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

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


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

Take The Dorset County Chronicle of 11th September 1884.

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All in all a jolly spiffing display.


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

Henry he could tut and humph with the best them.

Not much tittle tattle in todays paper he mused.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothe fort and Beyond 261 KB

Book I Nothe Fort and Beyond is now available on Amazon

Looking for Victorian illustrations then check out my IStock folder at Getty images for 100’s of these fantastic images.


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

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

My old Mum always used to say the older you get, the faster they go, and true to her oh so wise (but often infuriating) words, the older I’m getting, the faster they’re bloody well going. In fact they’ve now almost hit warp speed!

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

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

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 traders problems in the town’s market hall.

Market house St Marys street.P1000370

There was no shutting up shop at 5.30 in those days, traders traded well into the night, even on such an auspicious occasion. (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 announced that

“the boys were annoying everyone who passed by or through the market-house.”

He even declared that  things had got so bad that

“unless something was done in the matter he feared  the market-house would have to be closed.”

two shoe shine lads

On that particular evening Henry and his cocky crew had entered the market on the pretence 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  unsuspecting shopper 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 misdemeanours 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 their bustling quaysides, their job was to bring in or escort out vessels from the working ports of both Weymouth and Portland Roads. Each man had to pay a princely sum of two guineas for his license and 6d in the pound for any monies earnt. Their vessels flew a distinctive white and red flag to identify to incoming vessels that they were licensed to board them and provide safe passage should they need it.

boats by side

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

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

Something 48-year-old William Smith knew only too well. Married to Susan and living with their family along Cove Row, 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.


Just around the corner from William, at no 9 Hope Quay, lived 46-year-old Edward Tizard along with 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 whatsoever, and all the hand gestures in the world could not convey monetary transactions, or so they claimed afterwards.

Pilot John Perks lived in Hope Street, he too was a family man, along with his wife Mary Ann and their veritable brood. His story shows how precarious a life could be for those plying our shores for their trade. In 1857 John 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 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, .

book 7

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.


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 for him it was hard going battling the choppy seas. He finally 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 assist 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 his 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 little they could do but watch in dismay, once the tide receded the pounding waves literally smashed their boat to mere matchsticks.

letter Civic Society. 1

William Smith was one of the harbours longest working pilots, 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 Hope Square close knit community.

So too did pilot Edward Chaddock and his burgeoning family, 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.


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…


…and Great Britain celebrated the completion of the Portland Breakwater.

For the poor of Weymouth, at least their New Year’s Eve was going to be heralded in with a jolly good feast…that is, for those who could claim to be over the age of 60, and I bet a few might well have added on a year or two to their age for the occasion. Nigh on 200 Victorian Weymouth and Melcombe Regis OAP’s found themselves being seated and served by a bevvy of local bigwigs, their friends and families.

What was their festive feast ?

“an excellent dinner of beef and pudding,” all washed down with a “supply of good beer” courtesy of Messrs Devenish & Co.

woman men supper 1887

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

Presiding over proceedings was the town Mayor, Mr J Robertson, his first deed of the night was to wield his knives and carve the first of many turkeys. After dinner was done and dusted and the last dram drunk, the Mayor then

“suitable and affectionately addressed the  assembly.”

Not only did he ordain to magnanimously shower them with words of good tidings and kindness but on their way out they were

“presented with 6d each.”

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

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

Early on first morn of the New Year of 1862 saw a vessel arrive in Weymouth port, for one group of sea faring men it meant their new year was heralded in with great cheer and much rubbing of hands with glee. On the eve of the years changing, a ghost ship was found mysteriously drifting on the tide out in the bay.

friendly greeting soldiers for 1899 1

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 eccentric 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.


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.




1879; Tragedy at the George Inn, Weymouth.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weymouth harbour

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

************************************************************************************* (history of the buildings on the harbourside) (Sir Samuel Mico)

Opening of the New Weymouth Town Bridge 1824.

Anyone interested in the long history of our town will know about it’s somewhat turbulent beginnings.

The harbour was the dividing line…at times literally the front line of the ‘war zone.’

Modern day Weymouth started life as two completely separate  towns very much at odds with each other. Old Weymouth  straggled along the harbourside of the Nothe with Wyke Ridge behind and Melcombe Regis, their dastardly opposition, faced them across the waters.

In a nutshell, these two opposing settlements just did not get on, they fought about harbour dues, who was in charge, in fact absolutely everything and anything.

Every so often (frequently if truth be told,) a complaint would be sent to Queen Elizabeth I about such matters. In the end, so frustrated with the endless bickering  and having to constantly sort them out she decreed that the only way to settle it was for the two to be united.

Two became as one in 1571, the borough of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, but old scores ran deep, and it took many years for  both sides to be able to work together amicably.

In the local archives are 2 draft documents addressed to the Privy Council dated 1572, they tell of the continuing fierce disputes and how ‘ murder is likely to ensue.’  and so the squabbling went on..and on…

As early as 1575 it was suggested by the visiting local Justices brought in to resolve these matters ‘that a bridge should be erected as a likely help towards agreement.’

Eventually a bridge was constructed, which united the two sides of the harbour.

An excerpt from my well-thumbed copy of Eric Ricketts excellent book, ‘The Buildings of Old Weymouth; Part One,’ describes the historical time line of transport across the harbour, (I can highly recommend the series of books he wrote, you’ll see so much more history in Weymouth buildings that you ever noticed before.)

Erick Ricketts book

Anyway, I digress, back to the town bridge, Eric wrote ‘The first bridge was built in 1597 a timber affair with a central drawbridge “of two reeves.”

Come 1617 and orders for the maintenance of the harbour were drawn up, ‘A ship requiring “one or both leeves (of the drawbridge to be) drawne, is to pay 12d going up, nothing coming down.’‘ Every cart or wain, with iron-bound wheels, crossing the Bridge is to pay 4d.’ 

Eric was an avid and  knowledgable local historian and loved to draw sketches of things that still existed in the area, or indeed many sketches of his interpretation of what had gone before, below is such an illustration taken from his book mentioned above.

Erick Ricketts old town bridgebridge

He goes on to say that “Major repairs or rebuilding took place in 1713 and 1741 but by 1769 the increase in the number of ships moored at Custom House Quay, Melcombe, (between the Royal Oak Inn and the bridge,) was so great that cargoes had to be hoisted with much inconvenience ‘over several other vessels,’ thus it was decided to build the New Bridge on the Chapelhay steps-St Nicholas Street, (Melcombe,) axis and by so doing increase the length of the Melcombe Quay. The new bridge was of timber, the gift to the town by J Tucker Esq. M.P. ““For a visual record of the bridge we must visit our museum and study Uphams picture of it from the Weymouth side.”

(The new Weymouth museum has an excellent display outside on the landing showing the development of the harbour, well worth a visit.)

But it seems that many didn’t like this new positioning of the town bridge, no longer feeding off the main St Thomas Street, consequently come the start of the 19th c and a new bridge was planned, this time returned to its original position, to stand once again where many others had before.

The old wooden bridge had slowly fallen into disrepair, so in 1821 plans were made to build its replacement of stone with a swing section that opened to allow the taller sailing ships to pass through into the backwater area of the harbour.

Events of the previous year, (1820,) might well have had a big influence on that decision, the ‘inhabitants of Dorset’ (i.e. Weymouth,) were being taken to court by no less than the King!

‘The King v The Inhabitants of Dorset.-this was an indictment against the inhabitants of the county of Dorset for not repairing Weymouth Bridge.The defendants pleaded that under the statute of 22 Henry 8, ch 5, the inhabitants of the borough and town corporate of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis ought to repair the bridge, it being within the limits of that towns corporate. Upon the trial, the Inhabitants of Dorset were acquitted. The charge of the repair, which it is understood will be very heavy, is now thrown on the inhabitants of the said town, and will oblige them to apply to Parliament for an act to raise tolls on the bridge, and to increase port dues, in order to maintain the quays and wharfs.’

What were they to do, with little in the town’s coffers, the Corporation had to think laterally, then they came up with a grand scheme to raise the money…ask the general public for it; an add appeared in the papers in April of 1821.

Weymouth town bridge 1821.

They must have raised the necessary money because work  started that August of 1821, and as tradition dictated, the ceremony to lay the first stone was a big affair for the more elite members of the town.‘The foundation stone of the new bridge at Weymouth was laid with Masonic form on Monday last-The Mayor and Corporation assembled at the Guildhall; the friendly societies at their rooms; and the officers and their brethren of the lodges in the province, the R. W. P. G. M. for Essex, and other visitors at the hall, where the Grand Lodge was opened by Wm Williams, esq., M.P. and Provincial Grand Master, in ample form, from whence they proceeded to church, followed by the band of the Guards. The Rev Brother Deason read the service, and the Rev Brother Burgess delivered a most excellent masonic discourse. From the church a most splendid procession, attended by two bands, marched to the end of the Esplanade, and from thence to the spot where the foundation stone was to be laid, where the concourse of people was immense. The craft in the bay were decked with their colours, the rigging of the vessels, the galleries erected, the windows, the house tops, and every eminence likely to afford a view of the ceremony, was taken possession of. The P G M  accompanied by the D. G. M., Parr, his G. S. and T. W.’s, Elliott and Percy, and the other officers of the Grand Lodge, the Mayor and the Architect, the Contractor, and seven operative masons,descended on the pier, the stone was raised, and the G. T.  deposited the Coins and the Plate, on which was a suitable inscription. After a hymn and prayer, the procession returned to their respective places of entertainment.’

Even those ladies attending were dressed in masonic colours for the occasion.

‘At the ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone of the new bridge at Weymouth, all the ladies are to appear in aprons and blue scarfs in compliment to the masonic costume of the gentlemen.’

One might even assume that as the Masons had such a big part to play in the ceremony, so perhaps they did too in funding the scheme.

The building engineer was a Mr. G Moneypenny, Esq. and D Macintosh,Esq. the building contractor, the firm Messrs Fowler and Jones constructed the mechanism that opened the swing bridge.

An update on construction affairs was penned in 1823, ‘ The works of the Weymouth new bridge are advancing rapidly; it is the only construction of the kind in this kingdom-a stone bridge of elliptical arches, with a drawbridge centre, designed upon the principle of that proposed by Perronet, for the River Neva, at St Petersburg, but upon a rather smaller scale. The masonry of the bridge is considered a masterly performance; particularly light for its appearance, yet so very massive and closely united, that the  on the striking of the centre was not observed to settle even a sixteenth of an inch.’

Finally completed by January of 1824, the inhabitants of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis witnessed the grand opening of their new town bridge.

Consequently, early, very early, in fact…4 a.m! on that cold January morning in 1824, the first customer (they still had to pay a toll in those days to cross it, here’s hoping the present day town council don’t pick up on that one ) ventured forth.

The lucky ‘customer’ first over the bridge was a Mr G P Scott in his Magnet coach. He had obviously come well prepared for this grand, momentous occasion, his horses were beautifully bedecked with ribbons and evergreens. I’m not too sure that they were too happy with being covered in their flowing finery as they were described as “high mettled”.

It seems that some people had predicted that the bridge would be a failure, that no animals would be willing to step across the iron central panel, but cross they did. Mr Scott’s gaily bedecked carriage was swiftly followed by two large wagons full of strong beer, these were from Colonel Bower’s Brewery at Dorchester, and thereafter a stream of other traders passed to and fro.

old Weymouth town bridge

Mind you, perhaps some animals were a tad flighty when it came to stepping out on suspect metal surfaces,  in 1825 came this report ‘On Wednesday night as the Rev M Moles, of Ilminster, accompanied by his mother, was driving his carriage over Weymouth Bridge, his horse took fright and galloped off at full speed. Near Gloucester Row the carriage upset and both the lady and the gentleman were severely hurt.’

I wonder if that was before or after he’d paid the toll?

William Pye Weymouth town bridge

The old swing bridge served the town and harbour well for the next century, the central section being widened and altered slightly in 1885 as shown here in William Pye’s print of 1890.

Come 1930 and it was time for a new bridge to be constructed to deal with increased traffic both on land and water.


Nowadays it’s the boats of the pleasure seekers who pass through it’s portals. Crowds line the harbourside in the summer to watch the bascule bridge raise and the procession of vessels enter and depart the harbour.

In the evening constantly changing colours of its lights adorn the parapets, sending a ripple of bright reflections across the water.


I wonder what Weymouth’s next bridge will look like?


Check out my Pinterest pages for more old views of Weymouth from my collection.


See below links to more pictures of this bridge on the fascinating Website Weymouth in Old Postcards and Postcards run by Eddie Prowse.