Ringing in the New Year Victorian style

Well…that’s yet another year year done and dusted.

My old Mum always used to say the older you get, the faster they go, and true to her oh so wise, (but often infuriating at the time,) words, the older I’m getting, the faster they’re bloody well going.

In fact they’ve now almost hit warp speed!

New Year’s Eve is upon us and tonight for some, it’ll be a time of feasting, fun and frivolity, maybe a drop of drinking and dancing, hopefully joy for those undisclosed delights to yet come and a few shed tears for those we’ve sadly left behind.

Don’t make the mistake though of thinking that your Victorian ancestors were all straight-laced and poe faced when it came to New Year’s celebrations. Religion and charity might have played a big role in their lives, but they certainly knew how to party too when push came to shove, as my last years blog on this festive night shows only too well

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Well, this year I’m on a slightly different tack, grabbing at small snippets of New Years Eve news from different years.

There were some fractions of Weymouth’s population who didn’t need the excuse of New Years Eve to create mayhem and mischief.

Come 31st December 1864 and a certain “Market House Arab” was causing the sellers problems in the town’s market hall.

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There was no shutting up shop at 5.30 in those days, traders traded well into the night, even on such a night. (Might well have had something to do with the tradition of making sure you had money in your pocket on the first day of the New Year, for if you didn’t it foretold a year of poverty and misery.)

Fourteen-year-old Henry Charles and his pesky pals had “infested the market-house” with their high jinks, the police superintendent declared that “the boys were annoying everyone who passed by or through the market-house.” He even declared that  things had got so bad that “unless something was done in the matter he feared  the market-house would have to be closed.”

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On that particular evening Henry and his cunning crew had entered the market on the pretense of buying some apples, but they were fully intent on making mischief whilst there. Henry suddenly snatched up a massive turnip from the nearby veg stall and launched it at a passing “poor dog,” but missed it by a mile. Instead, the offending turnip landed with an almighty thump on the toes of an unsuspecting passing Mr Crocker.

For his sins Henry Charles’s night of revelry was brought to an abrupt end, as the Weymouth church bells rang the New Year in, he was stuck behind prison bars. (Here’s hoping that the old Victorian superstition that what ever you were doing at midnight would be a fore runner to your years fortunes didn’t come true.)

The same column that revealed Charles’s misdemeanors also gave us a glimpse into the world of Weymouth’s maritime history.

On the 31st December the returns for the UK’s Pilots were issued.

Weymouth and Portland of 1863 could boast a total 11 licensed pilots who worked from the bustling quaysides, their job was to bring in or escort out vessels from the working ports of both Weymouth and Portland Roads.

Each man had to pay a princely sum of two guineas for his license and 6d in the pound for any monies earnt. Their vessels flew a distinctive white and red flag to identify to incoming vessels that they were licensed to board them and provide safe passage should they need it.

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The Lookout for the Weymouth men was up on the Nothe, it was their regular haunt, where in the summer they’d lie out on the grassy bank, squinting eyes firmly fixed on the horizon, or come bad weather, shelter inside a wooden hut built from an old boat, looking glass to eye, waiting and watching for any approaching vessels coming into view.

For those eleven men of the local waters, knowledge was everything, tides, drifts, sandbanks and currents. They might have only been working around the shores of our relatively sheltered and safe bay, but their life could often be very dangerous.

Something William Smith aged 48 knew only too well. Married to Susan and living with their family along Cove Row, at no 5, it would not have been unusual for William to return home bearing the marks of someone else’s fists or impression of their boots. Such was the case in January of 1867 when he had tried to board an incoming Italian brig,  he was viciously set upon by the crewmen and sent packing with more than just a flea in his ear.

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Just around the corner from William, at no 9 Hope Quay, lived 46-year-old Edward Tizard and his wife Bathsheba and their family.  These pilots often found themselves not only facing personal conflict when trying to do their jobs, but frequently had to contend with conflict in the courts also, when disputes were fought over fees, or the right to board vessels. Something which could become a bit of a minefield considering many who sailed into our waters spoke no English at all, and all the hand gestures in the world could not convey monetary transactions, or so they claimed afterwards.

Pilot John Perks aged 42 lived in Hope Street, he too was a family man, along with his wife Mary Ann, they had a veritable brood. His story shows how precarious a life could be for those plying these shores for their trade.

In 1857 John had almost lost his life along with two other pilots, the tale of which I told in ‘Maritime Mishaps and Mayhem of 1857.

Come 1862, and work was hard to come by, trade was slow for the local pilots. In desperation John had set to sea in his vessel, the Eliza, along with his crew. They had been at sea for two days and a night, frantically looking for any sign of sails of approaching vessels to their port, hoping to catch any trade before his competitors. So exhausted did they become that they all eventually fell into a deep sleep, at which point the drifting boat grounded herself out on the dangerous Weymouth sands. Having lost both anchors and seriously damaged her hull, poor old John and his crew faced the indignity of being rescued by his fellow pilots and local coastguards. A plea was then placed in the local papers for donations to help “As Perks is a poor man with a large family, a subscription has been made by several gentlemen to enable him to repair his boat and pursue his usual avocations.”

Fellow pilot, Thomas Way, was a true blue Portlander, at the age of 44 Thomas, his wife Isabela along with their brood lived in the little village of Chiswell tucked in just behind the mighty Chesil beach, .

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Thomas supplemented his sometimes paltry and intermittent income by labouring on the Breakwater, money was hard earnt and an income from any means vital to keep kith and kin together.

The previous year had seen Thomas giving evidence in court about the tragic death of one of his fellow Portlanders, 36-year-old fisherman, Richard Attwooll.

One cold, squally Wednesday morning in November, Richard and a friend, William Lano, had gone out in their boat, they were fishing near the relative safety of the new Breakwater.

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A sudden squall hit their vessel sideways and with the swell, thrust it up onto a metal pipe sticking out of the Breakwater structure. The boat tipped, launching both men into the freezing rough waters. Richard clung desperately to the pipe, but the constant pounding of the waves was dragging him down, his precious hold was slowly loosening until at last his frozen fingers let go, unable to swim, Richard’s head simply  sank below the waves.

His fellow fisherman William could swim, but even then it was hard going battling the choppy seas, until he at last managed to grab hold of one of the piles, hanging on for dear life, waiting and praying that he could find the energy to haul himself out onto the stones.

Thomas Way had been at work on the Breakwater that day and witnessed the disaster unfolding before him. Unable to help either man all he could do was to help search for the body of Richard Attwooll when old Neptune decided he had no more use for it.

In fact it was only a quarter of an hour later that his mortal remains were thrown up onto the rocks, where Thomas came across him. According to Thomas’s testimony, Richard’s hands were still warm to the touch, but there were no other signs of life.

For finding the body, Thomas Way was awarded the customary 5s fee, but like most close knit sea-faring communities, without hesitation, he handed it over to Richard’s grieving widow.

Thomas wasn’t the only pilot in the Way family, so too was his younger brother Edward. Also like his brother, Edward and his brood lived in Chiswell.

Though these men were highly experienced mariners and used to any amount of high seas and storms that nature could throw at them, even they weren’t immune to the immense damage she could wrought.

In the February of 1866 one the the Way’s pilot boats broke loose from her moorings during a fierce storm and ended up stranded up on the rocks of the breakwater. There was nothing they could do but watch in dismay, once the tide receded the pounding waves literally smashed their boat to nothing more than mere matchsticks.

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William Smith was one of the longest working pilots in the port, he also owned one of the larger cutters working as a pilots ship, the Palestine. But that’s not surprising really because he also traded as a ships broker. The Smith family were another one of the mariners group who lived close together in this harbourside area of Hope Square.

So too did pilot Edward Chaddock and his burgeoning family, as part of this tight knit community, just along Cove Row, and fellow pilot, 44-year-old William Grant lived just around the corner on Hope Quay.

George Pulsford, (pictured below from an Ancestry public tree,) at 47, was one of the older men working the pilot boats, he was born, and along with his family, still lived in Lyme Regis, just along the coast.

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I guess even in those days it was often a case of commuting to work, albeit via boat.

The final two qualified pilots plying their trade along our coastline that year were 33-year-old William Hallett, another Lyme Regis man  and 39-year-old Thomas Beale.

Next in our New Years Eve tales, we come to a slightly more traditional and heart warming event.

The year 1872, a year which had been a year full of memorable events. It was the wettest one on record…ever! (Not matched again until 2012.) It’s the year when the very first FA Cup final was played at the Oval, and  a meteorite suddenly emerged from out of space and struck the Earth. Closer to home, the Royal Adelaide sank off Chesil beach with the loss of 7 lives,

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and locals celebrated the completion of the Portland Breakwater.

For the poor of Weymouth, at least their New Year’s Eve was going to be heralded in with a jolly good feast…that is for those who could claim to be over the age of 60, and I bet a few might well have added on a year or two to their age for the occasion.

Nigh on 200 Victorian Weymouth and Melcombe Regis OAP’s found themselves being seated and served by a bevvy of local bigwigs, their friends and families. What was their festive feast ? “an excellent dinner of beef and pudding,” all washed down with a “supply of good beer” courtesy of Messrs Devenish & Co.

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Amongst the feasting crowd that night was 91-year-old John Atkins, a retired mariner who resided at no 18 Petticoat Lane (present day St Alban Street,) along with his 50-year-old son Samuel and family.

Presiding over the proceedings was the town Mayor, Mr J Robertson, his first deed of the night was to wield his knives and carve the first of many turkeys.

After dinner was done and dusted and the last dram drunk, the Mayor then “suitable and affectionately addressed the  assembly,” not only did he ordain to magnanimously shower them with words of good tidings and kindness but on their way out they were “presented with 6d each.”

None of this would have been possible without the organisation, hard work and persistent cajoling of the town’s wealthier patrons by one William Thomas Page, the man whose job it was to collect the poor rates and later sat on the board of Guardians of the Weymouth Union or workhouse.

And finally, it was good news for some to start their new year.

Early on first morn of the New Year of 1862 saw a vessel arrive in Weymouth port, for one group of sea faring men it meant their new year was heralded in with great cheer and much rubbing of hands with glee.

On the eve of the years changing, a ghost ship was found mysteriously drifting on the tide out in the Channel, not a single soul to be found on board, but what terrible misfortune could have possibly befallen her crew? Was this some form of witchery that could make men vanish into thin air, or an attack by mysterious vengeful sea creatures, luring the sailors  into the depths with their soulful songs?

The ghost ship was the brig Lavonia, still fully laden with the coals that she had collected from Llanelly, Wales, all under command of the ship’s master Mr Huelin, a Jersey man.

They had set sail that fateful final day of of 1861, bound for Dieppe, when just after midnight, and having gone for some unknown reason somewhat off course, the vessel struck rocks off St Alban’s Head, and here it became firmly grounded. Inside the stricken boat the waters began rising fast, at which point, “fearing her sliding off the rock into deep water, the captain  resolved on quitting her, and, leaving the wheel to the eccentic goddess Fortune, took to the boat, all landing safely at Kimmeridge Coastguard station.”

The Lavonia did indeed later slide off the rocks, but not into the deep as her captain had feared but to sail on out into the bay.

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A little later that morning another coal vessel heading from the Welsh coast towards Dieppe came across her and brought her into port. The crew of the steamer Harp couldn’t have been more pleased with their lucrative salvage…it meant a jolly good start to their new year.

I hope you’ve enjoyed some of this years tales, maybe even met a few of your ancestors, learnt something of their lives in our own Victorian Weymouth and Portland.

Wishing you all a very Happy  and Healthy New Year.

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A Happier Christmas 1862

Well…this is my second attempt at writing a blog about Victorian Weymouth in the build up to the Christmas period.

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I had originally wanted to write one that gave the reader that warm fuzzy glow, the feel-good factor, full of Christmastide cheer, but it had somehow ended up instead laden with the doom and gloom of death, drunkenness and debauchery!

As I frantically scanned the newspapers each successive year for the Christmas period, they seemed to be filled with nothing but peoples misfortunes and misdeeds…but I guess that’s what always sold, and in fact still sells newspapers.

I’ve finally settled on the year 1862, and though it might not be overly full of that golden warm fuzziness I was after, hopefully it contains a bit more of the good old Christmas spirit.

It was the Victorians who really started those traditions that are now firmly established with our present-day Christmas, or rather Queen Victoria’s German born husband, Albert.

Though originally their festive season was far less commercialised than our own, with the arrival of the industrial revolution, it soon burgeoned. Mass produced goods started appearing in the stores and little shops that lined the main shopping areas. Department stores such as T H Williams on St Mary Street filled their windows with all manner of gifts for those you loved, from brightly coloured toys and soft kid gloves, to silver topped walking sticks and dapper hats.

Children from all walks of life must have pressed their runny noses against the cold panes of glass, as they peered in those windows full of glittering promises and dreamed of the possible delights to be unwrapped come Christmas Eve, (that was of course, supposing your family could afford such luxurious.)

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For many children of the town though, it was to be nothing more than an orange and a few nuts.

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People would often spend months before making little gifts for their friends and family.

I can just picture one of my young ancestors curled up on her chair of an afternoon, making the most of the remaining daylight streaming in the window, (here I am perhaps rather idyllically assuming that my ancestors were of the wealthier variety.) She is carefully and lovingly embroidering a delicate linen handkerchief for her dear mother. Her pink rosebud lips pursed in total concentration as the shiny needle continues weaving colourful stitches in and out, the merest of smiles softens her face as she contemplates the expression on her mother’s face come present unwrapping time. Or maybe she’s working a small cloth for her beloved grandmother, one that can be put on her bedside table.

But trade being …well, I guess, trade, they were quick to spot a lucrative market at Christmas time and soon advertisements began to appear in all the local papers.

So it was for the Weymouth shops and businesses.

According to the  Dorset County Chronicles of December 25th 1862.“The Christmas Show of Meat; in accordance with time honoured custom, the butchers of Weymouth made a public display of their provisions for the festivities of Christmastide on Monday evening, and certainly on no former occasion have they exhibited greater liberality and judgement in catering for the tastes of their customers.”

Old Weymouth alone could boast three butchers to supply the hungry population over the harbour.

Thomas Norris with his premises in Salam Place,(which apparently used to be somewhere near Hope Square.)

Then there was 59-year-old  Robert Baunton and his wife Mary Ann who ran the shop along the North Quay. They raised much of their own stock and were frequent winners at the local agriculture shows, a feat that many a true foodie would brag of nowadays.

Last but not least, Benjamin Parson could be found trading his meaty wares on the main High Street.

All would have hung great carcasses of beef , pork and mutton inside and outside their premises, rows upon rows of poultry, geese, duck and chickens would decorate the shop front, all designed to entice in customers.

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Cross the town bridge and enter Melcombe Regis, where you could find butchers galore. In fact if you walked down St Edmund Street, it was virtually wall to wall butchers. This was probably a hangover from when this area around the present day Guildhall was actually a designated market place.

Before the reign of Victoria, outside the old Guildhall once ran a covered walkway for the market traders of the town. When the new Guildhall was opened in 1835 these sellers were then relegated to mere open stalls stood out in the street, but many residents complained that they were noisy, untidy and ruined the the area, consequently a new market hall was built for them in St Mary Street which opened in 1855.

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(Not that the traders appreciated this, they said it was cold and unpopular with their customers.)

Those Victorians out shopping for the festive fare in 1862 could take their pick from the many trading butchers of the time.

Situated right next door to the gaol in St Edmund Street was the premises of Phillip Roberts, he was aided and abetted by his faithful wife Ann and their 20-year-old son William.

Next door you’ll find William Bond and his wife Jane, they are specialising in pork butchery.

Thomas Stickland and wife Christian work the meat counters of the next shop along. Here they “exhibited three serviceable heifers…” Beef wasn’t his only offerings, “He also had at the will of the public several prime down wether sheep…” not only those but also“some choice Portlanders, grazed by himself.” 

Many of the butchers seemed to have raised their own small flocks, especially of the Portland sheep, for the Christmas period.

Then we have Daniel Stocks, master butcher, and Rachel his wife and their assorted brood.

And last but not least, you have the grandaddy of all Weymouth butchers, Edward Baunton (& Sons.) Edward was widowed by the 1861 census, but that’s not a problem as far as his business is concerned, he has his whole family helping him. From his 36-year-old daughter  Jane, his two sons, Edward and John, his teenage grandsons, William and John right down to various live-in butchers assistants, they all worked in this thriving butchers shop.

Christmas, of course,  was their busiest time, and it’s when they really went to town with their displays. Such things were noted in the local papers on the build up to the festive season, including, oddly enough, where their stock had been raised, where it grazed, what awards it won. Brings the true meaning of ‘from hoof to home.’

“The impromptu bower of evergreen over the pavement and the crescent-like form of the show of meat in the interior of the shop, with the display of the honourable trophies personally received by Mr. Braunton snr.,and those awarded to the animals, proved that those who had arranged the display had an eye to effect-anxious to please the eye as the appetite.”

Christmas meat shop

Turn into St Mary Street and here you’ll find that the men of meat also literally ‘hung together’ so to speak.

Starting off with 40-year-old Alfred Bolt and his wife Margaret at no 60. Even though they were a only small business, “he exhibited some good ox and heifer beef from the herd of Mr. E Pope Esq. of Great Toller…”

Next came John and Susannah Sanders at no 64, this stood next to the bustling Bear Inn. Their son Henry worked alongside his parents. According to the reporter “his show of beef appeared to us the acme of perfection.”

Then there was the Dominy family at no 66. Father George, his wife Mary and their sons John and Henry who worked behind the counter. Even their youngest son, 8-year-old George would have had his chores to do. Living on the premises with them were a bevy of servants and butchers assistants, a busy household for poor old Mary to run and look after. But good old George was a wily trader, he catered for everyone, “His show was alike serviceable to the rich and the poor.”

This family also ran a butchers shop in Park Street, “though perhaps not so well situated for attracting the nobility.”

William Lowman was the last man standing in this line of meat purveyors at no 69. Well, in fact that’s not quite true. William was actually the borough surveyor, it was his wife Sarah who was the trader, a poulterer, (birds to you and me…) and the rest of his family worked alongside their mother, Sarah jnr, Joseph and William.

Those muscly men of the meat trade in St Thomas Street preferred to keep their distance from each other.

Thomas Walters and wife Mary were pork butchers at no 1, and  right down the other end of the street was Henry Billet, and of course his wife Mary another pork butcher at no 52.

That wasn’t all.

Even Maiden Street could boast two butchers, Edward and Eliza Townsend at no 7, and perhaps rather aptly named young kid on the block, Joseph Rabbets at no 18, and of course not forgetting his beautifully named wife Emily Virtue. The young couple must have raised their own flock of lambs for “The Portland sheep were A1, and of his own feeding.”

George Pitman was tucked away in St Albans Row while Frederick Hatton traded at no 4 Bond Street.

Butchers of course weren’t the only shop keepers hoping for a bumper Christmas and the joyous sound, the merry ringing of the cash registers.

Here in 1862, Vincent’s were advertising their festive gifts for the more wealthy Weymouth residents to purchase for their nearest and dearest.

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How about a nice Elkington’s Electro Plated tea service for Mamma? or maybe a set of silver studs for Pappa to wear  with his evening attire?

Vincent’s was still an established business even during my lifetime, and is a shop that I  remember well from my childhood.

As a small mite it seemed an imposing sight.

Great tall glass windows outlined by black shiny immaculate wooden frames, enclosed within this imposing outline stood row upon row of glistening silverware, great silver salvers, elaborately carved tea services, jugs and cups. Below paraded the glittering jewels, flashing for all their worth in the suns rays, beckoning beguiled customers to enter their emporium.

P1010353 Oddly enough, this is also the building where I ended up spending many a happy year working for the fashion retailer Next.

Victorian Christmas’s did have a slightly different format to our modern day version.

Gifts were given out on Christmas Eve. This was the day when all the family gathered together to admire the festive tree, (which due to superstition, was not to be put up before Christmas Eve, for fear of invoking bad luck into the family home. ) This green harbinger of festivities was bedecked with it’s precious ornaments and hung with small treats. Strings of popcorn and brightly coloured cranberries draped from it’s fragrant boughs, candle flames flickered and danced in the gloom of the late afternoon giving the room a magical glow.

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Crackers would be pulled and children performed.

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Christmas day was feasting day, but that was only after the family had attended the church service in the morning. The sound of calling bells rung out across the rooftops of Weymouth,  summonsing everyone to service, and the streets were bustling, filled with families adorned in their best finery.

The wealthy and elite of the town jostled with the servants and shop girls, they all had their own paid for places on the hard wooden pews of St Mary’s or Holy Trinity. The richest in those nearest to the alters and the poorest at the back.

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In those days you paid dearly for the privilege to be nearer to the Almighty.

After filling bellies with fine fares, families would go from house to house, carol singing or packing in more food and drink to their already bursting bellies.

I have just discovered though that for the local shops, Christmas day was just another working day.

That finally explains a scene that I could never understand in Charles Dicken’s Christmas Carol, when Scrooge awoke that cold morning …

“It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to himself. “I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Hallo, my fine fellow!” “Hallo!” returned the boy. “Do you know the Poulterer’s, in the next street but one, at the corner?” Scrooge inquired. “I should hope I did,” replied the lad. “An intelligent boy!” said Scrooge. “A remarkable boy! Do you know whether they”ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there — Not the little prize Turkey: the big one?” “What, the one as big as me?” returned the boy. “What a delightful boy!” said Scrooge. “It’s a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck.” “It’s hanging there now,” replied the boy. “Is it?” said Scrooge. “Go and buy it.” “Walk-er!” exclaimed the boy. “No, no,” said Scrooge, “I am in earnest. Go and buy it, and tell them to bring it here, that I may give them the direction where to take it. Come back with the man, and I’ll give you a shilling. Come back with him in less than five minutes and I’ll give you half-a-crown.” The boy was off like a shot. He must have had a steady hand at a trigger who could have got a shot off half so fast. “I’ll send it to Bob Cratchit’s!” whispered Scrooge, rubbing his hands, and splitting with a laugh. “He shan’t know who sends it. It’s twice the size of Tiny Tim.”

Of course…even though it was Christmas day, the butcher’s shop was still open for trade.

Boxing day was a day for charity, for giving, to think of those less fortunate. Hence it’s name. Boxes were made up and inside would be coins or small tokens and these would be distributed to shop staff, servants, deliverymen and the poor.

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Nowadays, we tend to think more of Boxing day as cold meats, pickles and bubble & squeak followed by a trip to the beach, come rain come shine,  to let off steam…well, in our family at least.

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But in 1862, and changes were afoot for the hard-working serving members of staff of the local shops, Boxing day was about to become a holiday.

On the 18th Dec, it was announced in the local papers that “the leading tradesmen in Weymouth have publicly notified their intention of abstaining from business on Friday 26th, the day following Christmas day, in order that their assistants may have an opportunity of visiting their friends.”

Congregations in all the local churches were also busy that year, raising funds for their fellow human beings from the north, who at the time were going through devastating changes, often referred to as the Cotton Famine. A period when the huge cotton mills and associated trades on the northern towns and cities faced a downturn in their fortunes due to world events. Thousands of families suddenly found themselves out of work and facing destitution and starvation.

St John’s collection had raised the grand total of £22 and St Mary’s managed a rousing £17.

Many other events were also being organised in and around the area to help those whose lives had been so harshly turned upside down.

The Manchester Unity of Oddfellows of Weymouth held a well-attended concert at the Assembly Rooms in the Victoria Hotel on the seafront.

So too did the local professor of music, Thomas William Beale, he arranged a concert by his friends and acquaintances, which was held a couple of days later, on Christmas Eve.

All funds raised went towards supporting those less fortunate families in dire need.

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Despite the overload of bad news we are bombarded with nowadays, it’s heartwarming to see that human nature still favours generosity and the willingness to help those in need at times of crises. The recent floods in the northern part of the UK demonstrates this well.

Someone who was very pleased with themselves come that festive period of 1862 was local ship builder and owner, Weymouth born Christopher Besant. At one time they had lived along Hope Quay, near the ship yards where they plied their trade, but had since moved  their family to Longhill Cottage in Wyke Regis.

On a chilly Thursday morning just before Christmas, when the tide was at its highest, Christopher, his wife and family strolled down to the harbour, once there they stood excitedly on the quayside. They were there watching with great pride, the launch of their latest vessel, the 110 ton schooner, Nil Desperandum. She was destined for trading the foreign coastal routes.

But of course, what would the Christmas period be without at least one little snippet of mischievousness?

In court that week, stood before the local judges, Captain Prowse and Alderman Welsford were three young lads, aged between seven and nine years of age, frequent offenders it seems, and rather unflatteringly referred to as ‘street arabs.’

They were there for attempting to fill their own Christmas stockings…by making away with 4 oranges and 3 bread twists. These had been the property of shop keeper Joseph Curtis and his wife Sarah who ran a grocery business in Weymouth High Street.

These ruffian’s parents, weren’t described in any more flattering terms than their children by Superintendent Lidbury, in fact he declared they were ‘worse than the children.’ According to him they had virtually washed their hands of any responsibility for them, these young lads were running the streets and causing no end of problems all hours of the day and night.

The youngest of the three amigos was 7-year-old Edward Denman, son of recently widowed Ann Maria. Ann Maria tried her best to keep her lively family of six in check, but being a single parent and living in poverty, life was so very hard. They were all squeezed into the cramped accommodation of no 3 Franchise Court, (which no longer exists,) the entrance to this little court was squeezed in between no’s 5 and 6 Franchise Street.

Sadly, his life lived virtually running unchecked on the streets meant young Edwards career of crime was only to continue.

Come the Christmas of 1865, and he was hauled before the court again, this time for stealing an umbrella and selling it to a local trader, Mrs Russell, who ran, not surprisingly, an umbrella shop in St Thomas Street.

Even though he was only 11 years of age, for this misdemeanor, Edward was sent to prison,

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something which has left us a tantalising glimpse of the lad. The admissions book describes him as only 4ft 3″ tall, one wonders whether a lifetime of malnutrition might have had an effect? It goes on to reveal further features of this chappie, he has light brown hair and hazel eyes, his complexion is sallow. At this tender age, his only distinguishing feature is a cut between his eyebrows.

From prison he was sent to a reformatory, the Victorian’s attempts at turning such wayward children away from the downward spiral.

By the age of 21, Edward’s life had changed, he was following in his fathers footsteps in that he sailed the seas, navigating up and down the coast on trading vessels.

One thing that hadn’t changed though was his tendency towards being somewhat light fingered.

Before the court again in 1875, this time for the theft of cigars.

Fully grown, he still only measures, 5ft 4 ins. Now his complexion is being described as ‘swarthy,’ a good old fashioned word that exemplifies the face of someone who spends their days out in the open fresh air, salt laden winds and fierce sunshine.

His sea faring life is literally tattooed on his body, he bears hearts and daggers on his right arm, his left, an anchor and a cropped sword.

Even his face bears witness to a typical mariners lifestyle, that of drink and frequent brawls, with a “cut right corner left eyebrow” and “cut right corner right eye,” his nose “slightly inclined to right,” no doubt the legacy of someone else’s fist meeting it.

The second young chap stood before the court that Christmas week of 1862 was 8-year-old Samuel Vincent, son of George and Mary, and next door neighbour to his partner in crime, Edward.

Unlike Edward though, Vincent does not seem to have continued on the career criminals pathway, he too followed in his fathers footsteps, working as a sawyer, but then joined the army.

Sadly, though his life was now on the straight and narrow, it was also to be short. In 1878, aged only 26, he died while stationed in the barracks at Dorchester.

The final fellow felon of our tale is someone that I had come across before, in fact I had already written about him and his brother in my book about the history of the military on the Nothe.

He was the eldest of the three harbourside amigos.

Meet 10-year-old John William Bendall, (though the papers had mistakenly written him down as Benthall, which took some time to decipher who he actually was!)

John lived just around the corner from his accomplices, at no 8 Franchise Street, along with his Dad, Matthew, and Mum, Mary Ann, and the rest of the brood.

John was another one who fell foul of the law more than a few times, despite spending time in prison and the reformatory.

In 1865 he was incarcerated for the theft of zinc.

In 1867, he was arrested for the theft of iron along with his younger brother Albert,  this is where I came across this family as the theft was from the Nothe fort smithy shop.

These slightly over ripe apples hadn’t fallen far from the tree, their dad Matthew was no stranger to brushes with the law. He was a waterman, but was also apt to be light fingered. Not only that, for some reason he was very unpopular amongst his fellow workers. So much so that in 1888 he even attempted to cut his own throat, part of the reason given was that he was “being so much annoyed by his mates on the quay.”

When these three young ruffians were stood before the court that Christmas week, they were handed out a present that they didn’t expect, and indeed, wouldn’t forget!

Each and every one of them was flogged…receiving twelve agonising lashes of the whip.

And on that cheery note I wish each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.

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December 1888, Drunks, Domestics and Deaths

Picture this, it’s the year 1888, it’s December, on the cusp of Christmas and the good folk of Weymouth are going about their everyday business as usual.

For some though, it was not to be a good ending to their year.

Pretty much like todays inhabitant’s of our seaside town, those of the Victorian era liked to peruse the local newspapers of the day, of which I hasten add they had the choice of a fair few, including the Western Gazette, the Southern Times and the Dorset County Chronicle .

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Revealed within these paragraph-heavy pages of Victorian print  were the scandals and sorrows, misdemeanors and miseries of their fellow townsfolk.

Not for them todays instant access to world wide events literally as they happen, the breakneck speed of Facebook spreading local news before the media even have a slight whiff of impending dramas.

These are things that our ancestors couldn’t even begin to imagine possible.

If we browse the columns of their Friday’s Western Gazette, 28th December 1888, we can catch a snippet in their time, when ladies in voluminous skirts bustled through the dusty streets of Weymouth town, their billowing hems sweeping the dirt as they drifted from shop to shop.

letter Civic Society.

A multitude of brightly garbed soldiers mingled with locals, having come from the artillery fort and barracks up on the Nothe, they made the most of time away from the fetid atmosphere of their cramped and cold accommodation.

The harbourside bustling with vessels coming and going, an abundance of sailors taking their chance to enjoy time ashore before they set sail for pastures new.

Weymouth harbour

Some however, took that enjoyment to extremes!

Such was the case of a crew member of the Gilpin who was berthed at the quayside.

Christmas Eve, and Thomas Cook was making his way down from the Nothe. Having reached the top of Hill’s Lane, he came across the motionless body of  a man. Thomas shook the man to rouse him, but as he was well and truly in ‘his cups’ he took some rousing. Finally, managing to drag the heavily intoxicated man to his feet and ascertaining his destination, that was,  before he had succumbed to his slovenly slumbers in the street.

Thomas, holding on firmly to the staggering soul, led him down to the quayside, where seemingly the lost mariner’s vessel was moored.

Alas, her gangplank had been hauled aboard, and the sot had no way of boarding her.

Not to be deterred though, he slurred his solution, he would simply board the nearby vessel instead, the Guide, he knew a crew member on there who would let him kip down.

Thomas was not so sure this was a good idea.

The makeshift gangplank was about 15 foot in length, a mere 2 foot in width, and as the tide was exceptionally high that night it rose before them at a crazy angle.

Undeterred, under his alcoholic haze, the drunken sailor  attempted to crawl unsteadily on his hands and knees along the narrow wooden walkway, with Thomas following closely behind, desperately trying to hold onto his coat tails.

Mid passage, the alcohol won out, and the by now unconscious drunk rolled onto his back, precariously perched over the water. A frantic Thomas called for help, at which point a crew member poked his head out, and seeing the dire situation, he attempted to grab hold of the mans wrist to pull him up the gangplank, but his dead weight was too much.

With that, the body slid with a splash into the dark waters below.

All hell let loose…man overboard…

Eventually his limp form was pulled from the freezing waters, unconscious, but still breathing…just.

The thirty-nine year old sailor, Bristol born Charles Tidray, made it alive to local hospital where he was seen to by Dr Carter. A man who did not think much for his chances, he told Matron on his way out that he did not think the man would ‘live through the night.’

Nor did he.

At 4 o’clock that Christmas morning, Charles was stood at the pearly gates, his sins before him.

It was time to met his maker.

Another miscreant was stood with his sins before him too that December period, though this time, thankfully he was only stood before the local judge.

His downfall was also alcohol, or rather, the imbibing of excess.

William Bowdidge Hole, a 34-year-old cab driver had been out enjoying his time somewhat with friends in the local hostelry. Having drunk away all his money, he staggered back to his home in Trinity Street, to replenish his pockets.

His long-suffering wife, Emm, (perhaps not that long suffering, seeing as they had only married earlier that year,) wasn’t having any of it though. Emm was desperate to keep hold of what little money she had, it was needed to keep a roof over their heads and food in their mouths, not simply swilled down his throat.

William was riled at her reluctance to hand over the money, thwarted from being able to return to his drinking buddies and buy more beer, he lost his rag and struck out at her, hitting her hard in the mouth.

Wyke House hotel. 1

Eventually their physical and vocal altercations woke the neighbours, they tried to help the wife  who was under a barrage of flailing fists and vile words from the enraged husband.

By now the police had also appeared on scene, in the form of one P.C. Henry Kaile. As he approached the house, he was confronted by the hysterical wife fleeing the building, who was being  hotly pursued by her still ranting and raving husband.

Quickly collared by the local bobby, the still protesting William was whisked off to cool his heels in the local cells, from whence he was hauled next morning to stand before the judge.

For his sins, ‘being drunk and riotous’ William Hole was sent to prison for one month.

(William was obviously very partial to his beer, a couple of years later, 1891, and he was before the judge again, for being ‘drunk whilst in charge of a horse and carriage.’ This time he got off with a 5s fine, but was warned that if he appeared before them again, he would lose his license.)

It certainly must have been pretty lively over the water in old Weymouth around Christmas time that year…

Not long after a drunken Charles was slithering off the gangplank and into the water, a fight broke out in Hope Quay.

In the early hours of Christmas morning P.C. Groves, probably fresh from dealing with the fiasco of fishing out the sodden sailor, came across two men scrapping.

A certain Henry Hunt, stated to be a costermonger, and Frederick Boakes, a private in the West Kent Regiment.

Both men were hauled off to the cells, Henry for being drunk and disorderly and Frederick for fighting.

But all was not quite what it at first seemed.

By the time the two fiercely protesting men had been incarcerated, the soldier, with his story backed up by his comrades, revealed that in fact he had been the hero of the night.

Recently wed Henry was yet another who alcohol loosened his mouth and freed his fists…he was about to strike his wife, when the soldier stepped in to stop him. Instead, he turned his wrath and fists on Frederick, and the two ended up scrapping on the ground, at which point P.C Groves came across them.

Once his story had been corroborated, the gallant soldier was released and sent on his way.

Our final tale of tittle tattle from the tabloids of December 1888 doesn’t involve one drop of alcohol, or even a raised fist.

At one time, the Steam Packet Inn used to stand by the quayside, near the Devonshire buildings. In 1888 it was being run by German born musician, Joseph Duscherer, and his wife Harriet.

They had just taken on a new servant girl, Rachel Smith, to help in the busy hostelry.

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Unfortunately, Rachel was light-fingered, and made away with a piece of Harriets precious jewellery, a gold ring.

When Harriet questioned Sarah as to it’s whereabouts, she at first denied any knowledge, but under the tough interrogation of P.C. William Read, she soon cracked.

Sarah revealed that she had swopped the stolen ring for another, so a constable was dispatched to the home of Mrs Wellman in Upwey, where he found the missing article upon her finger.

For her sins, the slippery servant was given the choice of paying a 5 shilling fine or spending 7 days behind bars.

As poor Sarah had no money, she had no choice…she was ‘removed below.’

So you see…things don’t really change much do they…different era, different clothes, different papers, different people…same old problems.

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