Start: Gloucester Lodge, The Esplanade
Finish: Cove Row
Distance: Approx. 3km
King George III reigned for forty one years. He is our Queen Elizabeth’s great great great grandfather. There was a lot going on – the French Revolution, the rise of Napoleon, loss of the American colonies and the British Industrial Revolution. Society was changing and in the thick of the action was King George who was like Marmite – you either loved him or loathed him!
Weymouth’s key link with Georgian royalty began in the 1780s when King George came to visit. As he got old George developed a disease of the blood called porphyria and went nuts. Sometimes this could be funny like the day he tried to shake hands with a branch of a tree thinking it was the King of Prussia but sometimes it could be scary like the time he chased his wife Queen Charlotte around the tree with an axe. His doctors suggested that he visited his brother the Duke of Gloucester in Weymouth. They hoped that drinking and bathing in the salt water would help calm the king’s mind. The king loved the area so much he returned in 1791 and returned every year until 1805. Weymouth grew from a small quiet fishing port to the most trendy seaside resort in the country.
Lets start on the Esplanade at Gloucester Lodge, situated just past the bus stops near King George’s statue. This was the holiday home of King George which was built by his brother the Duke of Gloucester in 1780. The glass front of the hotel and the large building to the left are Victorian so let’s not bother with those. The main Georgian entrance used to be at the side which you can still see. To the rear of the house there were stables for horses.
But it wasn’t big enough to fit everybody in so he added the four small houses to its right. There would have been a whole entourage of servants, advisors and of course his wife and their fifteen children. In fact he brought a whole army and the hills around Weymouth filled with camps of regiments of soldiers.
Keep walking straight on Gloucester Row till you reach the Royal Hotel. This was the site of the new Assembly Rooms (an entertainment venue).
King George enjoyed visiting here for a gossip and a dance. A red cord was erected across the room to separate the royal dancers from the other one hundred or so dancers. There were many rules and regulations here such as no coloured gloves, no riding clothes and gentleman must leave their swords at the door!
Eventually these rooms became too small and were demolished and rebuilt as a hotel with the Royal Arcade to the right
Walk past the Royal Hotel and go through the subway which takes you onto the Royal Crescent and Belvidere.
Take a moment to look and admire the houses. The Georgian period came at a time where towns were getting bigger and Weymouth was no exception. By the turn of the 19th century Weymouth beach was a huge building site with hundreds of skilled craftsman and labourers using Portland stone to create one of England’s most impressive Georgian Crescents.
One of Weymouth’s busiest men was architect James Hamiltion who designed many of Weymouth’s Georgian buildings.
Many of the front doors do not have letterboxes as the penny stamp was not introduced till the 6th May 1840.
Look out for the railings and balconies outside of the houses as many of these are original.
Carry on walking until past the Prince Regent Hotel and then use the pedestrian crossing to reach the seafront near Brunswick Terrace.
Look towards Osmington Hill and you will see a 320 foot chalk silhouette of King George III riding his favourite horse. It was cut by bored soldiers waiting for the French invasion in 1808. Rumour has it that the king was so annoyed that the horse was pointing away from Weymouth he took it to mean he wasn’t welcome so never returned.
Stroll towards town.
Storms have played a large part in Weymouth’s history. Walk along the esplanade back towards the Kings Statue – can you spot on the wall next to the Beach Cafe a memorial to the Tempest that struck on the 23rd November 1824 drowning several people and destroying property and boats.
Across the road you will the Kings Statue. This large imposing monument was erected in 1810 in honour of King George III celebrating his 50th year of reign and in recognition of his importance to Weymouth. He is dressed in his Coronation Robes with the Order of the Garter around his neck and holding a sceptre.
Take a look at the bathing machine nearby.
Bathing machines were a Georgian invention. They were huts on wheels that allowed Bathers change out of their clothes into swim wear and then wheeled into the sea. The first time King George used such a machine, another bathing machine carried a small orchestra inside and played God Save the King as he stepped into the water.
Continue along the Esplanade and pass the Tea Cabin (which was once a taxi rank for horse and carriages) and the bus stops to the pedestrian crossing. Crossover and turn left.
Just before Marks & Spencer’s you will see a small black door which is the back entrance to the Black Dog Public House. Even though it was built before Georgian times it was popular in Georgian times and King George frequented here. He presented the pub with two royal crests (now by the fireplaces). There would been four separate drinking rooms with an open walkway through the middle. Ruts have been left in the flagstones by the carts that used to traffic through. In the mess deck is a collection of ships names off sailor hats, some gold threaded. When the cellar was dug up they discovered two tunnels but there were human remains so they blocked them up again. One was probably an old smugglers route where smuggled goods from the beach could be sneaked into the inn, then via a series of tunnels to the White Hart. Local folk lore claim that in 1758 a gruesome murder took place in front of the fireplaces when two men of the ruthless Hawhurst Gang from Sussex whipped a fellow smuggler called Hawkins to death for letting some information slip. The murderers were caught and hanged. A plaque above the bar tells the story.
Walk past York Buildings towards Bond Street. Along this street was the site of the Old Theatre Royal where the Royal Georgians would have enjoyed the latest West End shows and operas. Grimaldi the clown performed here several times. The 18th century was the great age of the theatre but it was a different experience than today. They were rowdy affairs with shouting and drinking, and audiences would often pelt actors with rotten fruit if the performance was not up to scratch. I would like to see that happen in the Pavilion!
The large building with the columns adjacent to York Buildings was built in the late 18th century to house Harvey’s Library and Card Assembly.
You are now on Charlottes Row (named after King Georges daughter). Continue till you come to a small road called St Albans Street (opposite Alexandra Gardens), named after the Duke of St Albans, one of George III sons who had a house near here.
On the corner is The Hotel Rex which was built in 1795 as the Duke of Clarence’s summer residence (another son of George III). He later became William IV. In his youth he served in the Navy and became known as Sailor King.
Turn down St Albans Street. This is how Weymouth would have once looked with small narrow streets and shops close together. It was once known as Petticoat Lane and it’s easy to imagine the laundry fluttering in the wind like the flags do today.
Carry on to St Marys street, turn left and walk till you find St Marys Church.
It has been a site of worship since ancient times. King George III worshiped here regularly but the church became unstable and the congregation became worried about pieces of roof possibly falling on their royal visitors so plans were made to build a new one.
Step inside the door and take a look around. Just inside the porch on the left hand side is a board with the names of all the people who gave money for the church to be built. .
Look out for King George III Royal Coat of Arms on the left side of the door.
Above the altar you will see a large painting of the Last Supper by Sir James Thornhill – one of the greatest 18th Century artists. He was born in Weymouth at White Hart. He presented this painting as a token of his affection for Weymouth.
Once leaving the church continue left down St Marys Street until you reach St Edmunds Street. Turn left past the Golden Lion Pub, an old coaching inn dating from 1721 that was a very popular place for Georgians to stay.
Has the Lion statue still got his tail? His tail has been stolen by high jinxed thieves many a time.
Looking opposite you will see the Guildhall that was built in 1838 out of Portland Stone replacing its predecessor which dated from 1618. Until the middle of the 19th century the area outside this building was the Town Market Place which nearly stretched the whole length of St Edmund Street and would sell agricultural goods and livestock.
Turn right into Maiden Street and then sharp left into Helen Lane. In King George’s time this was known as Hell lane and was a reminder to the Georgians that the street and inhabitants were the first to encounter the ravages of the plague several centuries earlier when the disease entered Britain via Weymouth.
Walk past the back of buildings then right into East Street for a few steps before you reach the beautiful harbour. Cross onto the waterside and take a look round. Can you spot No 14 a delightful Georgian building reputed to once house the Harbour Master.
Nearby is the Royal Dorset Yacht Club. It 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 hopefully sweated out toxins.
On the corner of East Street is a 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 Napolenic Wars forced up prices of continental wheat and liquor to an unaffordable level. 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 oldWeymouth seamstress who was sentanced in 1844 for smuggling. And again aged 73!
By 1830 smuggling reached a climax in Weymouth were it is said that tunnels were constructed from the harbour to merchants houses and even King Georges III residence. Next door to Custom House at the George Public House there has been evidence found of smuggling when during renovations a list of smuggled goods was found in a wall crevice.
Customs left the building in 1985 and is now the home of HM Coastguard.
Inside Custom House on the ground floor there is a large wheel and gibbet on display which was part of a hoist system originally on the top floor used to hoist goods up from the carts in Helen Lane behind the building.
Walk past the Ship Inn towards the Royal Oak public house, a fine example of late Georgian architecture.
Walk towards Rendezvous and climb the steps up to the town bridge. There is a tunnel next to the Rendezvous that will lead you to the bridge if you don’t want to climb the steps.
This walk can either end here, or if your feeling fit you could cross over the Harbour Bridge towards Holy Trinity Church and continue with Part Two.
The Buildings of Old Weymouth – Eric Ricketts
Maureen Attwool & Jack West – Weymouth: An Illustrated History