Granfer Henry reads the news; Every Day Lives in Weymouth; September 1884.

What I find fascinating about mooching through old newspapers is not only the sensational crimes and usual misdemeanors that fill the columns of the local papers, but also those mundane snippets that give us every day glimpses of our Victorian ancestors lives.

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In some sense, they really weren’t that much different from us.

Take The Dorset County Chronicle of 11th September 1884.

Just like we do today (well, those of us that still browse the physical pages of print rather than online) your GGG Grandfather Henry might well be sat in his plush, red velvet armchair that late summer’s afternoon, his pince-nez slid down to the tip of his nose as he perused the trials and tribulations of his fellow townsmen.

Would he have nodded in satisfaction when  he read that Reuben Newberry of Upwey  had a great year when it comes to growing his Dahlias.

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Well, of course, he knew old man Reuben was a perfectionist when it came to the floral side of things, after all, he did run Upwey Nurseries alongside his wife Miriam. They often exhibited in the local flower shows and came away with many of the prizes.

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He was also rather good when it came to cultivating families it seems, managing to germinate ten offspring.

Reuben had been showing some remarkably fine specimens of these flowers lately. Those that he had put on display being very much admired.

(Only a couple of years later and 73-year-old Reuben hung up his hose and laid down his dibber, an advert appeared advertising his very desirable and compact nursery and market garden. )

Maybe Granfer Henry’s eyes would next catch sight of a name he knew well…that caused him to sigh heavily…’What’s Wheeler been up to now’ he’d muse to himself. ‘Always trying to get himself noticed, that fellow.’

FINE ARTS the headline proclaimed. Specimens of photographic portraits &c. in every style of the art, take by Mr Wheeler of the Vandyke Studio, are now being shown by him.

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The studio was run by Harry Wheeler, a man with fingers in many profitable pies! One of them being photography.

Harry also ran a fine art studio, library and printing press, something that had got him into a spot of bother with the law in 1878. Apparently his press had been churning out defamatory leaflets concerning a certain borough magistrate, Joseph Drew, that had hit the streets of Weymouth just before  the municipal elections.

That September day though, the attending reporter waxed lyrical of Harry’s talents. He may well be proud of the work he has turned out, for we doubt whether it is possible for any photographer, either in London or the provinces to show a better collection.

Harry and Mary Marie Wheeler and their veritable brood (must be something in the Weymouth waters!) lived along Frederick Place.

When Harry passed to the dark room in the heavens (1895) his fingers in pies scheme had obviously worked their magic because he bequeathed to his wife and son, Frank Augustus Wheeler, dealer in fine arts, the princely sum of £4494 13s 11d.

But of course, Granfer would certainly have approved of the more sedate culture to be found in Weymouth’s theatres.

Mr Doryly Carte’s Opera Company were taking to the stage,  performing the fairy opera Iolanthe in the theatre (though it doesn’t actually say which one, for Weymouth had quite a few in those days.) The article claims that It will have splendid scene, effects and be most gorgeously dressed.

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But, just maybe, some of the entertainment on offer wasn’t quite to his taste.

There was a lengthy report on a Swimming Exhibition by Dr Jennings.

It was supposed to have taken place on the Wednesday, but as per usual fickle mother Nature soon put paid to those plans.

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Brave Dr Jennings, not one to be deterred, set out again on the Thursday, unwilling to disappoint his audience. Although the weather overhead was fine, the air was exceedingly cold, a “north-easter” blowing and the sea was very “loppy”.

About 300 folk had forked out their hard earned sixpenny pier toll to watch this intrepid swimmer take his leave of Weymouth’s pier.

Of course, as human nature dictates, there were always those few, about 100 more were in boats and therefore viewed this exhibition for nothing.

Ever the showman, Dr Jennings (who is a well developed man) made his appearance  dressed in an old suit. He then stepped up onto the specially prepared stage and made a great performance of putting on a pair of sturdy boots and lacing them up tightly, then donned a heavy overcoat, taking care to button it up right to his chin..

Jennings clambered down into a waiting boat and to the gasp of his audience, promptly tipped over the side and disappeared under the waves.

Of course, this was all part of his display…for he soon bobbed up to the surface like a fisherman’s cork.

Whilst fighting the tide and the swell, Jennings then proceeded to unbutton and remove his heavily sodden overcoat, followed by a jacket and then his waist coat. As each layer was discarded a great roar went up from the expectant crowd. His underwater striptease show continued with the untying and removal and his boot whilst being tossed around on the choppy surface, then off came his trousers and his shirt until at last he was down to his proper swimming attire.

He then proceeded to give a demonstration of how easy it was for man to float on seawater, reclining in a variety of postures on the troubled waves.

Not content with that, a chair was thrown to him, upon which he sat as if it was in deed on ‘terra firma‘.

All in all a jolly spiffing display.

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Not that Granfer Henry would have been overly impressed with Jennings japes, what he enjoyed most of all was perusing the columns of the naughtier Weymouth residents misdeeds.

Henry he could tut and humph with the best them.

Not much tittle tattle in todays paper he mused.

Only Granfer’s best friend, old John Vincent, who had been hoodwinked by a pretty maid entering his shop. She asked to look at diamond rings then sent John off to retrieve some from the window…and promptly took her leave of the premises, leaving John one sparkler short.

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The pretty maid then popped up in the watchmaker and jewellery shop of Henry Talzner in St Thomas Street. Thankfully he was immune to her fresh complexion and fluttering lashes and informed the police she had tried to sell a dodgy ring to him.

Weymouth’s PC Hansford knew his criminals though, he went along to stake out her mothers house in Trinity Road, where he collared her later that night as she returned home.

When questioned about the ring he noticed she was trying to remove something from her finger…something rather large and sparkly.

17-year-old Elizabeth White was convicted of theft and sent to prison for 4 months hard labour.

Maybe reading todays news had been all too much for Granfer Henry!

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Interested in Weymouth military and naval history? Why not pop on over to my other blog Nothe Fort and Beyond…

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Looking for Victorian illustrations then check out my IStock folder at Getty images for 100’s of these fantastic images.
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What were your Weymouth ancestors doing in December of 1888?

Christmas is nearly upon us, its that time of year when we think about absent family and friends and especially those no longer here to celebrate with us.

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Our long departed ancestors knew how to celebrate Christmas too, albeit sometimes in a very different way, though their life often mirrored ours of today, with the same old trials and tribulations.

Come on in and have a peek at the lives of Weymouth folk of  days gone past.

The year is 1888, it’s the 13th December and young Albert Rolls and his pals were making their way along a packed Weymouth esplanade. It might have been nearly Christmas, but the weather was set fair and the warm sun had brought out the crowds.

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In the distance Albert could hear the lively notes of organ music and the raised voices of happy revellers. A big grin spread across his face as he and his pals quickened their pace, pushing through the throng, most of whom seemed to be heading for where the action was.

The Christmas season  always brought a chance to enjoy a bit of fun  away from the drudgery of everyday toil.

Once they neared the  entrance to the pier they could see the steam fair in full swing on the quayside. it looked as if the whole of Weymouth had turned out to attend the festive revelries.

Spiffily dressed stall holders bellowed their gaudy wares, “come buy…come buy” they cried as pretty maids crowded round, purses clutched tightly under their shawls. Dapper dandies stood perusing the assortment of side shows that lined the quay, their sight alighting upon somewhat scandalously dressed women whose dark eyes promised such delicious delights behind those beguiling curtains.

Albert and his mates though, headed straight for the steam rides, whose organs were churning out lively tunes that made toes tap, but even those were almost drowned out by the  screeches of nervous passengers and raucous laughter of dare devil riders.

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Their chosen ride slowed to a halt, men, women and children clambered down off their chain slung chairs, some still laughing and chattering happily while a few staggered off looking rather green around the gills.

Albert scrambled onto the nearest chair, he pushed his behind as far back onto the leather seat as he possibly could and held on tightly to the chain, excited but nervous at the same time.

Old tight me loverlies” bellowed the showman, “ere we’s goes.” 

The music started and so the ride began to turn, faster and faster.

As the speed picked up its riders swung out, flying legs splayed above the heads of those watching below. Albert’s mates yelled cheerfully to each other above the din, “look ‘ere Rollsy” cried one daring chap as he casually loosed a hand and held it out sideways, “I be flying like they there birds do.” Albert chuckled to himself, Harry was always such a wag.

Despite almost being horizontal, flying round and round through the air, Albert was beginning to feel quite brave…that was to be the undoing of him!

“Arry” he hollered, “bet you’s can’t do this,” and was on the point of loosening his grip on the straps, when he suddenly slid off the seat and flew, unaided by neither chain nor leather, through the air. Over the heads of stunned watchers he went, arms and legs aflailing, a startled expression on his face. Luckily for the crowd below, but not for Albert, he landed with an almighty crash on solid ground, in a small space void of any possible soft landing material and rolled to an ignominious stop besides a stunned lassie.

Albert never did visit the fair ever again!

(Bridport News 14 Dec 1888)

December of 1888 also witnessed a fairly farcical case held in the borough police court at the town’s Guildhall.

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Hauled before Messrs Robens was one Mary Jackson.

But the case before Robens was not quite that clear cut and took a bit of good old fashioned detective work by local Superintendent Vickery to sort out the mess.

He asked for it to be adjourned until a while later.

Mary Jackson it seems wasn’t actually Mary Jackson, she also went by the names of Pemberton, Roberts and Lee and no doubt many more besides.

Mary’s co-conspirator and partner in crime was one George Jackson.

Not her husband at all, although he was married…just not to Mary.

George, a dentist by trade, had apparently deserted his wife and family elsewhere to set off for a life of crime roaming the country with his latest lady love.

Well, come December of 1888 and the Jackson’s arrived in good old sunny Weymouth.

The conniving couple took  advantage of the fair weather, and strolled along the seashore, their thoughts turned towards their next dastardly deed.

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The following morning, decked out in her best finery, Mary set out with a purpose, marching determinedly along St Thomas Street. She was heading straight for their next victim, 63-year-old Charles Hibbs, who owned shop premises at no 3 Frederick Place. Charles, along with his wife Susan and their family lived in the elegant Georgian rooms above them.

That fateful day,  behind the pretty bow fronted window, waiting patiently for his next customer, sat Charles. His beady eyes passed carefully over his stock, was it displayed at its best? Maybe he should move that piece over to the wall opposite the window where it would catch the light better. He frowned as he spotted something not quite to his liking. Being ever the perfectionist, he rose from his seat and walked across the room to straighten the offending item. His somewhat rather pretentiously named son, William Bond Edward,  also worked alongside his father, but as of yet, he didn’t yet have his father’s same exacting standards.

Charles was a well know businessman in Weymouth, the walls of his premises were hung with many pieces of valuable artwork.

Charles and William both traded as  fine art dealers.

As he was about to return to his comfortable chair, the shop bell rang. Straightening his shoulders and fixing a smile on his craggy face, Charles turned around to warmly welcome his customer.

Mary smiled sweetly at the dealer, little did he know it was more a smile of satisfaction and determination.

Before her stood her next victim.

The two chatted away while browsing the selection of artwork on offer. Charles advising and Mary nodding.

Having chosen the pieces she deemed suitable for what she wanted, Mary made her excuses and left the premises, leaving behind a very disappointed Charles. He was so sure that he had the sale in the bag…so to speak.

To his surprise, a few days later he received a letter from the lovely Mrs Mary Jackson, she wanted him to post a few pieces of artwork up to her, not just a few, but a dozen! Charles rubbed his hands with glee, he knew he had been right all along, when he first set eyes on the dear lady, he was so sure she was going to be a good customer. Mrs Jackson wanted the parcel to be carefully wrapped and personally addressed to her at Merriott Road in Crewkerne.

Paintings duly despatched, Charles waited.

First he received Mary’s letter to say that they had arrived safely…but then nothing!

Charles wrote again,  this time his missive was returned unopened with the dreaded words penned on its front cover, “gone, no address.”

By now, quite alarmed, Charles made his way to the police station where he reported the facts, but he knew in his heart that he had been well and truly duped by this daring damsel and in all probability would never see her, his money or his painting ever again.

Well, as luck would have it, Mary had been found residing at her Majesty’s pleasure in the Devonport jailhouse. When confronted by Weymouth’s PC Bartlett who had travelled to Devonport to question her, she held up her hands and spilled the beans on the whole kitten caboodle of their crime.

Seemingly the dishonest couple had left behind a trail of deception and debts. Two of Charles’ pictures had been pawned in Exeter during their travels down towards the West Country, and another three sold to a private dealer.

When Mary’s partner in crime, George, was brought to the police house later that day, he had no hesitation in throwing his supposed lady love to the lions. Denying anything to do with obtaining the pictures, though he had to admit to knowing she had received them. Upon his person though was found a selection of pawn tickets from various towns they had passed through. Each one bore a different name, Graham Jackson, Graham Johnson, Annie Jackson, Ellen Jackson…so the list of aliases went on.

This light fingered pair were no lightweights, they were wanted by constabularies all over the place.

Once back stood in the Weymouth dock, the defiant Mary Jackson alias Pemberton, (it turned out that her real name was actually Mary Stedman) was charged with“unlawfully obtaining from Charles Hibbs of St Thomas Street, twelve unframed oil paintings valued at £12 6s”

At the Quarter Sessions the following Spring, Charles Hibbs sat patiently in the courtroom, he wanted to witness this dishonest couple get their just deserts. Imagine his surprise when the couple appeared before the judges, their case was thrown out, apparently it had been his own fault!

The Court Chairman decreed that“Hibbs had sent these twelve pictures to Crekerne without making any enquiries as to the applicant.”

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To compound matters even further, the couples crimes, including the theft from a now totally bewildered Charles, were brought before a second court, along with a list of other such cases. Surely they would pay for their trail of crimes this time?

Mary again stated that they had indeed sent for these goods and then pawned them, but, denied receiving the goods with any intention of fraud, “remarking the invoice sent in with the goods stated ‘accounts rendered every six months,’ and at the time they were too poor to meet the account.”

Due to lack of evidence, (apart from a string of pawn tickets in an assortment of names, and a fair number of complaints of their misdoings) the couple were found “not guilty” and released.

(Western Gazette 21 Dec 1888)

Even Weymouth’s famous swans made the news that December.

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An article described how “The good people of Weymouth have tried to induce the swans to live in the open sea-in the bay.” But it appears that the feathered flock of around 300 had their own views on such matters.

Despite people feeding them on boiled Indian corn out in the bay to entice them away from their sheltered spot, they kept flying back to Radipole Lake. “They seem to dislike a strong wind” bemoaned one bewildered local.

(Bridport News 14th Dec)

Of course, with a bustling quayside, there’s always a bit of nautical news to be had “At Weymouth on Tuesday, eight seamen belonging to the British barque Mabel, who refused to go to sea on the ground that the vessel was unseaworthy, were each sentenced to 28 days hard labour”

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Not much of a Christmas for those fine fellows of the sea then!

(Western Chronicle Fri 14 Dec)

We might think that cruise ships arriving in port is a new phenomenon to this area…but not so.

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In December of 1888 the magnificent Queen Marfisa steamed  into Weymouth. She was homeward bound for Southampton after having been on a Mediterranean cruise, one which took in 39 ports over a distance of 5183 miles,(having missed out Africa “on account of the time of the year.”) She had used 50lb of coal per mile steamed at an average speed of 9 knots.

The ships owner,  wealthy Mr George Beer, and his guests had set out from Southampton on May 16th on their epic voyage, calling in many ports along the way such as Gibraltar, Malaga, Valencia, Palma and Naples.

Well, here she was moored in Weymouth for a couple of days. I bet that gave the locals something to gawk at.

(Hants Advertiser 26 Dec)

And of course, what would Christmas be without a good old game of footie?

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Christmas of 1888 saw a football match between Dorset v Devon.

The match for some obscure reason was held at Wareham, much to the disgust of the Devonians, who declared it as an absolutely “absurd place selected for the match.”

They complained that the Devon men had to travel up on the Friday and stop over for the weekend. Going on to point out that the Dorset team consisted of men all who came from the South of the county, and didn’t have to travel far.

In fact the majority of the Dorset team were soldiers from the West Kent Regiment who were stationed here at the time, what with footie being one of their favourite past times.

Kick off was at 3 o’clock.

Now, call me cynical, but from what I know of men and football and a the rare opportunity of a weekend away, it’s not normally something that they would complain about, but then just maybe it was a case of sour grapes because the final result was…

Dorset won 3-2!

We’ll round off with a completely un-Christmassy snippet.

Poor old Mrs Warren had been very busy doing her humungous pile of weekly washing, one which had been added to by visitors who had suddenly arrived unannounced for Christmas.

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The  windows and door of her cosy little cottage in Hope Street were completely steamed up, so she decided it might be better if she opened them for a while.

“It might’n be the season of good will to all ee there men, but fo’ us women,” she muttered to herself as she went about her chores, “din’t have no good will season’s, ’tis nothing but work, work,work.”

Having passed the last of the wet linens through the old mangle and draped it over the wooden clothes horse, she moved it in front of the fire, where she hoped that some of it would dry before the day was out.

With that she left the room and settled down in her tiny kitchen to enjoy a quick tipple before she started on the bedroom upstairs.

Whilst she was sat sipping her snifter of sherry and ruminating the woes of women, a gentle breeze fluttered through the windows and front door, ruffling the clothes airing in the room. Then, horror upon horrors, one strong wayward gust saw Mrs Warren’s clothes horse with all her nice clean washing fall forwards onto the fire.

In the back room, the disgruntled housewife was still deep in thought, clutching her glass close to her ample bosom, she sat wondering what it would be like to have someone else to do all the work for you.

LONDON MAGAZINE 11 1906 LADY CHAIR

It wasn’t until cries of “Fire…fire” awoke this daydreaming dame, startling her from her flights of fancy.

“Heavens above…” she cried, “What’s to do? what do be going on out there?” all whilst rushing down the hallway towards the front door.

Mrs Warren suddenly realised that smoke was oozing from her front room, people were rushing to and fro outside her front door.

When she realised the fire was in HER house…panic set in.

But she needn’t have worried, help was at hand,”a man who was passing extinguished the conflagration by the aid of a few buckets of water.”

Even Weymouth police force arrived with their hose, albeit a bit  late, the fire was already out.

Poor old Mrs Warren woefully surveyed the damage to her front room, the burnt washing, the scorched fire surround and the sea soaked sodden floor.

She certainly wished she had someone else to do her work for her now.

(Western Gazette 28 Dec)

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

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Enjoyed a bit of good old local gossip?

Well my book Nothe Fort and Beyond is now out, available to buy in the Nothe Fort Museum and the Weymouth Museum.

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Victorian St Nicholas Street: Weymouth

Numerous narrow streets  tuck themselves away in and around Weymouth town.

Ones that we often don’t pay much attention to.

Maybe sometimes  travelling their length merely to  avoid any excess holiday traffic or that proliferation of poodling summertimepedestrians.

They are merely a  means of getting from A to B as quickly as possible, never a place to stop and admire  the few remains of their once historic and elaborate architecture.

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One of those is St Nicholas Street which runs from the Sailor’s Return on the harbourside down to where the White Hart still stands.

Weymouth, or Melcome Regis to be precise was built on a Medieval grid, which still exists to the present day..

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      (MAP 1901)

Sadly though, nowadays St Nicholas Street is a mere shadow of it’s former self.

Very little remains of any original buildings, much of this area having been cleared of it’s intimate closes, terraced houses and even a compact burial ground.

This area has been continually razed and redeveloped over the years, not least by the Germans in a devastating air raid in April 1942.

However, I have many memories of wandering down here as a child on my way to a Saturday date with my hairy four legged friends.

First I would pass  great steel rolling doors from whence strange sounds would echo. (Sorry…pun intended!) These doors concealed the back of the chamber like Echo printing room. When they were rolled open you could stand and watch as the massive rolls of paper tumbled, rumbled and rattled their way through the press, the aroma of hot ink and paper wafting through the air.

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Further down towards the harbour stood the remains of an old archway, once a grand entrance to Weymouth’s New Concert Hall and theatre.

There it stood, a few eroded bricks and carved stones.

Towards its end, it was forlornly propped up with two timbers, stood at the edge of what is now the bowling car park.

It’s crumbling ruins merely hinting at it’s former glitzy life.

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Sadly, even that last theatrical portal was demolished, and now those passing it’s long since buried foundations have no inkling that great gaiety and comedic capers once took place within it’s stone walls.

Fine dandies and gaily dressed ladies alighted their carriages to cross its threshold, arriving in excitement to watch the latest productions, or as one of Weymouth’s older resident’s once described it as ‘ many of the performances given were of the blood and thunder type…’

A few paces more and on the right hand side we arrived at a large set of heavy wooden doors, only that sweet aroma of dung that pervaded the delicate nostrils gave a clue as to what delicious delights lay inside…stables, run by Joyce Pitman.

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From here we would emerge with our mounts, clatter and chatter our way through the busy streets towards the beach where horse and rider could enjoy a canter along the firm sands as the tide went out.

In all probability these stables were left  over from the Victorian era, maybe the Crown Hotel opposite, or one of the other hostelries that dotted this street, complete with resident ostlers to look after horse and carriage.

But now step even further, back in time, to the 19th century and you’ll find that old St Nicholas Street was once a hive of activity…positively buzzing with  punters and patrons, saucy sailors and sexy sinners.

This narrow, twisty street certainly witnessed life in all its glory.

To add a bit of confusion to the matter there were actually two St Nicholas Streets, one in old Weymouth leading up to St Nicholas church atop the hill and this one on Melcombe Regis side.

This often flummoxed those who visited  our Victorian ancestors. Weymouth’s St Nicholas Street was renamed Chapelhay Street in 1872. (The Bumper Book Of Weymouth; Maureen Attwooll.)

Now lets take a little peek at St Nicholas Street of old Melcombe Regis starting around the 1860’s,  lets see who’s about this busy thoroughfare.

(The Victorian house numbers no longer relate to todays.)

During the second half of the 19th century you can find mention of five public houses  at this end of the street, their closeness to the bustling quayside made it ideal for thirsty workers and sailors to pop in for light, (or maybe not so light) liquid refreshments.

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Literally at the harbour edge (no 56) stood the Sailor’s Return, (as it still stands, maybe not now quite so close to the edge).

Mine hosts in 1861 were James and Sarah Ferry with their assorted offspring and a couple of lodgers.

The Ferry household had lived in St Nicholas Street for most of their married lives. James started out work as a wheelwright, but by 1842 the couple were running the Sailor’s Return.  (Pigot’s Directory 1842) which was a mere beer house at the time, meaning they weren’t licensed to sell spirits of any sorts.

In later years, 1872, James and his fellow publicans made an application to the Licensing Board to be able to remain open until 12 midnight. They claimed that because of the late arrival of the boat trains and the ‘inconvenience to which members of the friendly societies who held their meetings at the Inns were subjected to in being obliged to quit the houses before they had transacted all their business.’ they were in unfair competitions with those club-houses who didn’t come under such strict licensing laws.

Their plea fell on deaf ears…the Bench were going to stick firmly to the letter of the Law, though I suspect that the after hours drinking still went on, just behind locked doors.

By 1875 James had left the pub and lived further down the street with his son, by now  a widow.

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Move on up to no 42, here you’d find the Welcome Home, which in 1859 was under the ownership of James Flower a brewer and beer seller. A man who ultimately became one of fairly considerable wealth.(1859 Post Office Directory.)

During the Victorian era the Government tried to curb the problem of excess drinking of spirits and in their infinite wisdom deemed it would solve matters if Joe Bloggs could pay a small license fee, enabling him to brew beer and sell it literally from his own front room.

Surely, these oh so wise leaders of ours thought, it would encourage the poor working class folk to only drink the weaker beer and leave the spirits alone.

(Think that was another grand scheme that didn’t quite pan out…a bit like today’s 24 hour licensing!)

Wily old James Flower’s brewing operation went from strength to strength, ultimately he became known as a brewer and  gave up running the small time operation from his home.

By 1861, taking over the Welcome Home beer house, was  John Gillingham along with his wife Eliza and their daughter, 18 year old Sarah.

Only a few years earlier, 1856, the Gillingham family had suffered a terrible tragedy.

John, a whitesmith by trade, had been enjoying some free time with Eliza and 12-year-old Sarah. they were bobbing about in a boat on the Backwater.

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John, also taking this opportunity to partake in a spot of sport,  carried with him his loaded fowling piece. He had just pulled into the side of the lake to allow Eliza and Sarah to clamber out of the boat.

That’s when disaster struck.

Somehow, the loaded gun resting in the bottom suddenly discharged its contents. Unfortunately young Sarah stood next to the boat received its full blast at close range.

The local papers, relishing such gruesome details, declared that her life was in imminent danger, describing how her  flesh lay tattered and the bones in her arm totally shattered. 

Sarah survived, but unfortunately her arm did not.

In the end it had to be amputated.

Interestingly, the 1861 census shows 18-year-old Sarah living at the Welcome Home along with her parents, where she is listed as being a student.

A student of what I wonder?

Toddle along to no 46, here stood the Fox Inn run by Henry and Mary Hayman and their veritable brood.

Also living on the premises were a couple of servants, Alfred Whittle, an ostler, and a few boarders,  including a couple of licensed hawkers, (travelling salesmen as we knew them in my day.)

Good old Henry was seemingly a ‘veteran sportsman’ as reported in the Frome Times of May 1861, he supplied the pigeons for a ‘pigeon match’ (what ever that was, one suspects it wasn’t much of a sporting event for the poor pigeons) which took place in the Small Field near the Gas House.

The Haymen family were also to play a role in a tragic accident in 1866.

A certain well to do Mr Scattergood had recently brought a new thoroughbred horse from Mr Hurdle, but that horse came with a serious warning.

‘It was a kicker.’

He was told in no uncertain terms to ‘Never use the horse without a breeching strap and kicking harness’.

After pondering a while and concerned that maybe it hadn’t been such a good idea to sell on this somewhat feisty horse, Hurdle even suggested he took it back again.

Scattergood was having none of it. It was a fine looking beast, a spirited nag and he wanted it.

A couple of days later Scattergood made his way along St Nicholas Street, heading for the Fox Inn. Over a few drinks at the bar, an agreement was made with  landlord Henry Hayman, he would borrow Henry’s dog cart.

When Scattergood set out next day in horse and cart, sat along side him was Henry’s son, ten-year-old Charles

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Unfortunately Scattergood had completely ignoring Hurdle’s warning words about harnessing his frisky equine fellow.

Big mistake!

Stopping at the Ferry Bridge Inn for a few bevvies, the rather proud owner of his fine new filly, bumped into local baker, Thomas Hann, the two men returned inside to continue their drinking.

Young Charles was left stood outside in charge of the horse and cart.

Later, the two men exited the drinking hole, they agreed to ‘travel’ on to Portland together.

Once man, horse and cart had pulled out onto Chesil Beach road, Scattergood turned round and hollered to the following baker. According to his passenger, little Charles, he  shouted ‘Come on I’ll show you the way to gallop.’ With that he whipped his horse which took off down the road as if the very devil was after it.

With ears laid back and the bit literally between its teeth, there was no stopping it.

Scattergood tried desperately  pulling on the reins, but to little avail. Hooves thundered, wooden wheels spun, grit and pebbles flew.  A terrified Charles was hanging on to the carts sides for grim death.

Galloping unchecked into Victoria Square, disaster was only seconds away.

Then the inevitable happened, horse, cart and passengers teetered to one side. On feeling the pressure of the cart’s shaft against her flank, the already panicked horse reared in fright, toppling over one and all.

A mass of shattered wood, stripped skin and broken limbs scattered the square.

Scattergood had paid a high price for his filly in fine fettle.

His own death.

Thankfully, though thoroughly battered and bruised, young Charles survived to tell his tale.

Also appearing before the inquest court was baker Hann. He insisted that no wager had been at the pub that day over their beers, that they honestly hadn’t been pitting horse against horse by racing along Chesil Beach Road.

Hhmmm…

Now, The Fox Inn must have been a sizeable premise because at the end of 1861, a bankruptcy sale took place in the Fox Inn Yard. It was large enough to contain 30 odd cart horses, a few  more nags,an assortment of carts and carriages, a couple of cows, and lots of odds and sods…

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…all the worldly effects of one Henry Lowman Dennis, a local carrier who has seized the opportunity of contracting for the Government breakwater works in hopes that it would make their fortune.

It didn’t !

Henry’s son, Joseph, makes a plea in the courts that the cows seized as his father’s chattels and which were up for sale, were in fact his, he had paid for them, not his father.

Maybe he won his claim, because by 1863 it was reported in the Dorset County Chronicle that a Richard Dench had been apprehended on the town bridge with a bag slung over his shoulder. In it it were a number of items that were later found to be missing from the stores of butcher,  Lowman of St Nicholas Street.

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Arriving at no 51, here stood the Crown Tap, a small bar room tucked away around the back of the grand Crown Hotel premises. This was run by 51-year-old John Jeanes and his wife Harriet.

By 1867 John and Harriet had become mine hosts of the Bird-in-Hand, which was in fact the newly refurbished Crown Tap.

A couple of years earlier, in 1865, they had applied for and were granted a spirits license. The happy couple had been rubbing their hands with glee, they had realised they were sitting on a positive gold mine.

Their hostelry was situated very near the Methodist Congregational Chapel (in between no’s 61 and 62) opposite.

Lucky for them, come 1865 and no longer did the pious and holy  (and in all probability tee-total) enter these portals, instead it was more the merry and those looking for a spot of fun and lively entertainment.

It had became the Theatre Royal or sometimes referred to as the New Music Hall.

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(Weymouth Library have a fantastic collection of genuine advertising bills for the old theatres, going right back to George III’s time.)

The Theatre Royal of Monday October 7th 1867 proudly boasts of a ‘Laughable Farce’ revealing a tragic love story concerning ‘Weymouth Sands.’

It pronounces Mr Rosiere as playing the character of jolly old Adolphus Pilkington.

Beautiful but somewhat dippy Carnation Curlycrop was of course played by non other than a male actor.  Mr Harrowby would don his voluminous fashionable gowns, slap on his gaudy stage make up, pull on his luxurious curly wig, and enter stage left to a rapturous applause from the expectant audience.

The theatre played host to national and international actors and singers, musicians and comedians, it provided entertainment for everyone and seats at prices to suit all.

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The theatre also kindly informs its patrons that ‘their carriages may be ordered at 10.30.’

Oh to be able to witness those grand carriages arriving in line, the sound of their horse’s impatient hooves echoing  between the buildings, that chomping of the bit as they stand and wait, the creak of the carriage springs as their posh portly patrons  clamber aboard.

The theatre continued up until 1888, when it finally shut it’s doors and was taken over by Cosens & Co.

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The goldmine of the grape, the Bird-in Hand, seemingly flourished until March of 1876 when frequent adverts began appearing  in the papers for potential tenants for the ‘newly erected beerhouse known as The Bird-In-Hand’ which  was only up for rent because of ‘illness of the tenant.’

A little later in time and the local papers and census of 1871 also refer to a Greyhound Inn of St Nicholas Street, run by George Cox Forse and his wife Mary Ann.

(Though Maureen Attwooll in her book refers to it as in St Thomas Street.)

Maybe like the Crown further down the road, the building went through from one street to the other, had two separate entrances and two separate bars? Perhaps the toffs sauntered in via St Thomas Street and the working man slunk in through the back door.

Gregarious landlord George certainly seemed a character and was no stranger to appearing before the bench.

Before taking over the Greyhound Inn the couple ran the Royal Engineers Beershop in Prospect Place. Many a time George appeared before the magistrate for various licensing charges, normally due to selling beer ‘during prohibited hours’

At the start of 1868, George was once again hauled before the court, this time fined for selling spirits without a license.

On Christmas Day in 1868, it was wife Mary Ann who found herself in trouble. For once she was on the right side of the law, that afternoon she was faced with a more than somewhat inebriated customer, Joseph Bressedd, a pioneer of the 51st regiment who’d staggered down from the Red Barracks.

Fearing trouble was on the cards, Mary Ann refused to serve him drink.

Not surprisingly, that didn’t go down too well with  a well oiled Joseph.

First he lashed out at Mary Ann, then still not content, the pickled pioneer began picking up patron’s drinks, necking back their contents and  smashing the glasses on the floor.

Things got no better at the Greyhound!

Another somewhat seemingly nefarious character took over the running of the Greyhound Inn. 

Sure did sound a lively spot.

But am I doing the poor fellow a disservice?

On January 3rd 1876 this report appeared in the Police Gazette.

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I have yet to find proof of a William Baggs as landlord of the Greyhound Inn at any time, despite looking through Ancestry records, Historical Directories and the British Newspapers online, nor any mention of a court case that matches exactly these details.

I cannot even work out which William Baggs this would have been, there are a few tenuous links, but no proof…so there I’ll have to leave it, not wanting to cast aspersions on some innocent fellow.

Maybe one of my followers who enjoys a right old mystery would like to get their teeth into this one.

Fill your boots!

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(Found this quaint old relic on one of the back walls…can’t you just picture a Victorian coachman hopping down off his carriage to ring for M’Lady.)

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If you’ve enjoyed a spot of good old Victorian Weymouth tittle tattle why not grab a copy of my book Nothe Fort and Beyond. It’s full of gossip about the military men and their doings in the town.

There’s lots of local families mentioned and loads of their misdeeds and misfortunes.

It is now available from the Nothe Fort Museum and the Weymouth Museum

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Also available on Amazon at £9.99.

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

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 Ernest 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 Ernest (baptised on the 24th September 1893 at holy Trinity.)

Then heartache struck the family in 1896, when their youngest child, 3-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 on the 5th April 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 second 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

 

 

 

 

Ringing in the New Year Victorian style in Weymouth and Portland.

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) words, the older I’m getting, the faster they’re bloody well going.

In fact they’ve now almost hit warp speed!

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

Don’t make the mistake though of thinking that your Victorian ancestors were all straight-laced and poe faced when it came to New Year’s celebrations.

Religion and charity might have played a big role in their lives, but they certainly knew how to party too when push came to shove, as my last years blog on this festive night shows only too well

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

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

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

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

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

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 created from an old boat, looking glass to eager 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 and their veritable brood.

His story shows how precarious a life could be for those plying our 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.

At last managed to grab hold of one of the piles, hanging on for dear life, waiting and praying that he could find the energy to haul himself out onto the stones.

Thomas Way had been at work on the Breakwater that day and witnessed the disaster unfolding before him.

Unable to help either man all he could do was to help search for the body of Richard Attwooll when old Neptune decided he had no more use for it.

In fact it was only a quarter of an hour later that his mortal remains were thrown up onto the rocks, where Thomas came across him.

According to Thomas’s testimony, Richard’s hands were still warm to the touch, but there were no other signs of life.

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

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

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

In the February of 1866 one the the Way’s pilot boats broke loose from her moorings during a fierce storm and ended up stranded up on the rocks of the breakwater.

There was nothing they could do but watch in dismay, once the tide receded the pounding waves literally smashed their boat to nothing more than mere matchsticks.

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William Smith was one of the longest working pilots in the port, he also owned one of the larger cutters working as a pilots ship, the Palestine.

But that’s not surprising really because he also traded as a ships broker. The Smith family were another one of the mariners group who lived close together in this harbourside area of Hope Square.

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

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

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

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

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

The year 1872, a year which had been a year full of memorable events. It was the wettest one on record…ever!

(Not matched again until 2012.)

It’s the year when the very first FA Cup final was played at the Oval, and  a meteorite suddenly emerged from out of space and struck the Earth.

Closer to home, the Royal Adelaide sank off Chesil beach with the loss of 7 lives…

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…and Great Britain 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 purses 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 bay.

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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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A Happier Weymouth Christmas of 1862…

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

christmas party quiver 1865

My first attempt at writing one that gave the reader a warm fuzzy glow, the feel-good factor, full of Christmastide cheer, had somehow ended up instead laden with the doom and gloom of death, drunkenness and debauchery!

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

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

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

Though originally their festive season was far less commercialised than our own, with the arrival of the industrial revolution, it pretty soon burgeoned.

Mass produced goods started appearing in the numerous grand department stores and little shops that lined the main shopping areas and Weymouth could boast many a fine store.

L725-213. MA8; 1905.

L725-213. MA8; 1905.

Good laden stores such as T H Williams & Sons and Robert Talbot’s on St Mary Street…

L725-213. MA 22 1887.

…even a good old Co-operative store, run under the name of Taylor & co, noted particularly for its ‘quality and cheapness.’

L725-213;MA18. 1905. 50 St Mary St.

Further along St Mary’s Street stood the premises of Evans & Morris.

Note the impressive royal crest above their windows and the patriotic flag flying on the rooftop!

L725-213.MA13 1887 St Mary Street.

As Christmas approached their windows would be filled with all manner of glorious gifts for those you loved, from brightly coloured toys and soft kid gloves, to silver topped walking sticks and dapper hats.

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

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

But renown for their industriousness, many would spend months before beavering away making little gifts for their friends and family.

I can just picture one of my young ancestors curled up on her chair of an afternoon, making the most of the remaining daylight streaming in the window, (here I am perhaps rather idyllically assuming that my ancestors were of the wealthier variety.)

She is carefully and lovingly embroidering a delicate linen handkerchief for her dear mother. Her pink rosebud lips pursed in total concentration as the shiny needle continues weaving colourful stitches in and out, the merest of smiles softens her face as she contemplates the expression on her mother’s face come present unwrapping time.

Or maybe she’s working a small cloth for her beloved grandmother, one that can be placed on her bedside table.

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

So it was for the Weymouth shops and businesses.

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

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

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

Then there was 59-year-old  Robert Baunton and his wife Mary Ann who ran the shop along the North Quay. They raised much of their own stock and were frequent winners at the local agriculture shows, a feat that many a 21st century foodie would brag of nowadays.

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

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

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

Before the reign of Victoria, outside the old Guildhall once ran a covered walkway for the market traders of the town.

When the new Guildhall was opened in 1835 these sellers were then pushed out, relegated to mere open stalls in the dusty street.

Not only were the traders unhappy with their lot, many residents complained that they were noisy, untidy and ruined the the area.

Consequently a new market hall was purpose built for them in St Mary Street which opened in 1855.

P1000370

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

However, those Victorians out shopping in Melcombe Regis for their festive fare in 1862 could still take their pick from the many trading butchers of the time.

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

Next door you’d find William Bond and his wife Jane, like many meat purveyors of the day, they are specialising in pork butchery.

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

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

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

Finally, you have the grandaddy of all Weymouth butchers, Edward Baunton (& Sons.) Edward was widowed by the 1861 census, but that’s not a problem as far as his business is concerned, he has his whole family helping him.

From his 36-year-old daughter  Jane, his two sons, Edward and John, his teenage grandsons, William and John right down to various live-in butchers assistants, they all worked in this thriving butchers shop.

Christmas, of course,  was their busiest time, and it’s when they really went to town with their displays.

Such things were noted in the local papers on the build up to the festive season, including, oddly enough, where their stock had been raised, where it grazed, what awards it won.

Brings the true meaning of ‘from hoof to home.’

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

Christmas meat shop

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

Starting off with 40-year-old Alfred Bolt and his wife Margaret at no 60.

Even though they were a only small business, Alfred “exhibited some good ox and heifer beef from the herd of Mr. E Pope Esq. of Great Toller…”

Next came John and Susannah Sanders at no 64, this stood next to the bustling Bear Hotel.

L728-BE1.1905.

Their son Henry worked alongside his parents. According to the reporter “his show of beef appeared to us the acme of perfection.”

Then there was the Dominy family at no 66. Father George, his wife Mary and their sons John and Henry who worked behind the counter. Even their youngest son, 8-year-old George would have had his chores to do.

Living on the premises with them were a bevy of servants and butchers assistants, a busy household for poor old Mary to run and look after.

But good old George was a wily trader, he catered for everyone, “His show was alike serviceable to the rich and the poor.”

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

William Lowman was the last man standing in this line of meat purveyors at no 69.

Well, in fact that’s not quite true.

William was actually the borough surveyor, it was his wife Sarah who was the trader, a poulterer, (birds to you and me…) and the rest of his family worked alongside their mother, Sarah jnr, Joseph and William.

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

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

That wasn’t all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a small mite it seemed an imposing sight.

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

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

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

Gifts were given out on Christmas Eve.

This was the day when all the family gathered together to admire the festive tree, (which due to superstition, was not to be put up before Christmas Eve, for fear of invoking bad luck into the family home. )

This green harbinger of festivities was bedecked with it’s precious ornaments and hung with small treats. Strings of popcorn and brightly coloured cranberries draped from it’s fragrant boughs, candle flames flickered and danced in the gloom of the late afternoon giving the room a magical glow.

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Crackers would be pulled and children performed.

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

The wealthy and elite of the town jostled with the servants and shop girls, they all had their own paid for places on the hard wooden pews of St Mary’s or Holy Trinity.

The richest were seated in those nearest to the alters and not surprisingly, the poorest at the back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But in 1862, and changes were afoot for the hard-working serving members of staff of the local shops.

Boxing day was about to become a holiday.

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

Congregations in all the local churches were kept busy that year, raising funds for their fellow human beings from the north, who at the time were going through devastating changes, often referred to as the Cotton Famine.

A period when the huge cotton mills and associated trades on the northern towns and cities faced a downturn in their fortunes due to world events. Thousands of families suddenly found themselves out of work and facing destitution and starvation.

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

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

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

augusta place

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

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

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Despite the overload of bad news we are bombarded with nowadays, it’s heartwarming to see that human nature still favours generosity and the willingness to help those in need at times of crises.

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

On a chilly Thursday morning just before Christmas, when the tide was at its highest, Christopher, his wife and family strolled down to the harbour, once there they stood excitedly on the quayside.

They were there watching with great pride, the launch of their latest vessel, the 110 ton schooner, Nil Desperandum.

She was destined for trading the foreign coastal routes.

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

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

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

The ruffian’s parents certainly  weren’t described in any more flattering terms than their children by Superintendent Lidbury.

In fact he declared they were ‘worse than the children.’

According to him they had virtually washed their hands of any responsibility, these feisty young lads were running the streets and causing no end of problems all hours of the day and night.

The youngest of the three amigos was 7-year-old Edward Denman, son of recently widowed Ann Maria. Ann Maria tried her best to keep her lively family of six in check, but being a single parent and living in poverty, life was so very hard.

They were all squeezed into the cramped accommodation of no 3 Franchise Court, (which no longer exists,) the entrance to this little court once stood between no’s 5 and 6 Franchise Street.

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

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

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

boy jail

Something that left us a tantalising glimpse of the lad.

The prison admissions book described him as only 4ft 3″ tall, maybe a lifetime of malnutrition might have had that effect?

It goes on to reveal further features of this chappie, light brown hair and hazel eyes, his complexion sallow.

At this tender age, his only distinguishing feature is a cut between his eyebrows.

Once he had completed his hard labour in prison Edward was sent to a reformatory, the Victorian’s attempts at turning such wayward children away from the downward spiral.

By the age of 21, Edward’s life had changed.

Following in his fathers footsteps, he sailed the seas, navigating up and down the south coast on trading vessels.

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

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

Fully grown, he still only measured, 5ft 4 ins.

Now his complexion was described as ‘swarthy,’ a good old fashioned word that exemplified the face of someone who spent their days out in the open fresh air, salt laden winds and fierce sunshine.

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

Even his face bore witness to a typical mariners lifestyle, that of drink and frequent brawls, with a “cut right corner left eyebrow” and “cut right corner right eye,” his nose “slightly inclined to right.”

No doubt the lasting legacy of someone else’s fist meeting it.

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

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

Sadly, though his life was now on the straight and narrow, it was also to be short.

In 1878, aged only 26, he died while stationed in the barracks at Dorchester.

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

He was the eldest of the three harbourside amigos.

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

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

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

In 1865 he was incarcerated for the theft of zinc.

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

These slightly over ripe apples hadn’t fallen far from the tree.

Their dad Matthew was no stranger to brushes with the law.

He worked as a waterman, but was also prone to being somewhat light fingered.

Not only that, for some reason he was very unpopular amongst his fellow workers. So much so that in 1888 he even attempted to cut his own throat, part of the reason given was that he was “being so much annoyed by his mates on the quay.”

When these three young ruffians were stood before the court that Christmas week of 1862, they were handed out a present that they didn’t expect, and indeed, wouldn’t forget!

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

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

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The doings of local bobbies in their fight to keep soldiers and residents on the straight and narrow.

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December 1888, Weymouth Drunks, Deaths and Domestics

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

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

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

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

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

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

If we browse the columns of their Friday’s Western Gazette, 28th December 1888, we can catch a snippet in their time, when ladies in voluminous skirts bustled through the dusty streets of Weymouth town.

letter Civic Society.Their billowing hems sweeping the dirt as they drifted from shop to shop, all filled with the latest fashions and must have up-to-date gadgets.

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Also strolling Weymouth’s streets that festive season were a multitude of brightly garbed soldiers, who mingled with locals, having made their way down from the artillery fort and barracks up on the Nothe.

Eager to make the most of their time away from the fetid atmosphere of their cold and cramped barrack accommodation.

The busy harbourside was bustling with vessels coming and going.

An abundance of sailors were also taking their chance to enjoy time ashore before they set sail for pastures new.

Weymouth harbour

Weymouth at that time was a thriving metropolis.

Some of those enjoying Weymouth’s delights however, took their enjoyment to extremes!

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

Christmas Eve, and Thomas Cook was making his way down from the Nothe.

Having reached the top of Hill’s Lane, he stumbled across the motionless body of  a man. Thomas shook the man to rouse him, but as the seemingly lifeless soul was well and truly in ‘his cups’ he took some rousing.

Finally, managing to drag the heavily intoxicated man to his feet, Thomas set about trying to discover his destination,  before he had succumbed to his slovenly slumbers in the street.

Holding on firmly to the staggering seaman, Thomas led him down to the quayside, where seemingly the befuddled mariner’s vessel was moored.

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

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

Thomas was not so sure this was a good idea.

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

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

Mid passage, the alcohol won out, and the by now unconscious drunk rolled onto his back, precariously perched over the water.

A frantic Thomas called out for help, at which point a crew member poked his head out, and seeing the dire situation, he attempted to grab hold of the mans wrist to pull him up the gangplank.

But the slumbering sot’s dead weight was too much.

With that, his body slithered with a splash into the freezing waters below.

All hell let loose…man overboard

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

The thirty-nine year old sailor, Bristol born Charles Tidray, made it alive to Weymouth’s local hospital where he was seen to by Dr Carter.

quiver 1884

A man who did not think much of this sodden sailor’s chances.

He informed Matron on his way out that he did not think the man would ‘live through the night.’

Nor did he.

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

Time to met his maker.

***

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

His downfall was also alcohol.

William Bowdidge Hole, a 34-year-old cab driver had been out enjoying his time somewhat to excess with friends in the local hostelry.

Having drunk away all his money, he staggered back to his abode in Trinity Street, to replenish his pockets.

His long-suffering wife, Emm, (perhaps not that long suffering, seeing as they had only married earlier that year,) wasn’t having any of it though.

Emm was desperate to keep hold of what little money she had.

It was needed to keep a roof over their heads and food in their mouths, not simply swilled down his throat.

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

A domestic ensued…

Wyke House hotel. 1

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

By now the police had also appeared on scene, in the form of one P.C. Henry Kaile.

As he approached the house, he was confronted by a hysterical Emm fleeing the building, being  hotly pursued out into the road by her still ranting husband.

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

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

(William was obviously very partial to his beer, a couple of years later, 1891, and he was before the judge again, for being ‘drunk whilst in charge of a horse and carriage.’

This time he escaped with a 5s fine, but was warned that if he appeared before them again, he would lose his license.)

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

Holy Trinity.

Not long after a drunken Charles had slithered off the gangplank into the cold waters, a fight broke out in Hope Quay.

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

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

Both men were hauled off to the cells.

Henry for being drunk and disorderly and Frederick for fighting.

But all was not quite what it at first seemed.

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

Recently wed Henry, yet another who alcohol loosened his mouth and freed his fists…was about to strike his wife, when a nearby soldier stepped in to stop him.

Incensed, Henry turned his wrath and fists on the interefering private Frederick, and the two ended up scrapping on the ground, at which point P.C Groves came across them.

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

***

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

At one time, the Steam Packet Inn used to stand by the quayside, near the Devonshire buildings.

In 1888 it was being run by German born musician, Joseph Duscherer, and his wife Harriet.

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

maid service 1887

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Victorian Castletown, Portland…matelots, mariners and mishaps.

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

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

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

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

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

Portland Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Building pictured below in later years.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This is a very busy little business;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Castletown Portland.

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

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

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

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

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

Nothe fort and Beyond 261 KB

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

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

The Great Escape from Portland Prison 1868;

Anyone living in the Weymouth  area  while Portland was still a main stream prison  will have memories of the horrendous traffic jams along the Chesil Beach Road, caused by the pursuit of escaped prisoners. All vehicles leaving the island would be stopped and searched, checking for the concealment of the said escapees.

As a young kid it caused no end of great excitement. My parents even tried using it as a subtle threat, (well, o.k., maybe not so subtle,) to  make me better behaved, whispering to me as we crept ever nearer to the stern looking officers to sit still and keep quiet, otherwise they might haul me off. Of course, that only added to the frisson of excitement.

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This grim looking prison was originally constructed in the late 1840’s to house the convicts brought to the island specifically to work on the new coastal defence scheme. These mammoth works included the building of the breakwaters, the Verne citadel and surrounding batteries. These prisoners were used as manpower in the quarries on Portland,  painstakingly hewing the white stone free for their construction.

This was ‘hard labour,’  at its truest meaning.

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Nowadays that Victorian prison building has become the YOI, (Young Offenders Institute,) but in its time it held many a hardened and persistent criminal, political activists such as the ‘dreaded’ Fenians, and the usual mottly crew, many of whom had turned to crime out of financial necessity.

Throughout the years of the prison’s history, there were many attempts at escapes, some succeeded, many didn’t.

Come 1899 and a story hit the national newspapers, capturing the imagination of their readers.

William Bartlett, one of those ‘persistant’ petty criminals was making his way out from the Bow Street police-court. Rather surprisingly, he had been taking the Police Commissioner to court for the return of a few disputed items,  William maintained they were his legally, but the courts felt they were more likely the ill gotten gains of a recent robbery.

Being considered a news worthy article the press showed an interest in the story, William was stopped outside by a reporter asking for his version of events.

William though had an even stranger tale to tell, he proceeded to enlighten the eager scribe about his past history, a ‘romantic’ tale about his daring escape from the dreaded Portland prison.  He boasted he that had been the ‘only man to escape’ those grey forbidding walls. (Not true in fact because quite a few had before him, some even tasted freedom for a few months before being recaptured.)

William also claimed that his daring escape made him the hero in Hawley Smart’s novel, ‘Broken Bonds’ published in 1874.

“The correct details of my escape have never been told.” William informed the reporter who was furiously writing down his every word.“I’ll tell you what actually happened.”

The wily old career criminal continued with his story.

“In 1868 I received a sentance of 10 years’ penal servitude. From Pentonville I was taken to Portland.

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It was awful!

The endless round of hard work in the quarries, the short commons, and the strict discipline, made life almost unbearable.

It is to be wondered at that I made up my mind to escape!

I had many a sleepless night while I was laying my plans. I knew that no one had ever succeeded in escaping from prison; I knew that the place was watched night and day by guards almost as numerous as the convicts, and I was  aware that even if I could get clear of the prison it would be almost impossible to get far away in a suit plastered with the broad arrow.”

But things were about to look up for this chap in his rough prison suit.

William continued, “One day I managed to pick up a small piece of hoop iron. That seemed like a godsend. Every time I had the chance I took that iron hooping with me, and worked like a nigger to make it into a saw. I did it in fear and trembling, for the slightest sound would have betrayed me.

A stroke of luck awaited me.

I found a convict who had got a bit of a file. He had no ambition, and said the file was no good to him. I gave him my dinner for it, and with the file I was able to complete the saw. Then I managed, by working stealthily every evening after I had been locked up for the night to saw through the wood flooring of my cell. Every night I had to replace the boards, so that the warders should not see what I had done.”

It wasn’t going to be plain sailing though, when constructed, the designers had considered the possibility of such dastardly deeds, they had added a means to prevent escape through the floor.

William admits “… an awful dissapointment awaited me. The space beneath my cell was lined with sheet iron; but, nothing daunted, I eventually got through that. Then I got into an air shaft, and, after three months’ hard work, saw my way clear to liberty.”

He bided his time, it had taken months to get this far, no point in rushing his plans and risking capture.

prison 3 london magazine

“At last the opportunity came. It was a dark night and all was still. With my sheets I had made a rope, and, as luck would have it, I had picked up a piece of wood, called a ‘dog’ with iron hooks at each end. I put my stool underneath the quilt, to look as much like my body as possible, in case the warders should look in, and then went down the passage it had taken me three months’ hard labour to make. After lifting an iron grating I found myself in the open air, and managed to throw the hooks on my linen ladder over a wall. By this means I got onto the roof of the officers’ quaters. There was no one about, and the only sound I could hear was that made by me beating heart. From the roof I had to jump on the boundary wall, about 10ft or 12ft distant.

I dare say it was a bold leap, but you don’t stick at trifles when you are escaping from Portland.

I made the leap, and was sucessful in reaching the boundary wall. Then I got to the ground by means of my linen ladder. Unfortunately, the hooks were so secure that I had to leave the ladder where it was, and if it had not been for that I might have been in London in three or four days.”

Things weren’t going too well though for the fleeing William.

“As it was I had an awaful experience.

Whilst making a desperate tug at the ladder I heard footsteps approching, and I rushed into the gaden of the Grove public-house. I turned round and saw a guard looking at the ladder. A few minutes afterwards shots were fired and a bell rung.

My escape had been discovered.

Guards were running in all directions; but, unperceived, I got through the window of the Roman Catholic Chapel, and concealed myself beneath the Communion table, which proved to be something very much like a box.

I could hear the sound of hurrying footsteps all night, but no one came into the chapel until next morning, when service was held there.

It was not a pleasant position to be in, I can assure you.”

Trapped in the chapel and unable to move, William spent a very uncomfortable few hours.

“A sneeze or a cough would have betrayed me, but, fortunately, all went well. But I got very hungry. So, at the end of about 33 hours, I stole out, and broke into the Clifton Hotel. I there found some bread and meat, cheese and tobacco. What was of more consequence, I was able to steal a hat and some clothes. With the clothing and food-the sweetest food I ever tasted-I returned to my hiding place in the chapel.”

Once ensconced within the relative sanctuary of the chapels walls, he set to with the next part of his scheme.

“Out of a black coat I made a pair of trousers, and put on another of the stolen coats, which happened to be made of velvet. The food I divided into six portions, and for six days I was concealed beneath that Communion table. There were frequent services, and, what was still worse, the priest used to come in at night for private devotions.”

William realised he couldn’t stay hidden in the chapel for ever, he had merely swapped one form of imprisonment for another! He had to make his move.

“At last I had more than enough of it, and broke into the priests house with the object of obtaining some money. I could find none, however. There was some silver plate, but that was of no use to me. I obtained a white stole, however, and with that made me something resembling a white shirt.”

It was now or never, he had to make his way across the Chesil causeway, or he’d never leave this god forsaken island.

“Feeling now fairly confident as to my appearance, I walked down the road, and saw a milkman, who, I afterwards found, gave information about me.

I passed over the bridge all right, and went on to Weymouth, and from there to Dorchester.

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At a little place 19 miles from Portland I concealed myself in a field. Two men came in blackberrying, and I had to get out. They asked me where I was going. I said to Blandford.”

Not all was that it at first seemed, a trap had been set.

“They volunteered to show me the way, but we had not gone very far before we met two police-inspectors. They asked me to go into a public-house and give an account of myself.

They were particularly anxious to know if I had a mark on my right arm.

Seeing the game was almost up, I tried to dash through the public house, but it was no good, and I was collared.”

Having been recaptured and brought before the courts yet again, the errant prisoner awaited his fate.

“I was afterwards sentenced to eight years penal servitude for the burglary at the Clifton Hotel.”

When asked if he had received corporal punishment for his daring deeds he simple replied

“No, I did not have the cat.” adding cheerfully “You see, I was tried by a civil power.” and the little man chuckled.

Though William was thoroughly enjoying reliving his moment of fame, the reporter ended his piece with a poignant sentence. “Immediately afterwards he assumed a graver tone, and asked, in mournful accents, ‘But what can an old convict like me do for a living?”

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Excerpts taken from the Western Gazette 1st Sep 1899 and various other national papers of the time.

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Interested in old views of Weymouth?

Check out my Pinterest page here https://uk.pinterest.com/susanhogben/old-views-of-weymouth-dorset/

Views of old Portland here https://uk.pinterest.com/susanhogben/old-views-portland/

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