Victorian St Nicholas Street: Weymouth

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

Ones that we often don’t pay much attention to. Maybe sometimes  travelling their length merely to  avoid any excess holiday traffic or a proliferation of poodling pedestrians.

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

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

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

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      (MAP 1901)

Sadly though, nowadays it is a mere shadow of it’s former self. Very little remains of any original buildings, much of this area having been cleared of it’s intimate closes, terraced houses and even a  compact burial ground.

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

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

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

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

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

Towards its end, it was forlornly propped up with two timbers, stood at the edge of what is now the bowling car park. It’s crumbling ruins merely hinting at it’s former glitzy life.

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Sadly, even that last theatrical portal was demolished, and now those passing it’s long since buried foundations have no inkling that great gaiety and comedic capers once took place within it’s stone walls. Fine dandies and gaily dressed ladies alighted their carriages to cross its threshold, arriving in excitement to watch the latest productions, or as one of Weymouth’s older resident’s once described it as ‘ many of the performances given were of the blood and thunder type…’

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

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

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

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

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

To add a bit of confusion to the matter there were actually two St Nicholas Streets, one in old Weymouth leading up to St Nicholas church atop the hill and this one on Melcombe Regis side. This often flummoxed those who visited  our Victorian ancestors. Weymouth’s St Nicholas Street was renamed Chapelhay Street in 1872. (The Bumper Book Of Weymouth; Maureen Attwooll.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

During the Victorian era the Government tried to curb the problem of excess drinking of spirits and in their infinite wisdom deemed it would solve matters if Joe Bloggs could pay a small license fee, enabling him to brew beer and sell it literally from his own front room. Surely, these oh so wise leaders of ours thought, it would encourage the poor working class folk to only drink the weaker beer and leave the spirits alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s when disaster struck.

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

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

Sarah survived, but unfortunately her arm did not. In the end it had to be amputated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘It was a kicker.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big mistake!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hhmmm….

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

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

It didn’t !

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

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

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

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

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

Their hostelry was situated very near the Methodist Congregational Chapel (in between no’s 61 and 62) opposite. Lucky for them, come 1865 and no longer did the pious and holy  (and in all probability tee-total) enter these portals, instead it was more the merry and those looking for a spot of fun and lively entertainment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not surprisingly, that didn’t go down too well with  a well oiled Joseph. First he lashed out at Mary Ann, then still not content, the pickled pioneer began picking up patron’s drinks, necking back their contents and  smashing the glasses on the floor.

Things got no better at the Greyhound!

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

Sure did sound a lively spot.

But am I doing the poor fellow a disservice?

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

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

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

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

Fill your boots!

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

 

 

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Weymouth’s history as a harbour on the frontline. 1795

Being in the process of writing a book about the history of the Nothe area in Weymouth, I’ve uncovered many interesting facts about the past history of the town while trawling through the old newspapers and documents.

Some of which I’ll narrate here, little snippits of what life was like for our ancestors, living on the South coast, which was extremely vunerable to attack from all angles, pirates, privateers, invaders….a bit like today’s tourists, they all headed for the seaside. (Mind you, Weymouth didn’t actually have a seaside then, what is today’s sandy clean beach was actually their towns rubbish tip!)

During the Georgian era, when Weymouth was starting to become popular for it’s health giving properties a  sea bathing resort, and the Royal family would visit, bringing with them an entourage of wealthy visitors and politicians, the seas off our coast was teeming with ships, both friendly and feared.

In the September of 1794 a 50 gun Man’o’war was coming up through the Channel towards Weymouth bay, when it’s Captain espied a squadron of shifty-looking frigates hovering nearby.

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Misreading a signal that had passed between the vessels, he hastily putting into Weymouth Roads (harbour to you and me) and informed the appropriate authorities that a fleet of the French were approaching, which set the wheels of defence in motion. The Nothe headland housed a series of cannon that had been used over the centuries to protect our little town and harbour. During that time they were manned by Weymouth Volunteers and the regular soldiers who had been based in and around the town (mainly in the new Red Baracks on the Nothe).

Weymouth was on full alert for invasion, our ancestors would have been afeared for their lives.

Luckily, no shots were fired, someone realised as the squadron came closer to shore it was in fact one of ours…under the command of Sir James Saumarez.

But it came pretty close to what today is rather euphemistically referred to as ‘friendly fire.’

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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.
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Weymouth town councillors brawling 1894

Now I know that politics can evoke some strong reactions, and that often it gets very heated during council meetings, but these chaps took it to a whole new level! So much so that it made the national papers.

That Friday morning in December 1894 had started off normally for the local coucillors, they arrived to attend their meetings at the Guildhall. First on the agenda was the Garden committee, fairly innocuous you would have thought, but it appears that behind those closed doors of the chamber things were starting to hot up!

Two of the councillors exchanged heated words during the proceedings. Councillors Wallis and Edgson obviously didn’t agree on a matter, and having researched the beginnings of Weymouths parks and gardens, I suspect that I know what might have sparked it off.

That meeting having finished, the men retired to the hall outside, waiting for the next one to begin, this being the Finance committee.

This is where it really kicks off!

Obviously, still hot under the collar over the words exchanged in the chamber, Edgson marched over to Wallis and once again started to berate the man for a remark he had made during the previous spat. Wallis, well known for his often outlandish views, and no shrinking violet, retaliated accusing Edgson of similar remarks.

This was too much for Edgson, he saw red, grabbing Wallis by his shoulders he shook him fiercely. Of course, Wallis wasn’t going to let that go, he deliberately and slowly removed his spectacles and carefully placed them down on the table next to him, with that he swung for Edgson, landing a punch firmly on his nose! The two menImage

then proceeded to have a “stand up fight” as the reporter says, with Wallis looking to be pretty much the better boxer of the two. It was said that blood was “streaming copiously from Councillor Egdson’s nasal organ.”

The other members were so shocked at what was happening before their very eyes, they could only stand and watch in complete amazement at these two respectable men of the town brawling like navvies in the chambers.

Coming to their senses, councillor Vincent manged to wrestle a still enraged Edgson from the room and into one of the side  chambers, while the others managed to restrain Wallis.

Within minutes, news of the pugilistic coucillors was racing round town, and before long had reached the ears of the local reporter, who must have rubbed his hands with glee as he sat and wrote his tale.

Wallis was a real character, he stood up for the common folk in the town, was fairly hot headed, and I’m sure there will be many more tales about him to reveal.

Victorian Firework night 1866

You might well think that Guy Fawkes Night is a fairly modern commercial invention, but the Victorians were a pretty dab hand at enjoying themselves, they certainly knew how to celebrate events.

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On the 5th November 1866, the annual ‘Protestant’ fete was celebrated with great gusto by the folks of Weymouth.

Most of the activity was confined to the sands, with two large bonfires burning down by the shore. For some strange reason a large hulk was described as being well ablaze in the water, with the reflections of the flames rippling in the swell…presumably it was a part of the festivities, and not a bit of opportunistic arson!

The lads (and more than likely some of the naughtier girls too) were letting off crackers and squibbs on the beach much to the amusement of the people that were crowded on the esplanade, having come to the seafront to watch the fun.

Not to be left out, some of the bigger yachts out in the bay let off rockets into the night sky.

This was described as a fairly quiet night for the good old Victorian police force, the only incident they had to deal with was a little lad who been pushed into one of the bonfies,’and was rather burnt on his hands.’

Reluctant Weymouth voters of 1835

The seeming reluctance of the British nation to take an interest in general politics  is not a new phenomenon!

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In the newspapers of May 1835 covering events at Weymouth is a report of similar apathy for the selected  local MP’s.

During April of 1835 a much planned and publicised dinner was to be uth melcombe held in the town for the voters to meet the two representatives of that year,  Thomas Fowell Buxton(liberal) and William Wharton Burdon(Whig).

But despite the committees numerous efforts to rouse any interest in what should have been a grand ocassion, out of the 600 people who were eligible to vote in the town, only 53 of those could be  persuaded to attend to meal…and they even had to give the tickets away to entice them to the event. Even worse, they had to drag in people from nearby Dorchester to try to make up the numbers, as they were so dire!

In the end only 85 people sat down to a slap up meal with the elected members, who were non too happy at being dragged away from London to be met with such lack of enthusiasm.

Buxton was MP for Weymouth for a total of 19 years (1818-1837), he had a house in Wyke, and Buxton Road is named after him.

William Wharton Burton was a Bridport coal merchant, he only lasted 2 years as our local MP (1835-1837)

http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1820-1832/constituencies/weymouth-and-melcombe-regis

Introduction to my blogging world.

Well, here I am at last…I’m a silver surfer blogger!

Why?

A multitude of reasons really.

I was born and have lived In Weymouth, Dorset for most of my life, and have always been fascinated by the history of the town.

A few years ago my hubby brought me a super camera, which made me venture outside to capture images of the area. What was surprising to me was when I downloaded these images on the computer, I saw things in my photos that I had never ever noticed before! Never mind that I had in all probability walked past them literally thousands of times during my lifetime.

As I snapped more and more shots, the world of Weymouth and the surrounding opened up before my very eyes.

Curiosity began to enter the frame…how long had that building been there? Why had it been built? Who had used it and what for? So then I started to research the various places, which led me to discovered the world of the Victorian newspapers, and the everyday lives of the folks who lived and worked here.

A  whole new universe erupted before my eyes.

So many stories of life, love tragedy and death in our tiny town.

This led to me setting out on a journey of writing a book…not that i’d even thought about getting it published at first, I just wanted to get these folks stories down on paper.

Next problem was how to illustrate them..most of them were way too early for photographs, that was for the rich and famous only. Researching for Victoran illustrations turned up some on the net, but not always what I was looking for,  I needed my own source. I came across the Victorian religious books such as The Quiver and The Good Word…they were weighty tomes stuffed to the gunnels with absolutley stunning drawings, page after page of them.

I now possessed a mountain of old books complete with their beautiful, if not sometimes melodramatic, pictures, and a plethora of stories of the Weymouth and Portland townsfolk.

What to do with them all?

Then some bright spark suggested that I start a blog! What me?…that’s for kids isn’t it? But the more I thought about it, the more I thought it seemed a good idea. This way, all those illustrations and fascinating articles in the local papers and books won’t just fade away to dust with time.

Hopefully someone might pass this way and appreciate the detailed artwork of the Victorian illustrators, and enjoy some of the local stories of, who knows, maybe even their ancestors.