Start: Wooperton Street
Finish: Nothe Gardens
Distance: Approx 2.5km
Terrain: Mainly flat but some steps and steep slopes
Thomas Hardy is one of the most renowned poets and novelists in English literary history, and his associations with Dorchester are well documented. Lesser known is his connection with Weymouth and how it played a part in his writing. Known as Budmouth in his novels, Weymouth was close to Hardy’s heart and he lived here for several years as a young man and would visit throughout his life. Hardy was keenly interested in and observant of life going on around him, storing in his mind scenes of people and everyday life and would recall these in his writing.
This walk is primarily aimed at Hardy enthusiasts with extracts from some of his novels and poems, but it is accessible enough for anyone to enjoy.
Hardy arrived in Weymouth in 1869 aged 28. He was a disappointed and depressed man. He had spent five years in London hoping to become an accomplished author or successful architect. Neither had happened. His first book had been rejected and the London air had taken its toll on his health. He returned to Dorset with nothing to show for his time in London. With a heavy heart he agreed to take a job with R Crickmay, a Weymouth architect who specialised in restoring local churches. He found himself lodgings in a small street near the inner harbour and this is where we start our walk.
Start at No 3 Wooperton Street (a small road that connects Park Street to Commercial Street).
It was here that Hardy lodged between 1869 – 1871. These houses originally looked directly onto an inlet of the Backwater, later filled in to become a timber yard and is now a car park.
When Hardy first walked through the door in the summer of 1869 he had no idea that success would soon be here. In autumn 1869 he started on his novel Desperate Remedies; a story which focuses on a young man called Owen Graye who finds lodgings in Budmouth (Weymouth) and takes up the position of local architect – sound familiar? Desperate Remedies became his first published novel in 1871.
Walk onto Park Street and turn left and turn right onto Gloucester Street. Once you reach the Esplanade cross over onto the seafront and turn left walking towards Greenhill.
The Esplanade consists of splendid Georgian buildings, built in the late 1700’s as tourists started to arrive to enjoy the benefits of the sea. In 1869 Weymouth was still booming and with its beautiful sea views and crisp fresh air Hardy’s spirits soon lifted.
Amble along the esplanade until you reach the Prince Regent Hotel (opposite the War Memorial).
Hardy notes that after his first interview with Crickmay he was standing “opposite the Burdon Hotel on the Esplanade, facing the beautiful sunlit bay” as he listened to the town band play the Margenblatter Waltzes. Nearly fifty years later he wrote a poem entitled “At a Seaside Town in 1869” – with the subtitle Young Lovers reverie:
The boats, the sands, the esplanade,
The Laughing crowd;
Light – hearted, loud
Greetings from some not ill-edowed;
The evening sunlit cliffs,the talk,
Hailings an alts,
The keen sea-salts,
The band, the Morgenblatter Waltz
Take a look towards Osmington Hill and see if you can spot King George III riding his white horse. This was cut into the Limestone in 1808. The White Horse is 280 feet (85 m) long and 323 feet (98 m) high in size. Hardy mentions it in The Trumpet-Majopr when his character John Loveday takes Anne Garland too see the making of the horse – “forty navvies at work moving the dark sod so as to lay bare the chalk beneath.”
Cross over at the pedestrian crossing near Brunswick Terrace and turn left heading towards town.
We will now pass a cluster of hotels with Hardy associations.
Look out for The Langham. This hotel is mentioned, by the name Belvidere, in Deperate Remedies when Miss Aldclyffe interviews the heroine Cytherea Graye and engages her as a lady’s maid.
Carry on walking until you reach the Royal Hotel (a favourite haunt of King George III – please look at my Georgian Walk for more details).
This hotel was rebuilt in late 1900’s, so after Hardy lived here. But the original hotel played an important part in Hardy’s life and he would often visit here. In September 1869 a new assistant came to Crickmay’s office (who was afterwards written into Desperate Remedies as Edward Sprigrove). In November 1869 this assistant persuaded Hardy to take quadrille classes ( a dance performed by four couples in a rectangular formation) at the Royal Hotel. Hardy stated that he found the Weymouth girls heavier on the arm than London girls! But despite this unfortunate predicament of the local girls Hardy was still able to enjoy a bachelor lifestyle and he often fell in and out of love.
In 1869 he wrote the poem The dawn after the dance:
Here is your parents’ dwelling with its curtained windows telling
Of no thought of us within it or of our arrival here;
Their slumbers have been normal after one day more of formal
Matrimonial commonplace and household life’s mechanic gear.
I would be candid willingly, but dawn draws on so chillingly
As to render further cheerlessness intolerable now,
So I will not stand endeavouring to declare a day for severing,
But will clasp you just as always—just the olden love avow.
Through serene and surly weather we have walked the ways together,
And this long night’s dance this year’s end eve now finishes the spell;
Yet we dreamt us but beginning a sweet sempiternal spinning
Of a cord we have spun to breaking—too intemperately, too well.
Yes; last night we danced I know, Dear, as we did that year ago, Dear,
When a new strange bond between our days was formed, and felt, and heard;
Would that dancing were the worst thing from the latest to the first thing
That the faded year can charge us with; but what avails a word!
That which makes man’s love the lighter and the woman’s burn no brighter
Came to pass with us inevitably while slipped the shortening year . . .
And there stands your father’s dwelling with its blind bleak windows telling
That the vows of man and maid are frail as filmy gossamere.
In Under the Greenwood Tree Dick Dewy drives Fancy Day home, past the two semi circular bays of the old Royal Hotel.
Nearby is the large Gloucester Hotel. This was built as a private residence for the Duke of Gloucester and became the annual summer home for George III in 1789. In the Trumpet Major, Hardy describes how when the King was in Weymouth “the popular Georgian watering place was in a paroxysm of gaiety. A picket of a thousand men mounted guard every day in front of Gloucester Lodge” to ensure the safety of the King.
Its hard to miss the large Kings Statue standing magnificently in the middle of the road. Cross over carefully for a closer look.
The “Grateful Inhabitants” of Weymouth held a General meeting to “consider of the most proper mode of celebrating the 50th year of the king’s reign. They commissioned a life like statue “as a memorial to future ages of the Virtues of the Monarch and of the Gratitude which this town feels for having been so frequently honoured by the Royal Presence.”
King George III was not a well man and he was advised that sea bathing might be a cure for his malady. Bathing machines were introduced to Weymouth and became very popular. Take a look at the bathing machine that is near the statue.
Horses drew the bathing machines across the sands into deeper water where the king would descend the steps directly into the water. This is described in The Trumpet-Major “The royal bathing machine had been drawn out.. Immediately that the King’s machine had entered the water, a group of florid men with fiddles, violincello, a trombone and a drum came forward , packed themselves into another machine that was in waiting and were drawn out into the waves in the king’s rear….then a deafing noise burst from the interior of the second machine….it was the condensed mass of musicians inside striking up the strains of God Save the King, as his Majesty’s head rose from the water.”
Bathing is also mentioned in The Dynasts in which Prime Minister Pitt calls on the king to discuss the war with Napoleon. The King is glad to give him audience but first stresses that Pitt should enjoy the change of air and delights of Budmouth. George III tells Pitt:“the bathing is unmatched elsewhere in Europe …the air like liquid life.”
King George was not the only one who liked to take a dip.Whilst Hardy lived in Weymouth he became a good swimmer and took 7.00am morning dips. He would lie on his back on the surface of the waves, rising and falling with the tide in the warmth and the morning sun. He said after the depression and tiredness of London, his tonic exsistence by the sea seemed ideal and that physically he went back ten years, “almost as by the touch of an enchanted wand.”
Cross over onto the seafront and take in the view of Weymouth Bay.
Today Weymouth is a popular resort, but maybe even more so in Georgian times. In the Dynasts, Sergeant Young recalls the happy times when the regiment was quartered here ” Now Budmouth-Regis was exactly to my taste when we were there with the Court that summer, the King and Queen a-wambling aboput among us like the most everyday old man and woman you ever see .” He then sings of happy times the troops had. This is known as the Hussar’s Song – it has four verses – the first is:
When we lay where Budmouth Beach is
O, the girls were fresh as peaches,
With their tall and tossing figures and their eyes of blue and brown!
And our hearts would ache with longing
As we paced from our sing-songing
With a smart Clink! Clink!up the Esplanade and down
Hardy loved to walk along Weymouth Bay, especially on a summer’s evening when it was lit by the magical hour of the setting sun. Hardy enjoyed rowing and as dusk fell he would row out to the bay and admire the lights that shone out along the sea wall.
He expresses his love for this light on the poem “On the Esplanade” which has a subtitle Midsummer 10pm:
The horizon gets lost in a mist new-wrought by the nigh:
The lamps of the Bay
That reach from behind me round to he left and right
On the sea wall way
For a constant mile of curve, make a long display
As a pearl-strung row
Under which in the waves they bore their gilets of light:
All this was plain; but there was a thing not so
Continue along the Esplanade towards the Pavillion Theatre which is ahead of you.
The Pavillion opened in 1960 after the original theatre on this site (named the Ritz) burnt down during refurbishment. It took just one hour to burn down.
In Sept 1927 Hardy received a standing ovation at a dramatization of the Mayor of Casterbridge showing at the Ritz.
To the right of the The Pavillion is the harbour. This is where you want to head next.
You can still see the old railway tracks in the road that used to carry cargo such as potatoes from the ferry terminal to the Weymouth Train station.
Go up the steps onto the raised quay, known as Custom House Quay. ( Please refer to my Harbour Walk if you would like more information).
Thomas Hardy appreciated the beauty of the harbour and would often visit here. Thomas Hardy and his wife Emma stayed in a house right over the harbour in August 1879 when he was writing The Trumpet- Major in order to visit locations to be used in the novel. The exact house is not known. During their stay Hardy’s mother holidayed with them and they visited Upwey, Portland and other beauty spots. The weather was mostly wet and Hardy refers to the pleasure-steamer bell ringing persistently with no response except from a school party from eight miles off. Hardy vividly describes this in The Life: The steamer-bell ringing persistently,and nobody going on board except an unfortunate boys’ school that had come eight miles by train that morning to spend a happy day by the sea. The rain goes into their baskets of provisions, and runs out a strange mixture of cake juices and mustard water, but they try to look as if they were enjoying it – all except the pale thin assistant-master who has come with them, and whose face is tragic with his responsibilities. The quay seems quite deserted till on going along it, groups of boatmen are discovered behind a projecting angle of the wall – martyrs in countenance, talking of what their secrets would have been if the season had turned out fine; and the landladies faces at every lodging house window watching the drizzle and the sea it half obscures.” –
There are many interesting buildings – such as the Harbour Masters Office, Custom House and my personal favourite the Old Fish Market. Just past the fish market is the Town Bridge. There has been a bridge here since 1597 in an attempt to bring the fighting communities of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis together.This bridge is the sixth and was built in 1930. Pause at the harbour wall and look at the main arch under the bridge towards the inner harbour. This is the view (even though it was a different bridge) that Hardy thought of when he wrote The Harbour Bridge:
From here,the quay, one looks above to mark
The Bridge across the harbour, hanging dark
Against the day’s -end sky, fair green in the glow
Over and under the middle archway’s bow:
It draws its skeleton where the sun has set,
Yea, clear from cutwater to parapet;
On which mild glow, too, lines of rope and spar
Trace themselves black as char.
Climb the steps that lead onto the bridge and cross over to Trinity Road.
Walk along Trinity Road and then turn right into Trinity Street. I won’t bore you too much with the history of the harbour as I have covered it in my other walks But I will point out the Old Rooms on the left hand side of the road. It’s an Elizabethan building that once backed onto the harbour and was the home of Mayor Thomas Giear. In 1618 he was found guilty of defrauding the King and was fined the massive sum of £2000. It became an inn and during the Napoleonic Wars it became known for smuggling and press gangs. In Hardy’s drama epic of The Dynasts (a three-part verse of the war with Napoleon) he starts Act V in “King George’s Watering Place” ie. The Old Rooms Inn. Hardy describes how boatmen and burgers are talking bout the death of Nelson at Trafalgar in 1805. One of the boatmen sings a ballad that had been on sale in Weymouth. It tells of a great local storm that occurred on the same night as the Battle of Trafalgar:
“In the wild October night-time, when the wind raved round the land,
And the Back-sea met the Front sea, and our doors were blocked with sand,
And we heard the drub of Dead-man’s Bay, where bones of thousands are,
We knew not what the day had done for us at Trafalgar”
Carry on along Trinity Street and then cut across Hope Square and turn into Spring Road. Continue into Horsford Street and walk till you reach Barrack Road.
Near here is a small alley called the Lookout:“Throughout our history, men of Weymouth alerted to possible danger by sea-borne invaders, climbed from the snug streets of the old town and gazed out into the Channel from the Lookout.” (Ricketts,1975).
From here you can see the cove which appears in a scene from Hardy’s “The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion”, and is based on a true local tragedy.
Hardy describes how two young Hussars, Matthaus and Christian, live in an army camp near Bincombe village and were homesick for Hanover. Matthaus had fallen in love with a local girl named Phyllis, who he would meet at the wall at the end of her garden and which overlooked the soldiers’ camp. But she was engaged to someone else and their love could not be fulfilled. Desperate and disappointed in love, The Hussars stole a small boat from the harbour and set off via the Nothe Cove back to Hanover, but they were picked up by an English cutter near jersey. Found guilty of desertion they were marched back to Bincombe, where Phyllis watches shocked by her garden wall:
“What she beheld at first awed and perplexed her; then she stood rigid, her fingers hooked to the wall, her eyes staring out of her head, and her face as if hardened to stone.
On the open green stretching before her all the regiments in the camp were drawn up in line, in the mid-front of which two empty coffins lay on the ground. The unwonted sounds which she had noticed came from an advancing procession. It consisted of the band of the York Hussars playing a dead march; next two soldiers of that regiment in a mourning coach, guarded on each side, and accompanied by two priests. Behind came a crowd of rustics who had been attracted by the event. The melancholy procession marched along the front of the line, returned to the centre, and halted beside the coffins, where the two condemned men were blindfolded, and each placed kneeling on his coffin; a few minutes’ pause was now given, while they prayed.
A firing-party of twenty-four men stood ready with levelled carbines. The commanding officer, who had his sword drawn, waved it through some cuts of the sword-exercise till he reached the downward stroke, whereat the firing party discharged their volley. The two victims fell, one upon his face across his coffin, the other backwards.
As the volley resounded there arose a shriek from the wall of Dr. Grove’s garden, and some one fell down inside; but nobody among the spectators without noticed it at the time. The two executed Hussars were Matthäus Tina and his friend Christoph. The soldiers on guard placed the bodies in the coffins almost instantly; but the colonel of the regiment, an Englishman, rode up and exclaimed in a stern voice: “Turn them out — as an example to the men!”
The coffins were lifted endwise, and the dead Germans flung out upon their faces on the grass. Then all the regiments wheeled in sections, and marched past the spot in slow time. When the survey was over the corpses were again coffined, and borne away.”
They are buried in an unmarked grave at the back of Bincombe Church, near the wall. Phyllis is buried nearby.
This is the end of the Thomas Hardy Walk. I hope you have enjoyed it.
To return to the Harbour just retrace your footsteps but if you have the time and the energy I do recommend that you explore the area more by wandering around the Nothe Gardens.