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

What I find fascinating about mooching through the 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 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 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.

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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Maybe some of the entertainment on offer wasn’t quite to his taste.

There was even 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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But 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 thought.

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

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, 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…and 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 confront 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 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.

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It wasn’t until cries of “Fire…fire” awoke the 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.

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.

 

 

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 a proliferation of poodling pedestrians.

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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St Nicholas  (the patron saint of sailors) Street, one such through-fare, wends it way from the historic quayside Sailors Return down towards the White Hart at the far end.

It is a  street with a very long history, believed to be a part of the original Medieval town layout ‘Medieval Melcombe was laid out in the form of a grid around four principle north-south streets, St Nicholas, St Thomas, St Mary and Maiden streets. ‘ (Weymouth Historic Character Report)

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      (MAP 1901)

Sadly though, nowadays it 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 my 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 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…

1861-dec-12-dorset-county-chronicle

…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.

lady-on-stage

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 entered 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.)

 

 

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.

womn street 1

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

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

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

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

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

Railway arch hotel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BRUNSWICK TERRACE 1910

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

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

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

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

Time for a fresh start.

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

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

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

Two years later,  and little Violet Rose Iris arrived.

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

woman child sleeping

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

Of course it could!

Albert junior never even made his first birthday.

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

 

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

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

From the Western Gazette of February 1881.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All because…..

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(other brands are available…)

“Last Valentine, the day when birds of kind

Their paramours with their chirping find,

I rose early,  just at the break of day,

Before the sun had chased the stars away:

A-field I went, amid the morning dew,

To milk my kine, for so should housewives do;

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

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

Victorian Valentines cards                                                               Happy Valentine’s Day

 

 

 

 

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.

 

1899 cyclist_2

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

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

sailors on cabin_2

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

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

The Victorian Weymouth College….ghosts and gowns

There are certain buildings in and around Weymouth which I have passed on so many occasions in my lifetime that they just become yet another invisible part of the scenery, you no longer really see them…not properly.

One such grandiose building stood down towards the bottom end of Dorchester Road, an imposing building which towered tall behind its surrounding stone wall.

I had sometimes wondered at its imposing style, but never really knew what it had originally been built for.

avenue trees dorchester road

I only knew of it as the Teacher Training College where two of my sisters went.

In later years my son also did his art 6th form there and many a time I would attend art exhibitions in the little chapel on the site.

After a little bit of digging I came across a copy of the book written in 1901 by G S Falkner entitled “The History of Weymouth College,” a book which relays it’s origins and long history with the town.

Every now and again I’ll add extracts from the book which gives a first hand view of what this area of the new college in the 1860/70’s was like.

In the mid Victorian era, much of this area of Dorchester Road was open land, free of any significant buildings, in fact, part of it was the old Greenhill Common.

This land was owned by wealthy Sir Frederick Johnston, who seemed to possess vast tracts of Weymouth,(and was the man who certain Weymouth residents had a court dispute with over the ownership of Greenhill Common when the Greenhill gardens were built there.)

The main plot was leased in 1864 and plans were drawn up for the building of a new Weymouth Grammar School. (later renamed the Weymouth College.)

The  architect chosen for the job was to be  George Rackstrow Crickmay, a man  who designed and oversaw the construction of many of Weymouth’s distinctive civic buildings such as the sadly long gone beautiful old Sidney Hall.

They were a family firm of architects who had not long since moved to their new premises in St Thomas Street,(1858.)

In February of 1864 the foundations were laid for Weymouth’s new Grammar School.

By the summer of that same year the building work was complete…the Victorians certainly didn’t hang around!

rocks album radipole lake

Pupils didn’t enter the new school until after the Christmas term when on the 8th February 1865 the boys filed into the big schoolroom to participative in a prayer meeting to bless their new home and for many it was to be their home, as many of the pupils were boarders.

“Just outside Big School, on this floor, was the ‘Class Room,’ as now, with capacious cupboards on one side. It opened into the Tower Room, as now, but the swing door outside communicated with the private part of the house. On the ground floor was the dining hall, shorter than now, with only one door, one fireplace, and two side windows. Behind the Hall were the box room, cloakroom and Day-boys lavatory. From the entrance hall a passage led past these rooms and thence by a flagged, roofed corridor, open on the right hand, to the lavatories and playground.

boys in dorm

At the top of the first flight of stone stairs, and continuing in the same direction, was a short flight of wooden stairs, as now, which led past the bathroom and convalescence room, and, at the end of the passage , to a small sick-room, looking across the fields to Lodmoor. In the upper stories were three large dormitories, a masters room, and, down the passage, a changing-room, with a dozen basins set in slabs of slate, and other smaller dormitories. Communicating with the Hall was the Master’s Common Room and, through the swing door, the Headmaster’s study, the private apartments and stairs, the kitchens, the back stairs, the pantry and cognate offices.”

Weymouth Grammar School

Behind the school buildings it was still farm land and common as seen here in the old photo from the period, it mentions a couple of names that might still ring bells with a few of Weymouth’s more stately residents, Radipole Farm and ‘Nangles.’

“Mr Wadsworth was tenant of the local farm and lived in the farmhouse(Radipole Farm,) since known as Nangles and ‘Radipole Villa,’ but now used as temporary Science Laboratory and Carpenters shop. The house was approached by a farm track, which may be traced along the lower boundary of the Chapel grounds and over which have been built Moffat house and the hospital, running down to small farm cottages almost on Lodmoor, where the pigs were tended.”

“Along the Dorchester Road was a farmyard shut off from the public gaze by a stone wall, with a lean-to thatched roof and shelter for cows. this wall is in existence today, though some years ago it was moved a yard or more further back from the road. The farmer kindly allowed the boys to use his land, extending from the farm track to the Preston Road, for games, the lower or rougher part, which was decidedly billowy, for football, and the smoother portion, in the neighbourhood of St John’s Church, for cricket.”

Weymouth Grammar School 2

Sports and leading a good clean healthy life style was all part of the Victorian school boys day…healthy mind, healthy body.

“School football was played sometimes in front of the pavilion, sometimes along the potato patch, sometimes on the barrack field,( old Hanovarian barracks,) and sometimes by the timber pound (now the Great Western Railway Yard), along the Backwater.”

boys football

Other forms of outdoor recreation were often indulged in…

“…the great paper-chases of the ‘seventies’ became a feature of the School life; we never used to think of anything of twelve or fifteen miles. It must be repeated that shorts at this time were unknown, and only a very few could sport a flannel shirt”

Of course, corporal punishment was very much on the cards for those young boys who dared to flout the strict rules…

“Punishment, like holidays, was dealt out with no niggard hand in the form of severe floggings on the back with the cane. The headmaster was subject to sudden fits of temper, and discipline was then as fitful as an April day.”

Even the distinctive uniform only added to the boys misery…

“On Sundays top-hats were de rigueur for everybody and black coats for seniors, while ‘Eatons’ were compulsory for small fry. The top-hats were a cause of offence to the town boys, who used to waylay the College boys of a dark night on their way to christ Church.They had a regular slogan: ‘Drums up, Monkeys under!’ and continued with their insulting behaviour…”

“On Sundays boys attended morning and evening service at St Mary’s and marched to and fro via the Esplanade, which proceeding precipitated further town-and-gown rows and again led to fisticuffs.”

The school was popular with those who could afford to send their children, in its heyday back in the 1870’s it held 80 odd pupils, many parents sent their darling little Alfred’s and Johnny’s  because it was by the seaside which at the time advertised the benefits of sea bathing and the strengthening of one’s weak constitution.

” In the summer term we were allowed to bathe under the surveillance of a master, who sat on the beach just below Greenhill. There was no gardens in those dyas. No instruction in swimming was given; no bathing-dress was considered necessary.”

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In the winter the boys would flock onto Lodmoor to skate when the weather permitted it.(which seemed to be fairly frequent in those days of pre-global warming)

boys skating

Come 1891 and further buildings had been added to the school site as seen here in the photo below.

Weymouth Grammar School 1891

The school could even boast of their own resident ghost in the building, the sound of a pair of heavy boots being thrown onto the floor in the study room would happen every night regular as clockwork. Come 10 o’clock the mysterious sound could be heard from one end to end of the room to the other, but no one ever found its source.

Even as late as the start of the 20th c students inhabited the range buildings, shown here in an early postcard, boys of the Junior School enjoying a tennis match in the sunshine.

Weymouth College Junior School

The old building continued to serve Weymouth over the following years, becoming the Teacher Training College, then a 6th Form College.

Later, when education no longer had a use for these grand old buildings  due to the erection of their modern new premises behind, they  became unused and unloved. Left empty and deserted, time soon began taking its toll on the grand Victorian facade with its elegant tall windows boarded up.

Thankfully, someone had the vision of what it could become once again, a lasting testimony to Victorian design and craftsmanship, the foresight to save it from demolition, the whole original Victorian school site was turned into flats.

But I wonder if that old ghost still launches his boots into the corner of his room every night, or if the sound of a small top-hatted boy’s footsteps running can be heard as he flees the wrath of his irate Headmasters cane?

boys

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Below are two postcards from the taken between the two WW’s of Weymouth College boys practising their drill on the sports gound.

soldier boys1

soldier boys2

Interested in Weymouth’s history? Then check out my numerous Pinterest Pages of old views of Weymouth.

 

Who’s for a Fancy Dress New Years Eve Ball ? 2014 or 1882 no matter…in Weymouth town it’s always been one big party!

From the title of my blog, you may or may not have guessed that I am lucky enough live in Weymouth, Dorset.

I am extremely biased about my home town…o.k., so maybe it’s not perfect, but where is at the moment with the dire economic state of affairs.

I could never live anywhere else, we have so much to appreciate here, stunning scenery, beautiful beaches, historic harbourside….the list of advantages goes on and on.

But one thing that I have always thoroughly enjoyed about living here was the huge New Years Eve celebrations…it just has to be the best ever.

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Weymouth  on this occasion turns into one almighty ginormous all-encompassing fancy dress town. Everyone but everyone turns out in full blown costume, from superheroes to celebrities, animals to cartoon characters and all manner of fantastic and clever disguises in between.

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There are numerous pubs and clubs to visit, live music on the seafront to get toes tapping, it really is the best place to be to enjoy a lively atmosphere and great fun.

Even the police cars used to go through the town with their somewhat unusual sirens…aka ice cream chimes! (Not so sure they’d be allowed to do that now.)

So popular as a destination for revelry has it become that it’s even made it to the top of the party list in Europe.

http://www.dorsetecho.co.uk/news/11653521.Weymouth_New_Year_s_Eve_celebrations_voted_among_best_in_Europe/

You might not think so, but even our Victorian ancestors knew how to celebrate New Year in style.

Come the end of 1882 and a Grand Fancy Dress Ball was held in the Assembly Rooms of the Royal Hotel that sits on the Esplanade, (the bow fronted building seen below in this old print.)

book 5

‘The ballroom was very tastefully bedecked with flags, banners, and a variety of devices in evergreens, and presented a very pretty appearance from the manner i which it was illuminated through globes of coloured glass.’

The reporter goes on to describe the glittering scene that  evening in the ballroom.

‘A large proportion of the gentlemen wore the uniforms of either the army or the navy, whilst others appeared in Windsor uniform, and among the fancy dresses were those of various historical and other characters. Among the costumes assumed by the ladies were those of peasants of various nationalities, gipsies, fish girls of different countries, Shakespearian and other poetical characters, “snowflakes,” “frost,” “snow” “vivandiere,” “rose-bud,” “Grecian lady,” “Diana, the huntress queen,””Mary Queen of Scotts,” “Nancy Lee,” “butterfly,” &c.’

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An extremely thorough list follows the report naming all the dancers and their costumes, it’s a veritable who’s who of the local gentry and wealthier tradesmen of the town.

Many of those attending were military or naval officers and their families who were stationed in the area, (Weymouth being a busy naval port and military post at the time.)

There were even those ambassadors who manned the numerous foreign consoles that once lined the old quayside, a glimpse into the past of the towns importance due to vast trade with the wide world.

A few were visitors who came to town specifically for the evenings grand event, (just like the revellers of today.)

Young Miss Stanley Scott made her appearance dressed as Winter, Miss Hoey a Sicilian tambourine girl, her sister Annie came disguised as a Maltese fish girl, Mama Hoey decked herself out as Autumn.

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A certain Mr Armstrong was very bold, he was dressed as a man from the future. (one can only envisage what he wore…how he portrayed the future.)

Mr Wilson rather fancied himself as a South American gaucho….

Even celebrities of the day were mimicked…Miss Florence Armstrong arrived garbed as her heroine, popular authoress and illustrator of the day, Kate Greenaway.

Another famous fictional character tickled the fancy of young Miss Callaghan, she arrived dressed from head to dainty paws as Puss in Boots, her father William rather fancied himself as the Pirate King…

Mr Kinneer Hancock decided to slum it for the evening, he rather condescendingly donned the garb of ‘An every day young man.’

Entertaining the happy revellers at the ball was Mr J Robinson’s band from Dorchester with an assortment of lively airs, their sweet music sent even the sternest of men’s toes a tapping.

During the intervals in the dancing a singing quadrille amused the party goers with their cheerful ditties.

Seems like Weymouth was the party town of the South coast, the place to be, even as far back as the 19th century.

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And on that cheerful note I’d like to wish all my family, friends and readers a very Happy and Healthy New Year, and may next year bring you  many smiles and much laughter. 

 

Who stole the Christmas dinner?…Weymouth 1862.

Well…that time of year is almost upon us again, when everyone scurries around filling their baskets and trollies with a seemingly bizarre amount of food and goodies.

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Perhaps it’ll be a good time to take a peek back into history, see what sort of Weymouth our ancestors were living in, the everyday lives of the townsfolk preparing for their Christmas.

The Victorian Christmas might not have been quite as overly commercial  as our present day one, but it was when the beginnings of what we now know as Christmas festivities began. This came about  mainly thanks to Queen Victoria’s German husband, Prince Albert who dragged a bloomin’ great tree into their home, (well, I don’t suppose he actually did the dragging,)

Our ancestors, like us, lived, loved, laughed and lost over this festive season.

According to the newspaper reports written over the season of good will life had it’s ups and down in the town then as it still does now.

Some folk had managed to get themselves into mischief, some business men had lost their living…one person even lost their Christmas dinner!

The Festive season of 1862 saw the streets of Weymouth filled with a sudden influx of soldiers. Sappers in their bright uniforms proudly paraded along the promenade and mingled with the shoppers in the busy streets and lanes of the town.

These were the  men of the 26th corps of Royal Engineers who arrived here under the command of their Captain,  Percy Smith, and his trusty Lieutenant, A A Jopp. They were about to embark upon a massive building project, that of the Nothe fort and the Coastal Defences over on Portland.

Marsh & Wright bathing tents 3

For the high and mighty of the area,  Luce’s Royal Hotel, facing the esplanade, held their popular annual Christmas Ball.

It was a time for the members of the local business community to get together for the glittering soiree. This is  when the wives and daughters would  primp and preen, decked out in their latest finery and fripperies from Weymouth’s best department stores, gossiping behind their feathered fans, fluttering their lashes at the attending officers in their magnificent uniforms.

The men standing confident in their dinner suits, legs apart, hands behind backs, discussing the latest money making schemes or practising their political manoeuvres for next years committees.

book 5

However, there would be two  local business men and their families missing from that nights spectacular event, Henry Groves and Edwin Elias Brooking.

The first was thirty-seven-year old Henry who lived with his wife Sarah and their children, Sarah, Henry, Frederick and Olivia at no 10  Petticoat Lane (todays St Alban Street.)

The family ran a grocery, bakery and provisions merchants  business.

I say ran, because coming up to Christmas, it had gone into receivership, they were about to loose absolutely everything.

Within a couple of years Henry had picked himself up, dusted himself off and was up and running again as a general dealer, by this time the family had moved to no 4 New Town Place, ( as yet to discover where this was in old Weymouth, according to the census returns it ran off of Gordon Row at one time…answers on a postcard please.)

The second local  family about to face hardship this festive season was Edwin Elias Brooking, he resided at Victoria Villa with his wife Mary Ann and their  somewhat large brood, Sarah Ann, Emma, Edwin, Mary Ann, Eliza Ellen, Edith Ellen and George Frederick.

This family wasn’t originally from the area, they had only moved to Weymouth in the last 4 year period, it was where their youngest son George Frederick was born.

Edwin was a builder, in all probability he had moved here because of the work opportunities that arose from the vast ongoing building project of the coastal defences, particularly the Nothe.

However, the year 1862  saw work stopped at the Nothe fort due to certain events overseas, the American Civil War, (long story…and which will be explained in my forthcoming book about the Nothe.)

Orders had arrived in town from on high, the Committee of Defence had sent a telegram for all private contractors to down tools.

When work finally restarted at the beginning of 1863 it was to be by the hands and skills of the recently arrived Royal Engineers.

The closing of the work site must have been the death knell to Edwin’s vision of lucrative contracts and immense wealth. He suddenly found himself without a job and struggling to make ends meet. The dreaded threat of bankruptcy hung over their heads during the Christmas period, they were about to loose everything, even their furniture which had been valued..£148.

Edwin just about managed to scrape a living together in Weymouth until 1865, when he gave up and the family left town, they moved lock stock and builders barrel to Bermondsey in Surrey.

Someone slightly lower down the social scale and in all probability would never have been allowed anywhere near the hallowed doors of the grand Christmas Ball at Luce’s was Benjamin Ireland.

Benjamin was 46-year-old dealer, or ‘huckster’ as he was charmingly referred to in the papers. (A huckster being an itinerant trader.)

In 1861 he was temporarily residing with his wife, Jane, and their fair sized brood of boys and girls, Sarah, Jane, Henry, Benjamin, Francis, Julia, Rosa and finally Joseph,  in Maiden Street.

Come late December and Benjamin climbed on the proverbial Christmas wagon, never one to miss a trick, he found himself a stash of holly and was tramping the streets of the town with his old rickety wooden cart containing the prickly loot.

(It was considered very unlucky not to have holly in the house over this season…the prickles stopped witches and warlocks from being able to enter your house, of course.)

The Victorians decked their houses out with a ton of evergreens, including holly, ivy and mistletoe, this harks way way back to the pagan era and celebrating the ending of winter and the coming of Spring.

quIVER 1892 man lady decorating with wreaths

Someone else who never missed a trick was bright-eyed little 7-year-old Thomas Brooks, beloved son of local tailor George and his Mum Elizabeth from Waterloo cottage.

Having espied the man and his horse and cart passing by, full of holly covered in irresistible bright red berries, he followed closely behind. As the old cart jolted along on the rough roads, so bits and pieces fell of the back.

Thomas was in like  a shot, gathering up the escaping berries as they rolled down the road.

Spotting the cheeky young entrepreneur gathering up his blood red booty, Benjamin took umbrage. He ran to the back of the cart and raised his whip in the air, with one almighty swipe he lashed little Thomas across his face and back.

Benjamin Ireland found himself stood before the local magistrates charged with assault…for his quick temper and even quicker whip hand he was fined 1 shilling.

The last person to find himself in court over the Christmas period was one Richard Wentford, ( though I suspect that the court reported transcribed his name incorrectly!)

Richard Wentford was an officer in the mounted section of the Coast Guard, he was being charged with an assault upon Susan Attwooll who lived with her mother Elizabeth and siblings in a cottage at East Row up on Chapelhay.  Dad being a sailor was away at sea at the time of the incident.

Susan, aged 22, was at home on her own that lunchtime on Christmas day when a sudden hammering on the door startled her and in burst one almighty angry man.

An irate, or should I say extremely irate, Richard confronted the quivering Susan.

He was past fuming, he was besides himself with rage, a stream of vile filth erupted from his mouth.

According to him, her younger brother, James, had nicked his bloody prize chicken!

Raising his deep menacing voice in uncontrollable anger he threatened that “he would strip her in pieces.”

The vile words just kept on spewing forth, ( including  many unrepeatable expletives,)

He carried on to declare that “he would take the very womanhood out of her,” pointing out that “He was no d…..fool, and Weymouth people would not find a Barber in him.”

Just to make his point he upped the threats, “He was a devil, and had devil’s work to do, and would be the devil to her.”

Stood outside their house on that Christmas day was John Stone, a builder from Portland, (no surprises there then with that name.) He had seen the irate Richard march up the path and burst into the house, according to him all he could hear then was “language that was of the most disgusting character.”

Local policeman, P.C. Mahone arrived on scene and tried to calm things down, he ended up physically pushing the still angry and verbally abusive Richard out of the house, later telling the court that yes, the “Defendant was in a passion.”

It was also revealed in court that the man’s Christmas fowl was found soon afterwards, ( but a bit like the Monty Python’s infamous parrot sketch…this was bird was dead, dead, dead,) at which point he returned to the Susan’s home.

Having calmed down by now and realising that in all probability she had been ignorant of the facts, he had come to “humbly begged her pardon.”

As it so happens, it had been Susan’s younger brother who had done the dirty deed, James, aged 11, had lobbed a stone at the bird and killed it according to witnesses in court.

(One can only ponder over whether it had been an accident or a deliberate attempt to gather in Christmas dinner!)

One of James’s mates, George Doel, was called into the dock to snitch, (sorry, give evidence,) on his pal.

When the lad was questioned by the prosecuting council, Mr Tizard, if he knew the nature of an oath, his good old Mum rushed forward, “No Sir” she shouted, (she wasn’t going to have her son in trouble for telling lies .)

But George told the truth, yes his mate James had thrown the stone that killed the bird and then carried it off.

His honest evidence, Mr Tizard rather unkindly remarked, “placed him in a higher educational position than that assigned by his mother.”

For his belligerent outburst that christmas day Richard Wentford was fined 5 shillings and bound over to keep the peace for 6 moths.

christmas party quiver 1865

Just to finish our Christmas tales for Weymouth of 1862 I’ll throw in a weather report, (we Brits sure do love our weather!)

That year there was no Jack frost covering the scenery with glitter and light, or snow falling to the children’s delight, instead the winds howled and the rains lashed and according to the papers;

 “THE GALES;

the harbour Weymouth II

The wind indulged in numerous vagaries, and the prevailing fashion of dress with the ladies gave it scope for its fantastic display. We hear of one young lady who, as a salt would say, “carried too much sail,” she was obliged to be “towed” over the Bridge uniting Melcombe Regis with Weymouth.”

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A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ONE AND ALL.

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The travellers troubles……

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

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

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

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

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

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

LRM02 The james family at Puddletown in 1899

 

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

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

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

Anyway, I digress somewhat…back to the tale.

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

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

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

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

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

LRM01 The James family at Puddletown in the 1890s

 

(Picture courtesy of Lyme Regis Museum.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

womn street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chins must have wagged for Britain.

Dr Pridham was sent for.

Things didn’t look too good for Martha.

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

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

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

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

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

woman in sick bed

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

maid service 1887

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

train 7 english illustrated magazine 3 london magazine_2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snip20141214_29

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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