Isn’t it odd, you grow up somewhere, and the place names of streets, areas, and houses just trip off the tongue. You’ve always called them that, never known them as anything different, but have you ever stopped and wondered why they were so named?
I was born in Weymouth more than a few years ago and lived here pretty much most of my life, apart from a couple of short spells elsewhere…but the call of the seaside was overwhelming, and back I moved!
Now to my shame, only recently have I found out why many of the place names are so…….
The backwater (literally it was the back water to the sea front ), Hanover Road (named in honour of King George III’s German troops barracked in the area), Canberra Road( taken from the the AIF soldiers were based here in WW1)…you get my drift. Names are never just random, they have a beginning somewhere, a legend, a person,
It wasn’t until I had started to research certain things that I came across one of those lightbulb moments.
Way, way back in the year 1834 Weymouth was still hanging on to the coat tails of the Royal visits from good old King George III. By that I mean that during the well documented era when the Royal family had chosen Weymouth as their ‘holiday home’, and it had become the only place to be seen at, the good, the bad and the ugly flocked to our little sea bathing town in their droves.
Once the King had passed, and the Royals visited no more, it was still pretty much on the tourist trail of the rich and mighty. The local papers would be filled each week with columns of who’d arrived in town, where they were staying.
Of course, to keep these ‘cash cows’ oooppps…sorry visitors of distinction coming, Weymouth needed to offer something special, and those who were responsible for running the town and made decisions where money should be spent racked their brains as to what they could offer as an incentive to draw the well heeled crowds in.
A grand scheme was hatched.
Weymouth would offer the visitors…a park. Not just any ordinary park, a grand park, somewhere sheltered for the wealthy ladies and gentlemen to ride or walk when the fresh wind blew from the sea, a place where nannies could take their delicate charges to benefit from the bracing air and sunshine.
Bearing in mind that we’re not talking about a park that most people think of today, soulless chain link fencing around a little square patch of scraggy grass with a few kiddies rides. Oh no.
This would be beautiful, wide open spaces, long winding avenues to peramble, leafy, sheltered groves of trees, huge impressive, stone lodge gates at either entrance…think more Hyde park in London rather than kids backstreet type of park.
Also remember that in this era, not everybody had parks. We might well take them for granted today, don’t probably even think about them, why we have them, who pays for them, who looks after them…they’re just …well, there.
At that time parks were mainly the prerogative of the wealthy and gentry, certainly not open to the general public to use. Oh no. the only time joe public got to see inside was either to work his socks off for the Lord of the manor or to indulge in a bit of helping himself to a bit of the Lady’s deer or other such delicious delights.
Well, anyway, those in charge of the town decided that Weymouth, being as popular as she was with these well heeled, genteel people needed to provide a proper park that they could be proud of.
So, on Wednesday the 4th June 1834, the entire town closed up shop and joined the grandiose celebrations of the laying of the foundation stone of the embankment wall.
This was to be the start of the New Park!
Once the embankment wall had been constructed along the backwater, and the enclosed space filled in and reclaimed from what was then basically a muddy tidal estuary, Weymouth would have 50 acres of extra land, 35 of which were designated to become The Park.
One of the imposing lodge gates was to be in King street and the other reached from the town itself, both lodges would become the homes of the park keepers. A criss cross of drives and rides would be laid out across the immaculate grass, beds of flowers planted to stimulate the senses, plantations to provide leafy walks to shelter those with delicate complexions from the blazing sun.
The remaining 15 acres was destined to become a space for magnificent houses which included a graceful crescent of 30 spacious homes that would have sweeping lawns laid out before them.
Weymouth would become the number one destination for those who had taste and money.
Trouble was…it didn’t quite turn out like that!
No surprises there then.
Despite it’s grandiose start, things went rapidly downhill, flooding, bad stenches from the still tidal backwater…it became the place where the good old circuses set up when they hit town, elephants and tigers roaming the grounds, not regal horses and carriages.
Years later it became a real thorn in the councils side, when there was a certain amount of skull duggery and wheeling dealing as the still undeveloped land was about to be sold off at a bargain basement price to friends of a friend! Someone who knew the railway was coming to town, and would just happen to need that bit of land…funny that!
Over the following years it was finally built on, but not the grand houses that the vision had first been, but rows after rows of terraced houses, homes for the working classes. The draining was still a big problem, streets flooded out every time there was heavy rain, and the stench from the backwater still hung in the air at low tide. Huffing trains hugged the lines as they snorted their way in to the station, smoke and soot covering everything within it’s reach.
O.K., I know, I am getting to the point…honest!
The Park is actually still there, it’s even still called the Park, but it’s probably better known by one and all as the Park district!
Just not quite the grand vision they had in mind nearly 200 years ago!
Check out her blog at susanhogben.wordpress.com for many more article like this one on Weymouth and Portland’s history.