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MARKET TOWNS OF DORSET (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Weymouth in 1843

WEYMOUTH and MELCOMBE REGIS, in the Dorchester division of Dorsetshire, were formerly distinct municipal and parliamentary boroughs, but were united into one parliamentary and municipal borough in 1571, and Weymouth is now the general name for both places. The two towns form a seaport on the shore of Weymouth Bay, where it communicates by an arm of the sea with a small internal bay, about two miles long, called the Backwater, which maybe regarded as the estuary of the small river Wey. The harbour is in the arm of the sea which connects the Backwater with Weymouth Bay, Weymouth being on the south side of the harbour, and Melcombe Regis on the north side : the two towns are connected by a handsome stone bridge. In Leland’s time the communication was by a ferry : ‘the trajectus is by a bote, with a rope bent over the haven, so that in the ferry-bote they use no oars.’ The harbour has eight feet of water on the bar at ebb-tide. The united borough comprises the chapelry of Weymouth and the parish of Melcombe Regis, together with the harbour and Backwater, the latter being included in the parish of Melcombe.

Weymouth Proper is described as having the appearance of an old fishing-town, with mean-looking houses and narrow streets. Melcombe is situated on a tongue of land between Weymouth Bay and the Backwater, very narrow on the north-east, but becoming wider towards the harbour, where the width is about a third of a mile ; the ground on which it stands is low, a considerable part of it having been reclaimed from the Backwater by embankment. In front of Weymouth Bay a broad terrace, called the Esplanade, extends nearly a mile, with a gradual slope towards the shore ; the ranges of houses which face this Esplanade are handsome, and many of them large ; most of them are occupied by those who resort to the town as a bathing-place, for which the beach is excellently adapted, the sand being smooth and firm, and the slope very gradual. The houses in the back part of the town are inferior and the streets narrow.

Weymouth had been a declining place for many years from various causes, but chiefly perhaps in consequence of the rivalry of Poole, till it was brought into repute as a bathing-place, about 1763, by Ralph Allen, of Bath. The duke of Gloucester went there in 1780, and had a house built for his residence. George III paid his first visit in 1789 ; he had a royal lodge erected, and went there frequently. The climate is very mild, Weymouth Bay being sheltered to the north by surrounding hills, which have a gradual slope to the south towards the beach. There are assembly-rooms, a theatre, two national schools, one of them Lancasterian, two churches, one of which is in Weymouth, which is a curacy attached to the rectory of Wyke Regis, and there are places of worship for Independents, Baptists, Quakers, and Methodists. In the savings’-bank the number of depositors, November 20, 1842, was 514 the smallest sum on which interest is allowed is 14 shillings 8 pence. Ship-building is carried on, and rope-making ; but little is done in any other trade.

The number of vessels above 50 tons burthen belonging to the port of Weymouth, in 1840, was 56, the aggregate burthen of which was 6,037 tons. The gross receipt at the custom-house, in 1839, was £12,907, 7 shillings and 7 pence ; in 1840 it was £14,727, 11 shillings and 4 pence. The trade of the port Of Weymouth, in 1833 was –

Foreign vessels, with cargoes, inwards 37

Foreign vessels, with cargoes, outwards 25

Coasting-vessels, with cargoes, inwards 355

Coasting-vessels, with cargoes, outwards 319

Post-office packets, inwards 101

Post-office packets, outwards 101

Registered vessels belonging to the port 79

Previous to the Municipal Reform Act, the corporation consisted of a mayor, an indefinite number of aldermen, two bailiffs, and twenty-four principal burgesses. The Municipal Reform Act divided the borough into two wards, with six aldermen, and a council of eighteen. The number of burgesses, or municipal electors, in 1837, was 631. The total expenditure of the borough in 1840-41 was £2,163, 3 shillings and 10 pence.

Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, before the Reform Act, returned four members to the House of Commons. The right of voting was in the corporation, the possessors of freehold property, and fee-farm renters. There were no freemen. The number of voters was reckoned to be about 2,000, but the largest number of electors who polled at any election, for thirty years previous to 1831, was 745. The borough now returns two members to the House of Commons. The number of electors on the register in 1835-6 was 617, of whom 536 were £10 householders ; the number on the register in 1839-40 was 660, of whom 597 were £10 householders.

The population of the borough, in 1831, was

Chapelry of Weymouth 2,529

Parish of Melcombe Regis 5,126

Total – 7,655

In 1821 the population was 6,622. The number of houses, in 1821, was 1,213 ; in 1831 the number of houses was 1,465. The population within the limits of the parliamentary borough in 1831 was 8,095.

Weymouth is 128 miles from London by road. There is no direct mail from London, but a cross-mail from Dorchester, which is eight miles north from Weymouth.

Weymouth is an ancient place : it is mentioned in the Domesday Book, and was afterwards a place of some naval importance. In 1347 it furnished 20 ships and 264 men towards the armament destined to attack Calais. In 1588, when the Spanish Armada sailed to attack England, six ships of the. English fleet belonged to Weymouth. During the civil war under Charles I, Weymouth was alternately garrisoned by the royalists and the parliamentarians till 1644, when the parliamentarians obtained possession which they held till the termination of the war. In the reign of Charles II Weymouth was greatly injured by a fire, and £3,000 was collected in 1673 by a brief, towards repairing the damage which it had sustained.

The earliest charter known to have been granted to Weymouth was one in 1252, by the prior and monks of St. Swithin, Winchester, to whom the manors of Weymouth and Melcombe had been granted by Henry I, a grant which was confirmed and extended by Henry II. A grant of certain liberties and privileges was made to Melcombe Regis by a charter dated 27 May, 8 Edward I, and followed by another, dated 22 Jan., 11 Edward II : by one dated 3 Nov., 2 Edward III : and by one dated 15 May, 2 Eliz. The union of the two boroughs was by an act of parliament, dated 2 April, 13th Elizabeth, July l, 14 James I, another charter of incorporation was granted ; and to remedy certain defects in this charter, an amending and explanatory charter was obtained, 19 August, 21 George II. In 1802, in consequence of the diminution of the number of principal burgesses, it was apprehended that the corporation might be legally dissolved, to avoid which a new charter was obtained, 25 May, 44 George III, which was the governing charter of the borough till the Municipal Reform Act in 1835.