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

The travellers troubles……

One thing that I really enjoy about the ramblings in my blog is that I never quite know in what direction they’ll take me next.

I love the fact that I often have people contacted me from all over the world, some saying that I’ve written about a long lost ancestor of theirs or about a place they once lived, often these messages are accompanied by photos or personal snippets to go along with the tales.

Well, recently a lady got in touch with me with some interesting information about her husbands ancestors, who way back used to be Romany gypsies, but they had settled down in Weymouth around the turn of the century.

With her husbands permission, (thought I’d better check that first just in case!) this blog will tell a little of their fascinating story.

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Not knowing a great deal about the history of the Romany travelling community I decided to do a little digging first, and it was riveting the history our South West area has with the genuine travelling people.

http://www.gypsyjib.com/page/Romanies+In+Dorset+and+Hampshire(Andrew)

LRM02 The james family at Puddletown in 1899

 

(Picture kindly supplied by the Lyme Regis Museum; the James(or possibly Jones,) family camped at  Puddletown.)

I clearly recall from my childhood the swarthy skinned gypsy women when they used to be in town with their baskets of heather hawking in the street, my mum would always buy a bunch and stick it in a little pot on the windowsill convinced that it brought good luck.

Or the weather-worn men travelling men who would congregate at the Dorchester market for the animal sales days, crooked hazel stick in hand, their intelligent eyes fastened onto the horses for sale.

Anyway, I digress somewhat…back to the tale.

This story concerns the James family who ended up living in the row of stone cottages four doors down from the public house that is now called the New Inn at Littlemoor.

The father, Thomas,(actually christened Andrew Thomas,) was born in Shirley, Hampshire around 1855, his wife, Martha, was a cousin, she had been born at Tolpuddle or Blandford around the same time. (It is hard to sometimes pin down their exact place of birth because they travelled so often between places, and frequently their supposed birthplace changed from census to census.) They both grew up knowing a hard life on the road, travelling the lanes of the Victorian countryside in their wagons or vardos with their families and they would pitch in a group where ever they arrived that day.

In the 1871 census we find an unmarried Thomas pitched on Kinson Common, Dorset along with his parents, Dennis and Laura and with many others of the extended family. (Kinson was and still has a connection with the gipsy community.)

Within the next few years Thomas had married cousin Martha and a succession of children arrived, Louisa, Dennis, Andrew, Caroline, Laura, Leonard and Vardlow, their assorted places of birth in Dorset proof of their continued travelling life style.

By the time of the 1891 census the family were encamped on the village green at Fordington, in the vardo next to them was Thomas’s aged parents, the enumerator listing them as travellers.

LRM01 The James family at Puddletown in the 1890s

 

(Picture courtesy of Lyme Regis Museum.)

By the time their last child, a daughter named Elsie arrived in 1895, the family had left the road behind them, they had moved into a little stone built cottage in Littlemoor.

They might have given up  travelling the highways and byways of Dorset and Hampshire in their vardo but they hadn’t given up completely on the lifestyle.

The 1901 census enumerator lists them both as hawkers, ( he still describes them as gipsies in brackets in the occupation column.) Thomas and Martha’s sons were already in steady work, they were employed  in the nearby farms or in the building trades,  but Mum and Dad were reluctant to let go of their old traditions. They might well have been confined by the four solid walls of their cottage but every day they travelled forth far and wide to hawk their various wares in the towns and villages around.

Life must have been very interesting for their close neighbours, this colourful couple  and their lively antics causing no end of delicious gossip over those stone garden walls.

Living in the same terrace as the James’s were their next door neighbours, George and Jane Guppy on one side with their two young daughters and on the other side were Isaac and Mary Powell and their family of 3 boys and a girl.

Around the same time the family moved in so appeared in the newspapers one of many frequent sensational stories of their somewhat dubious doings.

On a Tuesday, the 24th September 1895, Thomas and Martha stepped outside into the fresh morning air, they were on their way into Weymouth where Martha would ply her trade up and down the streets of the town, with her trusty old wicker basket slung on her arm, Martha would be selling what she could to bring in a much-needed penny or two to the household.

But this was going to be no ordinary day for either of them…one would end up seriously injured, and the other behind locked doors.

The couple waited on the platform for the train at Upwey station, boarded it and made for Weymouth.

Once in town, Thomas headed for the nearest watering hole while Martha went about her business.

womn street

After tramping the streets around town for a few hours and come lunch time, Martha went to meet Thomas at the public house where he had installed himself for the duration. He was not in a good mood it seems,  he demanded of Martha some of her hard-earned coins from her mornings travels, but she far was too slow in handing them over for his liking.

With that an irate Thomas raised his stick and beat her over the head with it.

By the time the  somewhat well-inebriated couple had finished for the day in Weymouth they staggered their way back to the  station where they boarded the 3.30 train on their way  back to Upwey.

Also in their carriage  was Thomas’ mother, Laura James, who by all accounts was not in any less-inebriated  state than the other two.

What happened on that fateful train journey appeared as sensational headlines in the papers a couple of days later.

‘Western Gazette 27 September 1895; A WOMAN FOUND INSENSIBLE.’

According to the lengthy news report, Edward Hansford a GWR packer had been busy working on the line between Lawton Bridge and Two Mile Copse on that Tuesday afternoon when he came across  the seemingly  lifeless body of a woman lying besides the line .

The guard on the GW train that had left Weymouth at 3.32 had also reported seeing a woman fall out of the moving train onto the line.

On reaching Upwey, the guard informed the station master, 42-year-old Mr Richard Harry Dyke, who then proceeded back down the line and found the still form  and a flustered Mr Hansford attending it.

But the limp form wasn’t completely lifeless, a strange gurgling noise was emitting from it, the station master quickly turned her over and a thick stream of congealed blood drained from her mouth. Richard Dyke had literally saved her life. The victim, which was our Martha, had been virtually drowning on the blood pouring from a large wound on her head into her mouth.

By now, a flustered Thomas had  arrived on scene, having jumped from the train before it had even pulled into Upwey station, he had raced all the way back down the track to where his wife Martha laid, unconscious, battered, bruised and bloodied.

When he was asked what happened, Thomas quickly muttered that  his wife had had said something about going to Southampton, and that was that, she was out the door before he could do anything!

Martha’s  pale and limp form was placed upon a hastily fetched wicker hurdle and the concerned parties then conveyed it to her house at Littlemoor, which was about a mile away.

You can only imagine the neighbours surprise when they saw the gang of men and their strange baggage coming along the road and make their way into the cottage.

Chins must have wagged for Britain.

Dr Pridham was sent for.

Things didn’t look too good for Martha.

For the next four hours she didn’t stir, she was totally out of it, deeply unconscious .

Of course, before long the long arm of the law were knocking on the James’ door, Segeant Legg and P.C. Carter entered the cottage.

Carter sternly confronted the still drink-befuddled and  flustered Thomas, “James, I wish to see your wife.”

Thomas could do very little else but allow them entry, he sulkily replied “All right, she is upstairs.”

They climbed the narrow, creaky wooden stairs up to the bedroom where Martha was laid, she was being being tended to by one of her neighbours, Catherine, from the Guppy family next door.

woman in sick bed

 

 

Martha, having at last regained conciousness, managed to give her statement to the policeman, she was accusing her wayward husband of virtually beating out of the carriage door. “I, Marth James, saith I am the wife of Thomas James and reside with him at Littlemoor. We get our living by hawking. On tuesday the 24th Sep, I and my husband went to Weymouth. I hawked while he walked about. He asked me for some money while we were there, and because I would not give him some at once he struck me across the head with a stick. We came back to Upwey by the 3.30 p.m. train. Mrs Dennis James, my husband’s mother, got into the same carraige with us. As soon as we were in the carriage my husband began abusing me, and struck me down on the seat. I stood up, and he struck me again up against the door, and by some means it opened. I know I did not open it. I do not remember anything more until I found myself home in bed.”

Being unable to read or write, when she’d finished Martha slowly and painfully  raised her head from her bed and signed her damning statement with a simple cross.

Thomas was then summonsed to the bedroom where his battered wife laid before him, the charges were read out to him by P.C. Carter, “You wife has made a statement respecting you, which I have taken down, and which I will read to you.”

When  Carter had read out the charges to Thomas, his reply,  not surprisingly, was a complete denial,  in a very coarse manner he snapped “Then I must say it is a lie then”

But of course, there was only one place he was going, that was heading for the nearest lock-up. A fiercely protesting Thomas was led out of the cottage door by the two policemen.

However, when the case finally came before the local courts not everything was quite as it had at first seemed.

Evidence was produced that put doubt on Martha’s story and showed Thomas in a slightly better light, (not that beating his wife over the head with a stick could ever be described as ‘better.’)

The attending doctor at the time of the incident, Dr Pridham,  said when he went to visit Martha at her home, she was indeed deeply unconscious but he rather thought a lot of that was down to  Martha having imbibed far too much drink that day.

In the carriage next to the fiercely feuding James family had been three servants on their way back from Weymouth, they were also heading for the Upwey station.

One of them, Elizabeth Lane, was a  servant in Nottington House. She had seen something, which she took to be a coat, fall out past their carriage window. Curiosity getting the better of her, Elizabeth got up, looked out of window and saw the door of the next carriage open and someone stood at door waving their hand and shouting.

maid service 1887

 

Mary Woodrow, a second servant also from the adjoining carriage added her statement. All three had heard a right old commotion going on from that carriage, someone had been having one hell of an argument.

Thomas’ mother’s statement was read out in court, not that it had much validity, she couldn’t appear in person that day because she was too intoxicated!

According to her written words Martha had opened door herself and sat down on the floor, rolled back then fell out the door. Just to sort of statement you might expect from a mother trying to protect her precious son from a serious charge of attempted murder…that is were it not for corroborating evidence from an independent source.

Probably the most damning evidence of all as far as Martha was concerned was that of 32-year-old James Bulley, the brakesman in charge of train. He claimed that he had seen a hand projecting out from the carriage window, it then turning the handle of the door, at which point the door opened and a woman jumped from the train.

Then Martha herself took to the stand, relaying her version of those days events.

She said about 1 o’clock that fateful day she had gone to an underground public house by the Quay where she had met her husband Thomas. He asked her for money but because she hadn’t been quick enough in handing it over, he’d lost his temper and proceeded to bash her over the head with his stick, at this point she grabbed the coins out of her pocket and chucked them at him.

Not overly pleased with his wife’s contrary actions, he had growled between his gritted teeth that “He would swing for her.”

Instead, he threw her basket at her and sent her on her way to earn some more money, but Martha’s lucky heather obviously wasn’t up to its magical scratch that day, her good luck had run out…she didn’t earn a further penny.

The couple met again later at the station, Martha penniless and Thomas in a bad mood. Once they had climbed into their carriage, an irate Thomas had pushed her down hard into the seat, yelling at his weary wife“Sit down there.” An aggrieved Martha demanded to know what was wrong, “You have been quarreling with me all day;what is the matter with you?”

train 7 english illustrated magazine 3 london magazine_2

She recalled the violent row in the carriage, and Thomas attacking her again and again with his stick, but very little else until she awoke and found herself back in her own home feeling battered and bruised and very sorry for herself.

When she woke in her bed, Thomas had brought her up a strong drink of rum and beer which she pushed away saying she couldn’t face drinking it. With that Thomas’ anger erupted again, he shoved her hard in the chest and according to Martha he shouted at her that ” he wished he had picked me up dead.”

Martha also told the magistrates that Thomas used to beat her often with his stick which  sometimes causing her  to go into fits.

When she was questioned about the possibility of her having leapt from the train of her own free will, (fuelled by alcoholic stupor,) supposedly to go and see her missing daughter, she quickly and vehemently denied that.

Martha claimed she didn’t even know if her daughter was in Southampton, she had walked out of  the family home about 12 months ago…in fact, so unbothered by her sudden disappearance was she that she had almost forgotten her by now!

The case of Grievous Bodily Harm against Martha by her husband was considered serious enough to be referred up to the Dorset County Assizes.

When the County Court sat at their next session, they went through the list of cases to be heard. Arriving upon the James’ case, it was decided in their infinite wisdom that there was insufficient evidence to bring it before the courts.

Yes, Thomas had not been the most affable of men where his wife was concerned, but there was very little evidence to prove that he had in fact deliberately attempted to harm her by throwing her out of the moving carriage.

In fact the evidence of the guardsman pointed to the contrary. Consequently the serious charges of Grievous Bodily Harm upon Martha by Thomas were discharged. He was a free man…for now!

But poor old Martha’s woes weren’t to end there. Only a few months later and she was at the receiving end of Thomas’s alcohol fuelled anger again.

One evening in the June of 1896 she had retired to her bed. For whatever reason a drunken and angry Thomas had burst into the room and set about her in a vicious manner. He lunged at her, squeezing his hands tightly around her throat, nearly throttling the very life out of her. His hot, fetid breath in her face as he declared he would do for her and that he would swing for her “in the same way as two men had swung on Tuesday morning.” 

Finally managing to break from Thomas’ grasp and make her escape, Martha hurriedly barricaded herself in the next bedroom.

The following morning, while Thomas still slept, she slipped out of her cottage and made her way to the nearest police station, she couldn’t put up with this much more. A very determined Martha was going to make her errant husband pay for his misdeeds.

So once again, Thomas found himself arrested, thrown into jail and then hauled before the magistrates charged with violent assault and the attempted murder of his wife.

This time he didn’t escape so lightly, for his sins he was sentenced to one month prison with hard labour.

Mind you, Martha wasn’t exactly whiter than white, she too had encountered the courts wrath on a few occasions.

True to traditional gipsy folklore she pedalled her wares wherever the road took her, selling bunches of heather for good luck or telling fortunes to the unsuspecting females who hung on her every word.

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In September of 1891 she was before the police courts in Salisbury charged with stealing a silver brooch of the value of 2s, the property of Louisa Bragg of 8 Egerton Place, Windsor Road, Fisherton.

Martha had knocked on the door of the house and offered the woman some of the  wares from her trusty basket.

When the lady refused to buy anything from her, Martha then induced her to part with a few random old unwanted items, a brooch, jacket, pillow case and other bits and pieces of clothing, with the promise that she could foretell her fortune.

Getting well into her story-telling stride Martha declared that she was one of the mysterious and select Seven Sisters, she held such strong powers that she  could work her magical charm on the lady’s wedding ring, promising her that she would be happy for ever after.

All the good lady had to do was to place a simple glass of water on the mantle-shelf and if she got up at 4 o’clock in the morning and peered into it she would see the features of her husband.

The magistrate, not surprisingly, was not quite so taken in with Martha’s mystical powers, or worried by any hideous hexes she may inflict upon him, he committed her to 6 weeks in prison.

In December of 1915 Martha found herself before the Weymouth courts again. This time accused of “Telling Fake fortunes and Selling Dragon’s Blood.”

Martha, now in her 60’s, was still up to her old tricks.

She was in the habit of going into the seed shop of Mr Courtenay in Bond Street to purchase bits and pieces. A young girl who worked behind the counter had suddenly found herself under Martha’s steely gaze and was soon pulled into Martha’s mystical world of spells and magic.

After a few months of listening to Martha’s mutterings for which she paid dearly, the frightened girl had confessed her fears to the shop keeper and the police informed.

On her next visit, the shop bell rang out as Martha made her way into the store, the young assistant was waiting nervously behind the counter, she was beginning to feel very silly now having been taken in all this time.

Martha purchased her goods and turned her attention to the young girl. “How is your young man? You are looking better.” 

Then looking around carefully to see who was listening she sidled up to the girl and whispered “You have got a silver coin in your pocket?” the girl nodded, a sixpence she admitted, “That will do, hand it to me” Martha brusquely replied.

Once the coin had been handed over, Martha spat on girls hand and passed the silver coin over it. With that ‘magical charm’ not only came the promise of a long and happy marriage to her beau but also the great delights of her own prosperous business to look forwards to.

Her parting shot to the girl as she left the shop was, “God Almighty bless you and good luck.”

She might not have been quite so quick to bless the assistant had she known that a certain P.C. Pitman was concealed inside the shop to witness this exchange of money and ‘magic.’

Hauled before the magistrates Martha’s once mysterious magical methods were revealed for all and sundry to hear, bringing forth a great deal of mirth and laughter from those disbelievers attending the lively session.

The shop assistant revealed that she had only handed over her money because she was so scared of her, what the gipsy would do to her if she didn’t give her the silver when asked for, she didn’t want no bad luck in her life. So far, over the last few weeks, she had given Martha nearly a sovereign of her hard earned money.

No wonder Martha was a frequent visitor to the shop, it had become a very lucrative stop.

The girl continued her tale of woe. She said that at one stage Martha had handed her a tiny, (but very expensive…“half a crown that cost me!”) bottle containing a strange red liquid. Dragon’s Blood Martha firmly assured her, with great powers.

The girl was told to tip just three drops of this magical blood onto a piece of paper  when it was a new moon, which she did… and when it was a full moon she was given instructions to burn it.

Those listening to the young girl as she carefully explained the spell couldn’t contain their mirth.

When asked if she had indeed “had good luck ever since?” she innocently replied “I do not know, I did not burn the paper.” 

Even the Magistrates Clerk couldn’t resist gently mocking the witness “She did not complete the process, so that was not giving the charm a fair chance,” which brought forth peals of laughter.

When it was Martha’s turn to stand in the box, she of course had a perfectly logical explanation for everything.

It was purely out of the kindness of her own sweet heart that she had told  the young girl about her beau coming back to marry her, it was just to keep the her happy.

The same way that the money the girl handed her was only from kindness, she had freely given it to her for a drink…nothing at all to do with fortune telling.

As for the Dragon’s Blood?…she knew nothing about that, hadn’t even seen it before!

Martha received a proverbial slap on the wrist, a fine and a dire warning that if she appeared in the courts again she would find herself in serious trouble.

I doubt whether either old Thomas or Martha could have completely given up on their gipsy roots, their old way of life. So ingrained in their family history from centuries of a life on the road and the stories told from generation to generation.

Martha passed away  in 1924 and Thomas followed in 1931, both are buried at St Nicholas church Broadwey.

So a way of travelling life passes into history, a few tales of these colourful old characters of the open road all that remains of their fascinating story. *********************************************************************** Pictures of the James, (or possible Jones,) family while on the road kindly leant by the Lyme Regis Museum Archives.

http://www.lymeregismuseum.co.uk/research-papers/ethnic-minorities-in-dorset?start=7 *********************************************************************** 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

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 )

1896; Tragedy at Upwey mill, Weymouth.

One of the prettiest little villages on the outskirts of Weymouth is Upwey.

As you drive into the meandering village, the houses and buildings nestle themselves down into a  wooded valley, and in the middle of this is where the tall building of the Upwey mill sits, fed by the river Wey which springs out of the ground a little further up the valley at the famous Upwey Wishing Well.

Image

The stone mill was originally constructed in 1802, replacing an earlier building that was listed in the  records. It is also claimed that this mill is the one that famous local author, Thomas Hardy wrote about in his novel The Trumpet Major.

The little valley personifies peace and tranquility, not much to break the silence apart from nature, the babbling river and the birds singing in the woods above.

But in 1896 that peace was shattered with heart rending howls of despair.

The mill was a busy place then. Owned by local man Alfred Loveless, and in his employ was 40 year old Robert Scutt, a  miller who had been born in Sutton Poyntz, a village on the other side of Weymouth. Robert and his wife Hannah moved to Upwey when Robert obtained a job working for Alfred, they lived with their family in one of the cottages in Elwell Street.

One Wednesday in August Robert’s son, 13 year-old George was out playing happily with his best friend Harry Symonds near the mill.

Image

The two lads, becoming bored with playing outside, entered the mill, and went to explore. Now, they had already been shooed out of the mill a couple of weeks previous by the owner, this was no place for children! But, boys, being, well… I guess, boys, the sense of adventure overruled the fear of being caught and punished.

The two lads climbed the rickety wooden stairs up to the third floor, noise and dust echoed around the room, they could hear the  huge water wheel turning the giant cogs and machinery, water splashing and churning below. Curiosity getting the better of little George he stood on tiptoe and peered over the boards to the rapidly revolving wheel below. Pulling himself up on the boards to get a better view, he teetered for a moment on the edge, then loosing his balance, his body pitched head first down towards the wheel pit. His friend Harry just stood in shocked silence at first…then in fear for his friends life he ran down the stairs as fast as he could to get help.

George’s father, Robert was stood down below in the yard at the time, when the wheel suddenly ceased to work…all very odd. He hastily raced into the mill, and headed for the stairs, worried which piece of the machinery had failed to stop the wheel working like that.

Here he met a hysterical Harry, who managed to tell him of the horrific disaster had happened to his son. Robert raced up those stairs and peered frantically over the boards, what met his eyes was a parents worst nightmare, below was the mangled remains of his son jammed in the giant wheel.

Shouting in desperation to the other men out in the yard to ‘stop the water…stop the water’!

But it was to no avail, the shocking damage had been done!

One of his fellow workmates appeared by his side, and the two men clambered down to retrieve what remained of George’s broken body.

By the time that the local doctor arrived on the scene,  Dr Pridham, there was obviously nothing he could do to help.

He describes how George’s body was laid on the mill floor, his intestines spread out across the area. He only had one arm still attached to his torso, the other dismembered limbs lay scattered around.

How does a human being cope with something like that, let alone a parent?

At the inquest held at The Mill house, a verdict of “Death my misadventure ” was given.

Robert and Hannah buried the remains of their son George in the little church yard in Upwey on the 23rd August.

Image

Their lives would never be the same again…how could they?

It must have had a traumatic impact on the mill owners life too, by the time of the next census he has changed businesses altogether, he working in the lime and stone industry, no mention of mills at all.

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http://www.weymouth-dorset.co.uk/upwey.html (Upwey Local History)

http://www.thedorsetpage.com/locations/Place/U050.htm (The Dorset Page)

http://www.opcdorset.org/Broadwey-Upwey.Files/Broadwey-Upwey.htm (Dorset OPC. Broadway and Upwey)

Aside

The railway finally rolled into the seaside resort of Weymouth in the year 1857.

train

Anyone who’s travelled the Weymouth line knows of the long Bincombe cutting and tunnel that burrows under the Bincombe chalk downs.

As a child it was always with a sense of excitement that we would approach this tunnel…as the line began to dip down into the deep cutting, so you knew you were nearer to the moment when daylight would be suddenly snuffed out, ears popped, nothing but blackness and the reflections in the windows of your fellow travellers, you would watch with baited breath for the light to start to creep back when you were coming near the end. (We had very simple pleasures in those days !)

For one young man in the Victorian period the Bincombe tunnel had another sinister meaning altogether.

Sidney Watts was a 24-year old man who’d been born in Frome, Somerset. At a fairly young age he saw an exciting future in working for the developing railways and began to work for the Great Western Company. At first he moved to Yeovil where he worked the station there as a porter.

train 2

Sidney soon earned promotion within the company. From the start of May that 1883 he was now in the responsible job as a signal box man, in charge of the tall, bulky levers that would operate the signals and lines that ran in and out of Weymouth.

On Wednesday the 8th August, Sidney walked from his home in the village of Upwey to work. He was due to start a 12 hour overnight shift in the box. All was quiet that night, and at 7 o’clock the following morning his fellow workmate, Francis Chalker climbed up into the box and greeted Sidney. The men exchanged a few pleasantries, then leaving Francis in charge, Sidney climbed wearily down the wooden steps and started to make his way along the trackside towards the tunnel, he was looking forwards to getting home, having something to eat…and bed! As he was half way towards the tunnel the 7.20 train from Weymouth passed the tired man as he trudged his way home.

That was the last Francis ever saw of Sidney!

The next morning, James Guppy was on his way to work as a packers man on the Weymouth line. As was his usual routine he made his way through the Bincombe tunnel to join his gang of workmen. Part the way through the darkness, just as the pitch black was receding near the end, he came across some items laying on the trackways. As he neared them he realised that it was  basket, a little further on was an overcoat, then a pair of slippers. Fearing the worst, James looked up, and in the distance, towards the light, he could make out the shape of a body lying besides the track.

Running back towards the signal box, he told Francis of the gruesome remains he’d discovered in the tunnel, a telegraph was sent at once to the station master in Upwey, and the police were called for.

When they finally retrieved the mutilated body, it was discovered to be that of the young signal box man, Sidney Watts.

As he had been making his way home through the tunnel early that morning, the 7.37 Great Western goods train had also been passing through, and for whatever reason, Sidney had not been paying attention as closely as he should to his safety while besides the line, the train had hit him hard, and as the reporter states his body was ‘terribly mangled.’

The following week an inquest was held at the Royal Standard Inn on the Dorchester to Weymouth road, where the coroner, Mr G Symonds, after hearing from the witnesses  declared that it was a clear case of ‘accidental death.’

Sidney’s remains were buried at Upwey church on the 11th August 1883.

1883; Weymouth and the Great Western railway. A signal-mans tale.