Start: Custom House Quay (near the Pavilion Theatre).
Finish: Stone Pier
Distance: Approx 1km
Terrain: Flat, suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs
Start at the stone memorial for Captain Clarke and John Endicott
Captain Clarke was born in Weymouth and became known for his impressive sailing and navigation skills. In 1583 Clarke became the master of the ship Delight on its voyage to Newfoundland from Plymouth, but the journey did not go according to plan. As they neared Newfoundland the weather became stormy with high winds and heavy rain. The immense size of the waves snapped Delight in two. Out of 100 crew only 16 managed to swim to the pinnance (a small ship that had been attached to Delight) including Richard Clarke. Captain Clarke took charge and armed with only one oar attempted to steer the boat. There was no food, and the weather so appalling that two men died from hypothermia. But however desperate the situation was, Clarke refused to give up and kept his crews spirits up by saying they would reach land soon. Reading the stars, Clarke was able to navigate the boat to a deserted part of Newfoundland where they were finally rescued.
John Endicott was born in the South-West of England. During the early 17th Century there was a great deal of religious persecution in England which resulted in pilgrims resettling in America. In June 1628, John Endicott, a Puritan, sailed from Weymouth in the Abigail with an expedition to found anther new colony in North America. They arrived at Naumking (Salem) on 6th September and from here grew the colony of Massachusetts. Endicott became the first governor of the colony. But he was a controversial figure – As Governor, he led the persecution of Quakers in Massachusetts, where he was known to punish them by selling them into slavery or even cutting their ears off!
He also banned the use of the English flag, because the red cross on a field of white was a symbol of Catholicism
On the wall near the stone memorial you will see two plaques.
During the Second World War the Channel Islands was the only part of Britain occupied by Germany.
In June 1940 the entire population of Alderney, about 1500 residents, was evacuated. The Germans arrived to a deserted island and began to fortify Alderney. The Germans built four concentration camps in Alderney, containing Russian and Polish POWs, and Jewish slave labourers . Over 700 prisoners died.
Also in June 1940 approximately 17,000 people (almost half of the population) fled Guernsey, just days after hearing that the Germans were planning to invade the island. Of the evacuees, there were 5,000 schoolchildren who left with their teachers.Weymouth could not accommodate everyone, so the refugees were sent to other parts of England, as far north as Scotland.
Walk along the quay. In the road are still the old tracks of Weymouth Harbour Tramway.
This tramway ran along commercial road from Weymouth station to the harbour. It opened in October 1865 for goods traffic carrying mainly potatoes and tomatoes from the Channel islands. Potatoes were so popular that there were special potato trains put on with the code name PERPOT(perishables/potatoes) At first the wagons were drawn by horses, until June 1880 when a small steam locomotive was used. The trains only travelled at 4mph, but a bell rang continuously with a policeman walking in front waving a flag to ensure people moved out of the way. The last train ran in 1987.
As you walk around the harbour you will notice many handsome buildings – many of them are Georgian, including the current Harbour Master’s Office, which was once a grain store. Large hoists would have transferred sacks of grain from the ships to the top floor of the warehouse.
Nearby is the Royal Dorset Yacht Club is on the site of the 18th century public baths. Public baths were popular in Georgian times for medicinal purpose. Clients would sit fully dressed in linen outfits up to their necks in hot steamy water and sweated out toxins.
On the corner of East Street is the red bricked building of Custom House. A panel in the front lobby gives us a record of its history. It was first used as a warehouse. The merchant would watch his interests from the windows. In 1874 the property was leased to HM Customs. The Customs Officers (The Kings Men) had the dangerous task of policing the port and were responsible for ensuring that contraband (illegal imports) was impounded and fines levied.
In the 18th Century the Napoleonic Wars forced up prices of continental wheat and liquor to an unaffordable level. In Weymouth smuggling became an irresistible way of making quick cash. What is often not known is that women were also included in the trade. They would signal and carry messages. Under their skirts they could hide silk, lace and even spirits. One such lady was Catherine Winter, a 70-year-old Weymouth seamstress who was sentenced in 1844 for smuggling. And again aged 73!
By 1830 smuggling reached a climax in Weymouth and it is said that tunnels were constructed from the harbour to merchants houses and even King Georges III residence on the Esplanade.
Customs left the building in 1985 and is now the home of HM Coastguard.
Further along the quay stands The George Inn which dates back to 1665, when its owner Sir Samuel Mico, a rich merchant, bequeathed it to the town and its profits went to aid aged sailors and poor apprentice boys. The charity continues today by providing educational grants.
Running behind the George Inn is the alleyway, Helen Lane. It was originally known as Hell Lane, because it was the first place to encounter the ravages of the plague when the disease entered Britain via Weymouth in 1348. The first known case in England was a seaman who arrived at Weymouth, from Gascony in June 1348. It is thought that it was spread by fleas that lived on rats. By autumn, the plague had reached London, and by summer 1349 it covered the entire country. Estimates of death toll was 30% – 50% of the population. Entire villages disappeared as too few survived to work the land or continue trade. The death rate amongst the clergy was the highest and within two months of the plagues arrival the incumbent of Chickerell was dead. His successor only lasted a few months, while Bincombe, Radipole and Osmington had at least two successive priests die. No wonder the clergy preached it was a punishment from God. As the death toll mounted, many townsfolk and villagers fled the area, so helping to spread the plague. In the region around Melcombe Regis, the Isle of Portland suffered particularly badly. The quarries were deserted by the dying labour force and the key coastal defences left unmanned so Edward III ordered a restriction on the movement of islanders.
As you wander around the harbour you will probably see some fishing boats. Fishing in Weymouth has taken place for thousands of years. Commercial fishing in recent years has declined but there is still a considerable sized fleet. The main catch is shellfish(brown crab, spider crab ,lobster), whelking and wet fish. Especially popular is “Portland Crab” – it’s often on the menu in local cafes. Nearby is the Old Fish Market.
Turn right next to the fish market and take a quick detour along Maiden Street. Find the fire damaged Methodist Church on the corner of St Maiden Street and St Edmund Street. Look across the road towards the Jacobean building. Can you tell what is lodged in the wall? It is a cannonball most likely to have been fired during the Civil War. The Civil War began in 1642 and lasted for seven years. It wasn’t a continuous war but a series of bloody battles around the country. Weymouth suffered its own battle in 1645 when the Royalists fought the Parliamentarians. The cannonball you can see was most likely fired from Chapel Fort by the Royalists. This area was a target for intense continual bombardment, due to the fact that Colonel Sydenham headquarters were nearby in what is now known as Governor Lane.(For more information take a look at my Civil War Walk).
Retrace your steps back to the harbour and walk towards the Town Bridge. Climb the steps or path up to the town bridge.
The first bridge was built here in 1597 to bring the two communities together. It was made from 30 oak trees and had 17 arches and a drawbridge.
In June 1685, there was a rebellion against James II led by the Duke of Monmouth. But the rebel forces were defeated at Sedgemoor in Somerset, and Monmouth was executed. Monmouth’s supporters were put on trial at Dorchester. This trial became known as the Bloody Assizes, with Judge Jefferies presiding. Of the 312 prisoners brought for trail in Dorchester 74 were executed and the reminder transported to the West Indies. Judge Jeffery ordered the erection of a gallows on Greenhill. Here 12 prisoners were hung and drawn. To dampen the spirits of the rebels the body parts were displayed around Weymouth as follows:
Grand Pier – 6 quarters 1head
Townend – 2 quarters
Near the windmill – 4 quarters 1 head
Weymouh Townhall – 2 quarters
The bridge 1 quarter 2 head
Melcombe Townhall 1 quarter 2 head
Once you’ve crossed the bridge turn left past Holy Trinity Church (built 1836).
If you’re feeling brave take the dark alleyway by the right of the church that takes you past the catacombs and gloomy doorways. Look out for the spiders!
Proceed right along Trinity Road.
To your left is the Kings Arms Inn originally built in the 16th century but remodelled with a Georgian frontage in the 18th century. Outside is an old German 2nd World War mine found in Weymouth Bay – today it’s used as a collection “box” for the RNLI.
Walk towards No 2 Trinity Road which is the former residence of Ralph Allen who is often credited as the originator of visiting wealthy Georgians to this seaside town. He was advised by his doctor to bring his ill wife to Weymouth to take the saltwater cure. He then invited the Duke of Gloucester who in turn invited his brother King George.
Outside the Family Rooms Pub stands the old town water pump. It was originally erected in 1775 at North Quay but was moved here in 1990.
Turn into Trinity Street.
The first building on the left is Trinity House. Immediately next door is the Old Rooms which are of Elizabethan origins (opposite Hope Chapel). It once backed onto the harbour. Notice how small the door is – in Tudor times the average height was only 5’6. During the 18th century the building became the Delamotte’s Assembly Rooms and it was here the Duke of Gloucester took tea on a visit to the town in 1771. During the Napoleonic War it became an inn with dubious dealings such as smuggling and press gangs.
During the Napoleonic Wars Weymouth became a hunting ground for press gangs. These gangs were looking for men to “volunteer” for the navy – a dangerous career back then. These volunteers were often knocked unconscious or threatened. When the press-gang had seized a man he was offered the Kings Shilling as payment. The coin was often issued in devious and underhand away such as slipping in a pocket or drink. This is why tankards had glass bottoms so men could see what they were drinking.
Carry on walking along Trinity Street until you reach the Tudor House.
The Tudor House is one of Weymouth’s treasured buildings and is thought to have been a merchant’s property. It originally fronted an inlet from the main harbour, allowing ships to be moored alongside. The building eventually became derelict having been empty during the Second World War and suffered bomb damage.
In the 1950’s a local architect acquired the property and restored it, which he furnished in the style of an early seventeenth century home of a middle class family. The house was bequeathed to the Weymouth Civic Society. A tour of the house gives a fascinating insight into 17th Century life. Guides describe the domestic daily life of the times, including furniture and clothing, cooking and serving of food, lighting and candle making. ( For opening times: www.weymouthcivicsociety.org)
Turn left into Hope Square.
Hope Square is built on reclaimed land it was an opening to the sea, known as the Black Hole or the Ope Cove, and water would have reached as far as the pavement outside today’s Red Lion Pub. This is final resting place for the 250 Royalists who were trapped and driven to their deaths, during the Civil War, after being chased by Parliamentarians along the quayside on the 27th February 1645.
The ope was filled in 1782 across the mouth of the inlet.
Brewing began in Weymouth in the 13th Century. Hope Square had a brew house here for centuries due to the fact there was a spring at Chapelhay and barley at Radipole. The buildings you see today, known as Brewers Quay, was built n 1903/4 as Hope Brewery for John Groves. Devenish also set up business here. Brewing ceased in 1984 and today forms a conservation area.
Brewers Quay has become an emporium selling antiques. On the ground floor you can still see one of the old vat rooms. On the top floor is Weymouth museum.
Opposite Brewers Quay is Pilgrim House, on the corner of Hope Street. It has been suggested that the indentations on the end wall (right of the post box) were caused by a cannon fired from Chapel Fort, possibly during the Civil War.
Turn into Cove Street Continue along the terrace cottages of Cove Row and wander along Hope Street. At No 22 look up and you will see a bracket for holding the sign for the Hope Tavern that was formerly here.
In Georgian times there were a row of houses opposite this tavern which backed straight on to the water which was convenient for the smugglers.
At No 23 you will see that one of the windows has been blocked up in to avoid Window Tax. William Pitt (the Younger) led Georgian Britain through many wars with France which became expensive so he needed to squeeze more cash out of the public. One way was to put up taxes including the highly unpopular Window Tax for houses with more than seven windows. This is where the phrase daylight robbery comes from.
During the Second World War Weymouth Bay was declared a defence area. The beach was covered with barbed wire and the harbour could only be used by the navy. Weymouth became a major loading port for the invasion of Normandy – from the 6th June 1944 to 7th May 1945, 517,816 troops(many being American) and 144,093 vehicles embarked from here. Many of these American GIs were killed or wounded on Omaha Beach.
Look out for a small boat called My Girl. She played her own part during the war. Built in 1931 she was requisitioned by the Army in 1939. During the war she serviced the Breakwater Forts by ferrying soldiers, stores and ammunition and her duties increased as D Day approached. Today My Girl carries day trippers along the coast and to Portland Castle.
Walk along Nothe Parade.
Where the bridge crosses the slipway there is an old Elizabethan shipyard. Alongside the shipyard is No 10a which was the Slip Masters House dating from about 1780.
In Georgian times there were many wharfs alongside this side of the harbour. In 1794 the packet steamer service (postal service) was launched to operate between the Channel Islands and Weymouth. There were originally two eighty ton clippers called Chesterfield and Rover. There were fears of attack by French privateers and the Admiralty had been asked to protect the sailings. All went well until the 29th October 1811. The privateer ship L’epervier carrying 14 guns and a crew of 50 captured the Chesterfield. A fight ensued and Chesterfield’s Captain and two other men were killed and several wounded.
Pass the lifeboat station.
In 1868, the Earl of Strafford offered to fund a lifeboat to replace the one that had been at Portland between 1826 and 1851.
The offer was accepted and on the 26 January 1869 the lifeboat station was opened and the town’s first lifeboat, the Agnes Harriet, was named at a ceremony held on the sands in front of a large crowd.
The early lifeboats at Weymouth were kept in the lifeboat house and launched down a slipway into the harbour when required. In 1924, the Centenary Year of the RNLI, Weymouth received its first motor lifeboat and the lifeboat house was re-built.
Prior to 1890 the crew were called by ringing a bell; this was replaced by a mortar in 1895.
Weymouth lifeboats are ready 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with a doctor if required, to go to the aid of those who find themselves in danger at sea. The lifeboats work closely with the coastguards and their helicopter as and when the need arises.
Since the lifeboat station opened in 1869 Weymouth lifeboats have launched some 1700 times and have saved over 800 lives.
Walk around the rowing boat ferry station and follow the path that takes you past the Sailing and Rowing Club.
Pass Stone Pier Cafe towards the pier. Just beyond the café is an old second world war pill-box, which is a concrete dug-in guard post with slits through which to fire weapons if the Germans had invaded. Next to the pill-box are some steps that lead down to a small beach.
Near the start of the pier is a plaque telling the story of The Earl of Abergavenny Shipwreck.(For more information visit my blog – 210th Anniversary of the sinking of Earl of Abergavenny)). The boat was shipwrecked in Weymouth Bay in 1805 with 263 lives lost. The captain was John Wordsworth, the brother of the poet William Wordsworth. The story caught the public’s imagination and the wreck became a top tourist attraction. Wood from the wreckage was made into artefacts to sell to tourists and even used in a local cottage beam.
We finish our walk here – at the Stone Pier. If you want to extend you walk I suggest you take the steep steps or path(which is just past the Stone Pier Café as you head back to the harbour) up to the Nothe Fort and Gardens which provides wonderful views of Portland Harbour.