Weymouth’s Tommy Atkins and Jolly Jacks.

Something that many of the younger generation might not realise but Weymouth has a long and fascinating history with the army and navy.

troops in front of Gloucester lodge

Even during my own lifetime I can recall a certain ‘liveliness’ when  hundreds of sailors would take their shore leave, hoards of men streaming along the esplanade heading for town, all eager to make the most of their free time in one way or another.

At the time I worked for Next which had a mens wear department upstairs, come  Saturday afternoon it would be absolutely heaving, Jolly Jack Tar having come on shore would be booting and suiting themselves ready for the weekends revelries.

Not to be left out the squaddies would arrive on scene, frequently in the area for training exercises…something which certainly led to somewhat  interesting evenings out on the tiles, (the two fiercely opposing fractions seemingly taking every opportunity to size one another up!)

During the Victorian era a constant military presence was kept in the town, the serving soldiers and their families were billeted up at the Red Barracks or later, in the newly built Nothe fort itself.

royal engineers outside building

Our own Thomas Hardy sets the scene in one of  his novels,  ‘The Return of the Native,’ “Now Budmouth (Weymouth) is a wonderful place-wonderful-a great salt sheening sea bending into the land like a bow…bands of music playing-officers by seas and officers by land walking among the rest-out of every ten folk you meet, nine of ‘em in love.”

If you have ever watched the excellent ‘Far from the Madding Crowd,’ especially the scene shot along Weymouth’s esplanade and beach, you could hardly fail to spot the flashes of scarlet uniform in amongst the perambulating throngs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2lBeea7-sA#t=89

Down below the lofty Nothe headland sits Portland Roads (or harbour,) which was the base for many a visiting naval vessel, their crew coming ashore in their hundreds to enjoy the great delights of the traditional seaside resort and no doubt the pretty females within.

In April 1882 the Channel Fleet had arrived, “On monday, a large number of sailors from the fleet, now lying in Portland Roads, were allowed four days leave of absence. Many have availed themselves of the advantages of that excellent institution, the Sailors Home, whilst others have gone to various places to visit their friends and relatives.”

Channel fleet 1882

That was life in Victorian Weymouth, a bustling scene with residents, visitors, soldiers and sailors rubbing along together.

Of course, in a  town where servicemen were present in great numbers, it was certainly never going to be dull. Despite the growing Temperance movement, the tales of their liking for a drop or two of grog, the joy of a female hanging on their arm, or  the need to fight one and all filled the columns of the local papers.

These visiting protectors of our sea and shore caused  mixed feelings in the local population, it was they who had to witness their constant arrivals and departures by sea or rail, they who sometimes had to endure their anti-social antics while the men were stationed here.

For a few unlucky residents, even the military barracks themselves were capable of reeking havoc in their lives.

In 1852 the Red Barracks were hinted at as the cause for some poor residents on the Nothe losing their home.“In the barrack-yard at Weymouth where 200 soldiers are stationed, there is a magazine containing 6,000 pounds of gunpowder, unprotected, save by a single door, from the effects of ligtening. A house within 300 yards of it was fearfully shattered during the late storms.”

Or maybe that was just a bit of sensational, far-fetched reporting by a very bored reporter with a vivid imagination? No mention was made at all of the gunpowder store room having blowing up!

The men based in the barracks played a big role in the town, frequently called upon to assist when help was urgently needed, such was the case in 1865 when disaster struck. (An extract from my forthcoming book about the lives of the people on the Nothe.)

Snip20150221_23

“The Engineers did more than just drinking and womanizing, they were frequently called upon for one reason or another to assist the locals whenever trouble arose in the area. At the end of March they were summonsed into action. A major fire had broken out on the outskirts of Weymouth, in a hamlet of houses bordering the old steep Ridgeway road that once run straight up over the Ridgeway. It started in the thatched cottage of old Mr and Mrs Humphries. As was usual, that morning the dutiful housewife had lit a fire under the old boiler in the outhouse, ready to do her weekly washing, but unbeknown to her the flue from the boiler was defective. A stray spark ignited a fire in their roof thatch, which smoldered unseen for a while, but then swiftly took hold. Before long their whole roof was well and truly ablaze. Unfortunately, the weather that day happened to be extremely blustery and fanned by the strong winds the fire spread rapidly up through the row of cottages, sparks and flames leaping from one thatched roof to another. Once news of the disaster reached the Nothe, a detachment of sappers under the command of Captain Smith were rushed to the scene with their fire engine and hoses to help. By now people had arrived from all over the district, everyone frantically trying to quell the raging inferno that was sweeping its way up through the little hamlet, destroying everything in its path. Lack of nearby water was a huge problem, so a human chain was formed down to the Royal Inn on the main road , buckets of water were passed up the hill from hand to hand. One thatched cottage after another fell victim to the inferno. The villagers, soldiers and helpers were pulling together, doing what they could, dashing into the smoldering and smoking dwellings to pull out any personal possessions and furnishings they could before they burst into flames.

fire q 1892

            After hours of hot and dangerous toil the raging fires were finally brought under control, but very little was left of the hamlet bar what remained of the smoldering cob walls and a few charred beams. Unfortunately the tinder dry state of the old thatched dwellings, the fickle fate of nature providing a strong wind that day, and a lack of water nearby had defeated everyone. Even the local pub, the Ship Inn run by James Bushrod, didn’t manage to escape the full fury of the fire. That too had gone up in a blaze of glory. Despite the fact the Engineers, resplendent in their fireman uniforms and armed with the latest fire pump, had arrived fairly promptly, there was very little they could do. By the end of that disastrous day 11 of the cottages in the hamlet were totally destroyed, despite the valiant efforts of everyone.

  A little footnote to this story reveals that even during the Victorian era, some people were quick to take advantage of such disastrous situations. Not everyone in the huge crowds that gathered at the scene of the fire was there to help, or rather, they were, but ‘help’ themselves. A certain amount of looting of personal possessions had taken place amidst the chaos. One nimble fingered chap was spotted by an eagle-eyed observer attempting to sneakily lift an old lady’s watch that had been placed outside her burning home along with her pitifully few worldly possessions. The cry of ‘thief’ brought him to the attention of one of the local bobbies attending the incident and he found himself being collared by the strong arm of the law. The same policemen who were on site to control the crowds that had gathered were having very little success in controlling the drunkenness. The beers and spirits that had been so bravely rescued from the burning inn were finding their way down the throats of the thirsty spectators.”

In February of 1876, one  military departure from Weymouth  left more than just  the obligatory broken hearted females  stood wailing on the quayside waving their sodden lace hankies as their beau’s sailed off into the sunset, a terrible tragedy struck on board as the packed troopship sailed out of the harbour heading for postings anew.

“The troopship Assistance, which arrived in Kingstown yesterday with detatchments of artillery and infantry, had also on board two dead bodies, those of children named Sarah Gerkey and Arthur W Lazenby, who were killed by the snapping of the chain cable as the vessel was leaving Weymouth;two soldiers and two stokers, besides two women, were also seriously injured by the accident.”

Rather surprisingly, life in tranquil Weymouth also contained many hidden dangers for the resident Tommy Atkins or Jack Tar, from accidental drownings to theft by nimble fingered ladies of the night, many tales of which are covered in my book about life for the soldiers and their families on the Nothe.

1891 saw Weymouth and its unsuspecting residents come under a fierce attack, when a simple fight that had started out in town between a few locals and a group of drunken solders turned into full blown, running amock, sabre swishing, blood-curdling charge that no amount of bugle blowing could bring under control.

However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom, the military and naval bands were frequently called into action to play in the New (Alexander) gardens and out on the Pleasure pier, where residents and visitors alike would would sit back and enjoy the rousing tunes or dance to the  harmonious melodies.

 

1899 cyclist_2

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

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

sailors on cabin_2

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

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

Advertisements

Weymouth’s Victorian bandstands.

As teenagers we used to spend hours on what was the old pleasure pier…when it was a proper pier, and not just a sorry excuse for what is left of todays pier.

At the end was a place where you could swim from. There were changing rooms, steps down to the water, a slide, diving boards, and all the kids used to congregate there in the summer. On Sundays we used to spread our towels on top of the toilets roof and lie down and listen to the town band who would play there of an afternoon. Hundreds of holiday makers would be seated around in deck chairs or in the shelters listening to the music.

Image

I got me to thinking about how sad it was that Weymouth no longer had a proper pier to its name, and how town bands seem to be no longer the popular free entertainment that they used to be in a typical seaside resort.

What happened to all the live music that used to brighten the world of the Victorians right up through to my childhood days?

During the Victorian era the town bands would be all important.

They were vital entertainment for the visitors.

We had numerous beautiful wrought iron band stands at one time or another along our promenade and in the gardens.

Every one gone now!

One was placed in the newly developed Greenhill gardens which was opened to the public in the late 1870’s.

Another was placed along the northern end of the promenade, by Brunswick Terrace, because the town council had decided that all the entertainment was held down the pier end of the town, and that the councillors for the northern end thought that their constituents were  entitled to their fair share too! Here the Victorians would stop and listen to the music of an afternoon or evening while on their constitutional.

The entertainment was provided by the town band, or the military bands that were stationed in Weymouth at the time. some of these were conducted by extremely talented musicians who would write pieces especially for their public performances.

Image

This one was replaced by a the beautiful Pier Bandstand, a supposedly permanent fixture, an ornate art deco styled structure that was built in the 1930’s, with an open top theatre space.

Image

It was a place where the bands played, people danced under the moonlit open skies,(maybe not quite so nice on wet and windy days though!). Very popular with the tourists and locals alike. But after the rather wonky, if not charming legs that I have many fond memories of, were beginning to degrade, the seaward end was  ceremoniously  blown up on the 4th May 1986.

Image

Sadly, all that remains is the much altered end promenade which now houses an amusement arcade and a Chinese restaurant!.

Wander further down the promenade and you arrive at the Alexander gardens open May 1869…which was its heydays  just that, proper gardens…with its own  very grand and beautifully ornate bandstand!

Image

Here from Victorian times onwards literally hundreds would come along to listen to the live musical bands entertain them. Relaxing in the deck chairs and listening to the stirring notes of the marching songs from the soldiers bands or the  popular songs of the day from the town bands, one of which is pictured below taken in the late 1800’s. Presumably as the two seated in the middle are from the Salvation Army this was their band. Rather quaintly, on the back of the card  Mr Rolfe writes to Miss B Hawkins of no,1, Rocky Napp, Dorchester Road enlightening her as to the order of the hymns to be played the coming sunday.

Image

An exert from the local paper of the following year gives a flavour of the Victorian entertainment of the time.

1870 2nd Apr

THE ROYAL FUSILIERS BAND- This fine company of musicians delighted a large assembly of listeners in the new pleasure gardens on Thursday afternoon last. Among the items of a first-rate program was a composition of the bandmaster, Herr Van Heddegham, entitled “ Les Romains” which deservedly attracted a large share of attention, and displayed a great amount of constructive ability and original idea. It consists of five movements, the first of which is written in the frugal style, and is worked out with great skill. The subject commences with the basses, progressing with a highly artistic observance of the laws of fugue, and an able development of the principles of this class of composition. The second movement is an exquisite air for a soprano of a charmingly pathetic character, whilst the third, a Brarbure Militaire, presents a striking and agreeable contrast in it’s bold and animated strains. The fourth movement, “ The Invocation for Peace, “ is peculiarly distinguished by the solemn cast of melody which pervades it, and the concluding portion, “ The Orgie,” is a singularly clever piece of descriptive music, fully conveying the wild and bacchanalian idea of the title. It is almost superfluous to say that the band most perfectly expounded the intentions of their accomplished chief.

It wasn’t always plain sailing getting a town band, and it wasn’t always the local men who played, often a band would be brought in from outside to entertain, but they didn’t always get what they ordered!

1887 8 Jul

WESTERN GAZETTE

THE SEASON BAND.

The new band from Ramsgate was engaged to commence their duties on Monday, but have had their engagement cancelled. Mr. Hawthorne, of that place, was to furnish a band of 18, and when Messrs Allcock and Webb went as a deputation from the town to hear various bands before making a selection, they were in favour of one Mr. Hawthorne then had, consisting of 12 men, which were to be further increased by six additional musicians. When the band arrived in Weymouth on Saturday night, it was ascertained that not one of the men was the same as the deputation had heard, but a scratch band got up. Under these circumstances, a meeting of the Band Committee was called on Monday, and the engagement of the master cancelled. Great consideration is felt for the men who have been brought from such distance, and permission was granted them to play about the streets until Friday, so as to “raise the wind” to take them to Ramsgate. Another band will now be engaged-probably one from Richmond.

This band stand of course soon went out of use, the town wanted an all weather venue for the bands, so a clever, supposedly cost cutting, scheme was put in place, the original bandstand was covered in, making it into a veritable glass house.

Image

This one too reached the end of its life, and in 1923 the old glass building was becoming unsafe, a pane of glass having fallen out and hitting a tourist on the head it was decided that it was best dismantled, and a new, bigger concert hall built.

The old bandstand from the middle of the demolished building was moved up onto the Nothe gardens to replace the old thatched one that had originally been built there as seen below in the newly plated gardens of the late Victorian era..

Image

Once again, this was a popular tourist destination as it had been for centuries.

This was when the locals and tourists had to share the grounds of what was was essentially a  military space with the stationed soldiers up on the Nothe fort and Red Barracks.

Image

The last bandstand stood out at the end of what was an elegant, curving pier, which brings us neatly back to where we first started our story of the Weymouth bandstands.

Image

You can just make out the bandstand at the end.

In 1886 nearly 2,000 people attended a concert and dance at the end of the pier. the entire length was romantically lit for the comfort of the guests by gas light, courtesy of the local Gas Company.

Finally demolished in 1919 when it became too decayed to use any more, the beautiful old pier itself followed not long behind.

So here we are, 2014, in an era when everyone seems to becoming more aware of its past heritage, and fighting to preserve its special places from the past, and seaside Weymouth does not have a single bandstand to its name!

But at least we do still have a town band.

Image

Playing during the 2012 Sailing Olympics at Weymouth town bridge.

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************

Writing a book, blog, short stories or your own family history, then why not make them jump off the page, bring them to life with historical graphics.
I have a huge collection that cover illustrations from numerous Victorian articles about travel, prisons, children’s homes, poverty, philanthropy…
Check out my Etsy site for Victorian illustrations, many more, including local ones being added all the time from my own personal collection.
https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/VictorianGraphics?ref=l2-shopheader-name

**************************************************************************************************************************************

Related articles