Weymouth's Old High Street and Town
The real Weymouth side of town, as opposed to Melcombe Regis, although much altered by modern buildings, still retains part of its original character. With some stretch of the imagination it is possible to take a step back in time. It is lamentable that so many of Weymouth's historic buildings went under the bulldozer in the name of improvement, particularly with so much having been lost during the years of the second World War. However, all is not lost, and there are some hidden gems amongst old Weymouth's heritage.
Coker, in writing a survey about 1630 says of Weymouth that it "consists chiefly of one street which for a good space lyeth open to the sea and on the back of it riseth an hill of such steepness that they are forced to clymbe upp to their chappell by 80 steps of stones"
Known today as High West Street, the small road to the left behind the fire station, near the bottom of Boot Hill was part of Weymouth's original High Street and is still so called by locals. Here stands a terrace of 18th and 19th century houses. Amongst these houses there is a gap behind some gates which was the access to where the houses of High West Street Court once stood.
Below High West Street on the now disused Fire Station site, there once stood the Old Town Pump, erected in 1775 and now re-sited by the Old Harbour outside the Old Rooms Inn.
At the end of the terrace of High West Street is Love Lane, lined with quaint little houses in a tiny street which is known to have existed in the early seventeenth century, when the cottages were mostly thatched.
Love Lane, High West Street and Boot Hill end of it with the Belvidere Inn
Close by to the first picture above, is Weymouth's Old Town Hall.
This is where the day to day business of running the old town of Weymouth was carried out. The building survives mainly from the seventeenth century and some possibly earlier, though it was all much restored in 1896. The bell that was in the turret is dated 1633 with initials, R.P., and is said to have formerly belonged to the old church at Radipole. This may be because St. John's church when it was built in the 1850's then lay in the parish of Radipole and was known initially as 'Radipole New Church'. They asked for the Old Town Hall bell on loan and it was eventually returned. The bell was taken down in the 1970s for work to be carried out on the Hall, but it disappeared for nearly forty years before being rediscovered outside the entrance of Weymouth Museum in Brewers Quay in 2010 (by the webmaster of this site) and returned to its rightful home in February 2011. The Old Town Hall had been taken on by a newly formed Community Interest Company called Guardians of the Old Town Hall, in 2009, to be run by volunteers, non-profit making, and with the aim to fully renovate the old building. The purpose was to open it as a Heritage Centre as well as a community space for various uses.
The Boot and the Old Town Hall, Weymouth
To the left of it, the continuation of the old High Street and to the right Chapelhay Street, with a terrace of houses which display their Victorian name of Sherborne Terrace, though these were not constructed until 1907, replacing a terrace formerly on the same site. Chapelhay Street was formerly known, prior to 1872, as St. Nicholas Street and sometimes shows on old maps as Francis Street.
Around this area much fighting ensued during the Civil War and so many lost their lives in one night of the drama. The whole story of it is beautifully told in a book by local author, Mark Vine, called The Crabchurch Conspiracy.
Across the old High Street there remains one of Weymouth's oldest pubs, the Boot Inn. The Boot is of seventeenth century origin and reputed to house several ghosts. It is sometimes mentioned in the old records of the Borough.
The Old High Street continued down past the Boot Inn until it merged with Trinity Road at Holy Trinity church (built 1836) at the end of the Town Bridge. Trinity Road itself was once a continuation of the High Street and carried on into what is now Trinity Street at the Old Harbour.
Below High West Street today is the former Fire Station and close by the municipal buildings of Weymouth and Portland Borough Council that stands on the site of the houses of North Quay and the old High Street. Buildings of what was part of the High Street have long since disappeared beneath the unmerciful bulldozers. Nothing now remains of Jockey Row or Silver Street on the site of the Fire Station. An unusual house of Tudor origin stood at No. 4 North Quay, about where the council offices now are. It not only had its own history, but many fine architectural features and an unusual layout. An ornate staircase, which thankfully, was rescued from the demolition fire now forms the communion rail in Radipole church. The house had something akin to a lookout of great importance overlooking the harbour and was known as the Harbourmaster's house. It had also been known as the Queen's Arms Inn. At least three pubs disappeared in the course of time and demolition, the Freemasons Arms, the Weymouth Arms and the Fisherman's Arms. The Fisherman's Arms stood adjacent to the remaining buildings to the west of the Town Bridge. At the back of the car park of the municipal buildings can still be seen some evidence of the former life of this area in the form of old walls, now almost covered in nature's way. Above the buildings and the remaining walls is Chapelhay.
Chapelhay was heavily bombed during the second World War and many buildings had to be demolished. Chapelhay takes its name from being the site of an old chapel of St. Nicholas. Hence the original name of Chapelhay Street beside the Old Town Hall was St. Nicholas Street as it led to the chapel. The chapel suffered badly during the Civil War when it was used as a fort and was destroyed not long after. Here again was a scene of heavy fighting and much bloodshed. Very little remains of Chapelhay's previous history. A stone column from the St. Nicholas Chapel is in Weymouth Museum and the original stone steps mentioned by Coker still exist in part but are hidden. The route beside Holy Trinity church up to Chapelhay, known as Chapelhay Steps, has moved from its original setting. A decision was made in 1870 to improve access to Chapelhay and eventually some years later, plans were put forward for this to be carried out and in 1884 some houses just to the west of the church were demolished. At the same time Holy Trinity church was extended and the new approach to Chapelhay was completed in December 1884.
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