Monday, June 20th 2016
We are spending a few days in Dorchester or, to be more exact, we are staying for four nights, June 20th to June 23rd. Dorchester is in the county of Dorset in the South West of England – Google Map here. We shall be sleeping in a hotel in the town of Dorchester and two other towns will claim our attention, Weymouth and Bournemouth. You will find all three quite easily on the Google Map.
The name Dorchester comes comes down from the Romans who called the settlement Durnovaria. This is thought to be a Romanization of the existing British Celtic name though I have not seen any suggestions as to what that might have been. The Anglo-Saxons renamed it Dornwaraceaster, wherein ceaster (the ‘c’ is pronounced like the ‘ch’ in ‘church’) was a suffix that they generally added to the names of the Roman towns they took over and gives us the ‘-chester’ in many modern place names.
The name of the county, Dorset, is harder to explain. In pre-Roman times, this area was inhabited by a Celtic tribe called the Durotriges and the county name probably derives in some way from this but exactly how is a cause of debate and much thumbing through dictionaries of ancient languages in search of words that could possibly be combined to suggest a sensible explanation.
We travelled by rail from London Waterloo to Dorchester South. This is very handy because we had reserved at the Premier Inn which is only a few yards from the station. (It is round the other side of the green building in the above photo.)
On arrival at the hotel, there was a hitch: their computerized system had broken down and we could therefore not check in or go to our room. We were promised that it would be working again soon and in the meantime, we left our bags in the hotel’s safekeeping and ventured forth.
Tigger, who at one stage in her life, lived in Dorset, was hoping to meet up with a friend from those days and as the friend in question works in a shop in Weymouth, Weymouth was where we went next. The above photo was in fact taken as we were waiting on the station for the next Weymouth train.
The centre of Weymouth and the seafront are within easy walking distance of the railway station. On the way, we passed one of my favourites among Weymouth’s features, the Jubilee Clock Tower, raised in 1887 to commemorate the first 50 years of the reign of Queen Victoria. It is an elegant and colourful addition to the town and is being kept in good order. It is now a Grade II listed building.
Weymouth, as you might have guessed, takes its name from the River Wey upon whose banks the settlement originally sat. So much is obvious but why the river was called the Wey is less obvious. Firstly, one must not confuse it with the other River Wey that is a tributary of the Thames. This Wey is only some 5 miles long, though it becomes large by the time it enters the sea, making a fine harbour as it does so.
Some say that the river takes its name from the place where it springs into existence, a place called Upwey. That this is unlikely is shown by the fact that Upwey was once known as Upway, this version of the name being thought to come from the fact that it belonged to the Liberty of Wayhouse (see here and here). It is more likely, then, that the spelling of Upwey has been influenced by the name of the river rather than the other way about. The origin of the river’s name thus remains unknown.
Weymouth is well known for its broad sandy beach, largely undisturbed by the rides and entertainments found in noisier resorts.
The rather splendid Royal Hotel, a Grade II listed building occupying a good position on the Esplanade, was completed in 1899. It shows how prestigious Weymouth was as a resort and bathing station in the Victorian era. Development, begun in the 18th century, had gathered pace in the Georgian period.
Along the seafront we find a line of late Victorian promenade shelters, built of cast iron with, originally, wooden roofs. These elegant and decorative structures, now Grade II listed, offered resting places for promenaders, shade from the sunshine and, no doubt, quiet corners for the exchange of gossip.
Weymouth’s popularity with visitors began with the boom in sea bathing in the 18th century brought about by theories of the health-giving properties of sea water. What really kick-started the town’s illustrious career as a resort, however, was the visit of King George III in 1789. He took a dip in the sea from a bathing machine, as the custom then was, and emerged from the waters to the strain of God Save the King played by a band. He had been ill and had taken up sea bathing on the advice of his doctors.
King George so liked the town that he bought Gloucester Lodge on the Esplanade to be his holiday home and returned to Weymouth when he had time to do so.
Despite his disastrous foreign policy which led to the loss of the American colony, George III was a popular monarch at home. The inhabitants of Weymouth were grateful for what his visits had done to enhance the town’s reputation and commissioned the statue of him in 1810. As royal statues go, this one is unusual in being painted in full colour. It is a sympathetic, even affectionate, view of the monarch, gazing upon the town that he evidently loved.
George’s last visit to Weymouth was in 1805 and it is sad to record that symptoms of the disease that had caused a temporary bout of insanity in 1788 now returned and he became permanently deranged, with intervals of lucidity, until his death in 1820.
In the old part of the town, we find narrow streets, some of them pedestrian-only, lined with all kinds of shops and boutiques, cafes and restaurants. It was here that we found Tigger’s friend and arranged to meet for dinner tomorrow.
At the southern end of the Esplanade is a gallery on the beach where sand sculptures by Mark Anderson are displayed. Weymouth sand grains are unusually small and this makes the sand particularly suitable for sculpture. Contrary to what you might think, only sand and water are required. Once created, the sculptures are quite durable and may even be painted and a light solution may be sprayed on to protect from wind damage. An explanatory notice includes this claim:
In a sealed, vibration-proof glass case, a sculpture made from Weymouth sand and water would last until the end of time.
Unsurprisingly, these sculptures attract a lot of attention, being so well made and detailed. These particular sculptures will not last until the end of time, however, because the sculptor frequently replaces the current set with new ones.
Mark Anderson is not the only sand sculptor, of course, and Weymouth is not the only place where sand of a suitable quality is found. Sand sculptures are made in other places and exhibitions and competitive events are often held.
This view along Weymouth beach looks roughly to the north and part of Mark Anderson’s sand sculpture exhibition building, resembling what one might imagine a flying saucer would look like, is seen on the left.
Thinking it was time for a cup of tea (and maybe a slice of cake), we progressed to Weymouth Pavilion and its Ritz Cafe. The present building is (so far) the last in a series, previous versions having been damaged or destroyed. The name of the cafe refers to a previous incarnation of the pavilion. We visited it in 2014 (see Weymouth 2014 – Day 2) so I will be lazy and quote what I said then:
The Pavilion is a theatre and venue for entertainments and celebrations. It first opened in 1908 but was commandeered by the military during WWII. The Pavilion was restored to Council ownership in 1947 but was badly damaged and needed extensive repair. It eventually reopened as The Ritz but then suffered a disastrous fire in 1954. It was rebuilt and emerged like a phoenix from the ashes but thereafter its future was continually in doubt and in 2012 the Council announced its closure with a view to demolition. Local opposition to this plan was mounted and prevailed: the Pavilion is currently run by a group called the Weymouth Pavilion Community Interest Company whose avowed aim is to run it as a “venue with something for everyone”. A more detailed account of the Pavilion’s history may be found on the History page of its Web site. the Pavilion seems safe for the time being and we hope its future remains bright.
To conclude our ramble, we walked along the north bank of the river which here forms what is called the Waterfront and includes the Old Harbour. If you like boats and sailing, this is a good place to visit and there is plenty to see of a nautical nature.
Our wandering was all in the eastern section of the town and, although this is now considered part of Weymouth, it once had its own separate identity as Melcombe Regis. The two communities were joined administratively in 1571, after which the name of Weymouth came to refer to both. Melcombe was an important seaport, receiving its charter in 1268. Sadly, it also has the distinction of being the port through which the Black Death (bubonic plague) entered England in 1348.
Happily, such terrible events are lie in the distant past and we may hope that their lessons have been learned.
We now took a train to Dorchester South Station and from there progressed to the hotel where we found the computers up and running, allowing us to check in and retire to rest in our room.