Christmas is nearly upon us, its that time of year when we think about absent family and friends and especially those no longer here to celebrate with us.
Our long departed ancestors knew how to celebrate Christmas too, albeit sometimes in a very different way, though their life often mirrored ours of today, with the same old trials and tribulations.
Come on in and have a peek at the lives of Weymouth folk of days gone past.
The year is 1888, it’s the 13th December and young Albert Rolls and his pals were making their way along a packed Weymouth esplanade. It might have been nearly Christmas, but the weather was set fair and the warm sun had brought out the crowds.
In the distance Albert could hear the lively notes of organ music and the raised voices of happy revellers. A big grin spread across his face as he and his pals quickened their pace, pushing through the throng, most of whom seemed to be heading for where the action was.
The Christmas season always brought a chance to enjoy a bit of fun away from the drudgery of everyday toil.
Once they neared the entrance to the pier they could see the steam fair in full swing on the quayside. it looked as if the whole of Weymouth had turned out to attend the festive revelries.
Spiffily dressed stall holders bellowed their gaudy wares, “come buy…come buy” they cried as pretty maids crowded round, purses clutched tightly under their shawls. Dapper dandies stood perusing the assortment of side shows that lined the quay, their sight alighting upon somewhat scandalously dressed women whose dark eyes promised such delicious delights behind those beguiling curtains.
Albert and his mates though, headed straight for the steam rides, whose organs were churning out lively tunes that made toes tap, but even those were almost drowned out by the screeches of nervous passengers and raucous laughter of dare devil riders.
Their chosen ride slowed to a halt, men, women and children clambered down off their chain slung chairs, some still laughing and chattering happily while a few staggered off looking rather green around the gills.
Albert scrambled onto the nearest chair, he pushed his behind as far back onto the leather seat as he possibly could and held on tightly to the chain, excited but nervous at the same time.
“Old tight me loverlies” bellowed the showman, “ere we’s goes.”
The music started and so the ride began to turn, faster and faster.
As the speed picked up its riders swung out, flying legs splayed above the heads of those watching below. Albert’s mates yelled cheerfully to each other above the din, “look ‘ere Rollsy” cried one daring chap as he casually loosed a hand and held it out sideways, “I be flying like they there birds do.” Albert chuckled to himself, Harry was always such a wag.
Despite almost being horizontal, flying round and round through the air, Albert was beginning to feel quite brave…that was to be the undoing of him!
“Arry” he hollered, “bet you’s can’t do this,” and was on the point of loosening his grip on the straps, when he suddenly slid off the seat and flew, unaided by neither chain nor leather, through the air. Over the heads of stunned watchers he went, arms and legs aflailing, a startled expression on his face. Luckily for the crowd below, but not for Albert, he landed with an almighty crash on solid ground, in a small space void of any possible soft landing material and rolled to an ignominious stop besides a stunned lassie.
Albert never did visit the fair ever again!
(Bridport News 14 Dec 1888)
December of 1888 also witnessed a fairly farcical case held in the borough police court at the town’s Guildhall.
Hauled before Messrs Robens was one Mary Jackson.
But the case before Robens was not quite that clear cut and took a bit of good old fashioned detective work by local Superintendent Vickery to sort out the mess.
He asked for it to be adjourned until a while later.
Mary Jackson it seems wasn’t actually Mary Jackson, she also went by the names of Pemberton, Roberts and Lee and no doubt many more besides.
Mary’s co-conspirator and partner in crime was one George Jackson.
Not her husband at all, although he was married…just not to Mary.
George, a dentist by trade, had apparently deserted his wife and family elsewhere to set off for a life of crime roaming the country with his latest lady love.
Well, come December of 1888 and the Jackson’s arrived in good old sunny Weymouth.
The conniving couple took advantage of the fair weather, and strolled along the seashore, their thoughts turned towards their next dastardly deed.
The following morning, decked out in her best finery, Mary set out with a purpose, marching determinedly along St Thomas Street. She was heading straight for their next victim, 63-year-old Charles Hibbs, who owned shop premises at no 3 Frederick Place. Charles, along with his wife Susan and their family lived in the elegant Georgian rooms above them.
That fateful day, behind the pretty bow fronted window, waiting patiently for his next customer, sat Charles. His beady eyes passed carefully over his stock, was it displayed at its best? Maybe he should move that piece over to the wall opposite the window where it would catch the light better. He frowned as he spotted something not quite to his liking. Being ever the perfectionist, he rose from his seat and walked across the room to straighten the offending item. His somewhat rather pretentiously named son, William Bond Edward, also worked alongside his father, but as of yet, he didn’t yet have his father’s same exacting standards.
Charles was a well know businessman in Weymouth, the walls of his premises were hung with many pieces of valuable artwork.
Charles and William both traded as fine art dealers.
As he was about to return to his comfortable chair, the shop bell rang. Straightening his shoulders and fixing a smile on his craggy face, Charles turned around to warmly welcome his customer.
Mary smiled sweetly at the dealer, little did he know it was more a smile of satisfaction and determination.
Before her stood her next victim.
The two chatted away while browsing the selection of artwork on offer. Charles advising and Mary nodding.
Having chosen the pieces she deemed suitable for what she wanted, Mary made her excuses and left the premises, leaving behind a very disappointed Charles. He was so sure that he had the sale in the bag…so to speak.
To his surprise, a few days later he received a letter from the lovely Mrs Mary Jackson, she wanted him to post a few pieces of artwork up to her, not just a few, but a dozen! Charles rubbed his hands with glee, he knew he had been right all along, when he first set eyes on the dear lady, he was so sure she was going to be a good customer. Mrs Jackson wanted the parcel to be carefully wrapped and personally addressed to her at Merriott Road in Crewkerne.
Paintings duly despatched, Charles waited.
First he received Mary’s letter to say that they had arrived safely…but then nothing!
Charles wrote again, this time his missive was returned unopened with the dreaded words penned on its front cover, “gone, no address.”
By now, quite alarmed, Charles made his way to the police station where he reported the facts, but he knew in his heart that he had been well and truly duped by this daring damsel and in all probability would never see her, his money or his painting ever again.
Well, as luck would have it, Mary had been found residing at her Majesty’s pleasure in the Devonport jailhouse. When confronted by Weymouth’s PC Bartlett who had travelled to Devonport to question her, she held up her hands and spilled the beans on the whole kitten caboodle of their crime.
Seemingly the dishonest couple had left behind a trail of deception and debts. Two of Charles’ pictures had been pawned in Exeter during their travels down towards the West Country, and another three sold to a private dealer.
When Mary’s partner in crime, George, was brought to the police house later that day, he had no hesitation in throwing his supposed lady love to the lions. Denying anything to do with obtaining the pictures, though he had to admit to knowing she had received them. Upon his person though was found a selection of pawn tickets from various towns they had passed through. Each one bore a different name, Graham Jackson, Graham Johnson, Annie Jackson, Ellen Jackson…so the list of aliases went on.
This light fingered pair were no lightweights, they were wanted by constabularies all over the place.
Once back stood in the Weymouth dock, the defiant Mary Jackson alias Pemberton, (it turned out that her real name was actually Mary Stedman) was charged with“unlawfully obtaining from Charles Hibbs of St Thomas Street, twelve unframed oil paintings valued at £12 6s”
At the Quarter Sessions the following Spring, Charles Hibbs sat patiently in the courtroom, he wanted to witness this dishonest couple get their just deserts. Imagine his surprise when the couple appeared before the judges, their case was thrown out, apparently it had been his own fault!
The Court Chairman decreed that“Hibbs had sent these twelve pictures to Crekerne without making any enquiries as to the applicant.”
To compound matters even further, the couples crimes, including the theft from a now totally bewildered Charles, were brought before a second court, along with a list of other such cases. Surely they would pay for their trail of crimes this time?
Mary again stated that they had indeed sent for these goods and then pawned them, but, denied receiving the goods with any intention of fraud, “remarking the invoice sent in with the goods stated ‘accounts rendered every six months,’ and at the time they were too poor to meet the account.”
Due to lack of evidence, (apart from a string of pawn tickets in an assortment of names, and a fair number of complaints of their misdoings) the couple were found “not guilty” and released.
(Western Gazette 21 Dec 1888)
Even Weymouth’s famous swans made the news that December.
An article described how “The good people of Weymouth have tried to induce the swans to live in the open sea-in the bay.” But it appears that the feathered flock of around 300 had their own views on such matters.
Despite people feeding them on boiled Indian corn out in the bay to entice them away from their sheltered spot, they kept flying back to Radipole Lake. “They seem to dislike a strong wind” bemoaned one bewildered local.
(Bridport News 14th Dec)
Of course, with a bustling quayside, there’s always a bit of nautical news to be had “At Weymouth on Tuesday, eight seamen belonging to the British barque Mabel, who refused to go to sea on the ground that the vessel was unseaworthy, were each sentenced to 28 days hard labour”
Not much of a Christmas for those fine fellows of the sea then!
(Western Chronicle Fri 14 Dec)
We might think that cruise ships arriving in port is a new phenomenon to this area…but not so.
In December of 1888 the magnificent Queen Marfisa steamed into Weymouth. She was homeward bound for Southampton after having been on a Mediterranean cruise, one which took in 39 ports over a distance of 5183 miles,(having missed out Africa “on account of the time of the year.”) She had used 50lb of coal per mile steamed at an average speed of 9 knots.
The ships owner, wealthy Mr George Beer, and his guests had set out from Southampton on May 16th on their epic voyage, calling in many ports along the way such as Gibraltar, Malaga, Valencia, Palma and Naples.
Well, here she was moored in Weymouth for a couple of days. I bet that gave the locals something to gawk at.
(Hants Advertiser 26 Dec)
And of course, what would Christmas be without a good old game of footie?
Christmas of 1888 saw a football match between Dorset v Devon.
The match for some obscure reason was held at Wareham, much to the disgust of the Devonians, who declared it as an absolutely “absurd place selected for the match.”
They complained that the Devon men had to travel up on the Friday and stop over for the weekend. Going on to point out that the Dorset team consisted of men all who came from the South of the county, and didn’t have to travel far.
In fact the majority of the Dorset team were soldiers from the West Kent Regiment who were stationed here at the time, what with footie being one of their favourite past times.
Kick off was at 3 o’clock.
Now, call me cynical, but from what I know of men and football and a the rare opportunity of a weekend away, it’s not normally something that they would complain about, but then just maybe it was a case of sour grapes because the final result was…
Dorset won 3-2!
We’ll round off with a completely un-Christmassy snippet.
Poor old Mrs Warren had been very busy doing her humungous pile of weekly washing, one which had been added to by visitors who had suddenly arrived unannounced for Christmas.
The windows and door of her cosy little cottage in Hope Street were completely steamed up, so she decided it might be better if she opened them for a while.
“It might’n be the season of good will to all ee there men, but fo’ us women,” she muttered to herself as she went about her chores, “din’t have no good will season’s, ’tis nothing but work, work,work.”
Having passed the last of the wet linens through the old mangle and draped it over the wooden clothes horse, she moved it in front of the fire, where she hoped that some of it would dry before the day was out.
With that she left the room and settled down in her tiny kitchen to enjoy a quick tipple before she started on the bedroom upstairs.
Whilst she was sat sipping her snifter of sherry and ruminating the woes of women, a gentle breeze fluttered through the windows and front door, ruffling the clothes airing in the room. Then, horror upon horrors, one strong wayward gust saw Mrs Warren’s clothes horse with all her nice clean washing fall forwards onto the fire.
In the back room, the disgruntled housewife was still deep in thought, clutching her glass close to her ample bosom, she sat wondering what it would be like to have someone else to do all the work for you.
It wasn’t until cries of “Fire…fire” awoke this daydreaming dame, startling her from her flights of fancy.
“Heavens above…” she cried, “What’s to do? what do be going on out there?” all whilst rushing down the hallway towards the front door.
Mrs Warren suddenly realised that smoke was oozing from her front room, people were rushing to and fro outside her front door.
When she realised the fire was in HER house…panic set in.
But she needn’t have worried, help was at hand,”a man who was passing extinguished the conflagration by the aid of a few buckets of water.”
Even Weymouth police force arrived with their hose, albeit a bit late, the fire was already out.
Poor old Mrs Warren woefully surveyed the damage to her front room, the burnt washing, the scorched fire surround and the sea soaked sodden floor.
She certainly wished she had someone else to do her work for her now.
(Western Gazette 28 Dec)
I would like to wish one and all A Very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.
Enjoyed a bit of good old local gossip?
Well my book Nothe Fort and Beyond is now out, available to buy in the Nothe Fort Museum and the Weymouth Museum.
Or available on Amazon priced at £9.99