Victorian St Nicholas Street: Weymouth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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      (MAP 1901)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s when disaster struck.

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

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

Sarah survived, but unfortunately her arm did not.

In the end it had to be amputated.

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

A student of what I wonder?

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

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

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

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

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

‘It was a kicker.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big mistake!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His own death.

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

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

Hhmmm…

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

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

It didn’t !

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things got no better at the Greyhound!

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

Sure did sound a lively spot.

But am I doing the poor fellow a disservice?

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

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

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

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

Fill your boots!

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

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

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

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

Nothe fort and Beyond 261 KB

Also available on Amazon at £9.99.

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

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Victorian Castletown, Portland…matelots, mariners and mishaps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Castle Town

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

(Building pictured below in later years.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This is a very busy little business;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Castletown Portland.

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

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

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

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

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

Nothe fort and Beyond 261 KB

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

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

1879; Tragedy at the George Inn, Weymouth.

The imposing George Inn has stood on Weymouth’s quayside for centuries in one form or another.

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Wealthy businessman Sir Samuel Mico had purchased the George Tavern in the 17th c for use as his residence when he came to Weymouth to see to business matters, many of his trading ships came into what was then a very busy trading port.

When he died he left the building to the town of Weymouth, along with a large sum of money.

Samuel Mico decreed that £500 of it was to be used  for the preaching of an annual sermon in the local church.

He also stipulated that money was to be given towards the binding out of three poor children apprentices.

And of course, not forgetting those sailors who toiled long and hard so he could trade overseas, he deemed that some should go towards the relief of ‘ten poor decayed seamen of the town,’ namely those aged 60 and upwards.

That charity is still going strong in the town to this very day.

But that’s not really what this tale is about.

It concerns the sad story of one of the residents of the George Tavern further up through its extensive history.

In 1879 forty two year William James Hines and his wife Sarah were living in the George Inn on Weymouth’s bustling quayside, along with their large family.

William was a Hampshire born man, but had moved to the Weymouth area with his family to start a new life as a licensed victualler.

Weymouth harbour

Move along to September 1879 and their whole world was about to be turned upside down.

Dad William had just purchased himself a second hand gun, a fowling piece, he fancied a spot of hunting, probably on Weymouth’s then extensive Backwater.

For some unknown reason, William handed this gun to one of his young sons, 15-year-old William  to take upstairs. Of course, you can only guess at whats coming next, knowing young boys propensity for getting up to mischief.

William, or Willie as he was known in the family, did as his father bid and carried the gun upstairs, but upon hearing his younger siblings happily playing in their bedroom he sprang into the room surprising them. Willie then turned towards his little brother, pointing the fowling piece  whilst uttering those fateful words” I will shoot you Bertie.” 

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William then jumped up onto the bed, carrying on with what seemed at first like a jolly ruse, he carefully put the cap on the gun, pointed it towards the ceiling, was just about to pull the trigger, when suddenly he lost his balance, stumbled and fell.

Both Willie and gun landed on the floor, followed by an almighty explosion!

Smoke and the acrid smell of spent gunpowder filled the tiny room.

Mum Sarah, working the bar downstairs, heard the explosion and the hysterical screams that followed.

She ran up those stairs two at a time, fear gripped her heart.

Sarah opened the door to a room out of Dante’s hell.

Tragically, nine year old Bertie, or to give him his full name, Albert Issac had been stood in the wrong place at the wrong time…the shot went straight through his neck, its merciless course ripping out skin, muscles and tissues en route.

Little Bertie lay dead on the floor, his blood and skin splattered the walls.

Sister Florence, only aged 7 at the time was besides herself, as was William who began  to realise the enormity and horror of what had just happened. Over and over again he cried out “I have shot Bertie; I did not try to do it.” Unable to comprehend how in a mere second, his life could have turned into such a living nightmare.

The following Monday an inquest was held at the Guildhall under the watchful eye of Mr Giles Symonds.

The parents and children were called to give their sorrowful evidence before the court.

Willie’s story differed to that of his younger sister, he claimed that he had been stood on the bed, but the gun had accidentally gone off, knocking him to the floor. In the chaos of the horrific incident it’s often hard to recall facts, but despite this, the Coroner had no doubt…there was one man to blame for this, and one man only…the father!

The jury retired for 1/2 hour, and returned with their verdict on the death of Albert Issac Hines ,” That the deceased met his death by the explosion of a gun, through proper precautions not having been taken.”

The very next day, distraught Dad William was brought before the courts and charged with manslaughter of his own young son Bertie.Image

The body of little Albert Issac Hines was lowered in to the cold earth on the 24th September in the graveyard at  Wyke Regis.

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For his siblings and parents, the memories of that dreadful day could not be quite so easily buried.

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http://www.weymouth-dorset.co.uk/melcombeharbour.html (history of the buildings on the harbourside)

http://www.weymouth-town-charities.org.uk/mico.html (Sir Samuel Mico)