Men of the sea; 1869

Not surprisingly, Weymouth and Portland folk have always looked to the sea for their favour and fortunes.

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However, old Father Neptune is a fickle master, sometimes he gives us untold riches…but he also has the ability to take those we love.

Such was the sad case in September of 1869.

You and I might think of Greenhill as a place where we dabble our toes when the weather is warm, or somewhere we sit in the pleasant sunshine to enjoy stunning views with a cup of tea or an ice cream. The long shingle beach littered with the last of the sun worshipers and the hardy bathers.

To our ancestors though, Greenhill was very much a workplace.

One September Sunday became a memorable day in Weymouth’s history.

It was when rich pickings had entered the bay, a vast shoal of pilchards spotted heading for the beach.

Of course, despite atrocious conditions, local fishermen did what had to be done, chase the liquid money. ‘During the whole of the day parties of fishermen had been engaged on the beach near Greenhill, in the pilchard fishery.’

But it also harboured tragedy for the fishermen.

The blustery weather certainly wasn’t in their favour that day, ‘the wind which was blowing in very strong gusts from the north-west’ had made for a ‘very sloppy sea.’

Our Victorian ancestors  were out in force that Sunday, partaking in the day of the Lord, dressed warmly to keep out the Autumn chill, little knowing that as they strolled ‘in the presence of hundreds of promenaders, bent on pleasure,’ they would become witnesses that were ‘entirely unprepared for the terrible sensation that awaited them.’

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Folks lines the grassy slopes along Greenhill common, watching as men dragged their wooden boats and heavy rope nets down the beach and into the water.

Time after time they rowed out into the wind swept bay, laying their nets behind them. Having circled round, they then began the hard work.

Men heaved and hauled in their cumbersome nets, moving ever closer to shore.

The sea literally boiled with thousands of erupting fish, screaming gulls circled above, diving again and again to greedily snatch their fill.

A productive days fishing was on the cards.

Men spoke of many a celebration that would be enjoyed that night at inns and taverns around town.

But about four o’clock that afternoon,‘opposite the house of Mr Trenchard,’ four men clambered into their vessel, ‘a trough, a little flat-bottomed craft.’

They too were going to grab their share of nature’s riches.

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First to climb in was fifty-seven year old William Watch. Despite his good age, William was a strong man and a powerful swimmer. He sometimes worked as a porter, but fishing was in his blood, it didn’t always pay the bills though.

William lived on Chapelhay Stairs along with his wife Elizabeth and their growing brood.

Fellow fisherman, Samuel Chick, climbed in next, he was a mere youngster at 27. Samuel Charles was the illegitimate son of Eliza Chick. Mother and son lived in Conygar Lane.

Also in the boat was William Chick of West Quay (or John, depending on which newspaper you read!)

The forth man to board that fated vessel was George Watts, a Blandford carpenter, but one who had moved recently to Wyke Regis.

During the inquest he was referred to as ‘George ‘Smuggler’ Watts.’

Maybe he was a man with a somewhat checkered past?

Rowing hard against the winds, the four headed for the tell-tell signs of the rich vein of pilchards, their vessel’s stern low in the water, weighed down by nets and rope.

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Once they reached their destination, the fishermen hurriedly began to lay their nets. Only problem was, added weight of the sodden nets dragging in the water made her stern sink her even lower.

Fate waited patiently in the wings…but only for so long.

A sudden swell swamped their low-lying boat, overturning her and catapulting all four men into choppy seas.

William Watch, Samuel Chick and George Watts tried desperately to right her again. But ‘Hampered as it is supposed they were, with the ropes or net, they could not manage it properly,  and turned her over three or four times.’  

Though it was not to be, ‘ at last, exhausted, they sank.’

Back on land, the unfolding tragedy was watched by horrified spectators.

Boats set out from the shore, rowing furiously against the waves in a desperate attempt to reach the floundering men.

One of those boats heading for the upturned vessel contained Sergeant Brine, P.C. Hansford and William Burt.

Old William Burt kept his eyes firmly on the spot where he had witnessed ‘ Watch rising and sinking,’ but once they reached the spot, he was not to be seen, only a  man’s cap being tossed around on the swell. William reached in as far as he safely could and managed to grab hold of someone’s hair.

Hauling in the fully clothed, sodden body was difficult, but the men managed and lay it out in the bottom of their boat.

He was still alive, but only just.

This was William Watch.

William Chick, (or  was it John?) had launched himself clear of the tangled nets and rope as their boat overturned. He was found exhausted, frozen, but still clinging onto an oar some way away from the boat.

William Chick was hauled ashore by one of the many men who had taken to the waters in a desperate bid to save the drowning fishermen.

By now the upturned fishing boat had righted itself again, but no sign of any of its other crew members. Fears were that they had been trapped by their own heavy nets and ropes which were now dragging the seabed.

Sergeant Brine and P.C. Hansford clambered into the empty vessel. They frantically tried to free the dragging nets,‘but the party found they had but one knife between them.’ It was a slow and arduous task as they cut one rope after another, though far too late to save anyone still entangled in the waters below.

Meanwhile, William Burt, of a goodly age, but one that hadn’t robbed him of his strength, rowed a semi-conscious William Watch towards the beach. At one stage, Watch rallied slightly and muttered “Oh, Burt,” and he moved his hands and feet,’ but soon after fell silent.

It took old William nearly fifteen minutes to finally reach dry land, where crowds had gathered.

Once ashore, Watch’s now motionless body was laid out on the shingle, he was quickly stripped of his sodden clothing.

Desperate to help, residents of Brunswick Terrace had been busy, they ‘pulled the blankets from their own beds, and hurried down to the beach.’ 

Even Mayor Devenish arrived on scene to take charge, bringing with him stone water bottles and a supply of suitable stimulants.  He ordered that troops be sent for to keep the rapidly gathering crowds back from the scene of the tragedy.

That summons for help also brought two surgeons of the 51st Regiment from the barracks, they attempted to help local doctors in their frantic attempts to revive a by now seemingly lifeless Watch.

For the next two hours, Dr Tizard, Dr Griffin and Dr Rhodes tried all within their means to resuscitate William Watch’s stone cold body, but to no avail.

Back out in the bay, fellow fishermen were still searching for the missing corpses of their comrades, George Watts and Samuel Chick.

There was not a sign of them.

The inquest on the death of William Watch was held in the Burdon Hotel Tap, where his corpse was laid out for jurors to peruse.

When Superintendent Vickery was questioned by the coroner about William Watch, he rather oddly replied that ‘he believed Watch had left eight or nine children; but Burt made a mystery about that.’

The body of 57-year-old William Watch, (father of an undisclosed number of offspring,)  was laid to rest in Wyke Regis churchyard on the 24th September 1869.

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Three days later, 27-year-old Samuel Chick followed in his friends footsteps, his body having later been washed ashore.

He was also buried at Wyke Regis.

There is no further mention of George ‘Smuggler’ Watts. Presumably old Neptune wound his cold tentacles around him and held him tight.

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If Weymouth’s military or naval history is your cup of tea try my other blog Nothe Fort and Beyond…

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https://nothefortandbeyond.wordpress.com/blog/

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My first book of Nothe Fort and Beyond is now out.

It can be purchased at the Nothe Fort Museum and Weymouth Museum.

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Or on Amazon priced at £9.99.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Nothe-Fort-Beyond-Weymouth-Portland/dp/1977592686

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What were your Weymouth ancestors doing in December of 1888?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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”

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

LONDON MAGAZINE 11 1906 LADY CHAIR

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)

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I would like to wish one and all A Very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.

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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.

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Or available on Amazon priced at £9.99

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Nothe-Fort-Beyond-Weymouth-Portland/dp/1977592686

Victorian Castletown, Portland…matelots, mariners and mishaps.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, as much as I love the Isle of Portland, in all honesty I don’t know a great deal about it’s history, for that I defer to local historian and accomplished author, Stuart Morris.

What I do enjoy is reading through the old newspapers and uncovering  stories of the everyday person as they went about their daily lives, their jobs and homes, their loves and dreams, their  celebrations and their downfalls.

I was recently asked to do some research on the history of a public house in Castletown, so hubby and I went for a drive over to take a few snaps of the area.

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It’s been many years since I had walked down this road on my annual pilgrimage to the good old Portland Navy days, when thousands of people would stream along here heading for those imposing Naval dock gates. As a small child I can recall looking up into the windows of shops filled with uniforms covered in gold braid and button…it spoke to me of princes and heroes.

To those that don’t know the area, (and those who didn’t twig, like myself, until I started researching this) Castletown is so named because…well, because of a castle. Portland castle to be precise. A Henrician fort built during the reign of Henry VIII to protect his mighty naval fleet whilst in the confines of Portland Roads.

Portland Castle

Castletown started out as a small fishing village, its little sheltered beach tucked within the lee of the great cliffs behind saw the arrival and departure of many a local fisherman and indeed more than a few canny smugglers.

Others who would land here were the naval men or merchant seamen whose boats were moored out in the safety of the Roads.

In fact, one of the first public houses to be built  along this stretch facing the beach was rather aptly named The Jolly Sailor, which was opened in 1775.

Over the following years this small but bustling through fare, positively alive with visiting Jack Tars, became a one stop destination for those going or arriving. Shops and businesses began to appear along the road and piers, catering to their every need, and the things that the majority of shore bound sailors certainly needed was clothing, uniforms, shoes and boots, and alcohol …..lots and lots of it!

So much so that poor old Castletown became synonymous for drunkenness and bawdy behaviour.

Come the mid 19th c and the fortunes of Castletown  positively boomed.

Monumental works were ongoing on Portland for the construction of the mighty Verne Citadel, the accompanying breakwaters and Nothe fort over in Weymouth. Royal Engineers, civilians and convicts worked side by side moving innumerable tons of stone, this grand scheme was a great tribute to Victorian engineering. Much of this work took place in and through Castletown including the start of the long arms that wrapped protectively around Portland Roads.

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Of course, such wondrous sights were not to be missed, and Victorian sightseers flocked to the area literally in their thousands. Every day packed vessels drew alongside the piers and disgorged  hoards of inquisitive trippers ashore, they all needed refreshments and trinkets to buy, much like todays tourists.

According to The Post Office Directory of Dorsetshire by 1855 this small street in Castletown could boast 4 hostelries where the thirst of these intrepid trippers and visiting naval men could be quenched.

There was even an imposing newly built hotel, the majestic Royal Breakwater, which faced the beach.  A very grand building where those of a certain class who wished to avail themselves of its accommodation could sit in comfort and relax, watching the frantic activity ongoing along the shoreline.

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However, for this particular post I shall concentrate on Castletown at the turn of the century, when through the demise of the ageing Queen, the Victorian became the Edwardian era.

Castletown had seen many changes over the latter part of the Victorian era as a report in the Western Gazette of October 1898 shows:

‘IMPROVEMENTS AT CASTLETOWN; The new wharves at Castletown are nearing completion. The old stone boat pier is being rapidly demolished, operations having been commenced immediately the Weymouth steamer ceased running. The new pier certainly improves the appearance of Castletown. It possesses a symmetry of appearance which the old wharves sadly lacked. Steamers will now land passengers on the wharves, the wooden pile pier being done away with. The railway siding is being extended from the loading depot of Castle, and some new premises are being erected on the old west pier. most of the houses have been re built during the last year or two, and the appearance of this part of the island has been altered to such an extent that the place would not be recognised by anyone who has not visited this village during the last few years.’

It’s 1901 and as we approach the start of the main road of Castletown, we arrive at the shop at no.25. This is the business of 37-year-old Eli Gill and his wife, Laura. Eli runs his own busy boot and shoe repair business. His wife Laura is kept pretty active too, besides looking after their three lively young boys, Harold, Reginald and Leonard, she presides over her  bustling refreshment room, this she does with  help in the form of a live in servant, 17-year-old Emily Foot, a Lychet Minster girl who moved here as a mothers help.

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Eli’s father already owned and ran a boot and shoe shop here as early as the 1870’s, shown by this report in the Taunton Courier and Western Advisor of 1877.

‘STRANGE ROBBERY BY AN ARTILLERYMAN. Charles Higgins, an artilleryman, was brought up for stealing boots, on Wednesday week, at Portland. The man said he had no peace with his comrades, and it seems he resolved to try and get out of the regiment. He therefor went to the shop of Mr Gill at Castletown, stole a pair of boots from the shelf, and hid them near the dead house. He then told Mr Gill that an artilleryman named Higgins had stolen a pair of boots from his shop, and that if he went to Sergeant Dailey the man would be put in the guardroom.His own name he said was O’Donnell. Mr Gill enquired of his shopman who kept the Castletown shop, found that the boots were gone, and complained at the barracks. When the prisoner came in he was arrested as Higgins, there being no other Higgins in the battery, and, of course, the statement that his name was O’Donnell was false.’

Eli,  as a single young man, had seen an opportunity to start his own business in this up and coming area, he opened a refreshment room. When his wife Laura had taken over the running of the busy tea rooms, Eli reverted back to his former trade, that of a cobbler. ( Here he lived until his death in 1924 at the age of 60.)

Next door to the business of the Gills is oldest pub in the street, The Jolly Sailor, a thriving hostelry, (sadly no longer!) that more often than not lives up to its name.

At the turn of the century, Robert William Winter Male and his wife Sarah are mine hosts, both are from local families. In fact the the lively bar rooms and the comings and goings of the guests at the Jolly Sailor had pretty much been Robert’s life, for over 20 years it had originally been run by his Dad and Mum, Arthur and Sarah Ann.

Now Robert and Sarah run the pub, they have a young family of their own, baby girls, Olive, Irene and new born baby Joy. As up and coming people of means, they too employ a young girl in to help with their growing family and serve behind the bar, in 1901 it was 19-year-old Bessie, a Portland lassie.

(Mind you, with the frequency of their adverts over the years looking for a ‘respectable young girl’ one can only presume they didn’t last too long! Perhaps they all fell for the lure of a man in uniform, falling in love with visiting sailors, marrying and moving on.)

Also in the hostelry at the time of the 1901 census were three boarders, as you might expect, transient Jack Tars of course.

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1901 also sees the arrival of the Reserve Squadron, it heralds a hectic time for all those living and working in Castletown.

‘WESTERN GAZETTE JULY 1901; THE RESERVE SQUADRON, in point of numbers looked a very imposing sight when anchored in the harbour on Sunday, but among the fleet were a few old stagers, which would be better on a scrap heap, although some sailors have many good words for some of the vessels, which are regarded by the Navy League as”death traps.” Sunday was a busy day for the provisions contractors. Tons of bread, vegetables & c., were loaded off. Contrary to usual practise, none of the sailors or marines were landed for chapel on Sunday, and many were disappointed at being deprived of the church parade. Ranged out in lines,stretching from the new Breakwater to within rifle shot of Castletown the vessels presented an imposing sight, and the launches and sailing boats caused the scene to be a busy one. The high land to the rear of Castletown was well filled with sightseers.’

One house along from the Jolly Sailor is no.23 and here we find the Anthony family, Mum and Dad, John and Annie, and a trio of offspring, John,  Elizabeth. and Reginald, all born in Weymouth. The Anthony’s run a successful boat building firm. Their youngest son, Reginald Edward, born in 1889, is a boy of the sea, he works alongside his father in the family business.  

( By 1916, half way through WWI, Reginald had signed up for the navy. He served his country as he had spent his whole working life, out on the sea, part of that time was spent serving on Victory II, until he was demobbed in 1919.)

The chappie  living next door at no. 22, is 48-year-old Alfred Thomas Hounsell,  also a boat builder. Alfred and his second, (possibly 3rd!) wife, Lydia, are Kimberlins, (not Portland born and bred.)  Alfred hails from further along the Dorset coastline,  Bridport, whereas Lydia moved from across the water, a Channel Islands girl.

Alfred had lost his previous wife Julia (nee Comben) a few years earlier in 1897, but hope springs eternal and cupid gave him another shot at love.

(By the time of his death in 1909, the couple are living at Higher Lane on Portland, and ‘master carpenter’ Alfred leaves his widow a sizeable  legacy.)

The Hounsell’s neighbours, also incomers to the island, are Alfred Coombs and his wife, Beatrice, they run the bustling Portland Roads Inn with it’s beautiful and ornately decorated tiled entrance.

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Alfred’s family originates from Swyre, he is a carpenter, but knows the licensed trade well being the son of an inn keeper, his father runs the Bull at Swyre. It’s not hard to work out where his wife, 31-year-old Beatrice hails from, her thick brogue  sharp tongue and quick wit reveals her place of birth, Ireland. They too have a young son, 5-year-old Alfred Bertram, and an inn full of guests on the night of the census, mainly transient sailors and soldiers.

(By the time of the next census the family have moved to Weymouth and are running the Prince of Wales pub in the Park district.)

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Next comes the Royal Breakwater Hotel which takes pride of place in this road.

In 1901 it is being run by feisty widow, 58-year-old Jane George, who is from Child Okeford, Dorset. Jane had been running the hotel along with her husband, Edward, but 4 years earlier Edward passed away and it was left to Jane to carry on single handed. Before they  moved to Portland the couple  managed a successful building business in Milton Abbas for many years, but by 1895 the family  had arrived on the island and  taken over the lucrative Breakwater Hotel.

Working alongside their mother in the family run hotel are daughters Gertrude May aged 25, Mabel Louisa aged 18 and one of her married daughters, Helen Louise  who is living there with her husband, Frederick Albert Trace. Frederick works as a naval school master, maybe he is employed on the Boscowen naval training ship based in Portland Roads, preparing the next generation of sailors for a life at sea.

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(Later that year daughter Gertrude draws up at Wyke Regis parish church, resplendent in her wedding gown, walking down the aisle she smiles at her husband-to-be, Frederick Charles Russell, not surprisingly, he’s another Jack Tar, a gunner in the Royal Navy.)

Their hotel is bursting at the seams on census night, mainly occupied by transient men of the sea with a couple of visiting soldiers thrown in for good measure.

Hotels and Inns were also often venues for alternate occasions such as inquests and auctions, such was the case later in 1901 when the hotel was packed out with prospective buyers and inquisitive onlookers as a vessel, SS Dinnington, which was stranded in the Roads was auctioned off piece by piece, gigs, boilers, anchors and all.

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Living next door to this bustling hotel, at the house of no 15, is 26-year-old William Albert Fern, a Londoner, along with his wife Ethel.  William runs the stables and works as a groom for the hotel. The young couple have a baby, William Henry Edward, who was born in Child Okeford, the same place as his mother’s boss. Presumably the families knew each other hence their move to Portland so soon after his birth, and where they had baby William christened.

(Their first born son wasn’t to make old bones though, in 1906 aged just 6, his little body  was laid to rest in a Portland graveyard.)

The house of no16 is the home of 52-year-old Elizabeth Schollar. Having lost her husband Edward in 1899, now  widow, Elizabeth earns her meagre living as a laundress working from home.

Edward had played a part in  a tragic incident in November of 1891. Two local Castletown boatmen had been hired to take a party of eight sailors back to their vessel, HMS Howe out in the Roads, but the sea conditions were atrocious and the boat suddenly filled with water and capsized. Seven of the men were hauled from the cold waters, but it was too late for three of them, including one of the local men, 40-year-old Thomas Way. Edward later discovered one of the men’s missing bodies floating near another warship and gave his evidence at the inquest held in the Breakwater hotel.

No 18 is the abode of the Wills family. 38-year-old William, Portland born and bred, a man of the sea, he’s a captain kept busy working on the steam launches that regularly plough the local waters.

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His wife, Mary Ann is also a local girl. They have a veritable brood living with them, John, the eldest at 15, is working as an office boy, (but by the time of the next census, 1911, the call of the sea had been too strong,)  Next in the Wills line is William who is aged 10, he is listed as ‘visiting’ widow Elizabeth next door on the census form, maybe it was a bit more permanent than that? Perhaps space was tight for the growing family. Then came Robert, at 14 he was working as an errand boy, (like his brother he too, later in life, couldn’t resist Neptune’s lure.) Poor old Mary Kate was the only rose amongst a veritable bed of thorns, but at the age of 6 she could more than hold her own…she had to learn fast living with such a bevvy of brothers!

Below Mary Kate comes toddler George Richard, at 2 years of age he is into everything, running his poor Mum ragged.

(He also brought heartbreak to the family in later life. In the final year of WWI, the 20th January 1918, aged just 19, George was serving aboard the HMS Louvain when they were attacked and sunk by a German U boat, UC 22. in the Aegean Sea. His body was never recovered, like so many others of the time, his family were left to grieve with no graveside to visit. His name was later inscribed on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. )

Bringing up the rear of the male-dominated Wills family is baby Richard Everett Hutchings, (the Hutchings in honour of his paternal grandmother.) This little mite only  just arrived in time for the census.

Also living in 4 rooms of the shared property at no 18, is Portlander, Walter Anthony aged 37. His occupation is listed as a boat proprietor. He had always toiled with the sea, having previously been a fisherman, but the like so many others in the area, the comings and goings of the navy within the Roads provided the means of a lucrative income. His wife Harriet had moved here after their marriage, her family fare from Lyme Regis. They have a son, 10 year old  Walter Samuel.

Another family squeezed into just 4 rooms at no 18, is Tamson Hounsell and her assorted brood. Matriarch  of the family, Tamson, aged 56, is already a widower, she supports herself and her brood by trading as a fish merchant. In happier times she had been married to Edmund Samuel Hounsell, who was a Trinity pilot, but sadly in 1879, aged just 36, Edmund died and left Tamson to raise their brood alone.

( Edmund’s wasn’t the only loss Tamson had to suffer, come the 1911 census, and the stark reality of her life was listed for all to see. She had given life to 8 children but not all survived, 3 having being put in the ground before her.)

But for now, she has some of her close family besides her. First listed on the census form is 23-year-old son Abraham who toils along side his Mum in the family fish business. A certain young Daisy resides within the  household, described as daughter to the head, but as Daisy is only 15, she was born long after the death of Tamson’s husband. More likely Daisy is a granddaughter, a child of another son, Samuel’s perhaps? Also ensconced safely within the family bosom is one of Tamson’s daughters, Georgina who  was married  to George Griffin, a sergeant in the 21st Kent Regiment that had once  been based at Portland’s mighty Verne Citadel. Staying at Granny’s house with Mum are 3 of Georgina’s children. 7-year-old George, 6-year-old Edward and toddler Samuel, all are testament of Georgina’s travels to far flung countries with her husbands regiment, the trio were born in India.

(Unlike her husband, Tamson reached the ripe old age of 73, she died in 1916.)

The final family having rooms within the same premises are the Kristensen family. Dad, is Norwegian born Karl John, he works as a boarding clerk. He met and married his wife Annie Attwooll whilst working in Weymouth in 1889. The couple have a baby son Albert Karl, now he’s true Portland born and bred. Visiting the family at the time of the census is Annie’s sister, Elizabeth Crowe

At one stage the Kristensen family used to lodge in the building that sits virtually opposite to no 18, that was until they got their own little dwelling.

Castle Town

This building is the Castle Hotel, which sits at the entrance to the pier, the business is now run by recently arrived Kimberlins, Alfred Thomas Pope, 32, his wife, Ethel Alice, aged 24, and living with them is their baby daughter Olive Christina who was born while her parents lived in in Portsmouth.

(Building pictured below in later years.)

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Working alongside the Popes is a young lad, with his strong Suffolk burr, William Sergeant keeps the punters happy, he’s the pot boy or barman. So busy is their hostelry that William’s not the only resident barman, so too is a Somerset lad, Ernest J Billett. Though Ernest had been born in Somerset, as had his siblings, his parents in fact originally came from Weymouth and Wyke Regis. Ernest’s Dad, James, worked for the railway, and is now the gate keeper for the local service, the family living in Railway Gates Cottage at Wyke Regis.

(By the time of the 1911 census,  31-year-old Ernest was still single, still working as  barman but had moved to join the staff of the Royal Naval Canteen on Portland.)

The new pier was the surprise landing place for a Royal visitor in 1902, which caught the residents of Castletown completely unawares. ‘When a hue-hulled barge steamed briskly towards the new stone pier at Castletown a few minutes after 12, the dock labourers and  a few children gathered at the landing.

But the barge contained Colonel Davidson and another of the equerries, and the little crowd soon melted away. The quest of a Royal carriage was not at first successful. A hotel along the water was appealed to, but could not supply the required vehicle. Finally, Mr Cresswell, of the Victoria Hotel produced a landau and two horses.

In charge of a driver, Longman, likewise local, the equipage drove to the stone pier. On this pier are piled blocks of undressed stone, and a dozen grimy workmen were busily loading a small steamer. It was by no means an impressive landing place. As the King’s barge swung round the pier, the workmen recognised his Majesty, and forsook their duties to cheer him ashore. He stepped briskly up the steps, then lifted his yachting cap as the little gathering saluted him.’

Royal visitors aside, we return to the everyday residents and move on to the house of No 14, this is the abode and business of old Moses Davey.

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At a mere 63 years of age, he is still busy suiting and booting those who visit his clothier and outfitters business, aided by his wife Mary Ann. The art of tailoring was in Moses’ blood, brought up within his family clothing business in Exeter, he knew of nothing else. By the time of the 1881 census Moses and Mary Ann had moved their extensive family to Portland where Moses worked as an outfitters assistant. By 1891 he was managing the shop and here the family still live and work come 1901. Their last born son, Frederick John, the only child still at home, is the only one of their veritable brood to be born on Portland, but he isn’t a man of the cloth so to speak, he prefers getting his hands dirty, tinkering with mechanics and engine oil, ending up with a career as an engine fitter for the Admiralty.

Yet another pub nestles within this row, the Albert Inn, run by 35-year-old Charles Stephen Monger and his trusty companion and wife, Louisa Ann, who is a Portlander from the Colston family. When Charles and Louisa  married in 1890, they moved in with her parents in Castletown, at that time Charles was working as a water clerk, (or boatman…depending on which document you read!) Louisa is kept pretty busy with her brood of four children, two girls, Violet 8 and Joy 6, and two lads, Charles 2 and baby Harold.

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The Monger’s have only recently taken over the running of the pub, and that was mainly due to the misfortunes of another less than happily married family, the Steers who had run the hostelry since 1895. Headlines in the May of 1900 Western Gazette bellow of ‘EXTRAORDINARY CHARGE OF DESERTION.’ whereby the plight of the Steer’s unfortunate circumstances were laid bare for all to read.

(Charles himself made the local papers when in 1906 he was out fishing for bass. Instead of hauling in fish he found himself with a prize winning catch, he hooked no less a specimen than a hulking great torpedo, one that had been missing for some while.

By the time of the 1911 census the Mongers were still residing in the Albert Inn and their family had doubled in size.) 

Charles’s  demise at the ripe old age of 71 in 1938 is recorded in a rather strange manner in the book of burials, it simply states ‘died in a motor boat in Portland harbour.’)

The aptly named hostelry, the Sailors Return snuggles up next to the trusty Albert.

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At the age of 69, widow Frances Mills is at the helm…or should that be bar counter? Portland born Frances, or Fanny to her family and friends, and her husband, Robert moved into these licensed premises in the 1880’s, and between working the bars, keeping many a matelot in much needed grog and providing a roof over their heads, the couple managed to produced 12 children.

Sadly, husband Robert died in 1899, leaving Frances to carry on alone.

Being such a close knit family, the grown children were quick to step in and help out. Living with Fanny in 1901 is her 35-year-old spinster daughter, Frances, her son Charles, along with his wife Sarah and 18-year-old grand daughter also named Sarah. Also living on the premises is another of Frances’ married daughters, Elizabeth, she  and her husband, Lewis and 11-year-old Lewis junior help out where they can. Like so many of the other busy hotels and Inns along this strip, their rooms are full on census night.

(In the 1911 census, at the good old age of 80, Frances revealed that she had born 12 children in total and survived 3 of them. Not long after, she took her leave of this mortal coil and was reunited with her lost loved ones.)

Another family are residing within the hotel in 1901, but rather than short stay residents, they are long term boarders renting three rooms out. Originally from Birmingham, the family have been here a while, and their youngest was born here three months prior. This is the Hiffe clan, Charles Leonard and his wife Ellen. Apart from the fact that he’s a naval man, these are are somewhat a mystery family. They have three children with them, Ellen B aged 10 who is supposed to be a niece, Charles Leonard aged 6 and last but not least, baby Alice, who at 3 months was supposedly born on Portland. The only other comprehensive sighting of any members of the family is in the 1911 census.

(Now these are one of those intriguing families that are the very devil to follow and unravel. In 1909 a certain Charles Leonard Hiffe marries in Portland to an Elsie May Mist,  can’t be Daddy Charles as he is still married to and living with Ellen in 1911, or maybe Elsie and Ellen are the same person and they’re finally putting their relationship on a legal footing? But then again it’s hardly likely to be Charles junior as he would only be 14 and appears in the 1911 census as single. All very odd!)

Anyway, we’ll leave the Hiffe’s to their mysteries and move on to the next family living in Castletown, the Love’s.

Dad and Mum, Samuel Cole Love and wife Ellen are both in their 50’s. Living with them are eight of their children and Ellen’s unmarried sister, Frances. Samuel Love is a Devon man, Dartmouth in fact, where he was brought up in a fairly wealthy family, his father Joseph, trading in ships. However, for now Samuel works on dry land, he’s gone down the numbers route, working as an accountant.

The next premises belong to the Post Office, first opened in 1868. At no 8 lives the Jarman family, Thomas and Elizabeth and their two sons Thomas and Alfred Richard. Thomas senior works as a Post Office clerk while Thomas junior, aged 15, is working as a pupil teacher in a local school.

Dad Thomas had moved to Portland by the age of 10, his father, Richard, was a naval man and had found himself in a steady position working on HMS Boscowen in Portland Roads, at which point he moved his family to Portland.

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(The Jarman’s were still there at no 8 in 1911. Thomas junior had left home but continued in a career as a teacher and Alfred had found himself a good job working as a clerk in the Admiralty dockyard.)

The main Post Office premises are at no 7, owned and run by Portlander 34-year-old Richard Thomas Cox along with his wife Ellen, also known as Nellie, they have three lively boys, Richard, George and Reginald. The couple took over the running of the Post Office from Richard’s parents, Richard and Emma. Before this they lived next door and Richard junior was working as a ships broker assistant because not only do they run the bustling Post Office but also they act as ship brokers and chandlers.

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This is a very busy little business;

 ‘WESTERN GAZETTE FEBRUARY 1899. THE CASTLETOWN POST OFFICE. Few realise the enormous amount of work thrown on the staff of the Castletown Post Office by the presence of the various fleets from time to time. At ordinary times the number of men in the training ships is about 1,000, but when the channel Fleet is here there are about 11,000, and of course, more if, as at present,  the Training Squadron should also be here. All these being from home there is much more correspondence than would be in a town of the same number of inhabitants, in addition to the official correspondence. All this entails very heavy work on the staff, and, unfortunately,  not being Post Office employees in the strictest sense of the word, they do not get a penny extra remuneration, whereas, if they they were established, they would get overtime. One would think if this was represented to the Post Master General some steps would be taken to remedy this obviously unfair state of affairs.’

Even a postman’s life could have its dangers, their problems lay not only with snapping dogs but in 1902 one of the postal clerks had a close brush with Neptune. ‘NINE MEN STRUGGLING FOR LIFE. NAVAL BOAT CAPSIZED. During a heavy gale this morning a boat belonging to HMS Sovereign conveying a postman and some messmen left Castletown, Portland for the ship. The boat which contained nine men altogether, was under sail. A suddden squall capsized her, and all the occupents were struggling for life. Steam launches from various vessels came to the rescue, and suceeded in picking up eight men. One able seaman, however, was drowned.’

Come 1909 and Richard Cox finds himself in trouble and on the wrong side of the law. One of his fleet of vessels was sailing off Beachy Head in dense fog when it accidentally collided with a coastal barge and sank it. The newly widowed (and newly married ) wife was suing him under the Workmen’s Compensation Act for the loss of her husband. The price put on his life? £163.00!

The Cox’s are still running their businesses at the  Post Office in 1911.

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Next in line in the terrace is no 6, the is the home of newly arrived Albert and Charity Lewis, Albert is foreman of the breakwater works. Previous to their move to Portland the family had been living and working in Wales, the sons worked down the pits, as coal miners, but Dad, despite the 1891 census listing him purely as a ‘miner’ was already someone in authority. This was a step up into the light for them. away from the constant dirt and the grime of the black stuff. Only three of their children are at home now, their 27-year-old daughter Lizzie, and two of their sons, Herbert and Percy.

No 5 is the abode of German born 45-year-old boatman, Henry Schutte and his wife Julia. They have 2 children living with them, with a big age gap between them, 17-year-old John is out working hard as a grocery assistant while his 2-year-old sister Anita gets to stay at home and play with Mummy. To help make ends meet they also have a young couple boarding with them, Harry and Marie Bartlett.

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(The Schutte’s were still living at no 5 in the 1911 census, but a couple of years later things don’t look quite so rosy for the family, the outbreak of WWI  and there is talk of German spies infiltrating the country. Anyone with a German name or nationality, no matter how many years they had lived and worked here, instantly became under suspicion, and were rounded up as aliens and interred, such was the case with Henry.    ‘1914 6 Aug WESTERN TIMES; SUSPECTED GERMAN SPY AT WEYMOUTH. Yesterday at Weymouth a German named Henry Christian William Schutte, who has been living at Emmadale Road, Westham, was brought up in custody before the borough magistrates and charged under the Official Secrets Act with communicating to another person a sketch, plans, notes and other documents and information calculated to be useful to the enemy. Mr. Pengelly prosecuted. Prisoner was arrested on the Great Western cargo stage.’

No further mention can be found of what became of Henry or his family, but by the time of his death, 8th August 1927, he appears to be living back in his place of birth, Hamburg, Germany.)

As we near the end of this road, we’re getting closer to the entry of the dockyard gates and here we come across the more officious buildings.

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This is where we find the people housed whose job it is to protect the comings and goings of the dockyard and Portland Roads. Two single men are listed in the Harbour Masters office, both are men of the Royal Navy, Henry Rabbits and George Lewis Baldwin.

The next building along is that of H M Customs, the dreaded Preventative officers, feared by those whose maybe don’t toe the line as much as they should. In charge of the men is 39-year-old William J Daniels, a Preventative officer for H M Government. William is from a line of Preventative officers, his father Daniel was a coastguard, protecting our seas and shores  from foe and smugglers is in his blood.

Also in the Customs building is 29-year-old Harry Valentine Bingham, a  man of Kent. Whilst working in the area he had fallen in love with local girl, Ada Maxted and the couple married at St Johns church, Portland on the 8th July 1896. Come the night of the 1901 census, midnight Sunday 31st March, Harry is at his post in the Customs house, while his wife Ada lives with her parents still in Belgrave Place on Portland. So near yet so far.

(The couple had moved to Ireland by the time of the 1911 census, Harry is working still as a Preventative Officer. Sadly it seems that even after 14 years of marriage they were destined not to have children.)

Edwin Anthony described as a ‘watcher’ is the third man listed as occupying the Customs Office. He is a Portlander aged 30, brought up in Castletown, his Dad George was a barge waterman. Edwin is also married but away from his wife Hannah Lavinia, the couple have a house in Mallams. They too were married  at their local church, St John’s,  on the 25 June 1893.

The final man in the Customs line-up is ‘boatman’ Charlie Gardner originally from Witham, Essex.

Castletown Portland.

Well, I hope you enjoyed our little stroll through place and time.

Sadly Castletown is no longer a bustling through fare, full of marauding matelots and mariners. The Royal Navy pulled out of Portland, the sheltered Roads that was once the home of the might of the British navy now harbours little more than yachts,  aquatic sportsmen and the occasional cruise liner that sails in to discharge its multinational passengers onto Portland shores.

One by one the little shops and refreshment rooms closed until it’s little more than a residential street.

Maybe though, there’ll be  a new chapter in it’s life.
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A very big thank you to Pam Oswald who so kindly let me use the pictures from her personal collection.

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If you enjoy a bit of good old tittle tattle about the lives of Weymouth and Portland residents past, why not search out a copy of Nothe Fort and Beyond.

Nothe fort and Beyond 261 KB

Available for sale in the Nothe Fort shop and Weymouth Museum or on Amazon

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Nothe-Fort-Beyond-Weymouth-Portland/dp/1977592686/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1512117985&sr=1-1&keywords=nothe+fort+and+beyond

Weymouth’s Tommy Atkins and Jolly Jacks.

Something that many of the younger generation might not realise but Weymouth has a long and fascinating history with the army and navy.

troops in front of Gloucester lodge

Even during my own lifetime I can recall a certain ‘liveliness’ when  hundreds of sailors would take their shore leave, hoards of men streaming along the esplanade heading for town, all eager to make the most of their free time in one way or another.

At the time I worked for Next which had a mens wear department upstairs, come  Saturday afternoon it would be absolutely heaving, Jolly Jack Tar having come on shore would be booting and suiting themselves ready for the weekends revelries.

Not to be left out the squaddies would arrive on scene, frequently in the area for training exercises…something which certainly led to somewhat  interesting evenings out on the tiles, (the two fiercely opposing fractions seemingly taking every opportunity to size one another up!)

During the Victorian era a constant military presence was kept in the town, the serving soldiers and their families were billeted up at the Red Barracks or later, in the newly built Nothe fort itself.

royal engineers outside building

Our own Thomas Hardy sets the scene in one of  his novels,  ‘The Return of the Native,’ “Now Budmouth (Weymouth) is a wonderful place-wonderful-a great salt sheening sea bending into the land like a bow…bands of music playing-officers by seas and officers by land walking among the rest-out of every ten folk you meet, nine of ‘em in love.”

If you have ever watched the excellent ‘Far from the Madding Crowd,’ especially the scene shot along Weymouth’s esplanade and beach, you could hardly fail to spot the flashes of scarlet uniform in amongst the perambulating throngs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2lBeea7-sA#t=89

Down below the lofty Nothe headland sits Portland Roads (or harbour,) which was the base for many a visiting naval vessel, their crew coming ashore in their hundreds to enjoy the great delights of the traditional seaside resort and no doubt the pretty females within.

In April 1882 the Channel Fleet had arrived, “On monday, a large number of sailors from the fleet, now lying in Portland Roads, were allowed four days leave of absence. Many have availed themselves of the advantages of that excellent institution, the Sailors Home, whilst others have gone to various places to visit their friends and relatives.”

Channel fleet 1882

That was life in Victorian Weymouth, a bustling scene with residents, visitors, soldiers and sailors rubbing along together.

Of course, in a  town where servicemen were present in great numbers, it was certainly never going to be dull. Despite the growing Temperance movement, the tales of their liking for a drop or two of grog, the joy of a female hanging on their arm, or  the need to fight one and all filled the columns of the local papers.

These visiting protectors of our sea and shore caused  mixed feelings in the local population, it was they who had to witness their constant arrivals and departures by sea or rail, they who sometimes had to endure their anti-social antics while the men were stationed here.

For a few unlucky residents, even the military barracks themselves were capable of reeking havoc in their lives.

In 1852 the Red Barracks were hinted at as the cause for some poor residents on the Nothe losing their home.“In the barrack-yard at Weymouth where 200 soldiers are stationed, there is a magazine containing 6,000 pounds of gunpowder, unprotected, save by a single door, from the effects of ligtening. A house within 300 yards of it was fearfully shattered during the late storms.”

Or maybe that was just a bit of sensational, far-fetched reporting by a very bored reporter with a vivid imagination? No mention was made at all of the gunpowder store room having blowing up!

The men based in the barracks played a big role in the town, frequently called upon to assist when help was urgently needed, such was the case in 1865 when disaster struck. (An extract from my forthcoming book about the lives of the people on the Nothe.)

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“The Engineers did more than just drinking and womanizing, they were frequently called upon for one reason or another to assist the locals whenever trouble arose in the area. At the end of March they were summonsed into action. A major fire had broken out on the outskirts of Weymouth, in a hamlet of houses bordering the old steep Ridgeway road that once run straight up over the Ridgeway. It started in the thatched cottage of old Mr and Mrs Humphries. As was usual, that morning the dutiful housewife had lit a fire under the old boiler in the outhouse, ready to do her weekly washing, but unbeknown to her the flue from the boiler was defective. A stray spark ignited a fire in their roof thatch, which smoldered unseen for a while, but then swiftly took hold. Before long their whole roof was well and truly ablaze. Unfortunately, the weather that day happened to be extremely blustery and fanned by the strong winds the fire spread rapidly up through the row of cottages, sparks and flames leaping from one thatched roof to another. Once news of the disaster reached the Nothe, a detachment of sappers under the command of Captain Smith were rushed to the scene with their fire engine and hoses to help. By now people had arrived from all over the district, everyone frantically trying to quell the raging inferno that was sweeping its way up through the little hamlet, destroying everything in its path. Lack of nearby water was a huge problem, so a human chain was formed down to the Royal Inn on the main road , buckets of water were passed up the hill from hand to hand. One thatched cottage after another fell victim to the inferno. The villagers, soldiers and helpers were pulling together, doing what they could, dashing into the smoldering and smoking dwellings to pull out any personal possessions and furnishings they could before they burst into flames.

fire q 1892

            After hours of hot and dangerous toil the raging fires were finally brought under control, but very little was left of the hamlet bar what remained of the smoldering cob walls and a few charred beams. Unfortunately the tinder dry state of the old thatched dwellings, the fickle fate of nature providing a strong wind that day, and a lack of water nearby had defeated everyone. Even the local pub, the Ship Inn run by James Bushrod, didn’t manage to escape the full fury of the fire. That too had gone up in a blaze of glory. Despite the fact the Engineers, resplendent in their fireman uniforms and armed with the latest fire pump, had arrived fairly promptly, there was very little they could do. By the end of that disastrous day 11 of the cottages in the hamlet were totally destroyed, despite the valiant efforts of everyone.

  A little footnote to this story reveals that even during the Victorian era, some people were quick to take advantage of such disastrous situations. Not everyone in the huge crowds that gathered at the scene of the fire was there to help, or rather, they were, but ‘help’ themselves. A certain amount of looting of personal possessions had taken place amidst the chaos. One nimble fingered chap was spotted by an eagle-eyed observer attempting to sneakily lift an old lady’s watch that had been placed outside her burning home along with her pitifully few worldly possessions. The cry of ‘thief’ brought him to the attention of one of the local bobbies attending the incident and he found himself being collared by the strong arm of the law. The same policemen who were on site to control the crowds that had gathered were having very little success in controlling the drunkenness. The beers and spirits that had been so bravely rescued from the burning inn were finding their way down the throats of the thirsty spectators.”

In February of 1876, one  military departure from Weymouth  left more than just  the obligatory broken hearted females  stood wailing on the quayside waving their sodden lace hankies as their beau’s sailed off into the sunset, a terrible tragedy struck on board as the packed troopship sailed out of the harbour heading for postings anew.

“The troopship Assistance, which arrived in Kingstown yesterday with detatchments of artillery and infantry, had also on board two dead bodies, those of children named Sarah Gerkey and Arthur W Lazenby, who were killed by the snapping of the chain cable as the vessel was leaving Weymouth;two soldiers and two stokers, besides two women, were also seriously injured by the accident.”

Rather surprisingly, life in tranquil Weymouth also contained many hidden dangers for the resident Tommy Atkins or Jack Tar, from accidental drownings to theft by nimble fingered ladies of the night, many tales of which are covered in my book about life for the soldiers and their families on the Nothe.

1891 saw Weymouth and its unsuspecting residents come under a fierce attack, when a simple fight that had started out in town between a few locals and a group of drunken solders turned into full blown, running amock, sabre swishing, blood-curdling charge that no amount of bugle blowing could bring under control.

However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom, the military and naval bands were frequently called into action to play in the New (Alexander) gardens and out on the Pleasure pier, where residents and visitors alike would would sit back and enjoy the rousing tunes or dance to the  harmonious melodies.

 

1899 cyclist_2

Those serving men who were destined to spend longer based in the town frequently took part in many of the local activities, societies and clubs, such as the popular Weymouth Bicycle Club or the local Rowing Club.

Life in Weymouth certainly wasn’t dull for my ancestors!

sailors on cabin_2

A website full of interesting old photographs of Weymouth and the surrounding area, many showing soldiers and sailors taking part in Weymouth life.

http://www.weymouthinoldpostcards.co.uk/father%20neptune%20comes%20ashore.htm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What follows is a report from the year 1870;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cassels 1904 yeomanry 2

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

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

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

All too soon it was Friday…the big day!

The grand Review.

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

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

charging 1

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

woman sat at ball

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

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

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1886; Guy Fawkes night on Portland leads to riots!

The forbidding Verne citadel stands atop of Portland, built originally as part of Lord Palmerston’s coastal defences. Nowadays it hold prisoners serving their sentence for crimes to the community, but in the Victorian era it contained the might  of the military.

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The soldier’s billeted within those strong walls came and went, some companies had better reputations than others, some were downright lethal!

In November of 1886, the 1st Dorset were based in the fort. Normally not a problem, but their ranks had recently been greatly swelled by means of a recruiting drive, attracting men who wanted to take the Kings(or rather Queens) shilling. Now the army in those days was renown for not always attracting the best of characters, many of the men who joined, joined for all the wrong reasons, getting away from family, capture by police, or as a means of escaping poverty and a life of crime from slum areas. Such was the case with a group of men that had recently joined the Dorset’s, they were charmingly referred to as ‘London roughs.’

One Monday night in November, as was usual the Portland folk held their annual Guy Fawkes carnival. A light hearted event, enjoyed by young and old alike, a chance for a some gentle fun and much needed relief from every day worries, perhaps a tad of mischief thrown in the mix by  youngsters.Image

This year was to be very different!

Events took a sinister turn…

A number of the soldiers from the Verne had turned up to watch the procession wind its way up through the streets, but some of them had more than a bit of mischief in mind. They loosened their stiff belts and started whipping the folks walking in the parade.

The Portlanders let this go…but resentment was simmering on the island.

A couple of nights later a group of soldiers entered a pub on the island where they came across some of the local lads who were still smarting from the disrespect their island folk had been shown at the parade. Inevitably a fight broke out between the two groups. This animosity spilled over between locals and soldiers over the next couple of days, scuffles would break out when ever the two fractions met in the street.

That was, until one fateful evening later that week.

A mob of about 200 of the unruly soldiers made their way to the Heights, and from here they took possession of the road. Pelting any  locals who dared to pass by with stones and rocks.

Word was sent to the Verne of the marauding soldiers escapades, and a piquet was gathered to deal with the serious situation. Only problem was, it made matters worse!

As the column of men came down the incline, marched at the double,  many of the younger ones broke rank, and charged down the hill brandishing their bayonets at anyone who happened to be passing by. The out of control mob then went on the rampage, breaking doors and windows as they went.

Next night life on the island was no better, the rioting began yet again. This time the wayward soldiers turned their attention to the local blacksmith’s shop, smashing his premises to smithereens. The womenfolk feared for their very safety. By now many of the enraged Portland men had gathered to put a stop to the out of control soldiers, incensed that ordinary folk, their friends and family,  were too scared to venture forth.

As the renegade soldiers realised that the hardy Portland men were on the prowl, out for their blood, they  tried to sneak round the back of Easton square, but not without leaving their trail of destruction and hurt behind as they retreated towards the safety of their barracks. Any lone males they encountered they attacked…careful not to engage any groups. That was, until they neared the Verne itself, here they found themselves confronted by a group of ‘lusty young Portlanders’ waiting for them.

Revenge was so sweet!

As the soldiers received their just deserts at the hands of the islanders, their howls of pain rent the air, bringing  from the Fort a rescue party, with a view to reining the brawling men in. Blocking the road, barring the Portlanders route to the retreating soldiers, the islanders were incensed…they hadn’t extracted their revenge yet. Trying to push their way through the solid line of men straddling the road, they were to face the wrath of the military, many ending up with bayonet wounds for their troubles.

Fearing further troubles on the island between the two fractious groups, the men were confined inside  the barracks.

it was decided that removal of the Dorset’s altogether was the only safe option, and the only way that life could return to normal on the island.

Image

http://www.isleofportlandpictures.org.uk/Verne/ (pictures of the Verne as a fort)

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