History and Heritage in Weymouth
Be fascinated by Weymouth history and heritage, while visiting the town. Look up just about anywhere in town and you’ll see some historical feature – from locally carved stonemasonry and gargoyles to wooden décor or construction dates on the fronts of strangely shaped buildings.
Fancy immersing yourself in Weymouth’s history for an afternoon? Start by enjoying a cappuccino in Hope Square, where the imposing Brewers’ Quay building still contains some old brewing machinery. This building housed two breweries at the same time, and has been a brewery, in various forms, since the thirteenth century. It now accommodates two small museums, an Italian restaurant and many small shop units selling antiques and collectable bric-a-brac as well as art and crafts.
Hope Square is in itself historic, as it was a harbour inlet, and known as the ‘Ope’. Hundreds of Royalist soldiers were drowned here in the English Civil War. Over the centuries, it has gradually been in-filled until, in 1776, the only inlet remaining was a triangular shape in which the Red Lion and Cove Row now sits. Leaving Hope Square between the Brewer’s Quay building and The Galley restaurant, you will find yourself in Trinity Street, looking at The Tudor House, which is open to visitors during the summer and sometimes in the winter. Weymouth boasts one of the prettiest harbours anywhere in the world. Here, traditional fishermen’s cottages rub shoulders with much grander buildings, such as Holy Trinity Church, and the The Old Rooms, where King George III danced the night away with his entourage.
Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to see Weymouth Town Bridge rise to allow boats in and out of the marina (mostly on the even hour). You can’t fail to be impressed by this Victorian engineering marvel. The Town Bridge has been moved and re-built several times and was once relocated to the end of St Nicholas Street, instead of where it is now at the end of St Mary Street. Take a wander along the marina on the Old Harbour side of the bridge, and behind the Council Offices, you’ll find The Boot pub, dating from the fourteenth century, and right opposite, the Old Town Hall which was standing during the English Civil War.
Why not make it a day of two forts? Visit Weymouth’s historic Victorian Nothe Fort museum and family attraction, then take a ferry from Weymouth Old Harbour to Portland Castle, built by Henry VIII, which is open to the public. Finish off the trip by taking the open top bus up the hill, around the top of Portland and back to Weymouth for fish and chips on the harbour.
If it’s a perfect picnic spot you’re looking for, head for the ruin of Sandsfoot Castle which stands in well-manicured gardens, overlooking the sea, on the road that leads out of Weymouth town centre, towards Portland. While wandering along Weymouth’s historic Georgian Esplanade, take a moment to admire the Jubilee clock, erected for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1887. Notice Gloucester Lodge, built around 1780, later becoming King George III’s summer residence from 1789 to 1805. Then turn round and you’ll see a statue of George III next to a replica of his bathing machine.
Just behind the King’s Statue, go into St Mary Street and treat yourself to a well-earned repast in The Black Dog, Weymouth’s oldest pub. It was built in the seventeenth century and named after a Newfoundland labrador, which had just arrived in England.
The reason both The Black Dog and The Boot can claim to be the oldest pubs, is because the south side of the Old Harbour (Hope Square) was Weymouth and everything on the north side of the river (town centre) was known as Melcombe Regis. Melcombe was infamous for being one of the first points of entry of the Black Death into England in the summer of 1348. The two boroughs were joined as a double borough in 1571, after which time the name Weymouth came to serve for them both.
For a day out to an English country house, the 15th century Tudor manor, Athelhampton House is only a 30 minute drive through the beautiful Dorset countryside. Alternatively, north of Bridport, is the Tudor mansion Mapperton Manor, home of the Earl of Sandwich, and recently, film location for the 2015 film release of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd.
While in Dorset, make sure you visit Thomas Hardy’s cottage, past home of the literary genius who penned many classic books, including Far from the Madding Crowd and Tess of the D’urbervilles.