Postcard Series

Weymouth has a long and distinguished history

The town we presently know as Weymouth was originally two towns. Melcombe lay to the North of the shared Harbour and “old” Weymouth was across the water, to the South. The Harbour came to prominence in the 13th Century, mainly trading wool.

Cove Row (on the Weymouth side), from the Town Bridge
Cove Row (on the Weymouth side), from the Town Bridge

The two rival towns united in 1571, by Act of Parliament. This did not succeed in averting hostilities in the English Civil War. A cannonball can still be seen, embedded into a wall in Maiden Street. The resulting “double-borough” may be the reason why there were more councillors than in most UK townships, until recent reorganisations. Later, the Harbour became a busy fishing port.

Middle Harbour, looking towards the 1930's Bascule Town Bridge and St Joseph's
Middle Harbour, looking towards the 1930’s Bascule Town Bridge and St Joseph’s

Some historical events

Previous posts in this “Postcard” series highlight some of our local history. Developments include The Esplanade, contributions to the response to the Spanish Armada, smuggling, piracy and founding of the American Colonies.

Baptist Chapel (1513) on The Esplanade
Baptist Chapel (1513) on The Esplanade

Along the way, the “Black Death” entered Weymouth in 1348. Also, King George III effectively put Weymouth on the map as a seaside resort. Stacie’s was the first purpose-built hotel in Weymouth Town, from 1773. The site is currently the Royal Hotel (1899). During the Second World War, over 450,000 troops and 100,000 military vehicles paraded down The Esplanade to embark for Operation Overlord (D-Day).

Parts of the White Hart Pub date from the 15th Century
Parts of the White Hart Pub date from the 15th Century

Weymouth Town Centre

In Medieval times, the burgs of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis were little more than clusters of dwellings, either side of the trading and fishing port. In the 16th Century, a Dominican Friary, dating from 1418, built a jetty from the mainland on the Melcombe side to the approximate site of the current Alexandra Gardens.

The Golden Lion (1721)
The Golden Lion (1721)

Origin of Weymouth’s main thoroughfares

A succession of piers and embankments led to the extension of these lands and the population grew. The present-day St Mary and St Edmund streets were no more than pathways between grassy slopes.

The 17th Century Duke of Cornwall inn, next to the Old Guildhall
The 17th Century Duke of Cornwall inn, next to the Old Guildhall

Accommodation in the new tourist spot

By the 18th Century, houses in the growing “Weymouth Town” were a mix of ancient timber frame buildings and stone constructions, with mullion windows. The 1776 Improvement Act resulted in removal of thatch roofs by about 1784. The development of Weymouth as a tourist resort began with the visits by King George III, from 1750 to 1805. During this period, many more visitors, particularly wealthy patrons and gentry, chose to come to the Town but suitable accommodation was scarce.

St Mary's Church (1817), built by the architect Hamilton
St Mary’s Church (1817), built by the architect Hamilton

By the mid-nineteenth century, the Royal Baths, coffee salons, assembly and reading rooms were in regular use and some commercial buildings, such as banks, appeared.

The former Eliot, Pierce and Co Bank, which failed in 1897
The former Eliot, Pierce and Co Bank, which failed in 1897

Theatres, banks and open spaces

The Theatre Royal was, in 1771, one of the first purpose-built theatres outside London. Alexandra Gardens became public gardens in 1867, with a bandstand in 1891. In 1924, a concert hall replaced the bandstand.

Before HSBC, we do not know who occupied this 19th Century building
Before HSBC, we do not know who occupied this 19th Century building

Roller-skating rinks provided adventurous entertainment at the Burdon Hotel and Grange Road. The coming of affordable rail travel for all in the 1850’s saw rapid development in Weymouth. Trade routes from the Channel Islands added greatly to the wealth of the area. New Town Centre dwellings, shops and inns opened, with many now offering modest rooms for travelers. Weymouth Town had arrived!