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.


The Victorians love of seaside fairy lights.

Living in a traditional seaside town as I do, I have grown up with, always loved, and miss terribly, the good old fairy lights that used to be displayed around the promenade, someone had rather poetically described them as a ‘necklace of lights,’ and that is just what they were, colourful jewels that once adorned the  graceful curve of our beautiful bay.

I say ‘were,’ because part of Weymouth’s grand ‘modernisation’ scheme in preparation for the 2012 Sailing Olympics was the complete dismantling of the good old fairy lights, only to be replaced with modern, sterile, soulless laser lights, something that has caused much controversy and disgruntlement amongst many of the locals.


So fierce were people’s feelings that so far it has invoked two petitions to bring them back.

Now I’m not adverse to modernisation in theory..but some things just don’t need fixing!

Well, o.k., maybe the old fashioned light bulbs that draped from post to post weren’t the most cost effective or productive, but in this day and age of modern technology, with solar power, LED lights etc…there just had to be a better option out there, not just wholesale removal.

As for the so called laser lights…they are completely  underwhelming to say the least. The best place to view them from is out at sea…not an option for most of our visitors walking the Esplanade, which is surely the only reason they had been installed?


Certainly not for the locals benefit!

Enough of my tirade anyway, stepping down off my soap box…the purpose of this blog was to show people that maybe these fairy lights in Weymouth go way back further than they perhaps realised, the Victorians too were very fond and proud of the their seaside illuminations.

Nowadays we all take artificial light for granted, streets lit, shops lit, houses…but in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t really so long ago that our ancestors were poodling around with nothing but mere candle sticks in hand and a feckless flickering flame.

In 1835 Weymouth revelled in being very modern in their thinking, they finally had gas lighting installed in a few of the main streets and some of the premier shops. It didn’t go too well at first, but with a bit of tinkering they finally got there.

‘Experiments were first attempted on Saturday last with tolerable success, but on Monday and the following evening the appearance was splendid.’

As gas lighting became more widely used, people began to see the advantages of using it decoratively.

In September of 1886 is a report in the papers of one of the regular concerts that were held in the warm evenings at the end of the old decorative wooden Pile pier. Cosens & co had lent gas the gas lamps to festoon the length of the pier, and the Gas company supplied…well, the gas.


So successful were these beautifully illuminated musical soirees that nigh on 2,000 odd people would attend. The elegant curve of the pier bedecked with lights would sparkle like jewels in the still evenings waters of the bay.

A most glorious sight to behold…Weymouth was still the place to be seen at, where the elite and the rich flocked to, still riding on the coat tails of George III’s sea bathing legacy.

Then as now, the council had to find various ways and means of making Weymouth the place for folks (aka tourists) to come to, after all, they were and of course, still are, the main lifeblood of the town.

For Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June of 1897, Weymouth really went to town, with a whole day of spectacular events and feasting to commemorate her 60 year reign. Not least in the evening, as the light faded, so the place was ablaze with light spectacular. Even the Nothe was festooned with Victoria’s initials in illuminations.


‘The illuminations at night were carried out on a gorgeous scale. along the whole line of the bay for a distance of a mile and a half fairy lamps were hung, and the gardens also freely illuminated. In the town by private enterprise the illuminations were very extensive, as were also those at the various public buildings.’

In 1898 Weymouth welcomed Royalty to its shores once again, this time in grand style. They too were invited to view the spectacular evening light display that Weymouth had become famous for.

‘Daily Mail, London, Friday, August 26, 1898

Prince at Weymouth

Illumination of Pier, Gardens, and Promenade.

HRH the Prince of Wales conferred upon Weymouth a special honor by consenting to remain last evening in the Osborne, anchored in the bay, to witness the illuminations of the pier, gardens, and esplanade.

A telegram was dispatched to Sir Francis Knollys, on board the Royal yacht, from the town clerk, requesting him to ask his Royal Highness if he would allow his yacht to remain in the bay to witness the illuminations, to which a reply was received stating that the Prince of Wales would be pleased to do so.

For this purpose the Osborne came into the bay from Portland soon afternoon, and took the following party from Devonshire House, the residence of Mr. Montague Guest, on board:- Mrs. Lawrence and Miss Esme Drummond, Mrs. Atherly, Mr. Langrishe, Sir Allen Young, and Mr. Montague Guest.

They had luncheon on board the Osborne, where there were the Prince of Wales, the Princess Victoria, Princess Marie of Greece, Prince Nicholas of Greece.

The Portuguese Minister

Senhor L. de Soveral, Mr Christopher Sykes, Sir Francis Knollys, Captain the Hon.Seymour Fortescue, Mr Fripp, the Prince of Wales’s medical advisor, Mr Martino, and Sir Henry Burdett.

After luncheon the yacht proceeded to Lulworth, the company being landed in the pretty coves in launches.

Some visited the coastguard station, others enjoyed the beautiful air and splendid scenery from the Downs, the remainder going for a short drive into the country.

On the party again assembling on the Osborne they had tea on board, and the yacht then steamed for Weymouth, where she arrived shortly before six.

The weather was most favorable for the illuminations, and the front presented a magnificent spectacle, the best view being obtained from the sea.’


And so the tradition carried on up through the years, strings of colourful fairy lights adorned our bay, they soon spread to the Jubilee clock, covered the theatres and the hotels on the Esplanade, lit the Victorian shelters that lined the Esplande.


People would come from far and wide to admire the pretty seaside resort and its illuminations, many would walk along the Esplanade under the swaying ropes of lamps of an evening, their soft glow casting a warm ambience that no modern day high tech lasers can ever hope to match.

Even in the depth of the colder seasons, those stalwart twinkling bulbs whispered of warm summers evenings yet to come as they swung in the cold blasts of winter.


I would love to see them back again…but fear that it’s never going to happen, until fashion again dictates that traditional seaside resorts are once again en vogue.


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 local ones being added all the time from my own personal collection.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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



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.


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..


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.


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.


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.


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.


Related articles