Victorian St Nicholas Street: Weymouth

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

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

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

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

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

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      (MAP 1901)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s when disaster struck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘It was a kicker.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big mistake!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hhmmm….

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

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

It didn’t !

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things got no better at the Greyhound!

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

Sure did sound a lively spot.

But am I doing the poor fellow a disservice?

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

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

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

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

Fill your boots!

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

 

 

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Opening of the new Weymouth town bridge 1824.

Anyone interested in the long history of our town will know about it’s somewhat turbulent beginnings.

The harbour was the dividing line…at times literally the front line of the ‘war zone.’

Weymouth started life as two completely separate  towns very much at odds with each other. Old Weymouth  straggled along the harbourside of the Nothe and part of the Wyke Ridge behind and Melcombe Regis, the dastardly opposition, faced them across the waters.

In a nutshell, these two opposing settlements just did not get on, they fought about harbour dues, who was in charge, in fact absolutely everything and anything. Every so often,(frequently if truth be told,) a complaint would be sent to Queen Elizabeth I about such matters. In the end, so frustrated with the endless bickering  and having to constantly sort them out she decreed that the only way to settle it was for the two to be united.

Two became as one in 1571, the borough of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, but old scores ran deep, and it took many years for  both sides to be able to work together amicably.

In the local archives are 2 draft documents addressed to the Privy Council dated 1572, they tell of the continuing fierce disputes and how ‘ murder is likely to ensue.’  and so the squabbling went on..and on…

As early as 1575 it was suggested by the visiting local Justices brought in to resolve these matters ‘that a bridge should be erected as a likely help towards agreement.’

Eventually a bridge was constructed, which united the two sides of the harbour.

An excerpt from my well-thumbed copy of Eric Ricketts excellent book, ‘The Buildings of Old Weymouth; Part One,’ describes the historical time line of transport across the harbour, (I can highly recommend the series of books he wrote, you’ll see so much more history in Weymouth buildings that you ever noticed before.)

Erick Ricketts book

Anyway, I digress, back to the town bridge, Eric wrote ‘The first bridge was built in 1597 a timber affair with a central drawbridge “of two reeves.”

Come 1617 and orders for the maintenance of the harbour were drawn up, ‘A ship requiring “one or both leeves (of the drawbridge to be) drawne, is to pay 12d going up, nothing coming down.’‘ Every cart or wain, with iron-bound wheels, crossing the Bridge is to pay 4d.’ 

Eric was an avid and  knowledgable local historian and loved to draw sketches of things that still existed in the area, or indeed many sketches of his interpretation of what had gone before, below is such an illustration taken from his book mentioned above.

Erick Ricketts old town bridgebridge

He goes on to say that “Major repairs or rebuilding took place in 1713 and 1741 but by 1769 the increase in the number of ships moored at Custom House Quay, Melcombe, (between the Royal Oak Inn and the bridge,) was so great that cargoes had to be hoisted with much inconvenience ‘over several other vessels,’ thus it was decided to build the New Bridge on the Chapelhay steps-St Nicholas Street, (Melcombe,) axis and by so doing increase the length of the Melcombe Quay. The new bridge was of timber, the gift to the town by J Tucker Esq. M.P. ““For a visual record of the bridge we must visit our museum and study Uphams picture of it from the Weymouth side.”

(The new Weymouth museum has an excellent display outside on the landing showing the development of the harbour, well worth a visit.)

But it seems that many didn’t like this new positioning of the town bridge, no longer feeding off the main St Thomas Street, consequently come the start of the 19th c and a new bridge was planned, this time returned to its original position, to stand once again where many others had before.

The old wooden bridge had slowly fallen into disrepair, so in 1821 plans were made to build its replacement of stone with a swing section that opened to allow the taller sailing ships to pass through into the backwater area of the harbour.

Events of the previous year, (1820,) might well have had a big influence on that decision, the ‘inhabitants of Dorset’ (i.e. Weymouth,) were being taken to court by no less than the King!

‘The King v The Inhabitants of Dorset.-this was an indictment against the inhabitants of the county of Dorset for not repairing Weymouth Bridge.The defendants pleaded that under the statute of 22 Henry 8, ch 5, the inhabitants of the borough and town corporate of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis ought to repair the bridge, it being within the limits of that towns corporate. Upon the trial, the Inhabitants of Dorset were acquitted. The charge of the repair, which it is understood will be very heavy, is now thrown on the inhabitants of the said town, and will oblige them to apply to Parliament for an act to raise tolls on the bridge, and to increase port dues, in order to maintain the quays and wharfs.’

What were they to do, with little in the town’s coffers, the Corporation had to think laterally, then they came up with a grand scheme to raise the money…ask the general public for it; an add appeared in the papers in April of 1821.

Weymouth town bridge 1821.

They must have raised the necessary money because work  started that August of 1821, and as tradition dictated, the ceremony to lay the first stone was a big affair for the more elite members of the town.‘The foundation stone of the new bridge at Weymouth was laid with Masonic form on Monday last-The Mayor and Corporation assembled at the Guildhall; the friendly societies at their rooms; and the officers and their brethren of the lodges in the province, the R. W. P. G. M. for Essex, and other visitors at the hall, where the Grand Lodge was opened by Wm Williams, esq., M.P. and Provincial Grand Master, in ample form, from whence they proceeded to church, followed by the band of the Guards. The Rev Brother Deason read the service, and the Rev Brother Burgess delivered a most excellent masonic discourse. From the church a most splendid procession, attended by two bands, marched to the end of the Esplanade, and from thence to the spot where the foundation stone was to be laid, where the concourse of people was immense. The craft in the bay were decked with their colours, the rigging of the vessels, the galleries erected, the windows, the house tops, and every eminence likely to afford a view of the ceremony, was taken possession of. The P G M  accompanied by the D. G. M., Parr, his G. S. and T. W.’s, Elliott and Percy, and the other officers of the Grand Lodge, the Mayor and the Architect, the Contractor, and seven operative masons,descended on the pier, the stone was raised, and the G. T.  deposited the Coins and the Plate, on which was a suitable inscription. After a hymn and prayer, the procession returned to their respective places of entertainment.’

Even those ladies attending were dressed in masonic colours for the occasion.

‘At the ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone of the new bridge at Weymouth, all the ladies are to appear in aprons and blue scarfs in compliment to the masonic costume of the gentlemen.’

One might even assume that as the Masons had such a big part to play in the ceremony, so perhaps they did too in funding the scheme.

The building engineer was a Mr. G Moneypenny, Esq. and D Macintosh,Esq. the building contractor, the firm Messrs Fowler and Jones constructed the mechanism that opened the swing bridge.

An update on construction affairs was penned in 1823, ‘ The works of the Weymouth new bridge are advancing rapidly; it is the only construction of the kind in this kingdom-a stone bridge of elliptical arches, with a drawbridge centre, designed upon the principle of that proposed by Perronet, for the River Neva, at St Petersburg, but upon a rather smaller scale. The masonry of the bridge is considered a masterly performance; particularly light for its appearance, yet so very massive and closely united, that the  on the striking of the centre was not observed to settle even a sixteenth of an inch.’

Finally completed by January of 1824, the inhabitants of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis witnessed the grand opening of their new town bridge.

Consequently, early, very early, in fact…4 a.m! on that cold January morning in 1824, the first customer (they still had to pay a toll in those days to cross it, here’s hoping the present day town council don’t pick up on that one ) ventured forth.

The lucky ‘customer’ first over the bridge was a Mr G P Scott in his Magnet coach. He had obviously come well prepared for this grand, momentous occasion, his horses were beautifully bedecked with ribbons and evergreens. I’m not too sure that they were too happy with being covered in their flowing finery as they were described as “high mettled”.

It seems that some people had predicted that the bridge would be a failure, that no animals would be willing to step across the iron central panel, but cross they did. Mr Scott’s gaily bedecked carriage was swiftly followed by two large wagons full of strong beer, these were from Colonel Bower’s Brewery at Dorchester, and thereafter a stream of other traders passed to and fro.

old Weymouth town bridge

Mind you, perhaps some animals were a tad flighty when it came to stepping out on suspect metal surfaces,  in 1825 came this report ‘On Wednesday night as the Rev M Moles, of Ilminster, accompanied by his mother, was driving his carriage over Weymouth Bridge, his horse took fright and galloped off at full speed. Near Gloucester Row the carriage upset and both the lady and the gentleman were severely hurt.’

I wonder if that was before or after he’d paid the toll?

William Pye Weymouth town bridge

The old swing bridge served the town and harbour well for the next century, the central section being widened and altered slightly in 1885 as shown here in William Pye’s print of 1890.

Come 1930 and it was time for a new bridge to be constructed to deal with increased traffic both on land and water.

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Nowadays it’s the boats of the pleasure seekers who pass through it’s portals. Crowds line the harbourside in the summer to watch the bascule bridge raise and the procession of vessels enter and leave the harbour.

In the evening constantly changing colours of the lights adorn the parapets, sending a ripple of lights across the water.

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I wonder what Weymouth next bridge will look like?

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Check out my Pinterest pages for more old views of Weymouth from my collection.

https;//www.pinterest.com/susanhogben/old-views-of-weymouth-dorset/

See below links to more pictures of this bridge on the fascinating Website Weymouth in Old Postcards and Postcards run by Eddie Prowse.

http://www.weymouthinoldpostcards.co.uk/holy%20trinity%20church%201900s.htm