Death becomes us…Weymouth wills and legacies.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

weymouth booklet

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

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

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

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

nurse man in bed

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

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

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

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

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

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

St Johns 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas would wield his brushes no more.

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

His remains were interred in the Melcombe Regis churchyard.

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


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

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

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


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

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

Gloucester Congregational chapel

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

St Johns

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Nothe gardens 3

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Sadly, their life together came to a swift end.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

man woman child dying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

View my other blog for a view on life and memories in modern day Weymouth


Beauty is within the eye of the beholder….so it was then, so it is now, and for ever more shall be .

I was debating what to do my next blog on when I became sidetracked by a lively discussion going on in a Facebook group that i belong to.

The first discussion, that was becoming a little heated concerned three new sculptures by artist Andy Kirby that had recently been unveiled in Weymouth.

Some loved them, some hated them…I personally think they are great fun.

The only downside I think is that they are based in and around the New Look site, Mercy Road, (well…I suppose that New Look  and the new Sainsburys’ did commission them,) but this means that they are  not available to the majority of people to view unless they specifically head for the out of town Park and Ride.


The sculptures had a lot of thought put into them, and they reflect (quite literally in one particular piece) snippets of Weymouth’s past history, some well known such as the torpedo works at Wyke, George III, the Jurassic Coast. They were designed by the artist using what is carefully referred to as ‘the power of public art,’ with the local community having a great deal of input into the project, the artist having collected local folk tales and snippets of family history from those involved in the project.


 A timeline of his work for these installations can be found here.

I love this funky bus stop right outside Sainsbury’s.


The second discussion covered the new buildings going up along the inner harbour side, where the old fire station had once stood.

Many thought that the plans were sympathetic with what had once stood there, (this side of the harbour being the original old Weymouth town as opposed to Melcombe Regis on the other side of the waters,) it an eclectic mix of many historic buildings some dating back to the tudor period, (but which were tragically demolished in the 20th c the name of progress.)

Others decried these pseudo styled dwellings, and say that the council should have been brave, bitten the bullet  and gone for something more modern and brought the resort bang up to date.

Who’s right?

Who’s to even say who’s right?

But what has all this got to do with Victorian Weymouth and Portland?

Well…I guess that right down through time there has always been conflict and disagreements on what is considered art, good taste, fashionable style, in both pieces of artwork, building designs and town planning. 

No matter which era you pick in Weymouth’s history, you bet your bottom dollar that someone came up with a grand scheme to improve the area, and before you could say ‘Jack Robinson,’ someone else shot it down in flames.

Design and aesthetics is a very subjective matter…no one is right, and no one is wrong. Thankfully, in our country, we all have the right to our own opinions, and a right to voice those opinions..well, so did our ancestors of the Victorian era.

One example of this was the construction of Weymouth’s present day jewel in the crown, the Greenhill gardens in the late 1870’s.

greenhill gardens old

‘1873 26 Apr


Visitors to our town who knew the Greenhill a year ago would now be at a loss to recognize the old spot, so thoroughly has it been altered. Instead of its being as heretofore a place of humps and hollows and desolation, it is now, through the great generosity of Sir Frederick Johnstone, one of the prettiest places in the town, and is really a people’s park in miniature. The ground has been very admirably laid out under the direction of Mr. G.R. Crickmay, and now there are grassy slopes, artistic mounds, and pleasant walks. The gardens have been planted with trees, shrubs, and plants of various kinds, and when these have had a few years growth the appearance of the place will be considerably improved. At the extreme end of the gardens is a well-formed piece of ground to be used for croquet playing. This site is surrounded by a rustic wooden fence, which gives it a very pretty appearance. Another important advantage is that owing to the construction of the gardens the Esplanade has been lengthened to the extent of several hundred yards. The gardens may now be considered nearly completed, only some fine gravel being required to finish off the walks. When the gardens are thrown open to the public, we are sure they will be greatly appreciated by the town, and the Greenhill will be a pleasure resort both to residents and visitors.’

Not everyone was happy about it’s construction, certain locals believed that ground to be Melcombe Common, and rebelled against anything being placed there that impeded the publics right of way, even going as far as to getting a mob of 150 odd people who broke down the fences of the gardens.

Come 1886 and the case of trespass ended up in court, going rather badly for those who had , perhaps, misguidedly it seems, stood up for rights of the common man.

Despite their rocky start, these gardens are now a well established and truly cherished part and parcel of Weymouth.

Rather ironically, there is also a fierce battle going on at present because the local council want to sell of this precious and much loved open space which had been gifted to the residents of the town to private developers to manage. Many fear that this would ultimately end up with this prime sea frontage piece of land being used for luxury development.

Even the trusty old Kings Statue hasn’t been without its detractors over the years.


Who nowadays could even begin to imagine Weymouth without that imposing and regal landmark?

First unveiled to the public on the 25th October 1810 in honour of the King George III who had literally put Weymouth on the social map when he made it famous as a watering place.

A certain amount of skullduggery, lots of shenanigans and political manoeuvring had taken place over this mammoth piece of sculpture during the period of its conception (1802,) and its rather large foundation stone  finally being put in place,(1809.)

Ever since that unveiling date of 1810 it has attracted numerous controversial suggestions as to it’s construction, position on the esplanade, coat of colours….. not everybody appreciated it, some wanted it removed altogether, claiming it was an ugly blot on the fine esplanade, later came claims that it impeded the free movement of traffic!

The area in front of the statue had eventually become THE meeting place for any social, political or town ceremonies.

Horse and carriages waited patiently for their customers here, later the motor charabancs congregated, offering pleasure trips to the holiday makers.

guide p3

In later years it was reduced to little more than a mere traffic island in a very busy road, a place where buses arrived and departed at regular intervals, with the destination Kings Statue emblazened on their front.

Nowadays, thankfully it still sits resplendent in its bright colours and gildings amongst the busy traffic…but at least those who had cared enough about it had stood fast and not let the detractors who wanted to modernise the town confine it to some out of the way spot or even worse, the spoil heap.

The most iconic symbol of Weymouth I suppose has to be its beautiful and elegant Georgian seafront, there is nothing like it anywhere else…it just oozes charm and history, elegance and style.

guide p2

 Yet, come the end of the Victorian era, and some councillors were calling for it all to be pulled down and replaced with something more modern, something that would speak to the modern day tourists.

To them the Georgian facades were old fashioned and outdated.

What if they had got their way?

What would Weymouth have looked like today?


Writing a book, blog, short stories or your own family history, then why not bring them to life with historical graphics.

I have a huge collection that cover illustrations from 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

1873; The battle for Greenhill gardens;2013.

This is a very hot topic today in the local news…the local council seem to be stripping off all our best assets, and one that they are talking about selling off to a private investor are the renown Greenhill gardens. Not surprisingly this has a great many of the local residents up in arms.Image

These are prize winning grounds that contain gardening classics such as  the floral clock and flower beds. All immaculately maintained by the hardworking groundsmen and the Friends of Greenhill gardens, a voluntary group. Much of my childhood was spent wandering these grounds, listening to the cuckoo that sounded on the hour by the pretty clock.

My own kids when they were little would walk up here with my father to buy a packet of sweeties from the shop, and to watch that very same clock.


These are the jewel in the crown to our little seaside town, please don’t let us loose them, they also happen to be on a piece of land that could be considered to be prime real estate


These gardens have been fought over before way back in history in the beginnings of their life.

Before anything was built along this stretch of ground it was a stretch of cliffs that were constantly washed by the sea, it was considered as common land even then, but in fact it was owned, like vast areas of our town by the Johnson estate.

As far back as 1865 a grand scheme had been hatched for this area.


Southern Times.;1865 26 Aug



We wish most particularly to direct the attention of our numerous readers, especially our fair friends, to the advertisement in another column of the Manor Cricket and Archery Park Company (Limited), and right glad are we to find the name of our energetic and well-wishing friend, Mr. W J Compton, being associated in the management of it. That we wish him every possible success and patronage to develop such a grand feature for the town of Weymouth is but faintly expressing our ideas on the subject.

Let us, however, just hastily run through the programme, “Cricket and Archery”, and we think we hear one of our fair readers add, “Yes, and croquet too, and a club ground arranged on purpose for us”. Well, such is the case. Cricket for our rising young friends, to assist them in bracing up the nerves, developing the manly powers, and in spending many a happy hour in really good wholesome exercise, and which will bear reflection on many occasions in after life, for who is there among our more mature readers that does not remember, at some early period of his life, having had many a game at “ Cricket on the Common,” with the village blacksmith, the clerk, and the lads of the village, aye, and probably the rector and his curate also? For where is to be found a more thoroughly English and in every way beneficial game than cricket, and where the peer and the peasant may meet on friendly and equal terms? There has many a good sermon been read to the lads of the village by the presence of their pastor in an innocent game of cricket with them, and many a good example set not forgotten through life, for early impressions are those which form the after character of the man.

But to pass on to archery, one of the most fashionable and healthy accomplishments for “ the fair and beautiful girls of our island,” does this not also brace up the nerves, assist the carriage and deportment, expand the chest (much more so than reading the last “sensation novel of the day” on a reclining couch), and in every way improve the health by the walking exercise it necessarily entails, the gentle excitement it causes on the match ground, and the conversation it creates when meeting tête-à-tête in the drawing room? And there is croquet too, a very stylish pretty lawn game, and in a neat and comfortable alcove the ladies may be seated enjoying the pure sea breeze, with a distant view of the magnificent Portland Breakwater and the frowning hills of the island.

A refreshment room will be provided, where, tea, coffee, and general confectionary may be found. The band will also play at appointed hours. In the winter skating may be enjoyed on the lake, and which, by the plan we have had submitted to us, divides the park in half, thus displacing any fear that may arise in the minds of our fair readers as to any danger arising from the cricket balls; and where in summer our juveuile friends may amuse themselves by sailing their miniature Warriors and Royal Sovereigns, and arrange an amateur “battle with the breeze.”

We are pleased to find a rule to close the gates at sunset, which will ensure the respectability of the grounds, and a properly appointed park keeper will be on duty the whole day. The directors will no doubt frame such rules as will keep up the morale of their undertaking. And now a word to our readers and the public respecting the shares. We may commend the prospectus to their favourable notice and deep consideration, as looking at the 3rd clause we think with the economical management which will be pursued that a fair dividend may be annually paid, and the immense indirect benefit to be derived by our fellow townsmen, should induce one and all to put their shoulder to the wheel and assist in developing it, if by only taking a few, say five, shares each, which will ensure them a vote in the management, and we think 40 shares will constitute a director. The company is started on no political grounds. It is for the benefit and amusement of the whole town, and we therefore hope to see friends of all shades of politics join in the undertaking and bring it to a successful issue.

Sir Frederick Johnstone has in a most handsome manner offered the ground on very liberal and easy terms, and the adjoining portion of the estate is now being surveyed and laid out for villa building. We are authorized to state that one gentleman will become a director of the Park Company, if it is started this autumn (and that swampy, marshy piece of land below Greenhill is this filled up), and will erect a few villas adjoining, suitable for the reception of our resident gentry and those wishing to reside amongst us. But time and space will not allow us to say any more now, and we will refer to it again shortly; but let us again impress it on our fellow townsmen and all well wishers to the town of Weymouth.

Do not let such an excellent opportunity for raising the town f Weymouth to the most fashionable watering place in England be allowed to pass, for it is very improbable that facilities for consummation like those now offering will again present themselves. There is a good old saying “Strike while the iron’s hot,” and workers in iron find that there is force and reason in it. The present favourable position of affairs would seem to infer “Now’s the time, now’s the hour,” for launching the above scheme-limited according to act of Parliament, but not limited in the intellectual, to say nothing of the financial and all who honour our town with a visit or invest their capital in its shares.


Nothing seemed to have come of that previous scheme, but things went ahead for the grounds anyway, under the leadership of Sir Frederick Johnstone. By the year 1872 the gardens had started to be formed.

Southern Times.

1872 5th Jun


We have been favoured with the sight of a drawing of the contemplated conversion of Greenhill into pleasant walks and gardens. When the idea is carried out it will form one of the most attractive and picturesque spots belonging to our sea-side resort.

When Sir Frederick Johnstone, who owns the property, was here recently, it was represented to him how great an advantage would accrue to the town if the land at Greenhill was laid out as a place of public resort, and the benefit it would confer on a large number of men who were out of empty. With his usual generosity, Sir Frederick, in order to give employment to those who were out of work, consented to have the land laid out as public walks and gardens, and the works are now in full progress, affording labour to some thirty men.

The plan shows it is contemplated to extend the Esplanade wall about 500 yards northward. At present this will not be carried out, but it is hoped that some day we shall see our promenade prolonged nearly as far as the spot where the old ice house stood, and without doubt it will form one of its most attractive features.

The land at Greenhill will be laid out in wide undulating walks, following as near as possible the contours of the ground, and hereafter the slopes will be planted with pines and other hardy shrubs. Near the road will be a platform for a band, with seats placed around for the accommodation for visitors. The land will be broken up in places with a rockery. There will be croquet and archery grounds, prepared with consummate taste and skill. In various parts of the walks there will be ample accommodation for visitors to rest, chairs being plentifully distributed. It is only intended this year to lay out the walks, and when the proper times comes, to stock the slopes with shrubs. It is conjectured that the walks will be ready for the benefit of the public in about two months time. The land will be enclosed with a rustic fence, and when completed, it will prove a most charming spot.

Mr. G.R. Crickmay, the architect to the Johnstone estate, has been entrusted with the laying out of the ground, and his well-known artistic taste in this department will be sufficient guarantee for our having a resort which will reflect credit in his judgment and also on the town. The land laid out extends 340 yards in length and 50 in width, but the archery ground will be in addition. We should state that these walks will be entirely for the use of the town and its visitors, and will be open to the public without any charge, in fact it will be the “people’s park,”

One very important feature in connection with the laying out of Greenhill as a pleasure spot is that Sir Frederick Johnstone has determined that no houses shall be built near the newly-made gardens. Here away from the noise and bustle of the town, the inhabitant or visitor will find one of the most lovely spots with which to feast his sight. Before him lies our unrivalled bay, and then stretching out as far as sight reaches the English Channel and West Bay, whilst nearer are the noble cliffs of Old Albion on the one side and the rugged heights of Portland on the other. Then closer still that wonderful monument of man’s ingenuity and skill-the harbour of refuge, where during some period of the year are to be found our ironclad fleet and numbers of craft of all sizes. Then coming very near home, the beautiful sweep of the Esplanade, the sands, and the harbour, all combine to make Weymouth and its neighbourhood are to be seen to advantage. Here the delightful sea breeze refreshes the weary one with double vigour; here the eyes rests on a scene so varied in it’s character-an endless expanse of water at one’s feet, majestic cliffs and beautiful vallies, hill and dale, woodland scenery; in fact, everything which can gratify the eye and please the lover of Nature. Here is a spot on which a painter would like to linger, and which would be a theme of admiration with the poet. There is no doubt for the future Greenhill will be the “lion of the place.”


The phrase they used in the passage just about says it allWe should state that these walks will be entirely for the use of the town and its visitors, and will be open to the public without any charge, in fact it will be the “people’s park,”

Certain people at the time were concerned that this area should remain for public use, and questions were asked in the council meeting..


Mr. HOWARD , in adverting to Sir Frederick Johnstone’s improvements in laying out Greenhill, said this would be a great addition to the town, and a wonderful improvement to Sir Fredericks’s own property in that neighbourhood, and the only wonder was that it had not been done years ago, as then the houses in that locality would have been let over and over again. He wanted to know what steps had been taken by the Board to preserve the rights which the public had had for so many years over Greenhill.

It was explained that the public would have the same rights and privileges as at present.

By 1873 the gardens were nearly completed.


Visitors to our town who knew the Greenhill a year ago would now be at a loss to recognize the old spot, so thoroughly has it been altered.

Instead of its being as heretofore a place of humps and hollows and desolation, it is now, through the great generosity of Sir Frederick Johnstone, one of the prettiest places in the town, and is really a people’s park in miniature. The ground has been very admirably laid out under the direction of Mr. G.R. Crickmay, and now there are grassy slopes, artistic mounds, and pleasant walks. The gardens have been planted with trees, shrubs, and plants of various kinds, and when these have had a few years growth the appearance of the place will be considerably improved.


At the extreme end of the gardens is a well-formed piece of ground to be used for croquet playing. This site is surrounded by a rustic wooden fence, which gives it a very pretty appearance. Another important advantage is that owing to the construction of the gardens the Esplanade has been lengthened to the extent of several hundred yards. The gardens may now be considered nearly completed, only some fine gravel being required to finish off the walks. When the gardens are thrown open to the public, we are sure they will be greatly appreciated by the town, and the Greenhill will be a pleasure resort both to residents and visitors.


Things didn’t go too smoothly though, ructions began in the council, all was not what it had at first seemed. One particular councillor, Mr Wallis,  took it into his hands to try and rectify matters. He was a peoples man. He had fought for the Alexander gardens to be open, free for use by one and all, often standing by the gate with his cane, ready to threaten anyone daring to try to take money for entering the gardens. this man is my hero.


1886 29th Jul; THE TIMES





The hearing of this case, which has occupied the attention of this court on six entire days, was concluded this morning.

The dispute was a local one, in reference to certain lands near Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, in the county of Dorset, and the principle features of the case was the antiquity of the documentary evidence relied on by the defendants, one of whom conducted the case in person. The plaintiff, Sir Frederick Johnstone, was, it appeared, the principle owner of the land in the neighborhood of Weymouth. His predecessors in title enclosed the lands in question many years ago. A portion of the enclosed lands was built upon or laid out for building, and the other portion was dedicated to the public as a garden and recreation ground, which, it was said was maintained by the Johnstone family at their own expense. Recently, the defendant, Wallis and Mudd, accompanied by about 150 persons, broke down the fences of the public garden and of other land, and committed other various acts of trespass. The defendant Wallis sought to justify this trespass on the ground that part of the land was common land, being parcel of what was formerly known as Melcombe Common, and had been wrongfully enclosed by the plaintiff’s predecessors in title. As to the rest of the land, the contention was that it was the property of the Corporation of Weymouth.

Mr. Graham Hastings, Q C, Mr. Elton Q C, Mr. Hull, and Mr. Farwell appeared for the plaintiff, and called witnesses who proved the commission of the acts of trespass. The defendant, Wallis, conducting the case in person, referred to various old documents, including an entry in Doomsday Book under date A D 1087, charters, grants, & c. in the rights of Edward I, Edward III, Henry VIII, Elizabeth, and James I during the Commonwealth, and subsequently. He also called witnesses to prove the exercise by various persons of rights of common over the land, formerly known as Melcombe Common.

Mr. JUSTICE KAY in delivering judgment, said that no doubt the defendants, Wallis and Mudd, acted as they did in belief that they were doing service to their fellow townsmen, and were vindicating their rights in a proper way. But the law of this country is that if any person chooses to enter violently on land enclosed and in the peaceable possession of others, to break down railings and commit acts of trespass of that kind, that person is doing prima facie a wrongful act, and when he does so accompanied by a mob of 150 people, it is obvious that such proceedings are likely to lead to acts of violence which no law-abiding citizen of this country in his senses would think to be a proper way of vindicating his rights, what ever they might be. His Lordship then stated in detail the facts of the case. In particular he referred to an allegation in the defense that by a Royal Charter of Henry VIII a right of commons, of pasture and recreation over Melcombe-common had been granted to the free burgesses of Melcombe=Regis. It was admitted, his Lordship said by the defendant Wallis that ? ? ? person who had committed a breach of it. A good illustration of this was afforded by the case of “ Rothchild v Brookman” (5 Bligh N S 105) in which a purchase of stock by an agent was set aside.




A FICTITIOUS CHARTER-  In the Chancery Division, on Wednesday, Mr. Justice Kay granted an injunction against certain inhabitants of Weymouth, who, accompanied by a large mob, broke down the fences and committed other acts of trespass on land belonging to Sir Frederick Johnstone, near that town. The defendants relied on a charter of Henry III., purporting to give the burgesses certain common rights, but this charter proved to be fictitious, and Sir Frederick’s title was in other respects good.


Wallis, who had so valiantly stood up and acted on behalf of the inhabitants of the borough was now on the receiving end of the law, because of the court costs, sadly and unfairly, he was to become broke and ended living in poverty.


1890 19 sep

Wallis testimonial fund concert

Through the kindness of many friends a concert in aid of the Wallis testimonial fund was given at the Jubilee Hall on Wednesday evening. It may be recollected that some few years since, whilst Mr. Thomas Wallis was a member of the Town Council, he very unwisely involved himself in a legal action with Sir Frederick Johnstone, in his endeavor to wrest from him some property which he contended belonged to the town. In order to carry on the action he had to sacrifice all the property he possessed-at that time by no means an inconsiderable amount-but in the end was beaten, and had to pay the taxed costs. This, of course, simply ruined him, houses and home were sold up, and he left Weymouth, since which time he has been engaged in earning a livelihood as an artist. In response to an appeal made by the Mayor, a subscription has been set on foot in the town, in order to assist him, which has been liberally responded to, and it was in order to supplement this effort that a concert was arranged to take place, as it was hoped that by this means a substantial sum might be added to the fund. The concert was one in which amateur vocalists took part, the professional gentlemen of the town kindly giving their services. The attendance was nothing like so large as was expected, about five hundred persons only being present, so that the proceeds from this source will not be very large. The concert was of a rather tame character, and did not seem to be appreciated as much as usual.




Mr. Roberts asked if any communications had been received from Sir F Johnstone respecting the further enclosing of Greenhill as public gardens.- The Mayor stated he had received a very kind letter, but had mislaid it.


1891 8 Aug; THE GRAPHIC

The Greenhill gardens, the property of Sir F Johnstone ,Bart, are generously thrown open to the public, and maintained by the owner in first-rate-order. The roads and pavements have been much improved.


At a later date further land was added to the gardens;



Mr. A N M Jones moved that that portion of Lodmoor now belonging to the Johnstone Estate shall be required by the Weymouth Corporation to provide an addition to the Greenhill Gardens, also to carry out such improvements as may be thought desirable and necessary. -Owing to the protracted nature of the meeting, Mr. Jones consented to the postponement of his propositions.




In the continuation of beautiful weather visitors are flocking to Weymouth in large numbers and the summer season may now be regarded as being at its height.


The ready manner in which the Corporation cater for their patrons was again exemplified on Wednesday, when there were opened, with due formality, a number of bathing bungalows on the sea front at Greenhill, additional tennis courts, and a bowling green, with convenient dressing-rom accommodation. Above the bungalows is a sheltered promenade, which will no doubt prove a favourite resort. Tennis tournaments and competitions in bowls are being arranged which will provide much pleasure for towns-folk and visitors alike.


We may need to fight to keep our parks and gardens, just that “OUR” parks and gardens.


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