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 ROUND AND ABOUT WEYMOUTH I walk in the world's great highways,
In the dusty glare and riot,
But my heart is in the byways
That thread across the quiet;
By the wild flowers in the coppice,
There the track like a sleep goes past,
And paven with peace and poppies,
Comes down to the sea at last.
E. G. Buckeridge.
Modern Weymouth is made up of two distinct townships, Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, which were separate , with their own parliamentary representatives. Of the two Weymouth is probably the older, but Melcombe can be traced well-nigh back to the Conquest; and now, although it is the name of Weymouth that has obtained the , it is to Melcombe that it is commonly . Many visitors to Weymouth never really enter the real, ancient Weymouth, now chiefly concerned in the of Dorset ale. The , town, railway station and residences are all in Melcombe Regis. The local conditions are something more than . The little River Wey has an altogether out of proportion to its tiny stream, called the Blackwater. The true original Weymouth stands on the right bank of the estuary at its entrance into Weymouth Bay. Across the mouth of the estuary, leaving a narrow channel only open, stretches a narrow spit of land, on which stands Melcombe. The Blackwater has thus a lake-like character, and its continuation to the sea, the harbour, may be likened to a canal. The local annals of the kingdom can hardly furnish such another instance of jealous as the between the two boroughs. Barely a stone's-throw apart, they were the most quarrelsome of neighbours, and for centuries lived the most "cat and dog" life. Whatever was advanced by one community was certain to be opposed by the other, and not even German and English hated each other with a more perfect than did the burgesses of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis. As they would not live happy single, it was resolved to try what married life would do, and so in 1571 the two corporations were rolled into one, the only of the old days retained being the power of electing four members to Parliament from the municipality—a right which was exercised until 1832. Not until the union was the old-fashioned ferry over the Wey supplemented by a bridge, the of that which now joins the two divisions of the town. The union proved to be a success, and in this way Weymouth saved both itself and its name from becoming merely a shadow and a memory.
It is to George III. that Weymouth must be eternally grateful, for just in the same way as George IV. turned Brighthelmstone into Brighton, it was George III. who made Weymouth. Of course there was a Weymouth long before his day, but whatever importance it once had long disappeared when he took it up. For many years the King spent long summer holidays at Gloucester , a facing the sea, and now the Gloucester Hotel.
Considering its undoubted age, Weymouth is barren in traces of the past, and a few Elizabethan houses, for the most part modernised, well-nigh exhaust its .
Weymouth, which figures as "Budmouth" in 's romances, is the subject of many references. Uncle Bengy, in The Major, found Budmouth a plaguy expensive place, for "If you only eat one egg, or even a poor windfall of an apple, you've got to pay; and a bunch of radishes is a halfpenny, and a quart o' cider tuppence three-farthings at lowest reckoning. Nothing without paying!"
When George III. and the sun of prosperity shone upon the tradesfolk of Weymouth the spirit of gain soon became . The prices which so roused poor old Uncle Bengy even staggered Queen Charlotte, and "Peter Pindar" (Dr John Wolcot) criticised her household in bringing stores and provisions from Windsor:
"Bread, cheese, salt, catchup, vinegar and mustard,
Small beer and bacon, apple pie and custard;
All, all from Windsor, greets his Grace,
For Weymouth is a d——d expensive place."
Sandsfoot Castle, built by Henry VIII., on the southern shore of the spit of land called the Nothe, Weymouth Bay, is now a pile of stone. It was built as a fort when England feared an invasion prompted by the Pope. The old pile plays a prominent part in Hardy's The Well-Beloved. The statue of King George, which is such an object of to the writers of guide-books, was the meeting-place of Fancy Day and Dick Dewy in Under the Greenwood Tree.
The "Budmouth" localities mentioned in The Trumpet Major are: the ; Theatre Royal; Barracks; Gloucester Lodge; and the Old Rooms Inn in Love Row, once a highly fashionable resort which was used for dances and other entertainments by the ladies and gentlemen who formed the Court of George III. It was also the spot where the battle of Trafalgar was discussed in The Dynasts. However, the old assembly rooms and the theatre have now vanished. Mention of Hardy's tremendous drama reminds me that it is rarely quoted in topographical works on Dorset, and yet it is full of the spirit and atmosphere of Wessex. Thus in a few words he tells us what "Boney" seemed like to the of Dorset:
"Woman (in undertones). I can tell you a word or two on't. It is about His . They say that He lives upon human flesh, and has rashers o' baby every morning for breakfast—for all the world like the Cernel Giant in old ancient times!
"Second Old Man. I only believe half. And I only own—such is my challengeful character—that perhaps He do eat pagan infants when He's in the desert. But not ones at home. Oh no—'tis too much!
"Woman. Whether or no, I sometimes—God forgi'e me!—laugh wi' horror at the queerness o't, till I am that weak I can hardly go round house. He should have the washing of 'em a few times; I warrent 'a wouldn't want to eat babies any more!"
There are a hundred clean-cut, bright things in The Dynasts, and some of the songs are so cunningly fashioned that we know the author must surely have overheard them so often that they have become part of his life. Does the reader remember this from the first volume?—
"In the wild October night-time, when the wind 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.
(All) Had done,
Had done
For us at Trafalgar!"
Or the other sung by a Peninsular
"When we lay where Budmouth Beach is,
Oh, 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
As we passed from our sing-songing,
With a smart Clink! Clink! up the Esplanade and down."
The principal attraction of Weymouth is its magnificent bay, which has caused the town to be on the railway posters as the "Naples of England"; but Mr Harper, in his charming book, The Hardy Country, cruelly remarks that no one has yet found Naples returning the compliment and calling itself the "Weymouth of Italy." But there is no need for Weymouth to[Pg 153] powder and paint herself with fanciful attractions, for her old-world is full of . The pure Georgian houses on the Esplanade, with their fine bow windows and red-tiled roofs, are very warm and , and remind one of the glories of the coaching days. They are guiltless of taste or elaboration, it is true, but they have an honest savour about them which is redolent of William Cobbett, pig-skin saddles, real ale and baked apples. And those are some of the realest things in the world. There is a distinct "atmosphere" about the shops near the harbour too. They shrink back from the in a most timid way, and each year they seem to settle down an inch or so below the street-level, with the result that they are often entered by awkward steps.
Near the Church of St Mary is the Market, which on Fridays and Tuesdays presents a scene of colour and activity. In the Guildhall are several interesting , the old stocks and whipping-posts, a chest captured from the Spanish Armada and a chair from the old house of the Dominican friars which was long ago .
Preston, three miles north-east of Weymouth, is a village on the main road to Wareham, with interesting old thatched cottages and a fifteenth-century church containing an[Pg 154] ancient font, a Norman door, holy-water stoups and . At the foot of the hill a little one-arched bridge over the stream was once regarded as Roman , but the experts now think it is Early Norman work. Adjoining Preston is the still prettier village of Sutton Poyntz, in by the Downs, on the side of which, in a position, is the famous figure, cut in the turf, of King George III. on horseback. He looks very impressive, with his cocked hat and marshal's . Sutton Poyntz is the principal locale of Hardy's story of The Trumpet Major. The tale is of a sweet girl, Anne Garland, and two brothers Loveday, who loved her; the "gally-bagger" sailor, Robert, who won her, and John, the easy-going, gentle soldier, who lost her. The Trumpet Major is a , loamy novel, and the essence of a century of sunshine has found its way into the pages. Even the of the story—the sadness of love unsatisfied—is mellow. The village to-day, with its tree-............
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