A ramble around Weymouth and Melcombe Regis
PUBLISHED: 12:03 11 February 2019 | UPDATED: 12:03 11 February 2019
For centuries these two riverside settlements feuded, and then along came King George III with his passion for sea bathing and peace broke out in this fashionable seaside resort
Two settlements on opposite banks of the River Wey where it reached the sea had always been at daggers drawn. Elizabeth I’s Charter of Union in 1571 didn’t convince Weymouth on the south side to bury the hatchet with Melcombe Regis on the north. Even after the first bridge joined them physically in 1597, they were still divided. Then, half a century later, opposing forces variously occupying Weymouth and Melcombe Regis during the Civil War brought destruction upon both sides.
Much earlier, in 1348, Melcombe Regis had been the gateway into England for the Black Death. Much later, in 1789, King George III helped to promote the united town of Weymouth as a seaside resort by bathing here.
1 The ornate clock celebrates Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee of 1887. It stood on a plinth on the beach until the Esplanade was widened in the 1920s. First, walk east along the Esplanade, passing the Hotel Prince Regent, built as the Burdon Hotel in 1855, in Victoria Terrace an your left. After a Victorian cast-iron shelter and a grouping of war memorials, reach the Pier which opened as the Pier Bandstand in 1939. Keep following the road and visit Queen Victoria’s statue on the traffic island, unveiled in 1902 by Victoria’s youngest daughter, Princess Henry of Battenburg.
2 Returning to the Jubilee Clock, continue along the Esplanade. Note the Royal Hotel, opened in 1899, replacing the original Stacie’s Hotel which stood here between 1770 and 1891. The elaborate Victorian building completely overwhelms the adjacent Georgian properties. Next door is the Art Deco amusements building which fills the gap left by Guy’s Garage after a tragic fire in November 1934. At the busy roundabout, King George III’s statue, unveiled in 1810, then stood in an open area packed with horse-drawn carriages. Now he overlooks a bathing machine of the type popular here around the turn of the century. Keep following the Esplanade, eventually reaching Alexandra Gardens. The statue of Henry Edwards MP 1867-1885, who gifted Edwards Cottage Homes on Boot Hill in 1896 and the clock atop Jubilee Clock tower, looks along the Esplanade.
3 Past Alexandra Gardens, continue towards the 1960 Pavilion Theatre, passing right Pulteney Buildings. Past Devonshire Buildings, turn right to the raised quay where, up the steps, you’ll find the plaque commemorating Richard Clark who sailed on a voyage of discovery to Newfoundland in 1583, and John Endicott who sailed on a 1628 expedition to found Salem Plantation, Massachusetts. The Ferry Port pier to your left was extended in 1931 and opened by Edward VIII when the Prince of Wales in 1933. This is where Condor Ferries catamarans plied between Weymouth and the Channel Islands. Then, go right along Custom House Quay with railway tracks which brought trains through the town to the ferry port.
4 Between canopied Weyfish building and The Ship Inn, turn right into Maiden Street. On the next left corner with St Edmund Street, the stone ‘house with the cannon ball’ was hit during the Civil War when the Royalists were attacking Melcombe Regis from the high ground on the Nothe in Weymouth. Turn left into St Edmund Street and pass the colonnaded Guildhall of 1837 where once stood Melcombe Regis town hall. Take next right St Mary Street. Visit St Mary’s Church, opened in 1817, with Sir James Thornhill’s magnificent 1721 Altar Piece, painted for Melcombe’s first St Mary’s parish church of 1616-1815. Continue along St Mary Street and pass St Alban’s Street crossing.
5 Take next left Bond Street. Cross St Thomas Street into Lower Bond Street. This was once Conygar Lane, site of the Conygar Ditch which drained into Melcombe’s Backwater Channel. The ditch marked the northern boundary of Melcombe’s development in Henry VIII’s time when the White Hart Tavern was built. When James Thornhill was born here in 1675 the ditch was still open although ‘very offensive’. Thornhill painted the dome interior of St Paul’s Cathedral in London as well as St Mary’s altar piece. Keep left of Debenhams into Conygar Lane to Commercial Road. Turn right alongside the car park. Visit Westham embankment bridge, opened 1921 to replace the 1859 Backwater Bridge, which forms a boundary between Backwater and RSPB Radipole Nature Reserve.
6 Return to St Thomas Street, turn right and continue to right Crown Hotel before the road ascends to Town Bridge. The Crown was built in the 19th century, replacing an 18th-century coaching inn. The ‘tower’ ends were added in the 1920s. The original 1770 wooden Town Bridge was replaced by a stone structure in 1824. Replaced again in 1880, the basic structure survived until 1928 and the present bridge was officially opened by the Duke of York, later George VI, in 1930. Over the bridge, 1885 Holy Trinity Church faces you. Turn right along North Quay. Cross over after the old Council Offices building and turn left after the car park to find the early 17th-century Boot Inn and old Weymouth Town Hall, rebuilt 1774 and restored 1896.
7 Past the Town Hall and left Chapelhay steps, continue along High Street. Past the Belvedere Inn to Boot Hill, cross on the crossing to see the plaque against Netherton House’s iron fence commemorating John Cree who paid for widening Boot Hill by 10ft in 1851. On the near side are the ten Henry Edwards Cottage Homes. Now, return to Town Bridge and continue down Trinity Road on the Weymouth side. Take first right Trinity Street. Before Hope Square, note the surviving Jacobean two-storey stone house, now a museum, on the right. Into Hope Square with the old brewery buildings, turn left and left again into Hope Street.
8 Continue back to the quay and follow it seawards along Nothe Parade. Right and left through the yacht club yard, go up the stone steps to Nothe Gardens. Follow the left Tarmac path through the trees above the harbour to Nothe Fort. Foundations began in 1860 and the buildings were completed in 1872 with public walks laid out outside the fort. After a gentle stroll around these walks to see the Isle of Portland, its harbour and impressive harbour defences, return to Town Bridge which will take you back to your starting point.
Distance: 4¼ miles/6.75 km
Time: 2½ hours
Exertion: Easy. Seafront promenade and roads
Dogs: On leads at all times during this urban walk
Refreshments: Pubs, restaurants and cafés in Weymouth town