Ringing in the New Year Victorian style

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

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

In fact they’ve now almost hit warp speed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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and locals celebrated the completion of the Portland Breakwater.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wishing you all a very Happy  and Healthy New Year.

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A Happier Christmas 1862

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

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I had originally wanted to write one that gave the reader that warm fuzzy glow, the feel-good factor, full of Christmastide cheer, but it had somehow ended up instead laden with the doom and gloom of death, drunkenness and debauchery!

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

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

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

Though originally their festive season was far less commercialised than our own, with the arrival of the industrial revolution, it soon burgeoned. Mass produced goods started appearing in the stores and little shops that lined the main shopping areas. Department stores such as T H Williams on St Mary Street filled their windows with all manner of gifts for those you loved, from brightly coloured toys and soft kid gloves, to silver topped walking sticks and dapper hats.

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

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

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People would often spend months before making little gifts for their friends and family.

I can just picture one of my young ancestors curled up on her chair of an afternoon, making the most of the remaining daylight streaming in the window, (here I am perhaps rather idyllically assuming that my ancestors were of the wealthier variety.) She is carefully and lovingly embroidering a delicate linen handkerchief for her dear mother. Her pink rosebud lips pursed in total concentration as the shiny needle continues weaving colourful stitches in and out, the merest of smiles softens her face as she contemplates the expression on her mother’s face come present unwrapping time. Or maybe she’s working a small cloth for her beloved grandmother, one that can be put on her bedside table.

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

So it was for the Weymouth shops and businesses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before the reign of Victoria, outside the old Guildhall once ran a covered walkway for the market traders of the town. When the new Guildhall was opened in 1835 these sellers were then relegated to mere open stalls stood out in the street, but many residents complained that they were noisy, untidy and ruined the the area, consequently a new market hall was built for them in St Mary Street which opened in 1855.

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

Those Victorians out shopping for the festive fare in 1862 could take their pick from the many trading butchers of the time.

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

Next door you’ll find William Bond and his wife Jane, they are specialising in pork butchery.

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

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

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

And last but not least, you have the grandaddy of all Weymouth butchers, Edward Baunton (& Sons.) Edward was widowed by the 1861 census, but that’s not a problem as far as his business is concerned, he has his whole family helping him. From his 36-year-old daughter  Jane, his two sons, Edward and John, his teenage grandsons, William and John right down to various live-in butchers assistants, they all worked in this thriving butchers shop.

Christmas, of course,  was their busiest time, and it’s when they really went to town with their displays. Such things were noted in the local papers on the build up to the festive season, including, oddly enough, where their stock had been raised, where it grazed, what awards it won. Brings the true meaning of ‘from hoof to home.’

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

Christmas meat shop

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

Starting off with 40-year-old Alfred Bolt and his wife Margaret at no 60. Even though they were a only small business, “he exhibited some good ox and heifer beef from the herd of Mr. E Pope Esq. of Great Toller…”

Next came John and Susannah Sanders at no 64, this stood next to the bustling Bear Inn. Their son Henry worked alongside his parents. According to the reporter “his show of beef appeared to us the acme of perfection.”

Then there was the Dominy family at no 66. Father George, his wife Mary and their sons John and Henry who worked behind the counter. Even their youngest son, 8-year-old George would have had his chores to do. Living on the premises with them were a bevy of servants and butchers assistants, a busy household for poor old Mary to run and look after. But good old George was a wily trader, he catered for everyone, “His show was alike serviceable to the rich and the poor.”

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

William Lowman was the last man standing in this line of meat purveyors at no 69. Well, in fact that’s not quite true. William was actually the borough surveyor, it was his wife Sarah who was the trader, a poulterer, (birds to you and me…) and the rest of his family worked alongside their mother, Sarah jnr, Joseph and William.

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

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

That wasn’t all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a small mite it seemed an imposing sight.

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

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

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

Gifts were given out on Christmas Eve. This was the day when all the family gathered together to admire the festive tree, (which due to superstition, was not to be put up before Christmas Eve, for fear of invoking bad luck into the family home. ) This green harbinger of festivities was bedecked with it’s precious ornaments and hung with small treats. Strings of popcorn and brightly coloured cranberries draped from it’s fragrant boughs, candle flames flickered and danced in the gloom of the late afternoon giving the room a magical glow.

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Crackers would be pulled and children performed.

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

The wealthy and elite of the town jostled with the servants and shop girls, they all had their own paid for places on the hard wooden pews of St Mary’s or Holy Trinity. The richest in those nearest to the alters and the poorest at the back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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But in 1862, and changes were afoot for the hard-working serving members of staff of the local shops, Boxing day was about to become a holiday.

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

Congregations in all the local churches were also busy that year, raising funds for their fellow human beings from the north, who at the time were going through devastating changes, often referred to as the Cotton Famine. A period when the huge cotton mills and associated trades on the northern towns and cities faced a downturn in their fortunes due to world events. Thousands of families suddenly found themselves out of work and facing destitution and starvation.

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

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

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

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

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

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Despite the overload of bad news we are bombarded with nowadays, it’s heartwarming to see that human nature still favours generosity and the willingness to help those in need at times of crises. The recent floods in the northern part of the UK demonstrates this well.

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

On a chilly Thursday morning just before Christmas, when the tide was at its highest, Christopher, his wife and family strolled down to the harbour, once there they stood excitedly on the quayside. They were there watching with great pride, the launch of their latest vessel, the 110 ton schooner, Nil Desperandum. She was destined for trading the foreign coastal routes.

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

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

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

These ruffian’s parents, weren’t described in any more flattering terms than their children by Superintendent Lidbury, in fact he declared they were ‘worse than the children.’ According to him they had virtually washed their hands of any responsibility for them, these young lads were running the streets and causing no end of problems all hours of the day and night.

The youngest of the three amigos was 7-year-old Edward Denman, son of recently widowed Ann Maria. Ann Maria tried her best to keep her lively family of six in check, but being a single parent and living in poverty, life was so very hard. They were all squeezed into the cramped accommodation of no 3 Franchise Court, (which no longer exists,) the entrance to this little court was squeezed in between no’s 5 and 6 Franchise Street.

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

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

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

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something which has left us a tantalising glimpse of the lad. The admissions book describes him as only 4ft 3″ tall, one wonders whether a lifetime of malnutrition might have had an effect? It goes on to reveal further features of this chappie, he has light brown hair and hazel eyes, his complexion is sallow. At this tender age, his only distinguishing feature is a cut between his eyebrows.

From prison he was sent to a reformatory, the Victorian’s attempts at turning such wayward children away from the downward spiral.

By the age of 21, Edward’s life had changed, he was following in his fathers footsteps in that he sailed the seas, navigating up and down the coast on trading vessels.

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

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

Fully grown, he still only measures, 5ft 4 ins. Now his complexion is being described as ‘swarthy,’ a good old fashioned word that exemplifies the face of someone who spends their days out in the open fresh air, salt laden winds and fierce sunshine.

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

Even his face bears witness to a typical mariners lifestyle, that of drink and frequent brawls, with a “cut right corner left eyebrow” and “cut right corner right eye,” his nose “slightly inclined to right,” no doubt the legacy of someone else’s fist meeting it.

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

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

Sadly, though his life was now on the straight and narrow, it was also to be short. In 1878, aged only 26, he died while stationed in the barracks at Dorchester.

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

He was the eldest of the three harbourside amigos.

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

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

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

In 1865 he was incarcerated for the theft of zinc.

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

These slightly over ripe apples hadn’t fallen far from the tree, their dad Matthew was no stranger to brushes with the law. He was a waterman, but was also apt to be light fingered. Not only that, for some reason he was very unpopular amongst his fellow workers. So much so that in 1888 he even attempted to cut his own throat, part of the reason given was that he was “being so much annoyed by his mates on the quay.”

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

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

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

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December 1888, Drunks, Domestics and Deaths

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

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

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

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

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

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

If we browse the columns of their Friday’s Western Gazette, 28th December 1888, we can catch a snippet in their time, when ladies in voluminous skirts bustled through the dusty streets of Weymouth town, their billowing hems sweeping the dirt as they drifted from shop to shop.

letter Civic Society.

A multitude of brightly garbed soldiers mingled with locals, having come from the artillery fort and barracks up on the Nothe, they made the most of time away from the fetid atmosphere of their cramped and cold accommodation.

The harbourside bustling with vessels coming and going, an abundance of sailors taking their chance to enjoy time ashore before they set sail for pastures new.

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Some however, took that enjoyment to extremes!

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

Christmas Eve, and Thomas Cook was making his way down from the Nothe. Having reached the top of Hill’s Lane, he came across the motionless body of  a man. Thomas shook the man to rouse him, but as he was well and truly in ‘his cups’ he took some rousing. Finally, managing to drag the heavily intoxicated man to his feet and ascertaining his destination, that was,  before he had succumbed to his slovenly slumbers in the street.

Thomas, holding on firmly to the staggering soul, led him down to the quayside, where seemingly the lost mariner’s vessel was moored.

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

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

Thomas was not so sure this was a good idea.

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

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

Mid passage, the alcohol won out, and the by now unconscious drunk rolled onto his back, precariously perched over the water. A frantic Thomas called for help, at which point a crew member poked his head out, and seeing the dire situation, he attempted to grab hold of the mans wrist to pull him up the gangplank, but his dead weight was too much.

With that, the body slid with a splash into the dark waters below.

All hell let loose…man overboard…

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

The thirty-nine year old sailor, Bristol born Charles Tidray, made it alive to local hospital where he was seen to by Dr Carter. A man who did not think much for his chances, he told Matron on his way out that he did not think the man would ‘live through the night.’

Nor did he.

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

It was time to met his maker.

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

His downfall was also alcohol, or rather, the imbibing of excess.

William Bowdidge Hole, a 34-year-old cab driver had been out enjoying his time somewhat with friends in the local hostelry. Having drunk away all his money, he staggered back to his home in Trinity Street, to replenish his pockets.

His long-suffering wife, Emm, (perhaps not that long suffering, seeing as they had only married earlier that year,) wasn’t having any of it though. Emm was desperate to keep hold of what little money she had, it was needed to keep a roof over their heads and food in their mouths, not simply swilled down his throat.

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

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

By now the police had also appeared on scene, in the form of one P.C. Henry Kaile. As he approached the house, he was confronted by the hysterical wife fleeing the building, who was being  hotly pursued by her still ranting and raving husband.

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

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

(William was obviously very partial to his beer, a couple of years later, 1891, and he was before the judge again, for being ‘drunk whilst in charge of a horse and carriage.’ This time he got off with a 5s fine, but was warned that if he appeared before them again, he would lose his license.)

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

Not long after a drunken Charles was slithering off the gangplank and into the water, a fight broke out in Hope Quay.

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

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

Both men were hauled off to the cells, Henry for being drunk and disorderly and Frederick for fighting.

But all was not quite what it at first seemed.

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

Recently wed Henry was yet another who alcohol loosened his mouth and freed his fists…he was about to strike his wife, when the soldier stepped in to stop him. Instead, he turned his wrath and fists on Frederick, and the two ended up scrapping on the ground, at which point P.C Groves came across them.

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

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

At one time, the Steam Packet Inn used to stand by the quayside, near the Devonshire buildings. In 1888 it was being run by German born musician, Joseph Duscherer, and his wife Harriet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Drunks, deaths and dirty deeds 1869.

When you stroll  through the streets of Weymouth, do you ever gaze up at the at the old windows and mansards of these historic buildings and wonder what silent spectres peer through their wobbly panes, wonder about the scenes they may have witnessed during their long existence.

The lives of our ancestors past, of their families, neighbours and friends, love and marriage, the feuds and fights, good deeds and misdemeanours, are for time immemorial  embedded within these aged walls and windows.

History books may tell you the stark facts and the dates, but newspapers tell you the gossip, they flesh out the dry and dusty bare bones.

Imagine this, it’s the summer of 1869 and your ancestor’s walking through town  minding their own business when they suddenly come across a scene that could only be described as one right out of the Medieval era.

A tattily dressed wizened old man set tight in the town wooden stocks, he’s surrounded by crowds of rowdy onlookers, who take immense pleasure in jeering and mocking him.

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This tattered scrap of humanity is George Rendall, a ‘victim of intemperance’ a man described as a vagrant.

His crime? it was to be found drunk and asleep on a seat along Weymouth’s esplanade, he only impounded his wrong doings by also failing to pay the ‘drunkards crown.’ In all probability, he didn’t have two pennies to rub together anyway.

His punishment? To spend six long hours exposed to the vicious torments of one and all while held fast ‘in the wood.’

The Victorian reporter who observed this scene was horrified, he asked how in these modern so-called enlightened times such a thing could be witnessed, declaring that ‘To degrade a man is not the way to mend him.’

Only a couple of years later, the use of confining men or women in stocks was banned, though I rather suspect that there may still be those who would like to bring back these wooden vices for some of todays miscreants.

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That same week, in a little crescent tucked away behind the grand esplanade, one household experienced such horrors as no parent ever should.

At no 1 Crescent court lived 39-year-old Ester Fox and her children.

Ester was still mourning the loss of her husband, John, whom she had buried only a few months earlier. She was trying to survive as best she could, but it was so hard, with a young family to care for and no man to bring in a steady wage.

Come one Sunday evening that July of 1869 and Esther was absent from the family home, left in charge of her young brood was the eldest son. But kids will be kids, and one small mite, 2-year-old Joseph Charles, was up to mischief, though he might have only been a toddler he was hell bent on creating havoc. Unattended, Joseph finally managed to reach the box of matches that had beckoned him so temptingly with their lure of a flickering flame.

Sadly, the inevitable happened.

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Having at last lit the match he stared mesmerised as it’s vivid  colours danced and twitched before his eyes. Even as the flame still glowed brightly, Joseph dropped the burning stick, alas it fell upon his tattered clothing, instantly catching light to his thread bare garments.

Before he knew it, like poor old Harriet in the Victorian tales, he was immersed in a ball of fire.

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His terrified screams brought help, but it was too late.

Despite the best medical advice from a Mr Griffin, the poor little mite died writhing in agony the following morning.

On the 21st July, a distraught Esther and her family followed the tiny coffin of their cherished Joseph to the Melcombe Regis cemetery, where he was laid to rest like his own father only months before.

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Not surprisingly, this bustling area surrounding the quayside and backwater witnessed many a misfortunate mishap that July.

William Pye Weymouth town bridge

Local butcher, John Yearsley of Richmond Terrace, (now King Street,) had the mishap of not only losing the valuable heavy wooden delivery cart that he traded from, but also the poor horse it was attached to at the time. They both disappeared over the side of the quay.

Hasten to add, the unlucky horse did not survive.

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Young Peter Arnett fared slightly better, he somehow found himself floundering in the backwater but thankfully was rescued by a passerby just before he gasped his last

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Of course, what would the news reporting be without it’s usual list of drunk and disorderly?

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July of 1869 had it’s usual list of miscreants.

William Honeybun fined 5s, found ‘drunk and incapable’ on the North Quayside on a Monday morning.

Alfred Bland was ‘drunk and riotous’!…early one Saturday morning, and his antics did not amuse the residents of Horsford Street. He opted for 7 days hard labour rather than pay the fine.

Thomas Haughton, described rather unflatteringly as an ‘old man‘ was also accused of being ‘drunk and riotous,‘ He became rather ‘riotous’ after being refused another drink by the landlady of the Park Hotel. Fined 5s.

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Diners as well as drinkers fell foul of the laws.

Susan Hamilton and Margaret Mooney entered the premises of Jane Pollard one morning, they asked her for ‘five pennyworth of baked mackerel and a penny cake.’

But having ravenously devoured their tasty feast right down to the last few morsels and licked their fingers, the two women then attempted to vacate the premises without paying.

Plucky Jane wasn’t having any of it. She tried to stop them from leaving the shop, but the two women just pushed past her giving her a mouthful of verbal abuse in the process.

Jane wasn’t giving up, she followed them down the street, not only did their vile  verbal abuse continue but now they were lobbing stones at the determined lass.

Of course this commotion attracted a great deal of attention and it wasn’t long before the local bobbies were summonsed and arrived on scene, the pair of pilfering females were swiftly arrested.

They were both ordered to leave the town and never set foot across its boundary ever again.

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It wasn’t all doom and gloom though, Weymouth enjoyed good things too…in a manner.

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A friendly cricket match took place at Chafie’s Lake between the Weymouth Athletics team and the Portland eleven, though perhaps all didn’t go quite according to plan.

During the rather one sided match, (in favour of the Athletics,) whilst both running for the ball, a Mr Dominy and Mr Fooks collided heavily on the pitch, both men receiving serious injuries.

Must have been bad, (or a bad bet)…a gentleman watching the game from the sidelines fainted!

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Check out my Pinterest Board for more fascinating views of old Weymouth.

Death becomes us…Weymouth wills and legacies.

It’s often strange where a line of research takes you, what starts out as a simple enquiry ends up uncovering parts of Weymouth’s history that I never knew about, their family lines and tales twisting and weaving through time and place and the story of Weymouth itself.

I was rummaging through the National Probate Calendar for one of my own folks when I came across a couple of other Weymouth residents, and being nosy, decided to take a peek.

These records of their legacy can reveal a lot, or sometimes just an intriguing snippet about a person, their lives and their place in society, but in reality these few lines are just an impersonal financial culmination of someones life, you have to dig a little deeper to uncover their tales.

What follows is a few of those characters who were wily enough to make their wills, an everyday function but one that left a trail for other inquisitive souls  to follow, and the snippets of life in old Weymouth that I uncovered in doing so.

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Thomas Horatio Adams was not of Weymouth descent, he in fact was London born and bred.

Thomas was one of two brothers. One thrived and became an eminent surgeon, the other, our Thomas, was of a more sickly nature, right from childhood he had suffered with horrendous migraines and dizzy spells.

Living his life pretty much as an invalid meant Thomas had to seek other means of earning a living, so he became an artist and painter, not that that he really needed to as he lived at home with his mother and they were a fairly well-to-do family.

It wasn’t until after the death of his mother, Mary Griggs Adams, in 1877 that Thomas left the family home and moved into lodgings, first in swanky Belgrave London, then for one reason or another he moved on down to Weymouth.

One suspects that he chose this sea bathing resort specifically for it’s clean air and cold water immersion with its much promoted health giving properties.

By the year 1883 artist Thomas finds himself safely ensconced within the home and care of spinster Mary Knight, a genteel lady who supplemented her income as a lodging housekeeper at no 8 Clarence Buildings. It’s light and airy rooms having stunning views out over the beautiful Weymouth bay, beach and the New Gardens, complete  with its program of daily entertainments laid out in front them.

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As you might suspect, being in such a prime position on the seafront, this was no ordinary lodging house, it’s long term guests were of the more wealthy and well-educated variety.

If proof were needed in the Victorians strong beliefs of fresh air and sea breezes as a cure all, just a few doors down from Thomas’ lodgings stood the new and larger Weymouth Sanatorium, (the first one built in 1848 had stood somewhere in the middle of Clarence buildings.)

This larger, purpose built hospital was opened in 1863 on the corner of Clarence buildings and Belle View. This nursing home was under the strict rules and beady eyes of 53-year-old Annie Wadsworth.

It was a very busy place, funded wholly by donations and subscriptions from wealthy benefactors, though many folk who entered these doors paid what they could for their treatment, its whole ethos was mainly taking care of those who couldn’t pay.

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During the 12 month period of 1898/99  they had treated 353 inpatients, of those 278 were cured, 50 ‘relieved’ and only 4 didn’t make it back out through the grand doorway on their own two feet.

At the time of the report, there were 21 folk who were still undergoing their treatment.

Out patients for that year totalled 1,169, of those only 319 were Weymouth residents, the rest were admitted from the surrounding counties.

Far more women were treated here than men, but that may be because the sanitarium was ‘especially adopted towards the requirements of women, and where there were specialists who could attend to the peculiar ailments to which women alone were liable.’

I must confess, before I started to research Thomas’ life, I never even knew that this building had once been a sanitarium…surprising what secrets lay behind the doors of some of our every day houses.

(One lady tells me of her friend who used to have a flat in the basement of this building, who mentioned a gully that ran around the edge of one of the rooms…which apparently was the old morgue…no guessing what the gully was for then.)

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Anyway..I digress somewhat, back to Thomas and his tale.

From his window, our ailing Thomas would have had no end of lively and colourful scenes to capture with his sable brushes and paint stained palette.  The bustle of the busy park below with its ornate wrought iron bandstand, was home to the many military bands who performed here. This drew in the elegantly dressed women parading in the sunshine, their pale faces protected under their twirling parasols, chattering children suited and booted in the latest sailor fashions.  Joining the throng were sturdy soldiers in their bright scarlet uniforms, arriving in town to make the most of any entertainments on offer.

All manner of humanity parading before his observant and artistic eyes.

For it seems that Thomas did not venture forth often, according to Mary Knight ‘he took very little exercise,’  preferring instead to admire these views from the safety and comfort of his own room.

But those four enclosing walls of his room were also to become Thomas’ last scene viewed on this mortal coil.

On the morning of the 27th March 1897, as was customary, Mary Knight’s maid entered his room, only to confront a shocking and most distressing scene, for there laid the body of Thomas, or rather, what was left of his charred remains which were draped across the fender.

Thomas would wield his brushes no more.

At his inquest his brother, Matthew Algernon Adams, confirmed that Thomas had never been in the best of health, nor had he ever enjoyed a pain free lifestyle. As both child and man he had suffered from terrible migraines that caused him to have fits,  spells of dizziness and ‘insensibility.’

His remains were interred in the Melcombe Regis churchyard.

I wonder if any of Thomas’ paintings of the local scenes are still around today?

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The next name I came across in the Wills Index is name well known by many old Weymouth residents, though members of this family didn’t move here until 1861.

Once settled here, the Bennetts played a major role in this resort, by designing, building and even supplying our town with a plethora of goods.

First to move to Weymouth was Robert Christie Bennett along with his wife Emma Albinia, ( this family seemed to have a liking for unusual names,) Robert was an architect and surveyor.

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Also moving to Weymouth around the same time was his brother James Penman Bennet and his family, James was a builder.

Between these two brothers many of Weymouth’s grand buildings came into existence including the magnificent Gloucester Street Congregational Chapel designed by architect Robert in 1864…

Gloucester Congregational chapel

…and Robert also had a hand in the extension to St John’s church in 1868.

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Richard James Penman was the father of Vilat Hackforth Bennett, a man who went on and played a principle role in Weymouth’s commerce and town council.

Vilat became a major participant in the towns politics, going on to become Mayor at the end of the WWI. Here was a man full of big ideas and a view to the towns future, he wanted nothing but the best for his place of birth.

Whilst in his role as Mayor, so frustrated and ashamed did he become at the apathy of the council committee to agree to a memorial for those hundreds of local men who died during the war, that he went as far as to pay out of his own pocket for a memorial.

It’s official title is the Armistice Shelter and it sits in prime position in our beautiful Greenhill gardens. It’s somewhere that I’ve often sat, or taken refuge in during showers.

To my shame, I have to confess that until I began researching Weymouths history, I had never even realised its significance, that it is in fact a memorial to our brave men who lost their lives during WWI.

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Vilat, as you might expect, was not just a council member, he was also the business brains behind the opening one of Weymouth’s largest and busiest department stores in the 1920’s, which went on to become the V H Bennetts, the locals first port of call for all manner of items.

It’s  also where I got my first job at the age of 15, and indeed, where I shopped until its doors finally closed.

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His uncle, respected architect Robert Christie Bennet passed away at his home, at no 10 Gloucester Terrace, on the 10th September 1893.

Perhaps he had been wily businessman and sorted his affairs before his demise, because he left to his widow, Emma Albenia, the rather surprisingly small sum, (considering what a successful architect and surveyor he had been,) of £344 11s 6d.

There is no record of the couple having any children of their own, but his still thriving business was taken over by one of his nephews and another bore his christian names, Robert Christie.

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The third and final probate notice concerns another Weymouth family…well, I say Weymouth, but as locals might gather from some of the names involved, they maybe denote their origins from a certain isle not too far from here.

On the 14th November 1892, William Francis Bussell passed away at the age of 59, leaving behind the sum total of his worldly wealth, £766 3s, and a grieving widow, Susan Pearce Bussell.

William had been born into a sea faring family, his father, not surprisingly also called William, was a master mariner, a well-respected and hard working man who lived with his wife Caroline and their family in St Mary Street.

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William jnr came along in 1834, he grew up with the sea in his blood, but his trade took him on a very different path. Not for him a life toiling on the high seas, hoisting sails and dropping anchor, he turned his attention to making and repairing a vital part of every vessel, he became a sail maker.

Come 1861 and the eligible bachelor fell in love with and married a local lass, Ann Mary Wallis, she belonged to another sea faring family from Wyke.

Sadly, their life together came to a swift end.

Just two years after William stood waiting for his bride-to-be to walk down the aisle towards him, so he was now following her coffin down that same aisle.

On the 19th March 1863 the body of 23-year-old Ann Mary was laid to rest in the churchyard at Wyke Regis.

Despite his aching heart, life carried on for William and those around him, by now his busy sail making business was based in Hope Street on the harbourside.

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Virtually next door to the home and business of the grieving widower lived the Ayles family, Thomas, a ship builder, and his wife Ann, son Robert and daughter Susan Pearce. This family ran the ship yard, son Robert was the manager under the ever watchful eye of his father.

You can just picture how in this close knit maritime community, they would have taken young William under their wings, maybe cooked meals for him, advised him, perhaps even helped him take care of his house and business.

At some stage this closeness of these two households led to love between William and Susan, and consequently their marriage.

The 16th January 1866, and for a second time in his life William the sail maker was stood before St Mary’s alter awaiting his bride to be, his thoughts that day probably a jumble of emotions, swinging between happiness and sadness, hope and trepidation.

Fate smiled down on the couple, they led relatively long and fairly prosperous lives, and within their first year of marriage a daughter was born, Caroline Annie, and soon after appeared son William Langrish in 1868.

Like many households though during this period, it was not unusual to know the heartache of losing children, William and Susan experience such grief. At the start of 1873, Susan gave birth to twin girls, Ethel Elizabeth and Alice Maud.

Baby Alice was not destined for this world, before long her heart broken parents had to say goodbye. Her sister Ethel clung to life for the next six months, but she too was taken from them.

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Their woes didn’t end there, a couple of years later Susan gave birth to son Sydney Percy Ayles at the start of 1877, like his twin sisters before him, he wasn’t destined to make old bones, and aged just one he was laid to rest in St Mary’s churchyard along side them.

Despite their tribulations, the family continued to prosper, they grew up living and working in their home and premises on the bustling quayside, son William of course toiling along side his father in the business. Life was good, the shipping trade in the busy harbour meant that they never needed to worry about money or where their next meal was coming from.

But, there is only one certainty in life, and that is at time or another, depending on luck, fate or the ultimate supreme being, we are all going to die and leave behind others to mourn.

Such was the case on the 14th November of 1892, patriarch of the family, 59-year-old William Francis Bussell departed this mortal coil. His worldly goods were left to his wife Susan, they totalled a grand sum of £766 3s.

It was she who carried on the business with the help of her children until her own death in 1899.

But William and Susan left an ever bigger legacy to Weymouth than just a purely financial one.

Son William Langrish Bussell, born with the sea coursing through his veins, and a love of sailing in his heart, took over the family business, sometimes diversifying and moving with the times as needs dictated.

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Not only was he a good businessman, but he was a passionate sailor, and played a major role in Weymouth’s first sailing club that was set up in 1882.

This became known as the Weymouth Corinthian Sailing Club, its aim to bring weekly sailing events to Weymouth bay.

Due to sailing virtually being a rich mans sport, and only the wealthy able to afford such luxury sail boats  the club drifted along over the next few decades, not quite fulfilling its expectations, their vision that it would bring in sailors and their boats to the town didn’t quite materialise.

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It wasn’t until it was formed into the founder of today’s Sailing club in the 1920’s that it began to flourish.

Needing premises to base themselves as a social club and meeting place, William Bussell, heavily involved with the club at the time, offered them the use of a row of derelict coastguard cottages that he owned, they once stood at the present day club site.

After many years of additions and alterations, very little remains of these cottages bar a couple of the original bow windows on the first floor. According to a fascinating and comprehensive history of the Weymouth Sailing Club ‘a pane of glass in one of the windows had an inscription scratched on it by a byegone tidewatcher [dated 1839] and this is preserved to this day.’P1100396

in 1926 William donated a silver cup, known as the Bussell cup, one that is still presented today for the winners in inter-port racing.

The name Bussells still remains synonymous with the boating fraternity in Weymouth today, their premises are now further down in Hope Street, not far from where the two Williams first set out on their successful business journey.

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Check out my Pinterest page for more historic views of old Weymouth.

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View my other blog for a view on life and memories in modern day Weymouth
https://cannasue.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/a-short-harbourside-stroll-in-weymouth/
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Weymouth maritime mishaps and mayhem of 1857

Being on the coast and  both valuable ports for trade, Weymouth and Portland have had their fair share of shipping disasters.

Take the year 1857 and a peek into the local papers reveals a concoction of calamities for those working the local waters.

Even nowadays crowds love to stop and watch the Weymouth town bascule bridge be raised to let the modern day shipping pass through, either the tall masts of yachts sailing majestically back into their moorings in the marina, or sleek cruisers heading out to sea for a days fun.

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So too did our ancestors, and like their modern day counterparts, those going about their every day lives and work, grumbled about the delays, even more so when all did not go to plan and the town traffic was brought to a stand still.

Come January 1857, a trading vessel from Liverpool entered the harbour, safely under the command of Captain Thrift. The Escape waited patiently for the middle iron section of the old town bridge to be swung open, she was heading for one of the harbourside warehouses to unload her cargo.

old Weymouth town bridge

Captain Thrift had misjudged the state of the tide though, as the Escape started to make her way up through the middle channel, her hull struck the bottom and there she became firmly wedged.

There was little that could be done, she was well and truly stuck!

As the town ground to a stand still, horse and cart, irate men, women and their goods were left stranded on either side of the harbour, peering across the waters to their desired destinations, their short journeys all but impossible until this problem could be resolved.

The crews frantically unloaded the cargo, hoping that she would raise in the water and set herself free, but that did little apart from keeping the bystanders entertained at their hectic activity. It wasn’t until nearly an hour and a half later and the rising of the tide that the vessel floated free and could proceed on her way into the back harbour.

But like most disasters, there was always someone who made the most of a bad situation and a quick buck to boot. So it was for the rowing boat ferry men, who suddenly found themselves skulling frantically back and forth across the waters, transporting folk galore to and fro.

Ferrymen Weymouth harbour

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In May, it was the South-Western steamship The Empress who made the news.

As was normal practice, the fair sized vessel was swinging round in the harbour after having returned from the Channel Islands in preparation for her outward bound journey. Unfortunately in doing so within the close confines of the harbour walls, she came into collision with a nearby much smaller vessel, the Hope, which was the pride and joy of local businessman, Mr Francis Lee of Love Lane.

Luckily someone observed the smaller boat being dragged dangerously by her mooring rope and had the gumption to cut her free before any more damage could be done to Mr Lee’s precious vessel.

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Later that year the steamers were the downfall of yet more locals.

On Friday the 19th June, three Weymouth men set about their usual routine, employees of the Channel Islands Steamer Company, all were experienced pilots employed to bring the vessels that plied between Weymouth and the Channel Islands safely into port.

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However, that Friday was one that three men would never forget.

The youngest of the hard working trio was 35-year-old John Parks, who lived at no 32 Hope Street along with his wife Mary Ann and their brood of 6 children.

The second pilot also residing in the harbourside area, at no 1 Hope Quay, that was 42-year-old William Grant, who lived with his wife Jane, and their daughter Sarah.

Bringing up the proverbial rear was a man of many years experience working the seas in and around the area, 77- year-old William Tizard, recently widowed, who was residing at no 2 Cove Row along with his spinster daughters.

These men and their families all belonged to a tight knit sea faring community that surrounded the bustling working harbour.

Expecting the imminent arrival of the paddle steamer the Cygnus, the men set sail towards Portland in their vessel, it was just another working day for them, little did they know what fate had in store!

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The Cygnus rounded Portland and was heading for Weymouth, spotting the pilots in the distance, the master of the ship, Captain Munns, set course to meet the men who would be guiding her into port. As the vessels drew nearer to each other the captain ordered the engines to be stopped, and the vast paddle wheels that churned the waters to a white froth slowly ground to a halt. Pulling alongside the pilots prepared themselves to board ship.

Then for some unknown reason, the engines sprung into life, and slowly but unstoppably, the great wheels began to turn, faster and faster, churning the surrounding waters into a maelstrom, drawing the smaller vessel ever nearer to disaster. As shocked passengers watched, the inevitable horror unfold before their very eyes.

The youngest of the men, John Parks was quick to react, he threw himself into the sea and swam away from the sucking vacuum as hard as he could.

The other two were not so lucky.

Both men and boat were drawn into the churning wheel, the great wooden boards forcing them under the boat and spewing them out again like ears of corn out of a threshing machine.

Little remained of their working boat, a few smashed wooden planks, and what was left of the bottom of the hull.

The men fared no better.

The battered body of old man Tizard was hauled on board and laid out on the deck, he was still alive, but only just, his terrible injuries revealed the force of those churning wheels.

William Grant was in an even more dire state, where the boards had struck him, his clothing had been torn to shreds, and his body laid prone and senseless on the deck, little chance was given for his survival. Once ashore he was conveyed to his home and into the care of his shocked family. Three doctors were called to tend his wounds,  they shook their heads, they had done what they could, but feared the worst, nature and God would decide the mans fate.

Well, someone had obviously been watching over William that day, it was not to be his time, slowly he regained consciousness and his body started to heal.

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Only a matter of days after I had written this piece, I came across an old postcard on a well know auction site, and being an avid collector of local history items I snapped it up, not really knowing what it was apart from being Weymouth related.

Weymouth boats

Having posted it on a Weymouth history Facebook page I was surprised to read this message “The man on the far left is Mr Tizard he was the Weymouth pilot and coxswain of lifeboat , sad to say He was drowned going to pilot a boat ….His son Bill Tizard was a local Weymouth Boatman. (This info come from my friend David Bishop.)” So it seems that the Tizards maintained a long history with boating and piloting in the Weymouth area, and that  Neptune wasn’t quite as lenient with one of ‘old man Tizard’s’ relative.

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Check out my Pinterest pages for other historic and interesting views of life and businesses in Weymouth and Portland. https://www.pinterest.com/susanhogben/old-views-of-weymouth-dorset/
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Check out a few more modern man made mishaps in the harbour…https://cannasue.wordpress.com/2015/08/01/blast-from-the-past-and-a-dip-in-the-briny-weymouths-birdman-competition/

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

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

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

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

Portland Castle

Castletown started out as a small fishing village, its little sheltered beach tucked within the lee of the great cliffs behind saw the arrival and departure of many a local fisherman and indeed more than a few canny smugglers. Others who would land here were the naval men or merchant seamen whose boats were moored out in the safety of the Roads.

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

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

Come 1901, 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 runs the 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, as this report in the Taunton Courier and Western Advisor of 1877 shows; ‘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, still 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 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 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 originally from further along the Dorset coastline,  Bridport, whereas Lydia moved from across the water, she is 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 by trade, 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 originally 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 the 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 stranded vessel in the Roads was auctioned off piece by piece, gigs, boilers, anchors and all.

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Living next door to this bustling premises, 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 is only a babe in arms, arrived just 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 her marriage to Walter, her family are from Lyme Regis. They have a son, 10 year old  Walter Samuel.

Another family squeezed into just 4 rooms at no 18, is Tamson Hounsell and her assorted brood. Matriarch  of the family, Tamson, aged 56, is already a widower, she supports herself and her brood by trading as a fish merchant. In happier times she had been married to Edmund Samuel Hounsell, who was a Trinity pilot, but sadly in 1879, aged just 36, Edmund died and left Tamson to raise their brood alone. ( Edmund’s wasn’t the only loss Tamson had to suffer, come the 1911 census, and the stark reality of her life was listed for all to see. She had given life to 8 children but not all survived, 3 having being put in the ground before her.)

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

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

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

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

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

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Working alongside the family 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 barman living and working with the couple, 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 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 soon 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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Fancy a stroll along Portlands footpaths?https://cannasue.wordpress.com/2014/05/25/a-summers-evening-stroll-in-the-cove-portland/
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Street map of Castletown. http://www.streetmap.co.uk/newmap.srf?x=368750&y=74250&z=1&sv=368750,74250&st=4&ar=N&mapp=newmap.srf&searchp=newsearch.srf

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.

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“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/

The Battle Of Weymouth 27th February 1645 : (Excerpt from ‘The Crabchurch Conspiracy’ by Mark Vine)

Who knew that the streets of old Weymouth contained so much blood and thunder.

The Crabchurch Conspiracy

William Sydenham had no idea when or indeed where the attack would come, he only knew that it was inevitable, and he made such preparations as he could to strengthen the defences of both towns in whatever time he had left to him. On the morning of the 27th February 1645, the ever reliable Vice Admiral Batten once again sailed in to Weymouth Bay and landed a further one hundred men to add to Sydenham’s twelve hundred souls, but this would still leave the Roundheads outnumbered by almost six to one. It is unlikely that the small three hundred strong, predominantly Irish, Royalist garrison of Lord Inchiquin’s at the Nothe Fort would have fired it’s cannons at Batten’s vessels, as they were probably feeling rather isolated since the fall of Weymouth and therefore would not be over keen to draw attention to themselves until relief came.
In the early evening…

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