Love is in the air…Victorian Valentines

Well, as Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, I eagerly await to see what glittering jewels and delicious delights my beloved will present to me  early that morn…(don’t even go there!)Victorian Valentines card

It might surprise you to know that celebrating St Valentine’s Day is nothing new, it has been observed for centuries, apparently made popular by Geoffrey Chaucer during the High Middle Ages.

Even those well-pomandered Georgians were well and truly versed in the art of affairs of the heart. Presenting their paramours with tokens of their undying love, sweet little boxes of confectionary accompanied by beautifully handwritten cards.

But what of our Victorian ancestors?

First let’s start with those lithesome lothario’s of the seven seas.

Portland Roads had been used as a naval base ever since the time of Henry VIII, this sheltered  haven filled with many great sailing ships of the fleet,  and of course on board, their resident sailors, true Romeo’s every one ‘o them.

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Is it any wonder then that these  Jolly Jack Tars, with their gals in every port, would be busy scribing romantic messages to (all) those they loved, so much so that in 1871, the Western Gazette reported

“VALENTINE’S DAY-More than ten times as many missives passed through the post office on the 14th as on ordinary days, the sailors of Her Majesty’s Fleet sending three sacks of Cupid’s messages to the Castletown office.”

(pictured below courtesy Pam Oswald)

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Then what of those romantics who were to marry on this day of lovers?

Love of course being not just the prerogative of youth.

On Valentine’s Day 1872, 54-year-old widow, William Lovell Zelley waited patiently down the aisle of Weymouth’s Holy Trinity Church for his new wife-to-be.

Holy Trinity.

William, a mariner by trade,  had been a widow for a while, he led a very lonely life, boarding  in a single room down in Hope Street.

But faint heart never won fair lady, William found love a second time and grasped it with both hands. It arrived in the comely form of  Ann Purchase, spinster of the town.

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Sadly, despite being nearly 15 years younger than her husband, their life together came to an untimely end when Ann went to meet her maker in 1879 aged just 47.

Here’s hoping that they managed to enjoy their seven years of companionship and happiness.

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Another couple tied the knot on Valentine’s Day, many years later, in 1899.

Theirs was also to be a tale of happiness and joy mingled with sadness and grief.

Nellie  was the daughter of Samuel and Susan Stoodley, who in 1891 were running the Railway Arch public House in Town Lane.(modern day Chickerell Road)

Railway arch hotel

Nellie’s beau was Albert Earnest Yeatman, a coppersmith.

But life had already taught Albert that love could be a rocky road indeed.

In April of 1889, he had married 20-year-old Alice Emily Rabbets and the young couple set up their happy household on the North Quay, where they had two their children, Emily Maria (1890) and George Earnest (1897).

Then heartache struck the family in 1896, when their youngest child, 2-year-old George passed away.

Still reeling from the loss of their precious son, Albert was dealt a second blow the following year.

In 1897, he was away serving with the Territorial army. Alice had been taken ill and needed an operation, from which she seemed to be recovering satisfactorily. Having gone to bed that fateful night in good spirits, young Alice was not to see the dawn.

Now alone with a small child, Albert had to take the heartbreaking decision to give his only remaining child, Emily, over to the care of her Grandmother, Emily Rabbetts, who ran a boarding house along Brunswick Terrace.

BRUNSWICK TERRACE 1910

By the time of the 1911 census, his daughter Emily had moved away to Wales along with the extended Rabbetts family.

However, in the meantime, Albert was to get a second chance at happiness, he met and fell in love with Nellie Stoodley.

Ten years after he had first tentatively walked down the aisle, Albert was treading those very same steps, were his feelings of joy mingled with sorrowful memories.

On the 14th February 1899 Albert and Nellie exchanged their vows at Holy Trinity.

Time for a fresh start.

Albert set up home with his new wife at no 9 Portland Buildings, (now 15-19 Custom House Quay.) He was running his own business and life was good again, though the sadness still lay deep in his heart, time was slowly softening the wounds.

Then along came the children, but with that joy came unbelievable grief.

Their first child, Susan Nellie Doris was born on the 9th Jan 1900, the little mite only survived a few months, Susan died that summer.

Two years later,  and little Violet Rose Iris arrived.

Oh how those grieving parents must have held their breath, and watched over their precious bundle, only too aware how suddenly and cruelly they could be snatched away.

woman child sleeping

By the time Albert Samuel arrived in the summer of 1904 their hopes were high, 2-year-old Violet was thriving, surely fate couldn’t be that cruel?

Of course it could!

Albert junior never even made his first birthday.

Perhaps the famous quote from Tennyson’s poem,”In Memorium” just about sums up love.

 

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But of course being Valentines Day we must end on a lighter note.

One young man made a daring robbery on a Weymouth’s jewellers, perhaps he couldn’t afford to buy his beloved the gift she so desired?

From the Western Gazette of February 1881.

Earlier on the Monday evening, a fashionable young man had entered the jewellery store of Mr Thristle in St Thomas Street.  He was there, so he declared, to buy himself some shirt studs. As old Mr Thristle rummaged around in the counters looking for the perfect items for this young gentleman, so the ‘gentleman’ was doing a spot of rummaging too.

While Mr Thristle had been otherwise engaged the young man was tinkering with the shop bell that hung above the door, somehow he managed to jam it so it wouldn’t ring out as a customer entered the store.

Having left the store with no studs, Mr Thristle was left to mourn the loss of a sale to that nice gentleman, but that was life as a merchant, you won some, you lost some.

Little did he know he was about to loose a great deal more!

A little while later the jeweller was busy out the back sorting out his stock, all the while keeping a keen ear open for the shop bell to ring, announcing his next customer.

Only problem was, the bell wasn’t going to ring or ‘announce’ his next customer, because his next customer didn’t want announcing.

The light-fingered ‘gentleman’ had been concealed patiently outside, biding his time. Once the coast was clear, he slipped undetected into the premises and helped himself to a hearty selection of sparkling jewels.

Hopefully your Valentine won’t need to raid the nearest jeweller to  fulfil your wishes,

He’ll deliver you a box of choccies and lots of kisses.

All because…..

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(other brands are available…)

“Last Valentine, the day when birds of kind

Their paramours with their chirping find,

I rose early,  just at the break of day,

Before the sun had chased the stars away:

A-field I went, amid the morning dew,

To milk my kine, for so should housewives do;

Thee first I spy’d, and the first swaine we see, 

In spite of fortune, shall our true-love be.”

Victorian Valentines cards                                                               Happy Valentine’s Day

 

 

 

 

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Ringing in the New Year Victorian style

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

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

In fact they’ve now almost hit warp speed!

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

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

https://susanhogben.wordpress.com/2014/12/31/7454/

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

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

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

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

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

two shoe shine lads

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

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

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

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

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

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

boats by side

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

letter Civic Society. 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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and locals celebrated the completion of the Portland Breakwater.

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

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

woman men supper 1887

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ships

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

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

Wishing you all a very Happy  and Healthy New Year.

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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.

 

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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

Victorian Weymouth and Portland Roads and the Great Eastern.

I have spent more than a few years studying and researching about the lives of the military men who were based at the Nothe in Weymouth during the Victorian era and onwards, and in the course of my sifting through the old newspapers and articles for news items about them I have uncovered many fascinating snippets of Weymouth and Portland life that I hadn’t known about.

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One advantage of being based high up on the Nothe, the resident soldiers and their families had a bird’s eye view as to what was going on all around them.

soldier

They had the perfect vantage point to watch the comings and goings of the abundant variety of shipping in the Roads, the numerous naval vessels big and small, that came and went, some by sail, some by steam, fleets of merchants ships that moored up sheltering from fearsome storms in the channel, the  local fishing and pilot boats ferrying to and fro, plying their trade.

Walk to the opposite side of the plateau and they could watch as a steady stream of merchant vessels sailed in and out of the bustling Weymouth harbour, discharging or collecting their goods, the trains that slowly clanked and creaked alongside the metal rails set in the quayside towards the ferry terminal, carrying passengers by the hundreds heading for the Channel Island Steamers.

 

Their lofty vantage point on the Nothe gave them a grandstand view of Weymouth and Portland’s maritime  life which was hectic and varied.

In those long ago heady days of Weymouth and Portland’s history, they were a destination for many a famous vessel.

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Such was the case towards the end of May 1870, when the magnificent vessel, the infamous Great Eastern had steamed her way into the Portland Roads,  she was coaling up ready for her Atlantic voyage…but all was not what it seemed.

Her imposing start in life, eleven odd years earlier had promised so much for this grand dame of the seas.

She was the ostentatious creation of the famous Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a man with a great technical and highly creative mind, and who had already visited Weymouth to oversee the construction of the original Weymouth train station which was of his design.

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Brunel was a man of vision, he had envisaged a ship, but not just any old ship, he had the grand dreams of one large enough to carry many thousands of passengers and cargo at a time to such far-flung countries as the Far East and Australia.

Despite the many doubters that a floating and seaworthy vessel of this size could even be constructed, Isambard set to, determined to prove them all wrong.

The Great Eastern was destined to become a steam paddle ship, way ahead of her time.

Built in the mid 1850’s, she was nearly 700 foot long, and weighing 22,500 tons, a gigantean compared to any other ships built during that era.

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In fact it would be another 40 odd years before anyone else managed to build something even comparable in size to her.

However, she had been dogged by problems right from the start of her life, and she was no stranger to Weymouth.

Eleven years earlier, and her much awaited maiden voyage had been a complete disaster.

Leaving her berth at the Isle of Dogs in the Thames on the 7th September 1859, she was heading for Weymouth, and Portland Roads, where she was going to moor up.

Here the idea was that the grand lady would be opened to visitors, giving the general public the chance to admire the great visions and arts of the Victorian entrepreneur and many skilled tradesmen who had toiled on her, then she would set off for her maiden voyage to America.

Not far into that first but fateful journey, just off the coast of Hastings, a huge explosion completely blew off the forward funnel, which totally wrecked the Grand Saloon below.

Luckily none of the passengers were injured, but some of the ships crew hadn’t been quite so lucky. Two died on board of their fearful injuries soon after the explosion, but three of the men managed to survive until the ship had reached Weymouth, but sadly they too died shortly afterwards in the local hospital.

The bodies of all five crewmen were buried in Weymouth.

The designer and creator of the unlucky vessel, Isambard Brunel himself passed away not long after his ships first disastrous journey.

The majestic lady’s unfortunate excursion to Weymouth in 1859 did have its advantages though for the town.

Ever up for a spot of recycling, the surviving part of the damaged funnel was used by the Weymouth Water Company who at the time was constructing the new water reservoir at Sutton Poyntz, (the Great Eastern is seen here in an illustration while undergoing the repair work in Portland Roads.).

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The recycled funnel stayed in it’s working life at the Waterworks for the next 143 years, until it was removed during major improvements in 2004 and what was left was donated to the Great Britain museum.

The disaster of the Great Eastern also meant she had inadvertently become a much welcome, and frequently visited tourist attraction for the town.

Special train excursions were laid on from all over the country, they were bringing  people in to Weymouth by the thousands to tour the news worthy and incapacitated ship while she was undergoing repairs.

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Never slow in coming forwards, local hawkers of all manner surrounded the stricken ship in their droves in various crafts of all shapes and sizes, pushing their wares on to the ladies and gentlemen as they tried with immense difficulties, to scramble aboard the great lady.

Even those paying customers who managed to get on board the great vessel were accused of trying to procure their own illicit souvenirs from the stricken ship, splinters of wood, broken glass, in fact anything that they could discreetly carry off.

Once repaired she was on her way to America and her new life as a sea going passenger ship, seen here leaving Portland Roads.

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Things didn’t quite turn out as her designer and owners had envisioned though. The Great Eastern was persistently dogged with numerous problems over the following years, never living up to her owners high expectations.

Consequently she had ended up back in port here, 11 odd years later, fueling up ready, not to convey excited passengers in majestic style to their new lives far overseas as her creator had dreamed of, but as a plain old workhorse, to lay down cables across the sea bed.

Come 1873, and whilst on another visit to Portland Roads she was witness to a tragedy when a group of young local lads were drowned nearby, they had been on  a day out and trying to visit her.

https://susanhogben.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/weymouth-1873-rub-a-dub-dub-3-men-not-in-a-tub/

The Great Eastern ended her working days being broken up as scrap in the late 1890’s, one of her top masts even ended up as Liverpool football grounds flagpole.

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Writing a blog, short stories or your own family history, bring them to life with historical graphics.

Check out my Etsy site for Victorian illustrations, many local ones being added all the time from my own personal collection.

https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/VictorianGraphics?ref=l2-shopheader-name

1857; Victorian Day-trippers excitement… journey to Weymouth

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

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

Such was one event in 1857.

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

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

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

AN EXCURSION TO WEYMOUTH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1824; Weymouth, the Great Storm

This being the morning before zero hour…I thought that this might well be a good time to write about the Great Storm of 1824 that hit the country. Those living on the South coast were worst hit.

This is a tale of a storm that was so severe and so destructive that it has gone down in Weymouth’s legend. My father used to recount the tale, it had been handed down through the family, as I’m sure it had been through many others. You mention the year 1824 to any old Weymouthian, and they’ll shake their head as they recall tales told of the devastation to the town and nearby.

Well, here we are again, and if the amount of media hype around he forthcoming ‘Storm’ is anything to go by, this could be another biggun that’ll go down in the history books! But the again it might just be a bit blowly…none of the weather forecasters are willing to become another Michael Fish of the infamous ‘no hurricane’ of 1897, when everybody woke next morning to scenes of devastation.

1824, 22nd November; The weather had been fairly boisterous along the south coast, but that wasn’t unusual for this time of year, those that live along the coast were used to raging seas and shipwrecks, but what was to visit them that night and the next day was something out of Dante’s Hell!

People had gone to bed that night, listening to the wind howling like a banshee outside, most thinking how lucky they were to be tucked up safe indoors, and said a prayer for those out at sea.

Things were about to get worse…a lot, lot worse!

During that fateful night those ‘winds’ had turned into a full on hurricane by 4 o’clock in the morning, the already raging seas boiled, accompanied by a huge tidal surge.

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In Weymouth, the normally tranquil bay was a mass of crashing waves, foam, shingle and sand, the force of which ripped out completely the renown esplanade that Royal footsteps had once paraded along. The famous white stones and chains that marked the promenade along the shore were dragged from their very spots by the scoring waters…(a few of the originals remain outside the old Pier bandstand.)

The grand houses along the seafront were deluged with seawater, the lower floors awash with the debris from the pounding and relentless waves, vicious spray pelting their grand Georgian windows with pebbles and sand.

This is where the famous Narrows once were…where the sea sat right opposite the Backwater, only a thin spit of land stood between the pair…on that dreadful day day, the two finally met! Two people lost their lives while trying to cross the surging waters

Down by the harbour, even worse devastation!

The pier was virtually demolished, ships that had once floated against  the harbour walls now sailed up through the flooded streets. Many more were smashed to pieces in what should have been the haven of the harbour, some were just washed out into the bay and sunk without trace. All the houses and buildings around the harbour were inundated with the surging seas, flooding cellars and lower rooms. Peoples precious belongings washed too and fro as they frantically tried to save what they could from the cold brine.

On the other side of town, Lodmoor, fared no better. The main road into Weymouth from that direction was also protected by a raised pebble beach, that was all that stood between the  relentless crashing waves and Lodmoor behind. Once the waters began to rise, the fractious seas topped the bank, and the flat lands of Lodmoor became part of the bay, waves rolling in across the grass where once brave Yeomen had raced their horses.

The Cove at Portland was to see one of its worst ever disasters. The mountainous seas out in West Bay crashed relentlessly onto the pebbled shore, reaching ever highrer and higher…until one mountainous wave rose up like a mighty warrior and with one vengeful swoop crashed down onto the houses below.  ‘The lower part of the parish of Chisel on Portland was in a moment deluged by a most tremedous wave that swallowed up the greater part of it, and upwards of 30 souls were in an instant doomed to death.’ When they set to recovering those bodies from the rubble , those that hadn’t been washed out into the sea, amongst the debris and pebbles they found a husband and his wife with the battrered remains of their seven children. 30 odd houses had been destroyed and many more so severely damaged as to make them almost uninhabitable.

After the devastating event a meeting was held, all the local Portland fishermen had lost their boats and nets, everything, absolutely everything that they owned washed away into the depths of Davy Jones’s locker! Most had no homes left, no clothes, food…they were in a dire strait.

The crossing at Ferry bridge had been smashed to smithereens…now there was no way for help to come from Weymouth. In the storm, the people from the house next to the crossing managed to escape with their lives, bar one. He had risked his life trying to rescue a soldiers horse from the stables by the crossing, he succeeded, the horse survived…but he drowned.

The most destruction befell the small village of Fleet that huddled behind the Chesil bank. The raging seas washed right over the top of the huge pebble bank and rushed towards the village like a steam train. An eye witness account of that describes what they saw;_

“Twern’t a sea – not a bit of it –
twer the great sea hisself rose up level like
and come on right over the ridge and all,
like nothing in this world”
;

The little village church was almost completely destroyed, the houses flattened by the power of the surging water, the only saving grace was the villagers had fled to the high ground of Chickerell when they saw what disaster about to befall them.

Further along the coast, at Abbotsbury, the famous Swannery was deluged with water, many of the resident birds perishing in the onslaught of the fierce storm.

Inland, a huge barley rick had been lifted into the sky like a balloon in a breeze, only to land a 1/4 mile away..in one piece!

Numerous ships were to come to grief along the South coast in that wild melee, for the few days after the storms, body after body was washed up all along Chesil beach, nearly 100 in total, they were all gathered up and given a christian burial at the nearest graveyards to their discovery. Most unidentified.

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Stories of bravery were told of desperate attempts by those on shore to rescue the poor souls on board stricken ships that floundered near the coast, men time and time again in their small boats, battling against the rolling waves that towered over them, no thought to their own lives.

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One can only imagine the terror that must have struck the hearts of those on board these floundering ships as they saw the destructive, towering waves as they pounded onto Chesil, they knew they were doomed, all they could do was pray, and hope that their God would be kind and make it quick.

A passenger aboard the fated vessel, the Colville, could only think of one thing during his last moments on earth. He didn’t want his battered body washed up and buried without anyone knowing who he was. He tore off part of his shirt, wrote his name and address on the already soaking fabric, and tied it tightly around his neck, safe in the knowledge that his wife back in London would know his sad fate. He was ready to met his maker!

So, here we sit today…waiting to see what nature will throw at us tonight and tomorrow.

May God save us all.

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

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http://www.portlandbill.co.uk/floods.htm (includes great shots of storms at Portland)

http://www.dorsetlife.co.uk/2013/01/the-great-gale-of-1824/ (story of the storm and shipwrecks on that day including a drawing of Chesil cove in the midst of the destruction)

http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~imw/chesil.htm (site of Chesil including photos taken during storms)

http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~imw/Fleet-Lagoon.htm (includes descriptions, narrations and modern day photos of the aftermath at Fleet, scroll down the page)

1872; Chesil Royal Adelaide shipwreck; part 2. Armageddon.

P1170896

This is the second part of the tale of the sinking of the Royal Adelaide on Chesil beach that happened on the 25th November 1872.

Well, in fact, it’s actually about what happened after…the dreadful scenes that hit the national papers and shook a lot of people.

Despite there being many shipwrecks around the coast over that couple of days due to the fierce gales, only the Adelaide made the national headlines, but for all the wrong reasons.

The loss of the ship was bad enough, so too was  the terrible loss of lives of those who tried to get ashore but sadly failed, however, what sparked the reporters and readers imagination was the unfolding scene of the next morning on Chesil, it was one  of complete devastation and debauchery.

Scattered all along the pebbled banks of the beach was debris from the wreck, parts of the smashed boat, boxes and crates, cargo, clothing, mens women s and children’s, all their personal items, food. There was even the battered body of a thoroughbred horse that had been on board for the long voyage out to Australia, once it had been some passengers pride and joy..not any more.

The entire contents of a humans life was laid before the hundreds of onlookers and scavengers that flocked to the beach in the wake of the wreck.

The wreckers were in there.

Gathering up what ever they could, cargo, goods, personal items, furniture, wood, money….you name it, they grabbed it.

Soldiers and coastguard men had been drafted in to protect the wreck and its contents, but they were overwhelmed by the mass of the human tide that swept down the beach in search of booty. All they could do was to retreat to the road to search people as they came off the Chesil bank, looking for stolen goods.

These in effect now belonged to The Receiver of wrecks, but the way things were going, he wasn’t going to receive a great deal by the time the scavengers had finished picking over the beach.

Extra soldiers and coast guards were drafted in, trying to hastily gather up as much as they could, a race against the human carrion, whatever items could be salvaged were loaded onto carts and and removed to the Customs house in Weymouth.

coastguards boys own paper 1890s

A pig from on board the boat had somehow miraculously survived the storm and managed to swim to shore in the early hours of the morning. Safely on shore, his new found freedom didn’t last long. Spotting the valuable animal, he was quickly captured and thrown over a mans shoulder, who then staggered up the steep slopes of the pebbled beach with his weighty booty. Once on firm ground the satisfied man started to march homewards, pleased with his piece of precious pork.

Only trouble was, the soldiers also spotted him and the squealing pig, he found himself being marched off in a different direction… towards the police station.

Another  local from Wyke was stopped and searched, he was found to have bundles of wet money concealed about his person.

A  Wyke business man and his daughter were arrested for theft. They had come across large bundles of linen handkerchiefs blowing down along the beach. The father had wrapped as many around his body as he could to conceal, the daughter had tucked bundles of them in and around her voluminous clothing.

They nearly escaped with their ill gotten gains only she dropped one of the bundles as they passed an obsevant coastguards.

At Dorchester court, the pair faced the wrath of the local judge.

Charles Edwards, 47, shop owner, baker and grocer of  Wyke,  and his daughter 26-year-old daughter, Mary Jane Edwards, were fined, Dad £20 and the daughter £5.

A decision was taken by the ships owner, they announced that they wouldn’t prosecute, if the stolen goods were returned…it was luck of the draw. Many had tried to get away with their goods, and many did.

Some were even trying to bury their bounty right there on the beach…men were spotted trying to dig large holes in the pebbles to cover large barrels of spirits, something to be retrieved at a later date when the coast was clear..

Something else more sinister was scattered along the beach too that morning.

More bodies…but these were the unconscious bodies of those who had helped themselves to the strong spirits that had been washed ashore in the wooden kegs. Men, women and children lay prone all along  the pebbles, for all intense purposes, dead to the world. Medical help had to be sought as they tried to move the lifeless bodies, many were wet, cold, some were literally near death. The ‘living corpses’ were loaded onto wagons and taken to places of safety, where they were laid out. Many had to be stripped of their sodden clothing and were covered in hot blankets and hot bricks in an effort to revive them.

Some never woke again.

Over the next couple of days inquests were held around the area for those whose life was lost for the love of a free drink.

Weymouth courts; Death by drink, George Neale, 15, West Parade;

boy collapsed street quiver 1865

On Tuesday young George had walked onto Chesil beach with Richard Rolls to see the scene of devastation for themselves. They came across a wooden cask of rum with the head off. George picked up a nearby tin, one that would hold a quart of liqueur, he scooped the rich spirits out of the barrel and downed it in one.

Seeing danger ahead, Richard took the tin away from him, but a group of men drinking nearby passed him a biscuit tin.

Within minutes, young George had downed nearly 3 quarts of strong liqueur.

Not surprisingly he became unconscious.

Richard with the help of a couple of the  realtively sober men and a policeman carried George to Mr Manley’s in Weymouth town where he worked. Mary Jane Andrews had tried desperately to bring him round. George’s father had called doctor Simpson on the Tuesday evening. Later he told him he thought George was getting better, the doctor  prescribed a stimullent emetic, then left for Portland.

He returned at midnight to find boy dead.

Congestion of the brain from alcohol poisoning. “Death from excessive drinking.” (Buried 2nd December Melcombe Regis graveyard)

Inquest at the Royal Victoria Inn, Ferry Bridge, Wyke Regis, 42 year-old Samuel Biles, labourer; Sergeant Gale was on duty on the beach , he had come across 3 men lying apparently dead on beach. The bodies of the  unconscious men were moved to the ‘safety’ of the Fishermans Arms. Having been called in to check the men over, Dr Rhodes arrived to see the victim and another man lying  face down on straw.

Samuel Biles had no pulse. “Death from exessive drinking and exposure to the cold.” (Buried Wyke Regis churchyard November 30th 1872)

Inquest at Cove Inn Chesil, Thomas Strange and George Gilbert; P.C James Bugg found their bodies on the beach on the Wednesday, “Died from exposure to cold, and from having taken an excessive quantity of raw spirits.”

Thomas Strange was a 46 year-old cabinet maker who lived in Walpole street, Weymouth with his wife Sarah and children. (Buried 2nd December 1872, at Melcombe Regis graveyard)

George Gilbert unknown, must have come from further afield, though his death is registered in Weymouth, no record of his burial locally.

Two more men were fined being “dead” drunk on the beach at Weymouth. Chaddock and Mayo,  2 men.doctors bill, fined 5s each and costs.

Thomas A Chaddock, 45 year old quarryman lived at Chisel Portland with wife Jane. He was so cold that they had to strip him and cover him with hot bricks.

John Mayo, 21, stone mason, lived at the Freemasons Arms, Upwey with his parents. both these men were in the employ of  Mr Richard Reynolds, stonemason of Weymouth.

There was one redeeming light in admist all this debauchery.

Thirty one year old Albert Drayton was a coastguard for the Wyke area. On that fateful evening he strived along with many others to rescue as many of the ship wreck survivors as he could.

Having worked tirelessly all through the stormy night in the wet and cold, Albert caught a severe chill.

He lingered for a few days, but during  his delirious periods he kept repeating  “There’s another saved, thank God!”. (Albert sadly lost his fight for life and was buried on the 20th December 1872,  at Wyke Regis graveyard.) He left behind his widow, Jane and baby daughter Mary.

policeman in dock with boy quiver 1891

The tale of the terrible wreck of the Adelaide remains forever in the memory of Dorset folk, but not always for the right reasons.

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http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1540307/Police-to-clamp-down-on-beach-scavengers.html (modern day scavangers further along Chesil beach )

Weymouth 1873; Rub a dub dub, 3 men (not) in a tub….

Well, o.k. maybe the title is a bit lighthearted for such a tragedy, but when I read that it allegedly concerned 3 butchers assistants that the misfortune had befallen, a visual image immediately flashed in my mind of the popular nursery rhyme. Just put that down to my extremely warped sense of humour which seems to bubble to the surface when ever black moments arise, (Sorry Mum that I got a fit of the giggles at your funeral..but you’ll know precisely why, and would have joined in I’m certain!)

I digress, back to the tale;

One bright and sunny May morning in 1873 a group of 4 young lads decided that the day was too nice to waste, they wanted a bit of excitement.

At that time the Great Eastern was moored in Portland Roads, she was here fueling up for her trip to America laying cables across the ocean floor. (Might write a bit more of her connection with Weymouth another time) To those that don’t know, she was a total legend in her own right. Launched in 1858 she was way before her time, towering over other ships,  nothing even came close to her size wise until 40 odd years later in 1899. She was designed by the famous engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, he had envisioned this levanthian of a liner which could transport 4,000 passengers at a time on transalantic trips, but  right from her maiden voyage she had led a fated life.

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The 4 lads had heard that they had been letting people on board to view this iconic ship, they didn’t want to miss that opportunity.

Just turned 11 0’clock on that fateful Sunday morning, John Beaumont, a butchers assistant, made his way with 2 of his friends, 19-year-old Mark Stickland and 22-year-old Charles Rogers to Mr Baunton’s slaughter house, where they collected 23-year-old Charles Wilmott.

The 4 lads made their way down to the quayside, calling in at the home of Edward Tizard, a widow  who lived on down on Hope Quay with his 3 young daughters, he was a local pilot, but he also hired out boats. Edward was out that day, had he been present when the young lads came a knocking, and being a knowlegable sailor, he might well have thought twice about the 4 lads, unexperienced oarsmen,  taking out his boat. Who ever answered the door to the lads had no such qualms though, and with the grand sum of 6d for the hire of the boat being exchanged, the lads were ready and eager to set off on their adventures.

With 2 of the lads at the oars they set course for the Great Eastern, but were disappointed when they were refused permission to board her. Undaunted, they rowed to wards the Achilles, which was also moored in the Roads, where they were allowed aboard for a short time.

With a real thirst on them now, once they had disembarked from the Achilles, the lads set course for Portland. On reaching the shore, the first place they headed for was the Castle Inn, where they order  2 quart jugs  of beer. Having enjoyed their thirst quenching tipple, they rose and started to make their way back down to their boat, only they set eyes on 18-year-old Joseph James Torpey, a local lad, and a crew member of the Achilles. (probably why they gone on board her in the first place)

Joseph asked if they would mind rowing him back to his boat, the lads readily agreed. He also told them that they had more chance of getting on board of the Great Eastern if they tried a bit later in the afternoon, so the group of 5 young lads thought that they should kill a bit more time before setting off. With that, they headed for the nearest pub, the Portland Roads Inn. They settled down a enjoy their  glass of beer and a natter , feeling peckish the lads ordered a snack, six penny worth of biscuits (guess that’d be their equivalent to today’s pint o’beer and a packet of crisps please!)

Having chewed the cud for a while, the lads set off in their boat to try their luck again at the Great Eastern. the two Charles’s were at the oars this time.

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Half way across the Roads, disaster struck, one of the tholes  (the part that the oar rotates on) broke,  after picking himself up off the floor of the boat, Charles Rogers stood up with the intention of replacing the broken part…only he made a grave error of judgement!

Whereas the boys had been evenly spaced around the craft before, Rogers stepped to one side, making it perilously low in the water, and with that the boat tipped over!

Having been thrown into the water, the lads were reaching out to try and grasp the side of the, by now righted boat, only trouble was, they were all in their sheer panic hauling on the same side.

John and Joseph, both able to swim, moved away from the boat to give the others a better chance of being able to haul themselves back in, only it didn’t quite work like that. With their combined weights still on one side, the craft flipped right over. By now, John was unconscious in the water, but young James turned round to see the stricken faces of his 3 friends disappear under the water, never to emerge again.

Both  John and James were rescued from the water, and rather ironically taken aboard the Great Eastern where they were cared for.

Over the following days the bodies of the 3 lads were eventually recovered, and another 3 families had to watch their child being lowered into the cold ground.

Charles Wilmott was buried on Portland  the 24th May.

Mark Strickland was also buried on Portland, 9th June.

The final lad to be found was Charles Rogers, whose body was interred on the 17th june at Melcombe Regis.

As a little end note, the media of the time was no different to today’s…they loved sensational stories, and the young often came in for some undeserved flack. Many of the national reports on the incident claimed that the lads were inebriated, larking about in the boat, whereas the facts that came out from the inquest showed this was far from the truth.

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

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1870; Pilfering pilots in Portland Roads

Being on the coast, and having both Weymouth Harbour and Portland Roads on our doorstep, a lot of the local men had always earned their living from the sea, and fiercely guarded their rights to do so.

Not least the men who worked the local waters as pilots.

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These were were the men who from being little nippers sailed the area, often local fishermen, they knew the waters intimately, what sandbars to avoid, rocks to navigate, the tides and tricky currents, their expertise was vital in bringing larger ships safely close to shore or into local ports.

In the February of 1870 a court case was heard at the Guildhall in Weymouth.

The case was against John George Austin and William Austin who were inhabitants of Cowes on the Isle of Wight and skippered their cutter named The Fox.

The man who brought the prosecution against these two ‘touting’ outsiders was a local Portland seadog named Thomas Way, a 50-year-old widower  from Chiswell, who was the sole provider for his children, and was skipper of the  pilot cutter, Turk.

The case attracted a great deal of national attention, a Mr Sandilands, solicitor from Trinty House appeared in court to prosecute the two men. Also gathered in the courtroom were pilots from all around the country, including the Isle of Wight, eager to watch how things developed.

The facts of the case were laid out before the judges.

On the 3rd December 1869 amongst the multitude of shipping to-ing and fro-ing  in Weymouth bay and the two bustling harbours were a pair of pilot cutters. One being the Turk, with Portland skipper Thomas Way on board, the other, The Fox, with John George Austin in charge. Both boats were allegedly flying the pilot’s flag, which was a white stripe over a red background. This quickly identified to boats approaching the area which cutters contained the licensed pilots…it was a legal requirement  that they had to be licensed by the ports to be able to operate.

The Isle of Wight boat was cruising near the Portland breakwater, the Portland boat was further out about 4 miles away in distance.

Onto that busy scene came  an American ship-o-war, a steam corvette, the Plymouth. She’d crossed the seas for a specific reason, she was here to escort the H.M.S Monarch back to America with the remains of Mr George Peasbody, a well renow, and well respected American born business man, who had moved the England, and in his time had donated nearly £2,000,000 (in Victorian values) towards the building of houses for the poor of London and in America.

Espying the standard pilots flag flying on The Fox, the corvette changed direction and approached the cutter, when she reached her, the ‘so-called pilot’ climbed on board. From there the pilot would have taken charge of the boat and steered her towards her destination, which was ultimately Spithead. Unfortunately, that ‘pilot’ had no local knowledge of the area, consequently the corvette ended up being run ashore near the Isle of Wight coast!

As his cutter was further away at the time, all Thomas Way could do was stamp his feet with impotent rage on board his boat as he watched the cheeky interlopers steal his trade.

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When the case finally came to court,  local solicitor, Mr Tizard was defending the men He could do nothing but agree that, yes, The Fox had previously lost it’s license to operate as a pilot boat,  and that the man put on board “was not licensed.” What he did try, rather flimsily,  to defend the men with was that the flag flying hadn’t been a pilot’s flag….well, o.k., he agreed that maybe it might have looked  similar, but a very narrow strip had been added to the flag (some mutterings claimed just before it appeared in the courtroom!) making it(very slightly) different!

The Bench didn’t take long to come to their decision. The Isle of Wight men had tried their luck…coming in to our waters and stealing the very trade from the locals, but of course the old seadogs weren.t going to stand for it.

For their cheek, the men were fined a total of £30.

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

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1865; Portland…keeping it in the family.

I know that Portland is not technically an island, (the Chesil causeway connects it to Weymouth), but it’s treated as such in many respects, not least that the folks on the island (I.m sure that being a proud race, they won’t mind me saying) have a long history of being fairly insular!

Imagend

When a new Directory of Dorset was issued in 1865, it showed some figures to hold up that statement.

Apparently there were a total of 196  people or companies listed in the directory for the island,( not being on the overlarge size!) and of those 21 (nearly a ninth in total !) bore the name Pearce. Four of those with the same christian name John.

Comben was another frequent Portland name, being a mere fifteen of those…which included 4 Williams.

Next came Stone….they could boast 10 with that surname…3 Benjamins and 3 Williams!

Eight people had the surname White…another 4 Williams!

Some of the less common surnames were Flew (7), Scriven’s (5) and Benjamin(3)

One wonders how when the islanders were talking to one another about someone else did they know which person it was they were discussing?

It is said that when the Portland Artillery Corps was set up with a total of 60 men volunteering, of those 15 answered to the name Pearce!

That must have made for a great deal of confusion on the parade ground when the sergeant in charge barked an order for Pearce!.

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

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