweight on each loaf maybe? Perhaps, but they can do far worse…and frequently did, sometimes going as far as to cut the flour with other less salubrious and  often downright dangerous ingredients.

family girl sickbed quiver 1865

In the bakers flour you could find many suspect ingredients, plaster of paris, bean flour, chalk, or even worse, alum, which was frequently used to whiten the bread, but it was also a substance which could have lethal effects on the digestive system, particularly dangerous and sometimes even deadly for young children and the elderly.

I hope that bakers Robert and Catherine Cox just down the road were on their guard…and not trying to diddle, (or poison,) their customers.

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Next port of call is the Boot, one of Weymouth’s oldest pubs, and a part of the old original High Street that still remains.

Not surprisingly it has a long and fascinating history, with many tales to tell of smugglers and preventative men, sailors and merchants, spectres of long ago walk these rooms, beguiling modern day ghost hunters

The Boot

In 1855 it is being run by 51-year-old George Gulliver and his wife, Ann. The couple have been hosts for a many years, they were  there in the 1851 census and are still there in the 1861 census.

One of the few remaining buildings from Weymouth old High Street, this atmospheric pub is still as popular as ever today, it even holds the dubious title of the most haunted pub in the area with many ghostly goings on,  many a ghoul gliding through its historic rooms.

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Their neighbours are Charles and Elizabeth Denning, at no 64. The couple run the greengrocers and beerhouse and have done so in this street for the past 15 odd years.

Like most people who run a successful business, there is always someone who tries to take advantage. Such was the case in 1850, when one of Charles’ employees helped himself to 24 shillings. Having been caught in the act and stood before the magistrate, William Hawkins suddenly found himself bound for pastures anew…his sentence? transportation.

A few years on and Charles falls foul of the wily Hawkins family again. In 1863, pipe maker and persistent petty pilferer, Daniel Hawkins, comes before the courts up on a charge of obtaining goods by false pretences, that being a loaf of bread, a piece of pork, some cheese, and six eggs. Despite this being his umpteenth appearance before the magistrates, his fate is certainly less harsh than that of his predecessor, he received 3 months hard labour.

Charles lost his wife of 20 years, Elizabeth, in 1863, but with the help of his family he maintained the shop until his death in 1875.

The year after his death, his once thriving business goes into liquidation.

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Moving along to the premises of no 92 High Street, here we find a recently married young couple, 26-year-old Edward Samways and his wife Martha . Edward started out life in nearby New Town Place, that is until his marriage, then the couple set up home together in the High Street where Edward plies his trade as a cordwainer or shoemaker.

He also works as a letter carrier, I guess his established profession alone wasn’t enough to keep the wolves from the family door.

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A later edition to the street, but one that might be remembered by old Weymouthians is the Fishermans Arms. It once stood   at the east end of the street towards Trinity church. In all probability this quaint building started out life in the 18th c as a pretty Georgian town house, a home to one of Weymouth’s merchants or wealthier residents.

Fishermans Arms

Thankfully there is another remnant of the  High Street still standing and that is the old Town Hall which all credit due to an enthusiastic band of volunteers has undergone a complete revival over the past few years.

Hopefully Weymouth will continue to give rise to folks interested in her long history and love for her old buildings, people who will fight to preserve what’s left and teach others to appreciate it, because as we have so often learnt from the past mistakes, once it’s gone…it’s gone!

Old Town Hall Weymouth

That’s the end of our little virtual stroll, who knows, maybe you spotted one of your ancestor’s there?

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For more old views of Weymouth check out my Pinterest page.

https;//www.pinterest.com/susanhogben/old-views-of-weymouth-dorset

History of the area of old Weymouth. http://www.weymouth-dorset.co.uk/oldweymouth.html

Potted history of the Boot Inn. http://news.bbc.co.uk/dna/place-lancashire/plain/A25323527

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Writing a book, blog, short stories or your own family history, then why not make them jump off the page, bring them to life with historical graphics.
I have a huge collection that cover illustrations from numerous Victorian articles about travel, prisons, children’s homes, poverty, philanthropy…
Check out my Etsy site for Victorian illustrations, many local ones being added all the time from my own personal collection.
https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/VictorianGraphics?ref=l2-shopheader-name

The sea takes… and the sea gives back

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With the steady stream of violent storms that has hit the South coast over the past couple on months it has been fascinating to see how the immense power of the ebb and flow of the extreme tides and currents affect the shores.

The last storm to hit the South Coast, rather fetchingly named the St Valentine’s Day Storm, completely stripped the beach in the Cove of it’s pebbles…thousands of tons of those world famous objects washed out to sea,

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and with nothing but a bed of sand and blue clay left behind, littered here and there with a few rusted relics of past shipwrecks..

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But already the pebbles are slowly returning to their resting place on shore again, many locals will tell you that it’s happened time and time again.

What the sea takes, it returns, be it pebbles, ships, bodies or booty.

Dead Man’s Bay,as it is sometimes referred to (with very good reason !) and especially the area along by the Cove at Chiswell,  also often ends up as the final destination of ships and their cargoes, whether they are the result of Davey Jones pulling them in their entirety to the deep, or simply goods that have been parted company with the vessels transporting them.

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At present the shore is littered with the most recent flotsam to find its way inland…fags! Marlboro’s by the millions

( other brands and varieties are available to purchase !)

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By way of  laying the table for a perfect evenings dining and entertainment, these were soon to be followed onshore by cheese, and the obligatory bottles and bottles of alcohol.

Of course, as news spread fast of this abundance of riches that lay for the taking…the takers arrived thick and fast, and quickly on their heels were the  the police and customs.

But this is  no new phenomenon to those who live close to the sea. The battle between the pickers and the police and customs to outwit each other has gone on for centuries.

Over time the sea has not only swallowed up vessels, people and possessions, but also spewed forth the very same.

In January of 1866 the ultimate treasure was washed in on the tumultuous waves…gold coins.

A couple of weeks after came more golden treasures, of a sort, this time barrels of butter bobbed their way to the beaches along Chesil, followed not long after by great drifts of timber that were being transported from the Baltic.

(January of 1866 was a fairly rough one, in the short period no less than 17 vessels had been driven ashore on Chesil beach in the gales, but most were later recovered)

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1871 saw a bonanza for the local wreckers, the Adelaide had gone down in a storm with loss of life (a sad story that I’ve covered elsewhere in my blog)  the dreadful dealings of the scavengers made the headlines of many of the national papers, so disgraceful were the scenes of pillaging on the beach. Even so called respectable local businessmen and women were prosecuted for trying to secure many of the goods that had washed ashore. The police and customs men couldn’t cope with the overwhelming tide of humanity that had flocked to the wreck site.

Dead drunk bodies and real dead bodied were carted from the beach, men, women and children!…so much alcohol had been consumed from those casks and bottles that had washed ashore after.

August of 1891 and the drifting debris that came ashore was the body of a man. All that was left of his clothing was a snazzy pair of plaid trousers and a smart pair of spring sided boots,  this was no simple fisherman or sailor who had paid the ultimate price for his trade…this was a toff who maybe should have stayed ashore. But like most things, Neptune returned him to whence he came, just a bit battered and decayed.

He was only one body of the many hundreds who found their coming ashore on Chesil in a manner other than they had originally anticipated.

Later that same year, the Cove played host to another strange cargo …this times candles, hundreds and hundreds of them…

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One wonder’s what on earth nature and Neptune will throw up onto the shores at Chesil next…

 

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Writing a book, blog, short stories or your own family history, then why not make them jump off the page, bring them to life with historical graphics.
I have a huge collection that cover illustrations from numerous Victorian articles about travel, prisons, children’s homes, poverty, philanthropy…
Check out my Etsy site for Victorian illustrations, many local ones being added all the time from my own personal collection.
https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/VictorianGraphics?ref=l2-shopheader-name

 

The Battle of Weymouth, February 27th/28th 1645

The Crabchurch Conspiracy

On this day, from midnight on the 27th February 1645, a large Royalist army commanded by George, Lord Goring, attacked the twin towns of Weymouth & Melcombe in Dorset, determined to overthrow the Parliamentarian garrison therein.

Outnumbered six to one, the Weymouth garrison commanded by local man, Colonel William Sydenham, fought so gallantly that they overcame the much larger Cavalier force, killing almost 500 of them on that one single night, only losing themselves, about a dozen men.

 

It remains one of the forgotten battles of the English Civil Wars, but had it not been for the tenacious and skillful leadership of Colonel William Sydenham and the bravery of his men, the English Civil Wars could have turned out very differently and therefore too, so would the future of our country.

 

It was thought that the King, Charles 1, intended to land a large French Catholic army in…

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