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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A Sorry Tale of Love and Betrayal; 1880.

During my  perusals of various sites and old local newspapers I often come across some intriguing stories.

Such was the case a few weeks ago when I was mooching through the old Police Gazettes, a periodical which gives a fascinating and highly detailed insight into our Victorian ancestors lives and their mishaps or misdemeanors.

Should such a publication be issued nowadays, goodness only knows how many tomes it would run to and just imagine the poor old paper boy trying to shove that through your letter box!

In the said gazette of April 23rd 1880 a sad but unfortunately not rare case was reported.

“A child was left on the door-step of a house in Belgrave-Terrace, Radipole, Weymouth between 9 and 10 pm, on the 19th inst. £2 reward will be paid by Mr Superintendent Vickery to any person who will give such information as will lead to the discovery of the person who placed the child where found;”

The  house receiving the little live bundle was no 3 Belgrave Terrace, the home of 70-year-old Glaswegian lady.

What on earth could an elderly Scottish lady have in connection with a seemingly unwanted child?

(Belgrave Terrace no longer exists, but it was off Dorchester road, somewhere in the Lodmoor Hill area)

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The article goes on to reveal yet more details- “a Male Child five weeks old, fresh complexion, dark hair, blue eyes, large mouth and nose; dressed in two head flannels, a white shirt, three under ditto, a white night dress, a black wool shawl, a white wool jacket, a white wool hood, a white fall, a piece of white gutta percha between a white cloth; these articles are all new. ” 

Obviously the baby had been warmly dressed for its night time doorstep delivery therefore presumably up until then had been well loved and provided for.

“The Child had a ticket placed on its breast, addressed to ‘P. Peck Esquire.’ Also on a piece of paper written -‘Take care of me, I have no mother.-Baby.’ In a bundle, tied up in a black and white Indian silk handkerchief, 3/4 yards square, were five napkins, two shirts trimmed with lace around the sleeves, a nightdress trimmed with lace around the neck and sleeves, a child’s flannel (old), a new mouth piece for child’s bottle, two brushed for cleaning the same, and some new wadding.”

Yet more evidence that someone had obviously adored and cared for this tiny scrap of humanity, so why would they give him up now?

A fairly vivid description of the person deemed guilty of the baby’s abandonment followed in the piece

“Supposed by a young woman, dark complexion, medium height, rather slightly built, speaking with a French or Italian accent; dressed in black dress, black jacket trimmed with black fur, black hat with heavy black fall, carrying a small bag or waterproof done up with straps. she had the appearance of a governess,”

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The police, ( and no doubt those in charge of the parish finances) were eager to apprehend this ‘terrible’ being. They knew she had left via the railway station…but to where?

“£2 reward will be paid to any person who will give such information as will lead to the discovery of the person who placed the Child where found, by Mr Superintendent Vickery, Police Office, Weymouth.-Bow Street, April 23rd.”

But like most sensational stories of the day, there lies a lot more behind the melodramatic newspaper headlines.

Come the 30th April 1880 and the  Western Gazette declares that the good old police had got their man, (or woman as in this case.)

Superintendent Vickery had “Traced her to Waterloo Station, London and then left the Criminal Investigation Department to Apprehend her. this was done a day or two ago, and on Tuesday the woman (who is a German governess named Rasch) was brought to Weymouth. She admits her guilt”

At the start of May, the case was brought before the courts held in Weymouth’s GuildHall.

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Of course, human nature being what it is and has always been, locals jostled for space in the already packed out the courtroom, eager to absorbed every sordid detail of the terrible affair.

The numerous attending reporters jotted down all the juicy bits, well aware that such highly emotive tales sells their papers far better than boring old Council matters and the usual drunks and debtors that normally filled their columns..

One of many reporters following the case, the Bridport News declared that it was a story of “ALLEGED SEDUCTION AND HEARTLESS CONDUCT.”

Before the panel of local judges stood a sorry looking lass, German born Emma Rasch.

With Weymouth solicitor Mr Howard defending her, Emma’s sad story that was revealed before one and all was one that must have occurred numerous times over the centuries.

She had been employed by a gentleman and his wife as a governess at their home, Templecombe House, Templecombe, Somerset. (Oddly enough, I lived there for a short while and used to visit the doctor’s family who lived and had a surgery in that very same house!) Not surprisingly, this family were wealthy land owners.

Originally from Hanover in Germany, Emma was a well educated, well brought up young woman, who was staying with a friend of the family in Templecombe at the time of her employment.

Of course, their two tales of the tragic events differed widely.

Emma claimed that Peter was the father of her child, and that come the November of the previous year, when things were beginning to become too obvious, he paid her off with £50.00 in gold coins. She was told to take herself off to London and find herself some rooms there to have the baby. Off she obediently toddled and duly found a place to live, only problem was, that £50.00 wasn’t going to go very far at London prices, and babies don’t come cheap. Undaunted, Emma had written to Peter asking for support, surely he wouldn’t fail her and their child?

Poor gullible Emma, she wrote not once, not twice, but a whole series of letter to the errant father, by now she was destitute and had absolutely nowhere to turn to.

Finally, in desperation,  she wrote a final letter informing Peter that if she didn’t hear from him then she would take the child to his mother’s as she could no longer care for it.

His mother was the Scottish lady of no 3 Belgrave Terrace, Weymouth, the recipient of the baby bundle that April’s night.

The dye was cast, Emma boarded the waiting train, her journey from London to Weymouth was all too quickly over, a last few precious moments with her child.

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In court, a tearful Emma vehemently declared that she hadn’t simply abandoned her child, “I did not desert it, as I rang the bell and waited and waited about until the door was opened.”

Having seen her child being safely taken inside and the door closed, a heart broken Emma turned and walked away, her only consolation being that she knew it would be much better off with family who could afford to care for it and love it.

Therein lay the crux of the problem.

For what ever reason, the family didn’t accept any responsibility for the poor child.

A young local girl, Annie Ames, was left to care for the abandoned baby that night and during the next day and a terrible chore befell her later that evening. Annie was made to take the hapless tiny bundle along to the Union Workhouse and handed it over to John Lee, the Weymouth Receiving Officer who took delivery of it.

Baby Rasch was now “chargeable to Weymouth Union,”

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A terrible crime in the eyes of the law and an offence definitely not taken lightly by those who held close to the town’s purse strings.

There was a certain amount of sympathy for Emma, after all she did what many young gullible girls had done before her, fallen under the spell of her employers false promises.

While she was in Weymouth standing trial she was “being allowed to remain at the house of a policeman under the care of his wife.”

The supposed ‘gentleman’ concerned, not surprisingly denied any knowledge of such events, claiming he didn’t know about the baby until it was placed at his mother’s home, he had never received any of her letters. As far as he knew Emma had simply left to return to Germany to take care of her sick mother.

All that was left to do was for the men of the town who sat in judgement to make their decision.

Who would they believe?

How harsh would their punishment be?

“Emma Rasch, we have come to the conclusion, and it is the only conclusion we can come to, that you have brought yourself within the limits of the law, insomuch that you have deserted your child, so as to leave it chargeable to the Union. The punishment we shall inflict will be of the very slightest description. Upon the consideration that first of all what you did we believe you did for the best of your child under the circumstances, and in consideration that you are a foreigner, the sentence we shall pass on you will be one day’s imprisonment, dating from this morning. you will therefore be discharged at the close of this court.”

With that closing statement the courtroom erupted, loud cheers and clapping echoed around the walls.

Though the spectators were ecstatic with the lenient verdict, Emma walked slowly from the courtroom, her head hung low. She was taken up to Dorchester Gaol and put into a cell where for 24 hours she sat and undoubtedly had time to deeply reflect.

Here she was, an unmarried mother, her child now in the Workhouse, her respectable family back home who possibly didn’t know anything about her ‘crimes’ or even worse, didn’t want to know. For not long after her release Emma packed her trunk and sailed back to Germany

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…without her son.

The man of the tragic case didn’t get off lightly either, “As Mr Peck left the Guildhall he was hooted by a large crowd and he took refuge in the Golden Lion.”

Good old Weymouth folk, never slow in coming forwards with their views on such matters!

A little footnote to this sorry tale sees the abandoned young child christened at the Holy Trinity church on the 9th May…

Holy Trinity.

…his given name was Victor.

A note hastily scribbled in the side column says it all, “Left at the Union-mother returned to Germany.”

Tragically, little Victor wasn’t destined to make old bones.

He died on October 23rd aged just 8 months and his tiny body was buried in a paupers grave along with others from the union Workhouse, their bones lay congenially in adjoining graves at the Wyke Regis churchyard.

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R.I.P. little man.

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Interested in more old views of Weymouth and Portland, check out my numerous local Pinterest Boards to see how our town once looked when your ancestors strolled its streets, browsed the shops and relaxed.

Victorian Lodmoor.

Being down on the South coast, our weather tends to be fairly mild compared to the rest of the country, I’ve lost count of the amount of times that my hubby had phoned me from work in Dorchester, over the Ridgeway, and would gloat that it was snowing there, of course, in Weymouth, it would be raining!

But this years headlines forewarning of a hard winter to come, following on from last years got me thinking when was the last time that the water froze over down here.

I can remember one occasion as a child when the Backwater had frozen right over, and Mum and Dad took me down to skate there, it was packed…my brother even tried to ride his bike on it!….rather stupidly as it happens, as he ended up with one very large bump on his head!

Lodmoor is an area of flat marshy ground on the outskirts of Weymouth.

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It sits right behind the shingle beach at Preston, which in the Victorian era, before the big raised sea wall was built, (pictured below) was all that kept the sea from flooding the ground behind.

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Before, and during the Victorian era, this area was popular for ice skating when the weather was cold enough to freeze over the water that sat there, which seemed to happen fairly frequently during that era. It was the first place people flocked to when the temperature dropped for any length of time. Torch light parades led by bands would lead the way during the evenings, and a ring of blazing torches set around the frozen water gave it a magical appeal.

Articles from the newspaper of the Victorian sets the scene of a cold winter.

“1861 12th Jan

THE WEATHER-

Lodmoor, with it’s vast expanse of ice, had furnished during the last few days the means of many enjoying the invigorating pastime of skating. On Tuesday evening it presented quite a novel appearance, a large number of gentlemen being furnished with torches and other artificial appliances to “throw a light on the subject,” The Rifle Corps, with it’s two bands, attended, and threw a halo of gladness over the scene. A large number of ladies and gentlemen who did not actively participate in the bracing exercises of skating or sliding were well repaid for their walk out by viewing the fairy-like entertainments.”

Again in 1864, the weather was sever enough to freeze the area sufficient for skaters to venture forth.

couple ice skating q 1887

“1864 9th Jan

SIGNS OF THE TIMES-

Lodmoor, on Monday, gave a faint representation of the state of the Thames during the severe winter of 1813-14, it’s surface being covered with indefatigable skaters and by those who practiced the less aristocratic pastime of sliding. All were anxious to make the most of the weather, it’s continuance being uncertain. On the following days  it was well patronized, and free scope given to that species of Freemasonry always noticeable when a meeting of individuals takes place on the ice.”

Once more, In 1867 the temperature reached an all time low, but the locals still managed to get out to enjoy such past times as it would allow;

“1867 17 Jan

DORSET COUNTY CHRONICLE

THE WEATHER

Some years have elapsed since Weymouth has experienced such sever weather as that which has prevailed for the last few days. The thermometer on Sunday and Monday was down to 22 below freezing point, and the continuance of snow on the ground (an unusual thing for Weymouth) attests the inordinate coldness of the temperature. The harbour was also frozen on Monday, which is another indication of the degree of cold. A magnificent sheet of ice was spread over occurred, none, however, attended with serious consequences. Lodmoor, presenting an area that must have rejoiced the hearts of skaters, hundreds of whom took advantage of the occasion. The streets and pavements have been dangerously slippery, and many falls have occurred.”

Some were rather too eager to get on the ice maybe?….

“1871 9th Dec

SKATING MISHAP-During the past week several persons have been skating at Lodmoor, but owing to deficiency of water the sports has not been so good as usual. Tuesday was the first day when the ice was strong enough to bear, but then there was risk attatched to getting on it. Several immersions took place, one “gay young fellow” getting into a dreadful mess, being covered almost from head to foot in black mud. He was in such an awkward position that he was unable to get out until assistance arrived.”

Nowadays, skating wouldn’t be allowed on the area as it has become a valuable Bird Sanctuary, and i’m not too sure that feathered birds would appreciate fellow waders of the two flat footed variety.

P1360602

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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…
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1867; Danger in Portland quarries.

The quarries on Portland are world renown.

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They are of  a strange type of brutal beauty, the glare from the white stone is blinding in the bright sunshine, the heat reflects mercilessly from the  calcified remains that makes up the huge slabs that tumble and totter precariously all around.

Ultimately, their beauty belies the ever present danger that resides within, no more so than for those who toiled in them.

The prison on Portland opened in 1848, it was constructed to hold the convicts that were deliberately brought into the area to work as labour in the quarries and on the new breakwaters that the government were constructing for a safe harbour.

This was extremely dangerous work, both for the prisoners who toiled in the government quarries, and the freemen who worked long side them.

One young man, 34-year-old Frederick Goody was about to discover just how dangerous they were.

Frederick was a  good old Essex lad.

He had a very troubled past, and was no stranger to the law. Most of it concerned with theft of food, so we can only surmise that these were the only way he could eat, maybe the family were poverty stricken, and it was a way of life for them…a question of survival.

His crime spree started at a very young age.  On the 18th May 1847 Frederick was hauled before the courts charged with theft, he was lucky that time as he was found not guilty. Already at the tender age of 12 Frederick was marked boy.

By the year 1850, when he was just 15 Frederick was before the courts again. The 9th April saw him stood in the dock along side two other lads, William Drury and Charles Deson. This time the crime was of a more serious nature, the three of them were convicted of breaking and entering a house. The 3 lads had broken into a bakers and stolen a bag of flour…then proceeded to leave an incriminating trail  as they made their way back to their lodgings! Once the police were involved, it didn’t take them long to find and follow the betraying track of grey powder, which led straight to the removed railing… that led them to their house, and the flour that smothered their clothing…they didn’t seem to be the most competent of criminals.

The magistrate decided that the eldest boy William was the ring leader and he got the longest sentence, Frederick and his accomplice were given 6 months.

Frederick was before the courts again in 1856, this time convicted of the theft of items from a house in Halstead. Convicted of Burglary, and having had fallen foul of the law before he received  4 Years Penal Servitude.

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The year 1863 was to be Frederick’s date with fate.

In the October, he was again in court, having been found guilty of stealing 4 ducks and a hen from Mr Green, a farmer in Halstead. Frederick had been caught literally red handed.

As he had stealthily made his way across the fields in the dark, he had the misfortune to stumble across the local bobby, who spotting something unusual about his shape, asked to see what was under his smock… no surprises there, 5 limp, warm bodies of the feathered variety appeared, throats cut.

Nicked!

For that crime Frederick received 7 years penal servitude…and a one way ticket to Portland.

His description taken from his arrival was of an uneducated, illiterate man who knew no scriptures or passages from the bible. Portland was a fairly modern prison for its time, and as part of the mens stay during their term, they received one afternoon a weeks lessons in a classroom. Ironic as it may seem, for many of these boys and men this was their only chance of an education that they had ever had in their harsh lives.

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The lad was soon put to work in the quarries.

The work was hard , though most prisoners tended to take their toil at a more leisurely pace much to the Portlanders disgust, who had to slave away to make enough money to live on.

That didn’t stop Frederick from falling foul of fickle fate though.

As a large  2 ton slab of stone was being slowly tipped by a gang of men, Frederick for some unknown reason walked right under the  slab just as it started its downward path of its descent…that was that…squashed flat as a proverbial pancake!

With numerous broken bones and a head shattered like a battered pumpkin there was no hope of survival for this newly educated man.

Frederick Goodey was buried  on the 3rd April 1867 on Portland.

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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…
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1870; The Queens Own Regiment of Dorset Yeomanry Cavalry week at Weymouth.

Weymouth down through it’s past history has quite a link with the military.

In the late 1700’s The famous Red Barracks that sits up on the Nothe, its Georgian built accommodation blocks towering above the quayside cottages below, were built, first to house the cavalry troops, but then later converted to house infantry troops.

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The Nothe fort that was constructed in the mid Victorian era was to become  the home of the Coastal Artillery, built to protect our shores in response to a threat of invasion by Napoleon and France.

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Not only did we have the static soldiers that were based here, but Weymouth also became a favoured destination for those voluntary troops, such as the Militia, Rifle Volunteers, and of course the glamorous dashing young men on horseback, the yeomen, or to give them their full title, The Queens Own Regiment of Dorset Yeomanry Cavalry.

So important were their yearly visits to the town viewed by the council and traders that they went all out to make it  a special occasion. A fund would be started by a designated committee, this would have been used to provide entertainment for the mounted troops and their officers that arrived in the town. There was good logic behind this, for with the men came the crowds, rich and poor, poured into the area to watch the weeks spectacular fun and entertainments, it ultimately became viewed as the start of the season for Weymouth..

Each year, the papers would fill columns with the news of the weeks camp and entertainments.

What follows is a report from the year 1870;

On a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon in May the men of the Dorset Yeomanry started to gather at Corfe Hill, about 2 1/2 miles from Weymouth town,(not totally sure where this was, as Corfe and Corfe Mullen is far further away). This was to be their designated meeting point, the volunteer mounted soldiers and their steeds would travel from all over the county, excitement mounting, they had an action packed 8 days before them in Weymouth to look forwards to.

As was usual on these auspicious occasions large crowds of locals had started to gather, many making their way up to Corfe Hill to watch the men and their steeds as they arrived, and to make that journey down into the town with the procession.

Down in Weymouth more local military men were gathering to greet the arrivals. The Rifle Corps complete with their drum and fife band under the command of Captain Thresher and Lieutenant Tizard were mustered at the Kings statue. Joining them were the men of  the Portland Artillery, Captain Brown keeping a strict eye over them with the help of his 2 trusty lieutenants, Eliot and Andrews.

That year Lord Digby was ‘indisposed’ so taking command of the men was Lord Richard Grosvenor, the Lieutenant Colonel.

At 5 0’clock orders were given to “form fours”, the men finally were on their way. Leading the Yeomanry was a team of grey horses, each one carrying a member of the brass band, the mounted procession started to make their slow paced journey down into the town.

The nearer to Weymouth they got, the thicker the welcoming crowds became.

When they reached Lodmoor Hill, here they met the men of the rifles and artillery and the customary compliment of presenting  arms took place, then with the Yeomen leading the way, and the rifles and artillery bringing up the rear  the whole force moved along down the hill heading for the Kings statue. Once they arrived at their destination the lengthy human and equine procession reached from the Statue back to the Belvidere.

The men were ordered to “return swords and break away.” That was their signal that they were free to find their accommodation at last and settle in for the  week.

354 men were here to enjoy themselves (as well as train of course) and they wasted no time in finding amusements for the evening.

The Esplanade was heaving, packed with locals, visitors, soldiers and visiting sailors, many headed towards the Royal hotel where the Yeomanry band was playing under the baton of Mr Eyres.

Sunday was started with church parade for the soldiers, a march on foot led them to the door of St Mary’s where they listened to a rousing sermon by Rev T A Greaves, the local vicar, who took the opportunity to appeal for generous donations towards the Dispensary in town.

After lunch the band was called into action again, this time in the New (Alexander) gardens, the Mayor had generously opened the gardens to one and all…and one and all arrived! They were packed, people were stood outside and on the esplanade and sands listening to the rousing performance.

The Monday saw the start of the working week for the men. Once they had gathered at the Kings statue, they were led by the band towards Lodmoor, here they would learn to perform the drills and routines that would turn them into fighting soldiers.

cassels 1904 yeomanry 2

When they had finished the military exercises, the men were all presented with their brand new weapons, a Westley Richards breech-loading Enfield rifle carbine, state of the art hardware compared to what they had previously been using.

Tuesday morning was more of the same, practise practise, practise, men and horses working as one thundered across the turf as they learnt the necessary skills that would  make the foe quake before their charging lines and keep them alive in battle. The afternoons entertainment was thundering hoofs of a different variety. Everyone moved to the flat sands on the beach where horse racing was the order of the day. Lords and ladies, chimney sweeps and strumpets lined the promenade, betting took place, money to be earnt here!…pounds or pence, it didn’t matter, it was the thrill of the chase!

Once again the men went through their complex routines on the fields at Lodmoor on the Wednesday and Thursday morning. The afternoon and evenings were kept free for the fun that the council laid on…aquatic sports around the harbourside, races on the beach, music in the gardens, soirees and afternoon teas, many a pub to visit, many a wench to woo, the men of the Cavalry troop fitted as much in as they possible could, after all this was their week of freedom and excitement, the annual escape from the every day worries and toil of life.

All too soon it was Friday…the big day!

The grand Review.

Lodmoor was packed, the surrounding slopes filled with carriages of the rich and the gentry, all jostling to stake the best view of what was to come. All walks of life were here, admiring females, wily pickpockets, farm labourers and washerwomen, what they were about to witness was as exciting as it got without actually being on the battlefield itself.

For an hour and a half the dashing men and their gleaming steeds formed columns, wheeled left and right, a form of equine poetry as man and beast walked, trotted, cantered and galloped in tight formation….culminating in a blood curdling charge…full out speed, swords extended, mens faces yelling murder, horses hoofs thundering as they swept past the  excited crowds…a sight to behold, who wouldn’t quiver before that!

charging 1

The last night was the annual officers Ball held at the Assembly Rooms in the Royal hotel. for the ordinary rank and file it meant another evening enjoying the delights of the town, mixing with the many pretty (and not so pretty) ladies who’d ventured in hoping to meet a dashing soldier. The local Inn keepers slapped them on the back and welcomed them in to their hostelries, hoping that the star struck followers would follow.

woman sat at ball

Another successful year for the men and their officers, and a right good start to the season in Weymouth.

Saturday morning and the mounted men said farewell to their friends and colleagues new and old, riding for home with grand stories to tell (or not !) of their weeks escapades in Weymouth town.

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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…
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1886; Guy Fawkes night on Portland leads to riots!

The forbidding Verne citadel stands atop of Portland, built originally as part of Lord Palmerston’s coastal defences. Nowadays it hold prisoners serving their sentence for crimes to the community, but in the Victorian era it contained the might  of the military.

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The soldier’s billeted within those strong walls came and went, some companies had better reputations than others, some were downright lethal!

In November of 1886, the 1st Dorset were based in the fort. Normally not a problem, but their ranks had recently been greatly swelled by means of a recruiting drive, attracting men who wanted to take the Kings(or rather Queens) shilling. Now the army in those days was renown for not always attracting the best of characters, many of the men who joined, joined for all the wrong reasons, getting away from family, capture by police, or as a means of escaping poverty and a life of crime from slum areas. Such was the case with a group of men that had recently joined the Dorset’s, they were charmingly referred to as ‘London roughs.’

One Monday night in November, as was usual the Portland folk held their annual Guy Fawkes carnival. A light hearted event, enjoyed by young and old alike, a chance for a some gentle fun and much needed relief from every day worries, perhaps a tad of mischief thrown in the mix by  youngsters.Image

This year was to be very different!

Events took a sinister turn…

A number of the soldiers from the Verne had turned up to watch the procession wind its way up through the streets, but some of them had more than a bit of mischief in mind. They loosened their stiff belts and started whipping the folks walking in the parade.

The Portlanders let this go…but resentment was simmering on the island.

A couple of nights later a group of soldiers entered a pub on the island where they came across some of the local lads who were still smarting from the disrespect their island folk had been shown at the parade. Inevitably a fight broke out between the two groups. This animosity spilled over between locals and soldiers over the next couple of days, scuffles would break out when ever the two fractions met in the street.

That was, until one fateful evening later that week.

A mob of about 200 of the unruly soldiers made their way to the Heights, and from here they took possession of the road. Pelting any  locals who dared to pass by with stones and rocks.

Word was sent to the Verne of the marauding soldiers escapades, and a piquet was gathered to deal with the serious situation. Only problem was, it made matters worse!

As the column of men came down the incline, marched at the double,  many of the younger ones broke rank, and charged down the hill brandishing their bayonets at anyone who happened to be passing by. The out of control mob then went on the rampage, breaking doors and windows as they went.

Next night life on the island was no better, the rioting began yet again. This time the wayward soldiers turned their attention to the local blacksmith’s shop, smashing his premises to smithereens. The womenfolk feared for their very safety. By now many of the enraged Portland men had gathered to put a stop to the out of control soldiers, incensed that ordinary folk, their friends and family,  were too scared to venture forth.

As the renegade soldiers realised that the hardy Portland men were on the prowl, out for their blood, they  tried to sneak round the back of Easton square, but not without leaving their trail of destruction and hurt behind as they retreated towards the safety of their barracks. Any lone males they encountered they attacked…careful not to engage any groups. That was, until they neared the Verne itself, here they found themselves confronted by a group of ‘lusty young Portlanders’ waiting for them.

Revenge was so sweet!

As the soldiers received their just deserts at the hands of the islanders, their howls of pain rent the air, bringing  from the Fort a rescue party, with a view to reining the brawling men in. Blocking the road, barring the Portlanders route to the retreating soldiers, the islanders were incensed…they hadn’t extracted their revenge yet. Trying to push their way through the solid line of men straddling the road, they were to face the wrath of the military, many ending up with bayonet wounds for their troubles.

Fearing further troubles on the island between the two fractious groups, the men were confined inside  the barracks.

it was decided that removal of the Dorset’s altogether was the only safe option, and the only way that life could return to normal on the island.

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http://www.isleofportlandpictures.org.uk/Verne/ (pictures of the Verne as a fort)

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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.
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Aside

The railway finally rolled into the seaside resort of Weymouth in the year 1857.

train

Anyone who’s travelled the Weymouth line knows of the long Bincombe cutting and tunnel that burrows under the Bincombe chalk downs.

As a child it was always with a sense of excitement that we would approach this tunnel…as the line began to dip down into the deep cutting, so you knew you were nearer to the moment when daylight would be suddenly snuffed out, ears popped, nothing but blackness and the reflections in the windows of your fellow travellers, you would watch with baited breath for the light to start to creep back when you were coming near the end. (We had very simple pleasures in those days !)

For one young man in the Victorian period the Bincombe tunnel had another sinister meaning altogether.

Sidney Watts was a 24-year old man who’d been born in Frome, Somerset. At a fairly young age he saw an exciting future in working for the developing railways and began to work for the Great Western Company. At first he moved to Yeovil where he worked the station there as a porter.

train 2

Sidney soon earned promotion within the company. From the start of May that 1883 he was now in the responsible job as a signal box man, in charge of the tall, bulky levers that would operate the signals and lines that ran in and out of Weymouth.

On Wednesday the 8th August, Sidney walked from his home in the village of Upwey to work. He was due to start a 12 hour overnight shift in the box. All was quiet that night, and at 7 o’clock the following morning his fellow workmate, Francis Chalker climbed up into the box and greeted Sidney. The men exchanged a few pleasantries, then leaving Francis in charge, Sidney climbed wearily down the wooden steps and started to make his way along the trackside towards the tunnel, he was looking forwards to getting home, having something to eat…and bed! As he was half way towards the tunnel the 7.20 train from Weymouth passed the tired man as he trudged his way home.

That was the last Francis ever saw of Sidney!

The next morning, James Guppy was on his way to work as a packers man on the Weymouth line. As was his usual routine he made his way through the Bincombe tunnel to join his gang of workmen. Part the way through the darkness, just as the pitch black was receding near the end, he came across some items laying on the trackways. As he neared them he realised that it was  basket, a little further on was an overcoat, then a pair of slippers. Fearing the worst, James looked up, and in the distance, towards the light, he could make out the shape of a body lying besides the track.

Running back towards the signal box, he told Francis of the gruesome remains he’d discovered in the tunnel, a telegraph was sent at once to the station master in Upwey, and the police were called for.

When they finally retrieved the mutilated body, it was discovered to be that of the young signal box man, Sidney Watts.

As he had been making his way home through the tunnel early that morning, the 7.37 Great Western goods train had also been passing through, and for whatever reason, Sidney had not been paying attention as closely as he should to his safety while besides the line, the train had hit him hard, and as the reporter states his body was ‘terribly mangled.’

The following week an inquest was held at the Royal Standard Inn on the Dorchester to Weymouth road, where the coroner, Mr G Symonds, after hearing from the witnesses  declared that it was a clear case of ‘accidental death.’

Sidney’s remains were buried at Upwey church on the 11th August 1883.

1883; Weymouth and the Great Western railway. A signal-mans tale.

Weymouth 1873; Rub a dub dub, 3 men (not) in a tub….

Well, o.k. maybe the title is a bit lighthearted for such a tragedy, but when I read that it allegedly concerned 3 butchers assistants that the misfortune had befallen, a visual image immediately flashed in my mind of the popular nursery rhyme. Just put that down to my extremely warped sense of humour which seems to bubble to the surface when ever black moments arise, (Sorry Mum that I got a fit of the giggles at your funeral..but you’ll know precisely why, and would have joined in I’m certain!)

I digress, back to the tale;

One bright and sunny May morning in 1873 a group of 4 young lads decided that the day was too nice to waste, they wanted a bit of excitement.

At that time the Great Eastern was moored in Portland Roads, she was here fueling up for her trip to America laying cables across the ocean floor. (Might write a bit more of her connection with Weymouth another time) To those that don’t know, she was a total legend in her own right. Launched in 1858 she was way before her time, towering over other ships,  nothing even came close to her size wise until 40 odd years later in 1899. She was designed by the famous engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, he had envisioned this levanthian of a liner which could transport 4,000 passengers at a time on transalantic trips, but  right from her maiden voyage she had led a fated life.

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The 4 lads had heard that they had been letting people on board to view this iconic ship, they didn’t want to miss that opportunity.

Just turned 11 0’clock on that fateful Sunday morning, John Beaumont, a butchers assistant, made his way with 2 of his friends, 19-year-old Mark Stickland and 22-year-old Charles Rogers to Mr Baunton’s slaughter house, where they collected 23-year-old Charles Wilmott.

The 4 lads made their way down to the quayside, calling in at the home of Edward Tizard, a widow  who lived on down on Hope Quay with his 3 young daughters, he was a local pilot, but he also hired out boats. Edward was out that day, had he been present when the young lads came a knocking, and being a knowlegable sailor, he might well have thought twice about the 4 lads, unexperienced oarsmen,  taking out his boat. Who ever answered the door to the lads had no such qualms though, and with the grand sum of 6d for the hire of the boat being exchanged, the lads were ready and eager to set off on their adventures.

With 2 of the lads at the oars they set course for the Great Eastern, but were disappointed when they were refused permission to board her. Undaunted, they rowed to wards the Achilles, which was also moored in the Roads, where they were allowed aboard for a short time.

With a real thirst on them now, once they had disembarked from the Achilles, the lads set course for Portland. On reaching the shore, the first place they headed for was the Castle Inn, where they order  2 quart jugs  of beer. Having enjoyed their thirst quenching tipple, they rose and started to make their way back down to their boat, only they set eyes on 18-year-old Joseph James Torpey, a local lad, and a crew member of the Achilles. (probably why they gone on board her in the first place)

Joseph asked if they would mind rowing him back to his boat, the lads readily agreed. He also told them that they had more chance of getting on board of the Great Eastern if they tried a bit later in the afternoon, so the group of 5 young lads thought that they should kill a bit more time before setting off. With that, they headed for the nearest pub, the Portland Roads Inn. They settled down a enjoy their  glass of beer and a natter , feeling peckish the lads ordered a snack, six penny worth of biscuits (guess that’d be their equivalent to today’s pint o’beer and a packet of crisps please!)

Having chewed the cud for a while, the lads set off in their boat to try their luck again at the Great Eastern. the two Charles’s were at the oars this time.

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Half way across the Roads, disaster struck, one of the tholes  (the part that the oar rotates on) broke,  after picking himself up off the floor of the boat, Charles Rogers stood up with the intention of replacing the broken part…only he made a grave error of judgement!

Whereas the boys had been evenly spaced around the craft before, Rogers stepped to one side, making it perilously low in the water, and with that the boat tipped over!

Having been thrown into the water, the lads were reaching out to try and grasp the side of the, by now righted boat, only trouble was, they were all in their sheer panic hauling on the same side.

John and Joseph, both able to swim, moved away from the boat to give the others a better chance of being able to haul themselves back in, only it didn’t quite work like that. With their combined weights still on one side, the craft flipped right over. By now, John was unconscious in the water, but young James turned round to see the stricken faces of his 3 friends disappear under the water, never to emerge again.

Both  John and James were rescued from the water, and rather ironically taken aboard the Great Eastern where they were cared for.

Over the following days the bodies of the 3 lads were eventually recovered, and another 3 families had to watch their child being lowered into the cold ground.

Charles Wilmott was buried on Portland  the 24th May.

Mark Strickland was also buried on Portland, 9th June.

The final lad to be found was Charles Rogers, whose body was interred on the 17th june at Melcombe Regis.

As a little end note, the media of the time was no different to today’s…they loved sensational stories, and the young often came in for some undeserved flack. Many of the national reports on the incident claimed that the lads were inebriated, larking about in the boat, whereas the facts that came out from the inquest showed this was far from the truth.

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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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1865; Portland…keeping it in the family.

I know that Portland is not technically an island, (the Chesil causeway connects it to Weymouth), but it’s treated as such in many respects, not least that the folks on the island (I.m sure that being a proud race, they won’t mind me saying) have a long history of being fairly insular!

Imagend

When a new Directory of Dorset was issued in 1865, it showed some figures to hold up that statement.

Apparently there were a total of 196  people or companies listed in the directory for the island,( not being on the overlarge size!) and of those 21 (nearly a ninth in total !) bore the name Pearce. Four of those with the same christian name John.

Comben was another frequent Portland name, being a mere fifteen of those…which included 4 Williams.

Next came Stone….they could boast 10 with that surname…3 Benjamins and 3 Williams!

Eight people had the surname White…another 4 Williams!

Some of the less common surnames were Flew (7), Scriven’s (5) and Benjamin(3)

One wonders how when the islanders were talking to one another about someone else did they know which person it was they were discussing?

It is said that when the Portland Artillery Corps was set up with a total of 60 men volunteering, of those 15 answered to the name Pearce!

That must have made for a great deal of confusion on the parade ground when the sergeant in charge barked an order for Pearce!.

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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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Portland’s own glorious Cheddar caves…Ooopps, but then again, maybe not; 1869

When ever I research items of local history, it never ceases to amaze me the amount of articles in the local papers of the time that tell of new or rare things that the Victorians discovered, but despite all their curiosity of the amazing natural world around them…their first reaction would be to grab their gun and kill it, or in the case of amazing geological discoveries, destroy them !

The area around Weymouth and Portland was a favourite spot for those who came to the region, both men and women would spend hours exploring the beaches and cliffs looking for geological or prehistoric keepsakes to take home as a reminder of their visits to the area. 

We now know that the coastline around here is a hot spot for all manner of wonderful discoveries, no wonder then that it gained World Heritage status as the Jurrasic Coast.

Fossils galore  literally tumble out of the crumbling cliffs at your feet and litter the beaches hereabout.

woman beach child basin

Portland was a veritable smorgasbord of discoveries, especially during the Victorian era when people began to study such things, and began to realise their worth.

Such was the case with a fantastic discovery on Portland in 1869.

Chesil beach

Near St George’s Church at Reforne on Portland was Hitchcraft Quarry.

One day, while the quarrymen were working there moving the layers of limestone, to their amazement they suddenly uncovered an entrance to a natural cavern.

It was vast, nearly 600 yards in length.

Inside that enormous “stalactite cavern” was what was described as “many wondrous and curious petrifications,” which included numerous huge and beautiful tinted stalactites.

What did they do with them…they destroyed them!

Goodness only knows why, maybe they saw a quick buck to be made selling the fossilised pecularities to inquisitive visitors to the island. (which at that time were numerous due to the Portland breakwater and Verne citadel being constructed.)

As the reporter says… had they stayed their hand and thought about it, maybe Portland would have had their own visitors attraction similar to Cheddar.

Bunny Caves sounds good to me….

P.S. Anyone who knows anything about Portland knows you are forbidden to say the r….t word while on the island 😉

Even later on, in the 20th century, the fascinating finds kept coming.

In 1926, Mr H E C Brickell who was the headmaster of St George’s school at the time, suddenly  found himself in the limelight.

He kept a miniature museum of Portland antiquities within the school itself, and had been recently handed a find, “some old bones,” by a quarry worker.

LONDON MAG VOL 10 PRISONER QUARRY

The discovery had been made at Inmosthay, Reforne, not far from the school.

Realising that they might be of importance, he forwarded them to Sir Arthur Keith, an eminent antiquarian, who  recognised them as part of a mammoth and a few bones of a prehistoric horse both from the Ice Age.

The learned man in his reply also asked if any worked flints had been discovered nearby, with that members of the Dorset Field Club set off in search of any historic implements.

Nothing was found, but ” the quarrymen working there are keeping a sharp look out in the ‘vents’ or ‘gullets’ in the whitbed.”

In 1936 an “Old Warriors Skull” was discovered in one of the quarries.

Men were busy working at Comben’s quarry at Chalklands one week-end, they were clearing rubble from the site ready to access a new “task” of stone.

In amongst the rubble were numerous bones, but little notice was taken of them, they were just gathered up and disposed of with the rest down into one of the old workings. (one wonders why they were quite so blase about these bones?)

That was until one load was tipped, and out of the chute fell a human skull “with a perfect set of teeth.” Not only did it lay claim to a full set of gnashers, but a also rather suspiciously a“large irregular hole in the side of the head.”

Now the men were interested…they quickly scrambled down into the gaping void to try and retrive the skull, but it had crumbled away, all bar the jawbones.

The papers report that the skull was probably from way back in Portland’s history. (presumably they had been properly studied and found to be ancient and not the remains of some more recent foul deed.)

Chalklands was the site of the first ever recorded battle of Portland which was fought nearly 1,200 years ago.“In the reign of Brithic King first came three ships of Haeretha Land (Denmark,) and they sought to land at Portland. The officer of the King who commanded here went to them and endeavoured to compel them to come to the King’s vill (Dorchester?) ‘as not knowing whence came they, but he was slain by them.”

Fifty years later there was another battle on he same site, when Adedelhelm, duke, assited by the forces of Dorsaeta fought with the Danish army at Portland and after a long engagement defeated them.. ‘But,’ say the Chronicles, ‘the Danes remained upon the field and the Duke was slain.”

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