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

What I find fascinating about mooching through old newspapers is not only the sensational crimes and usual misdemeanors that fill the columns of the local papers, but also those mundane snippets that give us every day glimpses of our Victorian ancestors lives.


In some sense, they really weren’t that much different from us.

Take The Dorset County Chronicle of 11th September 1884.

Just like we do today (well, those of us that still browse the physical pages of print rather than online) your GGG Grandfather Henry might well be sat in his plush, red velvet armchair that late summer’s afternoon, his pince-nez slid down to the tip of his nose as he perused the trials and tribulations of his fellow townsmen.

Would he have nodded in satisfaction when  he read that Reuben Newberry of Upwey  had a great year when it comes to growing his Dahlias.


Well, of course, he knew old man Reuben was a perfectionist when it came to the floral side of things, after all, he did run Upwey Nurseries alongside his wife Miriam. They often exhibited in the local flower shows and came away with many of the prizes.


He was also rather good when it came to cultivating families it seems, managing to germinate ten offspring.

Reuben had been showing some remarkably fine specimens of these flowers lately. Those that he had put on display being very much admired.

(Only a couple of years later and 73-year-old Reuben hung up his hose and laid down his dibber, an advert appeared advertising his very desirable and compact nursery and market garden. )

Maybe Granfer Henry’s eyes would next catch sight of a name he knew well…that caused him to sigh heavily…’What’s Wheeler been up to now’ he’d muse to himself. ‘Always trying to get himself noticed, that fellow.’

FINE ARTS the headline proclaimed. Specimens of photographic portraits &c. in every style of the art, take by Mr Wheeler of the Vandyke Studio, are now being shown by him.


The studio was run by Harry Wheeler, a man with fingers in many profitable pies! One of them being photography.

Harry also ran a fine art studio, library and printing press, something that had got him into a spot of bother with the law in 1878. Apparently his press had been churning out defamatory leaflets concerning a certain borough magistrate, Joseph Drew, that had hit the streets of Weymouth just before  the municipal elections.

That September day though, the attending reporter waxed lyrical of Harry’s talents. He may well be proud of the work he has turned out, for we doubt whether it is possible for any photographer, either in London or the provinces to show a better collection.

Harry and Mary Marie Wheeler and their veritable brood (must be something in the Weymouth waters!) lived along Frederick Place.

When Harry passed to the dark room in the heavens (1895) his fingers in pies scheme had obviously worked their magic because he bequeathed to his wife and son, Frank Augustus Wheeler, dealer in fine arts, the princely sum of £4494 13s 11d.

But of course, Granfer would certainly have approved of the more sedate culture to be found in Weymouth’s theatres.

Mr Doryly Carte’s Opera Company were taking to the stage,  performing the fairy opera Iolanthe in the theatre (though it doesn’t actually say which one, for Weymouth had quite a few in those days.) The article claims that It will have splendid scene, effects and be most gorgeously dressed.


But, just maybe, some of the entertainment on offer wasn’t quite to his taste.

There was a lengthy report on a Swimming Exhibition by Dr Jennings.

It was supposed to have taken place on the Wednesday, but as per usual fickle mother Nature soon put paid to those plans.


Brave Dr Jennings, not one to be deterred, set out again on the Thursday, unwilling to disappoint his audience. Although the weather overhead was fine, the air was exceedingly cold, a “north-easter” blowing and the sea was very “loppy”.

About 300 folk had forked out their hard earned sixpenny pier toll to watch this intrepid swimmer take his leave of Weymouth’s pier.

Of course, as human nature dictates, there were always those few, about 100 more were in boats and therefore viewed this exhibition for nothing.

Ever the showman, Dr Jennings (who is a well developed man) made his appearance  dressed in an old suit. He then stepped up onto the specially prepared stage and made a great performance of putting on a pair of sturdy boots and lacing them up tightly, then donned a heavy overcoat, taking care to button it up right to his chin..

Jennings clambered down into a waiting boat and to the gasp of his audience, promptly tipped over the side and disappeared under the waves.

Of course, this was all part of his display…for he soon bobbed up to the surface like a fisherman’s cork.

Whilst fighting the tide and the swell, Jennings then proceeded to unbutton and remove his heavily sodden overcoat, followed by a jacket and then his waist coat. As each layer was discarded a great roar went up from the expectant crowd. His underwater striptease show continued with the untying and removal and his boot whilst being tossed around on the choppy surface, then off came his trousers and his shirt until at last he was down to his proper swimming attire.

He then proceeded to give a demonstration of how easy it was for man to float on seawater, reclining in a variety of postures on the troubled waves.

Not content with that, a chair was thrown to him, upon which he sat as if it was in deed on ‘terra firma‘.

All in all a jolly spiffing display.


Not that Granfer Henry would have been overly impressed with Jennings japes, what he enjoyed most of all was perusing the columns of the naughtier Weymouth residents misdeeds.

Henry he could tut and humph with the best them.

Not much tittle tattle in todays paper he mused.

Only Granfer’s best friend, old John Vincent, who had been hoodwinked by a pretty maid entering his shop. She asked to look at diamond rings then sent John off to retrieve some from the window…and promptly took her leave of the premises, leaving John one sparkler short.


The pretty maid then popped up in the watchmaker and jewellery shop of Henry Talzner in St Thomas Street. Thankfully he was immune to her fresh complexion and fluttering lashes and informed the police she had tried to sell a dodgy ring to him.

Weymouth’s PC Hansford knew his criminals though, he went along to stake out her mothers house in Trinity Road, where he collared her later that night as she returned home.

When questioned about the ring he noticed she was trying to remove something from her finger…something rather large and sparkly.

17-year-old Elizabeth White was convicted of theft and sent to prison for 4 months hard labour.

Maybe reading todays news had been all too much for Granfer Henry!

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

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Looking for Victorian illustrations then check out my IStock folder at Getty images for 100’s of these fantastic images.


1864; Weymouth as a nudist resort…

It’s quite weird really, you always have this perception of Victorians as being prudes and covered from head to toe, less some signs of sinful bare flesh should reveal itself.

It wasn’t quite like that though…well at least for for the gentlemen!

In 1864 a letter was sent to the Times, part of which was printed in the local papers.

F.S. (who ever they were) wrote of their absolute disgust at the sights they witnessed while staying in Weymouth.

They comment upon the fact that at high tide the sea reaches right up to the promenade wall (not any more!) slap bang in front of the guest houses and the esplanade. What made it so intolerable was that men without a ‘rag of covering’ were permitted to wander around at any time of the day. It was no better than if they were permitted to wander the streets of the town stark naked!

Even when it was low tide, the men in all their natural glory had to wade for yards before they could enter their bathing machine.

I think what incensed the writer most was that despite this display of masculine nudity (or maybe because of it) the Esplanade appeared to be a favoured promenade for people of both sexes…and cuttingly remarks that ‘nor do the windows of the adjoining houses appear to me to be entirely deserted.’


As the author of the letter was writing this very missive, they bemoaned the fact that another train was pulling in filled with ‘country people of all ages and sexes’ Asking that surely it wasn’t right that they should witness such debauched scenes.

What was interesting was that the year after this article appeared in the Times and the local papers, the very same very matter was brought before the members of the town council.

Mr Bartlett, who was the keeper of the bathing machines requested an amendment to the bylaws concerning the matter of men and nudity. They were politely requested to dress modestly after eight 0’clock in the morning. He said that despite there  already being a poster of the by laws in every bathing machine, and him having an ample supply of bathing drawers for the men to don before leaving the shelter of those machines, most men simply refused to wear a stitch when taking the waters, despite the fact that they could be prosecuted for not doing so.

This delicate matter seemed to bring a great deal of hilarity to the council committee, no end of quips shouted forth during the debate.


Things didn’t seem to have changed much over the following years as further letters were written to the press on the matter in 1870, one from ‘an outraged spinster’ which was followed by a rather humorous and cutting reply in the form of a poem penned by ‘a blue eyed bachelor.’

I wonder what they would have made of today’s females in their bits of fabric just about held together with string.


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.


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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


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.


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.


Related articles