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WEYMOUTH and Melcombe-Regis lie on opposite sides of the same river, the
latter on the east, and the former on the west. They are connected by a bridge, the
central part of which can be swung open, to allow of the passing and repassing of ships.
The name of Weymouth is generally given to the united towns, which are both in the
county of Dorset, and about 130 miles to the south-westward of London.
Weymouth derives its name from the Wey, or Way, a small river which there
discharges itself into the sea. It is a place of great antiquity; it is mentioned in a charter
granted by Ethelred, about the year 880, giving certain lands there to his faithful
minister, Altsere. In the Domesday Survey there are no less than eight places in the
county with the name of Wai or Waia; that, however, which is described as having
twelve salterns, or salt ponds, was undoubtedly the Weymouth of the present time. In
the reign of Edward II. Weymouth returned two members to Parliament; and in 1.347,
probably m conjunction with Melcombe, it supplied 15 ships and 263 mariners to the
grand fleet of Edward III.
Melcombe owes its adjunct, “Regis” —King’s-to its having been a part of
the demesne lands of the crown in the time of Edward I. It is not mentioned in the
Domesday survey; but it appears to have been summoned to return two members to
Parliament several years earlier than Weymouth, though the latter, in all charters, has
precedence as the more ancient town. The inhabitants of the two places had frequent
quarrels respecting their rights to the harbour and the profits thence accruing; and, in
consequence of those dissensions, the towns were deprived of the privileges of a staple
port by Henry VI. In the thirteenth year of the reign of Elizabeth the two towns were
united into one borough, having their privileges in common, and jointly returning four
members to Parliament. By the Reform Bill the number of members returned by the
united towns has been limited to two.
The following is Leland’s account of the two places at the time of his visiting
them, m the reign of Henry VIII. : “There is a townlet on the hither side of the haven of
Waymouth caullid Milton or Melcombe, being privileged and having a mair. This town,
as it is evidently seen, hath been far bigger then it is now. The cause of this is laid on
to the Frenchmen that in times of war raid this town for lack of defense. For so many
houses as be in the town, they be well and strongly build of stone. There is a chapel of
east in Milton. The paroch church is a mile of: a manifest token that Milton is no very
old town. . . Milton standith as a peninsula, by reason of the water of the haven that a
little above the town, spreedith abrode and makith a bay, and by the bay of the mayne
sea that gulfith it in on the other side. The townlet of Waymouth lyith strait against Milton
on the other side of the haven, and at this place the water of the haven is but of a small
brede; and the trajectus is by a bote and a rope bent over the haven, so that in the fery
bote they use no oars. Waymouth hath certain liberties and privileges, but there is no
mair in it. There is a key and Warf for ships.” *
In the same manner as at many other towns on the southern coast, the trade
of Weymouth appears to have declined considerably from the time that the English
ceased to have any possessions in France; and the comparatively small depth of water
in the harbour has tended to prevent the increase of its shipping in modern times. The
harbour at Weymouth is what is called a tide-harbour. The channel is about fourteen
feet deep at high water; and at the quays on each side the ships lie aground at low
water. The large lake at the westward of Melcombe-Regis receives at spring tides a vast
body of water, which on its return scours the harbour and prevents the accumulation of
sand. The number of ships belonging to the port of Weymouth is about eighty five, the
aggregate tonnage of which is 7175 tons.
The increase of Weymouth within the last forty or fifty years is chiefly owing to
the number of persons who take up a temporary residence there to enjoy the benefit of
sea-bathing, for which the excellent beach affords the greatest convenience. It is said
that the place first began to obtain celebrity on this account about 1763, in consequence
of Ralph Allen, Esq., of Prior Park, near Bath, having derived great benefit while
residing there, and recommending it to his friends. Weymouth was visited, in 1789, by
George III., who resided there for about ten weeks, and was so much pleased with the
place that in several succeeding years it was honored with a royal visit.
• Leland’s Itinerary, vol. iii, p. 79 Edition 1769.