Weymouth is a fun place to be on New Years Eve, it’s reknown as the party town of the South West, everyone, but everyone who’s out is adorned in fancy dress.
I recall one New Years Eve when a police car roared up through town with the theme tune from a Mr Whippy’s ice cream vendor blaring out. Something you don’t witness (or hear) that often.
During the Victorian era though, things were slightly more staid and religious based, Weymouth residents attended what was termed a Watchnight Service to see out the old year, and welcome in the new.
Taken from the Western Gazette of 1883;
NEW YEAR’S EVE.-Sunday evening being New Year Eve the usual Watchnight service was held in the Weslyian Chapel. A special service was held at St John’s church at eleven o’clock,in order that the last hour of the old year might be spent in religious observances. Similar services were also held at St Mary’s Church and at Gloucester Street Chapel.
In 1891 New Year’s Day was celebrated in style by the area’s elderly citizens, courtesy of the well know local philanthropist Sir Henry Edwards, whose statue now stands at the end of Alexander gardens as a reminder to the locals of his past connection.
Held in the grand Jubilee Hall, 450 aged people of the town, those being over the age of ‘three score years and upwards’, were treated to a slap up feast of roast meats and plum pudding, all gratefully washed down with flagons of beer, aerated water and cups of coffee.
During the feast they were waited on hand and foot by a number of local gentlemen and businessmen, who saw to the carving of the meats, while a flock of young ladies in caps and aprons ran to and fro with plates and dishes as they appeared from the kitchen.
After they had partaken of their meal, sweet oranges and prized tobacco were handed out to every man and woman present.
At the end of the festivities a letter from Sir Henry Edwards was read out to the now well fed and much contented gathering.
“53 Berkeley Square,W
Dear Old Friends,
As your festive gathering will take place on the first day of the New Year I feel I cannot begin my letter better than by wishing you all ‘a very happy new year’ which I do most heartily. Last year I had the pleasure to send back a canister of Indian tea, such as I had seen growing and enjoyed myself when I was in India, and it gratified me to know that the gift was much appreciated by you, and I have felt that I should like to once more to afford you an equal gratification. I have therefore sent you another supply, which I believe you will find equally good, and I hope it will enable you to enjoy some happy hours at your own firesides. I hope your gathering will be a happy one. I know you will be surrounded with many kind friends who feel it a pleasure to help to render your gathering will be a happy one. I desire to thank them all most heartily, from the mayor, who so kindly presides over you, and to each and everyone now helping in your festivities. I trust the new year will be one richly laden with blessings for you all.
Your sincerely, Henry Edwards.
Every person who attended that meal returned back home laden with a canister containing 1 1/2 lb tea, a bushel of coal and a warm blanket.
A few years later, as one century ended and the new one was heralded in, so the Mayor decreed that the town’s people should do something to mark this significant event.
Weymouth 28th December 1900...’THE FIRST DAY OF THE CENTURY.-It is understood that the Mayor is taking steps to arrange a half day on January 1st 1901, to mark the commencement of a new century. It is hoped that the bankers, traders, and shop-keepers will fall in with this idea, and thus support His Worship’s happy suggestion.’
I wonder how many local businessmen took heed of his ‘suggestion’?
A very Happy and Healthy New Year to one and all.
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