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

What I find fascinating about mooching through the 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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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 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.

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.

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Maybe some of the entertainment on offer wasn’t quite to his taste.

There was even 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.

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But 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.

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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 thought.

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.

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The pretty maid then popped up in the watchmaker and jewellery shop of Henry Talzner in St Thomas Street. But 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!

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

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https://nothefortandbeyond.wordpress.com/blog/

Men of the sea; 1869

Not surprisingly, local folk have always looked to the sea for their favour and fortunes.

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However, old Father Neptune is a fickle master, sometimes he gives us untold riches…but he also has the ability to take those we love.

Such was the sad case in September of 1869.

You and I might think of Greenhill as a place where we dabble our toes when the weather is warm, or somewhere we sit in the pleasant sunshine to enjoy stunning views with a cup of tea or an ice cream. The long shingle beach littered with the last of the sun worshipers and the hardy bathers.

To our ancestors though, Greenhill was very much a workplace.

One September Sunday became a memorable day in Weymouth’s history.

It was when rich pickings entered the bay, a vast shoal of pilchards had been spotted heading for the beach. Of course, despite atrocious conditions, local fishermen did what had to be done, chase the liquid money. ‘During the whole of the day parties of fishermen had been engaged on the beach near Greenhill, in the pilchard fishery.’

But it also harboured tragedy for the fishermen of the town.

The blustery weather certainly wasn’t in their favour that day, ‘the wind which was blowing in very strong gusts from the north-west’ had made for a ‘very sloppy sea.’

Our Victorian ancestors  were out in force that Sunday, partaking in the day of the Lord, dressed warmly to keep out the Autumn chill, little knowing that as they strolled ‘in the presence of hundreds of promenaders, bent on pleasure,’ they were witnesses who  would be  ‘entirely unprepared for the terrible sensation that awaited them.’

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Folks stood along Greenhill common , watching as men dragged their wooden boats and heavy rope nets down the beach and into the water. Time after time they rowed out into the wind swept bay, laying their nets behind them. Having circled round, then began the hard work.  Men heaved and hauled in their cumbersome nets, moving ever closer to shore. The sea literally boiled with thousands of erupting fish, screaming gulls circled above, diving again and again to greedily snatch their fill.

A productive days fishing was on the cards, many a celebration would be enjoyed that night at inns and taverns around town.

About four o’clock that afternoon,‘opposite the house of Mr Trenchard,’ four men clambered into their vessel, ‘a trough, a little flat-bottomed craft.’ They too were going to grab their share of nature’s riches.

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First to climb in was fifty-seven year old William Watch. Despite his good age, William was a strong man and a powerful swimmer. He sometimes worked as a porter, but fishing was in his blood, it  didn’t always pay the bills though.

William lived on Chapelhay Stairs along with his wife Elizabeth and their growing brood.

Fellow fisherman, Samuel Chick, climbed in next, he was a mere youngster at 27. Samuel Charles was the illegitimate son of Eliza Chick. Mother and son lived in Conygar Lane.

Also in the boat was William Chick of West Quay (or John, depending on which newspaper you read!)

The forth man to board that fated vessel was George Watts, a Blandford carpenter, but one who had moved recently to Wyke Regis. During the inquest he was referred to as ‘George ‘Smuggler’ Watts,’  maybe he was a man with a checkered past?

Rowing hard against the winds, the four headed for the tell-tell signs of the rich vein of pilchards, their vessel sat low in the water at the back, weighed down by nets and rope.

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Once they reached their destination, the fishermen hurriedly began to lay their nets. Only problem was, added weight at the rear of the boat made her sink her even lower.

Fate waited patiently in the wings.

With that, a sudden swell swamped their low-lying boat, overturning her and catapulting all four men in choppy seas.

William Watch, Samuel Chick and George Watts tried desperately to right her again.‘Hampered as it is supposed they were, with the ropes or net, they could not manage it properly,  and turned her over three or four times.’  But it was not to be, ‘ at last, exhausted, they sank.’

Back on land, the unfolding tragedy was watched by horrified crowds.

Boats set out from the shore, rowing furiously against the waves in a desperate attempt to reach the floundering men.

One of those boats heading for the upturned vessel contained Sergeant Brine, P.C. Hansford and William Burt.

Old William kept his eyes firmly on the spot where he had witnessed ‘ Watch rising and sinking,’ but once they reached the spot, he was not to be seen, only a  man’s cap being tossed around on the swell. William reached in as far as he safely could and managed to grab hold of someone’s hair. Hauling in the fully clothed, sodden body was difficult, but the men managed and lay it out in the bottom of their boat.

He was still alive, but only just.

This was William Watch.

William Chick, (or  was it John?) had launched himself clear of the tangled nets and rope as their boat overturned, he was found exhausted, frozen, but still clinging onto an oar some way away from the boat. William was hauled ashore by one of the many men who had taken to the waters in a desperate bid to save the drowning fishermen.

By now the upturned fishing boat had righted itself again, but no sign of any of its other crew members. Fears were that they had been trapped by their own heavy nets and ropes which were now dragging the seabed.

Sergeant Brine and P.C. Hansford clambered into the empty vessel. They frantically tried to free the dragging nets,‘but the party found they had but one knife between them.’ It was a slow and arduous task as they cut one rope after another. Far too late to save anyone that was still entangled in the waters below.

William Burt, of a goodly age, but one that hadn’t robbed him of his strength, rowed a semi-conscious William Watch towards the beach. At one stage, Watch rallied slightly and muttered “Oh, Burt,” and he moved his hands and feet,’ but soon after fell silent.

It took old William nearly fifteen minutes to finally reach the shore, where crowds had gathered.

Once on land, Watch’s now motionless body was laid out on the shingle, he was soon stripped of his sodden clothing. Desperate to help, residents of Brunswick Terrace had been busy, they ‘pulled the blankets from their own beds, and hurried down to the beach.’ 

Even Mayor Devenish arrived on scene to take charge, bringing with him stone water bottles and a supply of suitable stimulants.  He ordered that troops be sent to keep the rapidly gathering crowds back from the scene of the tragedy.

Two surgeons from the 51st Regiment arrived, they attempted to help local doctors in their frantic attempts to revive a seemingly lifeless Watch.

For the next two hours, Dr Tizard, Dr Griffin and Dr Rhodes tried all within their means to resuscitate William Watch’s stone cold body, but to no avail.

Back out in the bay, men were still searching for the missing bodies of George Watts and Samuel Chick.

There was not a sign of them.

The inquest on the death of William Watch was held in the Burdon Hotel Tap, where his corpse was laid out for jurors to peruse.

When Superintendent Vickery was questioned by the coroner about William Watch, he rather oddly replied that ‘he believed Watch had left eight or nine children; but Burt made a mystery about that.’

The body of 57-year-old William Watch, (father of an undisclosed number of offspring,)  was laid to rest in Wyke Regis churchyard on the 24th September 1869.

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Three days later, 27-year-old Samuel Chick followed in his friends footsteps, his body having been washed ashore.

He was also buried at Wyke Regis.

There is no further mention of George ‘Smuggler’ Watts. Presumably old Neptune wound his cold tentacles around him and there he stayed.

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Why not check out my ‘Tales from around the Victorian World.’ 

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for all sorts of Victorian snippets.

https://victoriantalesfromaroundtheworld.wordpress.com/2017/01/

 

or if Weymouth’s military history is your cup of tea try Nothe Fort and Beyond…

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https://nothefortandbeyond.wordpress.com/blog/