With the Olympic’s Sailing venue being based in Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour this year, I thought I would add to the “legend” of Weymouth with some background information. Weymouth plays a significant role in my next Austen-inspired novel, The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy, which is due out after the first of the year.
Weymouth, itself, was once two independent communities, divided by the harbour. Weymouth developed on the harbour’s south side, while Melcombe developed on the northern side. Weymouth’s affluence was a dark contrast to Melcombe, famous as the sport where the Black Death plague had entered Britain.
The two “towns” often fought over the harbour’s ownership. The often violent rivalry between the two communities came to an end when, in 1591, Queen Elizabeth I enacted a bill which united the towns into the borough of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis. A wooden bridge connecting the towns spanned the harbour by 1594, but the “peace” was never a true one.
With the onset of the Civil War, new hostilities rose up between the towns. Melcombe came to be under Parliamentarian control and Weymouth under the control of the Royalists. In fact, in the side of a house on the Melcombe side of Maiden Street, there is a cannonball firmly lodged into the wall of one of the houses.
During the hostilities, a small group of residents led a plot to oust Cromwell’s forces from Weymouth and bring it back under Royalist rule. The Crabchurch Conspiracy brought more blood to the doors of Weymouth’s citizens. During the Crabchurch Conspiracy (1645), 250 Weymouth citizens were killed during the battle, which aimed to bring the town back under the control of the King’s army. Eventually, the monarchy was restored. The period that followed brought high taxes. The government wished to thwart the spread of smuggling and the “wide use” of alcohol among the Dorset citizens.
Things changed dramatically for the area in 1789, when King George III made his first visit to Weymouth. The King so loved the area’s golden sandy beaches, that he made Weymouth his “holiday” of choice. Eventually, he purchased Gloucester Lodge on the Melcombe seafront from his brother. Thus, Weymouth and Melcombe Regis became one of the first holiday resorts. A monument, a statue of George III, was erected in 1810 at the junction of the two main streets of the town, St. Mary Street and St. Thomas Street. It remains to this day on an island in the middle of the road along the seafront, a permanent reminder of what Royalty did for Weymouth.
Sadly, during WWII, Weymouth’s resort atmosphere gave over to the need to protect British soil from invasion. Between June 6, 1944, and May 7, 1945, nearly 500,000 troops and 150,000 vehicles departed for France via Weymouth’s harbour.