The people of Bridport on what makes it so special

PUBLISHED: 10:26 08 December 2016 | UPDATED: 10:26 08 December 2016

Jamie Isaacs of Jurassic Fields Festival

Jamie Isaacs of Jurassic Fields Festival


From festival organisers to a man in love with Colmer’s Hill, Helen Stiles discovers what makes this town so special from some of the people who live and work there. Photos: Simon Emmett

Doug Chalk, photographer & his “muse” Colmer’s Hill

This former postman turned photographer has taken hundreds of photographs of this distinctive local landmark since he moved to Bridport 19 years ago. The 71-year-old publishes the popular Colmer’s Hill Calendar and recently shared his obsession with Julia Bradbury on her TV series Best Walks with a View. Doug lives with his partner Amanda in the former London Inn, which he claims has the best view of Colmer’s Hill in Bridport.

What is Colmer’s Hill? - It’s a sandstone hill about 97 metres above sea level with a distinctive group of pine trees on its summit. Major W.P. Colfox, who owned the land, planted 21 Scots pines in 1918, either to commemorate local people who died in the First World War, or in remembrance of his son who died on the battlefield. Nine of the original trees are left, but a few years ago a ring of Monterey pines were planted, so pine trees will always be there. The hill takes its name from the Rev. John Colmer, whose family were tenants of the Dukes of Somerset and Earls of Ilchester in the 17th and 18th century.

What makes Bridport so special? - Its location – it is a hub for West Dorset: you have West Bay, Eype, Seatown, Golden Cap, Charmouth and Lyme Regis one side, and Freshwater, Burton Bradstock, West Bexington, Abbotsbury and The Fleet leading to Portland on the other. Inland there is Lewesdon Hill, Pilsdon Penn, Lambert’s Castle, Marshwood, Coney’s Castle, Hardy Monument, Little Bredy, plus some lovely villages. All are easy to get to from here.

What do you love about Bridport? - There is always plenty to do – it boasts a cinema, arts centre and quite a few pubs have live music. The shops are great too – butchers (including R J Balson and Son established in 1515), greengrocers, bakers and an excellent hat shop, Snooks (established 1896) on West Street, also on the same street is Smith & Smith gentleman’s outfitters (established 1884) who have just won an award for Best Small Retailers in the country. 

Penny Callaghan, owner of Colmers Hill Fashion

Penny lived in the Marshwood Vale for 17 years, before moving to Bridport. She set up Colmers Hill Fashion at Symondsbury Manor Yard last August. Prior to that she owned and ran The Terrace – a fashion and home boutique with a cafe in Lyme Regis.

What got you into fashion? - Having studied a creative arts degree and worked in the creative industry in PR and marketing I had a keen eye for the unusual. I wanted to set up an independent clothes shop selling unusual, sometimes quirky designer fashion and accessories that would be different from what you find on the high street. So I select labels that don’t have wide distribution including a growing number of UK collections such as Out of Xile, A Postcard From Brighton, Eucalyptus, One Life, Darling and Owen Barry.

What is Manor Yard like as a shopping experience? - Idyllic! It’s nestled under the iconic Colmers Hill and yet minutes from the A35 and Bridport. There is a Tithe Barn for weddings and events, Symondsbury Kitchen restaurant/cafe, The Shed Hair & Beauty and a number of independent boutiques and artisans. It has lots of free parking too.

What do you love about Bridport? - Being a bit of a foodie I have noticed that over the last few years a number of interesting restaurants and cafes have opened. I have just discovered Dorshi hidden down an alleyway (Chancery Lane) a new East Asian restaurant serving dumplings and a very good pork belly dish! I also love Bridport’s enthusiastic and alternative arts scene. There are so many events happening at the Electric Palace and Bridport Arts Centre. And to cap it all, Bridport is set in some of the most beautiful scenery with the rolling hills of the Marshwood Vale and the dramatic Jurassic coastline just a stones throw away.

My perfect Bridport day - Brunch at Soulshine or The Red Brick Café, a mooch around the Saturday market, followed by a walk up Colmers Hill or the coastal path from Eype to Seatown with lunch at The Anchor Inn or tea at the Seaside Boarding House in Burton Bradstock. In the evening I’d enjoy a Hedgerow cocktail in the Venner Bar at The Bull Hotel with friends followed by a few rounds of dumplings at Dorshi. 

Jamie Isaacs, Jurassic Fields Festival

As a child Jamie was consumed by performance and worked in amateur and professional theatre and film. He established his Dorset-based company JSW Entertainment Group in 2009 and the 23-year-old currently works as a Production and Tour Manager for live events across the world. Locally he has been involved in the Jurassic Fields Festival since it started in 2013.

How did you get involved in the Jurassic Fields Festival? - I was asked by its founders Daniel Broom and Scott Morris to join the team and help create a local child-friendly community festival to celebrate local talent and culture. It’s something I have long thought Bridport deserved so I jumped at the chance.

What names have played at it? - Dodgy headlined in 2014, and this year we had the legendary Fun Lovin’ Criminals. Thanks to the brilliant ongoing support from local businesses and volunteers we have been able to grow the event. We hope to give more back to Bridport, supporting local musicians with grants and to set up a community music studio and rehearsal spaces.

What’s the local music scene like? - There is live music being played somewhere in the locale pretty much every day. We have not one but three multi function theatres, very rare for a town of our size, as well as lots of pubs, bars and restaurants that host live music (No10 Bar, Ropemakers and The Tanners for a good ol knees up!) Many well known musicians come from this area including PJ Harvey, Show Of Hands, Afro Celt Sound System, Bill Bragg, Clock Opera and Lonely The Brave to name a few. The area has a wealth of talent and continues to bring fresh generations forward with new music.

Emily Hicks, Curator of Bridport Museum

Emily moved to Bridport five years ago to take up her job as Curator of Bridport Museum. Situated on South Street it is home to several collections that are nationally and internationally important.

What do you love about living in Bridport? - It may come across as a quirky, artistic town by the sea, but ‘behind the scenes’ Bridport is a world leader in the production of nets. Its rope and net making industry goes back over 800 years, and it’s still thriving. Bridport made the goal nets for the 1966 World Cup, we still make Wimbledon tennis nets, and a Bridport net was featured in a James Bond film!

What is your favourite piece in the museum? - The working ropewalk, which will be the centrepiece of the new rope and net gallery which opens next year; its part of our £1.3 million redevelopment project to make Bridport Museum into an engaging community hub which not only explores the town’s heritage, but can also hold events and talks. To be able to demonstrate how rope was originally made in Bridport is a dream realised for me. We also care for stunning fossils from the Jurassic Coast and we have one of the most important Roman archaeological collections on the South Coast.

Anna Powell, Sladers Yard Gallery

Anna Powell is Director of Sladers Yard Gallery and Café in West Bay which shows contemporary British art, furniture and craft as well as hosting live evening events. West Bay is also known as Bridport Harbour and is just over a mile from the town. Its golden cliffs provide the stunning backdrop for the hit ITV drama Broadchurch. Anna is married to the Norwegian born furniture maker Petter Southall who studied at John Makepeace’s Hooke Park College in the late eighties; one of Petter’s first commissions was to make a dining room for the sculptor Dame Elisabeth Frink. They live with their two teenage daughters just outside Bridport.

How does West Bay differ from Bridport? - The beach, the towering cliffs and the fishing harbour are the great draw but West Bay’s history is revealed in the massive stone warehouses where the rope and nets made in Bridport were stored before being shipped out. Sladers Yard is one of the few relatively unaltered Georgian warehouses. It still has its pulley wheel in the attic and a list of nets is written on one of the walls!

When we took on Sladers Yard it was full of bits of boats and Petter and his team shovelled 200 years worth of dust out of it, took down partition walls, and lovingly restored the interior back to how it once had been. We opened in 2006 and the café, where we now also hold live music, private parties and events, opened the following spring.

Tell me about some of the artists featured at Sladers Yard - Our opening exhibition was the wonderful Alex Lowery who was very brave and trusting to show with us then and whose work I would rate as some of the best there is. The quality of that first show set the tone for us. David Inshaw, who is one of the great English landscape painters, came to see it with Cheryl Campbell who had made a tremendous impression on me when she played Vera Brittain in the television version of Testament of Youth. So I showed them round and David said quietly that he was a bit of a painter. The following spring he filled the whole gallery with his incredible paintings of West Bay and we sold them to buyers all over the world. Both he and Alex have been great friends to the gallery ever since.

What local experiences would you recommend? - For some time we have been having evening supper and music events here. The acoustics here are amazing and for musicians who usually play huge venues this is a special place to perform.

For a great walk set out from West Bay over the cliffs to the Seaside Boarding House at Burton Bradstock where you can have a cocktail and gaze out to sea. Or on a summer evening a swim at West Bay is hard to beat - the cliffs turn a bright gold in the setting sun and reflect in the water all around you. It’s truly magical.

Tanya Bruce-Lockhart, Director of Bridport Literary Festval

Former television producer, Tanya Bruce-Lockhart is the queen of Bridport’s literary scene as she heads up the Bridport Literary Festival. The event is held in and around the town every November and always attracts a dazzling array of famous writers.

What inspired the Bridport Literary Festival? - It grew out of the Bridport Prize, an award for creative writing founded by Bridport Arts Centre back in 1973. The idea to create a literary festival was discussed with a group of literature loving colleagues. I had lots of contacts in the publishing world from working in television so I was able to encourage well known writers to come to Bridport to intrigue, enlighten and entertain audiences, and in November 2005 we held the first Bridport Literary Festival.

What are some of this year’s highlights? - Jeremy Paxman, one of the country’s most incisive political commentators, recollects a career in A Life in Questions; prize-winning historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, reveals the intimate story of the Tsars and Tsarinas of the Romanov dynasty; Ben Fogle takes us on an adventure in a Landrover; and crime queens, Sophie Hannah and Janet Ellis, unveil their latest thrillers. Fiction writing superstars, Margaret Drabble and A N Wilson, will talk about their latest novels and we welcome national treasure, Alan Titchmarsh. Award-winning food writer Rachel Roddy is feasting with Romans, and we have the cream of local writers including James Crowden, Nick Fisher, Jason Goodwin, Horatio Morpurgo, Boris Starling, Robert Twigger and Jason Webster.

Do you get a lot of local support for the event? - Indeed we do. The Bull Hotel is the hub for the festival, and The Lyric Theatre - the mustering point for children’s events; other venues include the Electric Palace, the Book Shop in South Street, the Tithe Barn at Symondsbury, The Seaside Boarding House at Burton Bradstock, The Riverside and Sladers Yard at West Bay. We have two main sponsors - Waterstones and local solicitors, Kitson and Trotman - and the town in November, regardless of the weather, is en fête.

What do you love about working on the Bridport Literary Festival? - Variety is the spice of life, and as someone with excess energy and a low boredom threshold putting together a festival of events to provide enjoyment for others is the perfect remedy.

And your perfect Bridport day? - Saturday is The Day of Days in Bridport! Start with breakfast at The Bull, then a slow amble around the market looking for antique or vintage treasures, or foraging for local food at the monthly farmers’ market outside Bridport Arts Centre. Stroll down The Alleyways - a network of vintage outlets housed in the old rope and net making warehouses; a quick chat with artists David Brooke and Carolyn Ireland in their studio; lunch at the Red Brick Cafe with Aviva Halter Hurn to discuss yet another pet portrait; into the car and off to Langdon Woods for a walk with my dog Lily; tea at Soulshine in South Street; then Live National Theatre at the Electric Palace or Opera from the Met at The Bridport Arts Centre.

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