Weymouth Local and Family History
Weymouth & Dorset Local & Family History Forums incl. forums for Ex-Pats
WW2 Air Raids
Hope Square area
Boot Hill & Rodwell
Nothe & Breakwater
In The Borough
Bexington, E & W
Lulworth, E & W
Osmington, Osmington Mills & Ringstead
Tyneham & Worbarrow Bay
Dorset Family History
Quakers of Dorset
Places to Visit
Site updated: 20 Feb 2015
Weymouth is situated in the south of the county of Dorset on the south coast of England. Weymouth Bay is part of the English Channel and was known as "England's Bay of Naples". What we think of as Weymouth today when we think of the seaside or the town centre, is in fact Melcombe Regis. They were once two separate places, their boundary being the harbour, with Weymouth on the south side and Melcombe Regis on the north. There was much feuding between the two and so in 1571, Elizabeth I granted a Royal Charter to unite them as the Borough of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis.
Melcombe Regis has a claim to fame as the port where the bubonic plague, known as the Black Death, entered England in 1348. It was brought ashore by the fleas of the black rats from a ship that had come from the continent and had devastating effects on the population of England. It is estimated that at least half the population was wiped out in the two years that it lingered. Naturally, those in Dorset were the first to suffer and people fearing that they would contract it moved away, unsuspecting that they too might be carriers and so it spread.
In 1583 Captain Richard Clark departed from Weymouth to join Sir Humphrey Gilbert in his discovery of Newfoundland. Trading links were then established and continued until such time as the Newfoundland trade and fishing became more associated with Poole.
In 1588 some of the English ships sailed from Weymouth to meet the Spanish Armada. Six of those ships were of Weymouth and carried over two hundred Weymouth men. There ensued a battle off Portland and the ship San Salvador was captured and brought into the harbour.
Weymouth was the port of departure for some of the first ships sailing to America. In 1623 Robert Gorges, the son of Sir Ferdinando Gorges, left Weymouth with emigrants to settle in Wessagusset, New England. He was appointed Governor of the colony, which then changed its name to Weymouth. The ship Abigail set sail from Weymouth in 1628 carrying many Dorset emigrants bound for New England. This passage was particularly important as it carried the first governor of Massachusetts, John Endicott. A memorial commemorating this is sited by the harbour steps. See also Emigrant Ships departing Weymouth.
In the 1640s there was fierce rivalry once again during the English Civil War. Weymouth suffered badly and several hundred Dorset men were slain in one night of intense fighting in 1645.
In 1751 an act was passed which dramatically increased the tax levied on spirits. While it had the desired effect of reducing drunkenness among the common people, as they could no longer afford to consume it, it also led to a rise in smuggling. Smuggling became rife along most of the South Coast. Weymouth and the surrounding area was no exception. The most notorious smuggler of Dorset was Isaac Gulliver who operated around the Bournemouth area, but there was also a notorious gang of smugglers operating around Osmington Mills and Lulworth.
1789 saw the first visit of King George III to partake of the waters of the English Channel and he took a dip in Weymouth Bay using one of the first bathing machines. King George enjoyed his time at Weymouth so much that he became a regular visitor and purchased Gloucester Lodge from his brother. The Lodge became the Gloucester Hotel and in the 1980s was converted to apartments.
In 1794 a packet steamer service was launched to operate between Weymouth and the Channel Islands. Subsequent services allowed for the "emigration" of several Dorset families to the islands and there are many recorded in the records of St. Peter Port.
The East Indiaman, The Earl of Abergavenny, Weymouth's most well known shipwreck, sank in Weymouth Bay in 1805 with the loss of 261 lives. Read more about Shipwrecks.
By 1808 the chalk figure of the White Horse and its rider had been carved in the hillside above Osmington. It is supposed to represent George III whose last visit to Weymouth was in 1805. In 1810 the people of Weymouth erected a monument to George III which stands majestically in the centre of the road along the seafront. It was to commemorate his Golden Jubilee, but also to show gratitude for all he had done for the town. It marks the point where the two main streets of St. Mary Street and St. Thomas Street meet.
The year 1824 brought the Great Gale or Tempest, which battered the Dorset coast. At Weymouth, the esplanade was destroyed, as a plaque on the seaward wall of the Tourist Information Centre tells. Several people lost their lives on Portland when the sea crashed over the Chesil bank. A few miles along the coast, the village of Fleet on the edge of the Fleet lagoon and Chesil Beach was almost washed away.
In 1836 the Weymouth workhouse, situated in Wyke Road, opened its doors to accommodate the poorest citizens. The workhouse later became the Portwey Hospital and after that closed it was converted into flats. The same year, 1836, Holy Trinity church on the Weymouth side of the harbour was also opened. Two years later in 1838 Guildhall opened in St. Edmund Street, now the Weymouth and District Registry Office.
The railway came to Weymouth in 1857, being built on reclaimed land from Radipole Lake. The old station was of Brunel design. Two railway companies were accommodated, the Great Western Railway and the London and South Western Railway. A line from Weymouth to Portland was opened in 1865 with a specially built bridge across Radipole Lake. The bridge, a wooden one, and housing Melcombe Regis railway station, was replaced in 1909 with a metal construction. The harbour tramway was constructed in 1865 with the line running from Weymouth station, along Commercial Road down to the harbour.
The Nothe Fort on the promontory end of the harbour was built in 1860 as part of England's coastal defences. It was built by the Royal Engineers with the help of inmates of Portland Prison. It remained in active service until 1956. The council took it over in 1961 and it has since been restored and opened to the public by the dedication of the Weymouth Civic Society.
The Jubilee Clock that stands at the end of King Street on the esplanade commemorates in 1887 the fifty years of the reign of Queen Victoria. This is Weymouth's most famous landmark.
The 4th of July 1930 saw the opening of the new Town Bridge across the harbour. There have been at least six bridges with the first one built during the late sixteenth century.
During the second world war, Weymouth suffered heavy damage, with Chapelhay being the worst hit. Weymouth in World War 2 - Air Raid Data (Dates & Locations) Weymouth also featured prominently in the participation of the D-Day landings in Normandy with many British and American soldiers having left the shores of England here. A memorial erected on the esplanade, opposite the Royal Hotel, records that 517,816 troops and 144,093 vehicles embarked at Weymouth between 6th June 1944 and 7th May 1945. The 24 Hour Museum has some interesting D-Day Trails around the country and the Roll of Honour website gives the names of those listed on Weymouth's war memorials. An interesting account of life during wartime is: Cider's War - the story of Tom Vine of Poole in WWII
The Pavilion later known as the Ritz, opened in 1908, but was destroyed by fire in 1954. A new pavilion was built and opened in 1960. 1986 was the year in which the part of the pier bandstand protruding into the sea was blown up, as it had become unsafe. In 1994 Weymouth hosted the start of the Tall Ships Race for the third time, the only port ever to have done so.
Today Weymouth hosts many national and international events and in 2012, with Portland, was the venue for the sailing events of the Olympic Games. The Games have been and gone but not without medals being won for Great Britain in the sailing events, most notably, Ben Ainslie winning gold.
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