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/

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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

1870 2nd Apr

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

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

1887 8 Jul

WESTERN GAZETTE

THE SEASON BAND.

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

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

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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..

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Playing during the 2012 Sailing Olympics at Weymouth town bridge.

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

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1868, Weymouth mayor in court!

We are going through a bad recession at the moment (as if I had to tell you that!) and when things get tough financial wise, somethings have to go.

Such is the present day council’s dilemma…what to cut, what to keep.

Well, it appears to have been the  old harbour area and piers that seems to be the brunt of many of the cost cutting exercises over the past few years.

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The pleasure pier is literally on it’s last  wonky, wooden legs and if it has to be demolished for safety reason, I’m not so sure that it will ever be replaced.

Such was the problem that the town council had back in the Victorian era.

They were desperately trying to provide attractions to bring the tourists in, other seaside resorts along the coast were beginning to become popular, and it was a case of fighting for the customers. and juggling the finances.

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Weymouth prior to this had nothing but a plain old rickety stone/rubble pier, so after furious debating it was decided to splash out on a new wooden pier. One of great beauty and elegance, it’s style was graceful and curving, with a rotunda constructed at the end where bands would play.

When it opened it was an instant hit.

Dances were held on its wooden boards, up to 2,00 people stepping the light fantastic out across the waters while glowing gas lamps completed the magic in the summers’s night air.

Musical recitals drew large crowds, resident military bands would play alongside the local town boys. There was entertainment galore to keep those vital visitors amused.

There was even facilities for swimmers at the end, changing rooms, steps, a dip off the end was par for the course for many of the hardy health fanatics. Sea bathing still promoted as the be-all in cures for so many ailments.

In fact, it was almost perfect…almost!

Only one problem.

Come June 1868 and the poor old town Mayor, Mr. Tizard was hauled before the courts, not just the local one either, he appeared before the Courts of Exchequer for non-payment of a bill by the corporation.

Weymouth’s nice new posh, shiny, all-singing, all-dancing pier had been constructed and finished a few years earlier by the appointed Contractor, Mr. Payne.

The whole kitten caboodle had cost Weymouth town £11,700.

The Corporation managed to pay some of the bill, but just couldn’t raise the last £3,500.

That was why they, namely the Mayor, were being taken to court by the contractor. It seems that they had hoped to raise the last amount of money by mortgaging the pier rates, but had not been able to do so.

There were no funds left in the kitty to pay the man!

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But at least for now it was a pleasant spot for folks to sit and watch the soldiers toiling on the completion of the Nothe fort opposite and the comings and goings of the bustling harbour and the picturesque bay.

Indeed, they would have witnessed something very unusual that summer.

A shoal of 30 odd porpoises had graced the area with their presence, swimming alongside the Portland steamers as they made their way from the pier on her way to the island and back, much to the amusement of the passengers on board.

Sadly,  it seems that one of the porpoises made the mistake of returning a month later to the safety of the harbour. Victorians being, well I guess, Victorians, loved anything rare and unusual.

Only trouble was they had a propensity to shoot them!

Rare birds, animals, and unfortunately this hapless porpoise.

One more specimen for their collection.

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

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Professor Cavill and Weymouth’s swimming display 1871

As a child growing up in Weymouth, i have many happy memories of swimming from the old Pleasure Pier.

This was at a time when there were changing rooms for the swimmers, a slide, diving boards, and steps, water polo matches were played there. In the summer the water would be thick with kids and teenagers all splashing about happily in the sea. A town band played at weekends, locals and trippers would walk to the end, sit and watch the ships sailing in and out of the harbour or across the bay, have a drink at the cafe.

Life was good

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Sadly that pier is now becoming a crumbling  wreck, no longer revealing any signs of it’s former glory.

During the Victorian era, the graceful old wooden pier, with it’s curved end provided much entertainment for both locals and trippers.

At the start of the summer season in 1871 Professor Cavill burst upon the scene, bringing with him a troup of professional swimmers, not only giving a display off the pier of their prowess and stamina, but arranging swimming matches open to professionals and amateurs..

Professor Cavill was a resident of Brighton, and a great advocate of swimming as an excellent form of exercise, he declared that it  a necessary lesson to those who lived by the sea, he also rather boldly referred to himself as the Champion Swimmer of the South of England..

The day of the great event dawned  beautiful and bright, the water as smooth as glass. A course had been marked out for the races, large spars were floated in the water alongside the pier to keep any boats well back from the competitors. Two barges took their place at the beginning of the course, one held the officials and the starter, while the other was used as changing rooms for the men. (there was no mention of any women swimming at all!)

The Pile pier (as it was known in the Victorian era) was packed with all manner of spectators, nearly 5,000 people jostled for space along the rails to watch the proceedings, many more took to boats out in teh bay to get a better view of the events. At the end of the pier was the band of the fusiliers, they were there to keep the crowd amused in the afternoon between races.

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As was usual at the weekends and when  events had been organised, special trains brought in carriage loads of excited trippers, more were  arriving aboard the steamboats that travelled from up and down the coast.

There was even a one legged swimmer present to give aquatic displays, a certain Professor Moore from London. He thrilled the crowds with his astonishing agility and speed.

The races were divided into differing abilities., being one for the boys of the navy and another for the local lads. The professionals swam in a race of their own, many having come from afar to enter.

A grand day out was had by one and all.

Oh that Weymouth could witness those scenes again, but alas, I fear our so called Pleasure Pier won’t hold out on it’s old wooden wonky legs much longer!

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

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

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

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