Weymouth, Wyke Regis and Portland Harbour
from the Isle of Portland
|Council:||Weymouth and Portland|
Weymouth is a large town on the coast of Dorset. It stands on a sheltered bay at the mouth of the River Wey on the English Channel coast. The town is eight miles south of Dorchester and five miles north of the Isle of Portland.
Weymouth is the largest town in this part of Dorset and has serves as the major commercial centre for central southern Dorset.
The A354 road runs from Weymouth out along the low spit which joins the Isle of Portland to mainland Dorset. Weymouth Harbour is enclosed by moles reaching out from Weymouth and from Portland.
Fishing and trading employ fewer people in the area since their peak in earlier centuries, but tourism has continuously increased its presence in the town since the 18th century and now Weymouth is primarily a tourist resort. The town's economy depends on its harbour and visitor attractions; the town is a gateway situated half-way along the "Jurassic Coast", a World Heritage Site on the Dorset and east Devon coast, important for its geology and landforms.
Weymouth Harbour services cross-channel ferries, pleasure boats and private yachts. Nearby Portland Harbour is where the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy is found, and where the sailing events of the 2012 Olympic Games were held.
Weymouth is situated on the western shore of Weymouth Bay on the south coast of Great Britain. The town is built on weak sand and clay rock which in most places along the Dorset coast, except for narrow bands at Lulworth Cove, Swanage and Durdle Door, has been eroded and transported away. This weak rock has been protected at Weymouth by Chesil Beach and the strong limestone Isle of Portland that lies 2 miles south of Wyke Regis, not strictly speaking an island but connected by a low, sandy spit. The island affects the tides of the area, producing a double low tide in Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour. The maximum tidal range is small, less than 6 feet.
There are two lakes in or by the town which are RSPB Nature Reserves. Radipole Lake is in the town centre, and Lodmoor between the town centre and Preston. Radipole Lake, the largest nature reserve, and mouth of the River Wey before it flows into Weymouth Harbour, is an important habitat for fish and migratory birds, and over 200 species of plants. Radipole is an important tourist attraction; it and Weymouth Beach are situated very close to the main town centre. Several "Sites of Special Scientific Interest" are found hereabouts too and other nature conservation designations, bearing witness to the wealth of nature in the seas and seacoasts.
Weymouth is found about half-way along the "Jurassic Coast". The South West Coast Path has two routes around Weymouth and Portland; one around its coast, and one along the South Dorset Downs, which reduces the path's length by about 20 miles.
The sand and clay on which Weymouth is built is very low-lying and indeed large areas are below sea level, and the eastern areas of the town flood during some storms. In the 1980s and 1990s a sea wall was built around Weymouth Harbour and along the coast road in Preston; a rip rap groyne in Greenhill and beach nourishment up to Preston have created a wide and artificially graded pebble beach, to ensure that the low-lying land around Lodmoor does not flood. The defences at Preston, the extended ferry terminal and the widening of the Esplanade have changed the sediment regime in Weymouth Bay, narrowing the beach at Greenhill and widening the sands in Weymouth. A study conducted as part of the redevelopment of the Pavilion complex showed that the proposed marina will contribute slightly to this effect, but sand dredged out of the marina could be used to widen the beach.
Weymouth originated as a settlement on a constricted site to the south and west of Weymouth Harbour, an outlying part of Wyke Regis. The town developed from the mid 12th century onwards, but was not noted until the 13th century. By 1252 it was established as a seaport and become a chartered borough. Melcombe Regis developed separately on the peninsula to the north of the harbour; it was mentioned as a Staple port in 1310, but French raiders found the port so accessible that in 1433 the staple was transferred to Poole.
Melcombe Regis is thought to be the first port at which the Black Death came into England in June 1348, possibly either aboard a spice ship or an army ship. In their early history Weymouth and Melcombe Regis were rivals for trade and industry, but the towns were united in an Act of Parliament in 1571 to form a double borough. Both towns have become known as Weymouth, notwithstanding that Melcombe Regis was then the main town centre.
King Henry VIII had two Device Forts built to protect the south Dorset coast from invasion in the 1530s: Sandsfoot Castle in Wyke Regis and Portland Castle in Castletown. Parts of Sandsfoot have fallen into the sea due to coastal erosion. During the English Civil War, around 250 people were killed in the local Crabchurch Conspiracy in February 1645. In 1635, on board the ship Charity, around 100 emigrants from the town crossed the Atlantic Ocean and settled in Weymouth, Massachusetts. More townsfolk emigrated to the Americas to bolster the population of Weymouth, Nova Scotia and Salem, Massachusetts; then called Naumking. There are memorials to this on the side of Weymouth Harbour and near Weymouth Pavilion.
The architect Sir Christopher Wren was the Member of Parliament for Weymouth in 1702, and controlled nearby Portland's quarries from 1675 to 1717. When he designed St Paul's Cathedral, Wren had it built out of Portland Stone, the famous stone of Portland's quarries. Sir James Thornhill was born in the White Hart public house in Melcombe Regis and became the town's MP in 1722. Thornhill became an artist, and coincidentally decorated the interior of St Paul's Cathedral.
The resort is among the first modern tourist destinations, after King George III's, brother the Duke of Gloucester built a grand residence there, Gloucester Lodge, and passed the mild winter there in 1780; the king made Weymouth his summer holiday residence on fourteen occasions between 1789 and 1805, even venturing into the sea in a bathing machine. A painted statue of the king stands on the seafront, which was renovated in 2007/8 by stripping 20 layers of paintwork, replacing it with new paints and gold leaf, and replacing the iron framework with stainless steel one. A mounted white horse representing the king is carved into the chalk hills of Osmington. The horse faces away from the town, and a myth developed that the king took offence, believing it was a sign that the townspeople did not welcome him, and that the designer subsequently killed himself.
Weymouth's esplanade is composed of Georgian terraces, which have been converted into apartments, shops, hotels and guest houses. The buildings were constructed in the Georgian and Regency periods between 1770 and 1855, designed by architects such as James Hamilton, and were commissioned by wealthy businessmen, including those that were involved in the growth of Bath. These terraces form a long, continuous arc of buildings which face Weymouth Bay along the esplanade, which also features the multi-coloured Jubilee Clock, erected in 1887 to mark the 50th year of Queen Victoria's reign. Statues of Victoria, George III and Sir Henry Edwards, Member of Parliament for the borough from 1867 to 1885, and two war memorials stand along the Esplanade.
In the centre of the town lies Weymouth Harbour; although it was the reason for the town's foundation, the harbour separates the two areas of Melcombe Regis (the main town centre) and Weymouth (the southern harbourside) from each other. Since the 18th century this has been overcome with successive bridges over the narrowest part of the harbour. The present Town Bridge, built in 1930, is a lifting bascule bridge, one of ten in the United Kingdom, to let boats access the inner harbour. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution stationed a lifeboat at Weymouth for the first time on 26 January 1869. A boathouse was built with a slipway by the harbour and is still in use, although the Lifeboat (rescue)|lifeboat is now moored at a pontoon.
Weymouth and Portland were bombed by German planes for their role in World War II; Portland Harbour had a large naval base, and Weymouth was home to Nothe Fort. 517,816 troops embarked through the borough to fight at the Battle of Normandy, and the Bouncing bomb was tested in the Fleet lagoon to the west of town. The history of the area is documented at the Timewalk museum in Brewers Quay; the former brewery is a tourist attraction and shopping village on the southern shore of Weymouth Harbour.
Tourism has been the largest industry in Weymouth for decades; its coast and beaches, lakes, museums and aquarium are the main attractions for visitors, a yachting facilities bring another demographic.
Over two hundred events are held throughout the year in the borough, including firework festivals, dragon boat racing, beach volleyball, handball and motocross, and the annual carnival in mid-August, which attracts around 70,000 people each year. Weymouth is the only port in the world to have hosted the start of The Tall Ships' Races three times—in 1983, 1987 and 1994; the 1994 race attracting 300,000 spectators.
Weymouth Harbour is long and narrow, and formed the estuary of the River Wey, Dorset|River Wey until the building of a bridge to Westham, which separated the harbour's backwaters from Radipole Lake. For centuries the harbour was a passenger terminal and trade and cargo port: goods handled included wool and spices, and in the 20th century Weymouth was a bulk importer of fertiliser and cars. The old harbourside, on both sides of the seaward end of the harbour, still hosts a large fishing fleet, with docks, unloading areas, and a cross-channel ferry terminal. Fishing and cargo trading employ fewer people in the area since their peak in earlier centuries, but local fishermen catch the largest mass of fish in England and the third largest in the United Kingdom. The inner harbour has been refurbished in two phases, in 1994–1996 and in 2002, to include a new marina with hundreds of berths for pleasure boats, cruisers and sailing boats. Local boats offer fishing and diving trips, pleasure cruises along the Jurassic Coast, and thrill-rides to the Isle of Portland.
On the shores of Portland Harbour, two miles south of Wyke Regis, is Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, where the sailing events of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games will take place.
The waters of Weymouth and Portland were credited by the Royal Yachting Association as the best in Northern Europe for sailing. Local, national and international sailing events are regularly held in the bay; these include the J/24 World Championships in 2005, trials for the 2004 Athens Olympics, the International Sailing Federation World Championship 2006, the British Universities & Colleges Sport Fleet Racing Championships, and the RYA Youth National Championships. Weymouth Bay is a venue for other water-sports—the reliable wind is favourable for windsurfing and kitesurfing. The sheltered waters in Portland Harbour and near Weymouth are used for angling, diving to shipwrecks, snorkelling, canoeing, jet skiing, water skiing, and swimming.
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