Weymouth through the years…
A Brief History of Weymouth – The seaside town of Weymouth is steeped in history and is interesting for a whole variety of reasons. What we think of as Weymouth town today is in fact Melcombe Regis.
There were originally two separate towns, the boundaries between which were the river and the harbour, with the town of Weymouth on the south side and the town of Melcombe Regis on the north side.
Like a lot of villages so close together, over the years there were many fights and troubles between the two townships about things like trading rights, so in 1571 Elizabeth I granted a Royal Charter that united the two into the Borough of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis.
A Brief History of Weymouth – The Black Death
Another, rather more infamous claim to fame that Weymouth doesn’t shout about too much nowadays is the Black Death, or Bubonic Plague. It entered the British Isles through the ports of Melcombe Regis in 1348. It was most likely brought ashore by the fleas off the rats infesting the ships that had sailed around the continent.
When the people of Dorset realised there was this terrible disease on their doorstep, they fled the local towns and moved inland, and in doing so by definition, they spread the plague across the country.
A Brief History of Weymouth – War and Taxes
In the middle of the 17th Century, Weymouth was heavily involved in the Civil War when several hundred Dorset men were killed. Local Dorset author Mark Vine has researched this and written a very informative book on the subject called “The Crabchurch Conspiracy”.
During the 18th Century taxes were dramatically raised to try and control the spread of alcoholism. It did manage to initially reduce drunkenness amongst the workers and common people, but it also led to a huge increase in smuggling, evidence of which is all over the south coast. Because of Dorset’s proximity to northern France, and because of the natural lie of the land, many places became frequent haunts of the smuggling gangs. Many gangs worked the coastal nooks and crannies around Osmington Mills and Lulworth Cove.
A Brief History of Weymouth – Royal Approval
A significant change to Weymouth came about in 1789 when King George III made his first visit to the town, to enjoy the waters of the English Channel by taking a dip in the sea on Weymouth’s glorious beach.
King George III became so attracted to Weymouth that he came down on holiday every year. He soon purchased Gloucester Lodge from his brother. It still exists and has been renovated into luxury apartments.
In 1794 a package steamer service started to operate between the Channel Islands and Weymouth. This not only allowed for the importation of products, but also the emigration of many Dorset families wishing to start a new life.
In 1808 the chalk figure was carved into the hillside above Osmington. It is supposed to portray King George III who last visited Weymouth in 1805. It has been rumoured that King George was irritated as it showed him riding away from Weymouth as opposed to riding towards the town he’d grown so fond of.
To mark the influence King George III had on Weymouth as a holiday resort, an unusual statue, known as “The Painted Statue”, was erected in 1810.
A Brief History of Weymouth – Brunel Woz Ere!
The old railway station was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel when the railway line came to Weymouth in 1857. A separate line was run from the mainline station, down to the harbour for passengers boarding the ferries. The line was also used for transporting goods arriving from the Channel Islands, potatoes, salad stuff and the like, from the boats to the warehouses. The line is not used any more, but the rails are still very much in evidence along the western side of the harbour.
Weymouth’s most famous landmark, The Jubilee Clock, was erected to mark the 50th year of the reign of the monarch Queen Victoria in 1887. It stands midway along the promenade and is as good a timekeeper today as it ever was.
A Brief History of Weymouth – We Did Our Bit
The area around Weymouth was much used in the Second World War, particularly for collecting troops and materials used in the D-Day landings. There is a war memorial on the Esplanade and it is interesting to note that nearly 500,000 troops and 150,000 vehicles set off from Weymouth between 6th June 1944 and 7th May 1945. Most of them were part of the landing group for Omaha Beach.
On 23rd June 1940 the entire population of the Channel Island, Alderney was evacuated into Weymouth harbour because of the German occupation of the Channel Islands.
The Pavilion that exists today was built in 1960 to replace the previous building that had been completely destroyed by fire 6 years earlier. There is currently a 65 million pound plan for the re-development of the Pavilion site. At the other end of the beach, there used to stand the pier band-stand.
This got to be so unsafe that in 1986 it was blown up and now only the “rump” remains and today houses an amusement arcade and a Chinese restaurant.
Weymouth is still famous for many sea-borne activities and in 1994 it hosted the start of the “Tall Ships Race” and is the only port to have done so three times.
In 1987 the ferry company Condor introduced a hydrofoil service to the Channel Islands. The ferries travel regularly to Jersey and Guernsey, with a travelling time to Guernsey of only two hours it makes the islands an interesting day out for visitors to Weymouth.
From Jersey it is possible to pick up a different ferry boat and travel onward to France. This entire service also carries cars and was introduced to the route in 1991.
So…what are you waiting for? Come down and see us!