Picture this, it’s the year 1888, it’s December, on the cusp of Christmas and the good folk of Weymouth are going about their everyday business as usual. For some though, it was not to be a good ending to their year.
Pretty much like todays inhabitant’s of our seaside town, those of the Victorian era liked to peruse the local newspapers of the day, of which I hasten add they had the choice of a fair few, including the Western Gazette, Southern Times and Dorset County Chronicle .
Revealed within these paragraph-heavy pages of Victorian print were the scandals and sorrows, misdemeanours and miseries of their fellow townsfolk. Not for them todays instant access to world wide events literally as they happen, the breakneck speed of Facebook spreading local news before the media even have a slightest whiff of impending dramas. These are things that our ancestors couldn’t even begin to imagine possible.
If we browse the columns of their Friday’s Western Gazette, 28th December 1888, we can catch a snippet in time, when ladies in voluminous skirts bustled through the dusty streets of Weymouth town.
Their billowing hems sweeping the dirt as they drifted from shop to shop, all filled with the latest fashions and fripperies including those must have up-to-date gadgets.
Also strolling Weymouth’s streets that festive season were a multitude of brightly garbed soldiers, who mingled with locals, having made their way down from the artillery fort and barracks up on the Nothe. Eager to make the most of their time away from the fetid atmosphere of their cold and cramped barrack accommodation.
The busy harbourside was bustling with vessels coming and going. An abundance of sailors were also taking their chance to enjoy time ashore before they set sail for pastures new.
Weymouth at that time was a thriving metropolis.
Some of those enjoying Weymouth’s delights however, took their enjoyment to extremes! Such was the case of one crew member of the Gilpin which was berthed at the quayside. Christmas Eve, and Thomas Cook was making his way down from the Nothe. Having reached the top of Hill’s Lane, he stumbled across the motionless body of a man. Thomas shook the man to rouse him, but as the seemingly lifeless soul was well and truly in ‘his cups’ he took some rousing.
Finally, managing to drag the heavily intoxicated man to his feet, Thomas set about trying to discover his destination, before he had succumbed to his slovenly slumbers in the street. Holding on firmly to the staggering seaman, Thomas led him down to the quayside, where seemingly the befuddled mariner’s vessel was moored. Alas, her gangplank had been hauled aboard, and the sot had no way of boarding her.
Not to be deterred though, the old soak slurred his solution, he would simply board the nearby vessel instead, the Guide, he knew a crew member on there who would let him kip down. Thomas was not so sure this was a good idea. The Guide’s makeshift gangplank was about 15 foot in length, a meagre 2 foot in width, and as the tide was exceptionally high that night it rose before them at a crazy angle. Undeterred though, confident in his alcoholic haze, the drunken sailor attempted to crawl unsteadily on hands and knees along the narrow wooden walkway, with Thomas following closely behind, desperately trying to hold onto his coat tails. Mid passage, the alcohol won out, and the by now unconscious drunk rolled onto his back, precariously hanging over the water.
A frantic Thomas called out for help, at which point a crew member poked his head out, and seeing the dire situation, he attempted to grab hold of the mans wrist to pull him up the gangplank. But the slumbering sot’s dead weight was too much. With that, his body slithered with a splash into the freezing waters below. All hell let loose…man overboard…
Eventually his limp form was pulled from the dark waters, unconscious, but still breathing…just. The thirty-nine year old sailor, Bristol born Charles Tidray, made it alive to Weymouth’s local hospital where he was seen to by Dr Carter.
A man who did not think much of this sodden sailor’s chances. He informed Matron on his way out he did not think the man would ‘live through the night.’
Nor did he. At 4 o’clock that Christmas morning, Charles was stood at the pearly gates, his sins before him.
Time to met his maker.
Another miscreant was stood with his sins before him that December period, though this time, thankfully he was only stood before the local judge. His downfall was also alcohol.
William Bowdidge Hole, a 34-year-old cab driver had been out enjoying his time somewhat to excess with friends in the local hostelry. Having supped away all his money, he staggered back to his abode in Trinity Street, to replenish his pockets. His long-suffering wife, Emm, (perhaps not that long suffering, seeing as they had only married earlier that year,) wasn’t having any of it though. Emm was desperate to keep hold of what little money she had. It was needed to keep a roof over their heads and food in their mouths, not simply swilled down his throat.
William, riled at her reluctance to hand over the money and thwarted from being able to return to his drinking buddies to buy more beer, lost his rag and struck out at her, hitting her hard in the mouth.
A domestic ensued…
Eventually their physical and vocal altercations woke the neighbours, who tried to help Emm, she was coming under a barrage of flailing fists and vile words from her enraged husband.
By now the police had also appeared on scene, in the form of one P.C. Henry Kaile. As he approached the house, he was confronted by a hysterical Emm fleeing the building, being hotly pursued out into the road by her still ranting husband.
Swiftly collared by the local bobby, the much protesting William was whisked off to cool his heels in the local cells, from whence he was hauled next morning to stand before the judge. For his sins, ‘being drunk and riotous,’ William Hole was sent to prison for one month.
William was obviously very partial to his beer, a couple of years later, 1891, and he was before the judge again, for being ‘drunk whilst in charge of a horse and carriage.’ This time he escaped with a 5s fine, but was warned that if he appeared before them again, he would lose his license.
It certainly must have been pretty lively over the water in old Weymouth around Christmas time that year…
Not long after a drunken Charles had slithered off the gangplank into the cold waters, a fight broke out in Hope Quay. In the early hours of Christmas morning P.C. Groves, probably fresh from dealing with the fiasco of fishing out the sodden sailor, came across two scrapping men. It involved a certain Henry Hunt, stated to be a costermonger, and Frederick Boakes, a private in the West Kent Regiment.
Both men were hauled off to the cells. Henry for being drunk and disorderly and Frederick for fighting. But all was not quite what it at first seemed. By the time the two fiercely protesting men had been incarcerated, the soldier, with his story backed up by his comrades, revealed that in fact he had been the hero of the night.
Recently wed Henry, yet another who alcohol loosened his mouth and freed his fists…was about to strike his wife, when a nearby soldier stepped in to stop him. Incensed, Henry turned his wrath and fists on the interfering private Frederick, and the two ended up scrapping on the ground, at which point P.C Groves came across them.
Once his story had been corroborated, the gallant soldier was released and sent on his way.
Our final tale of tittle tattle from the tabloids of December 1888 doesn’t involve one drop of alcohol, or even a raised fist.
At one time, the Steam Packet Inn used to stand by the quayside, near the Devonshire buildings. In 1888 it was being run by German born musician, Joseph Duscherer, and his wife Harriet. They had just taken on a new servant girl, Rachel Smith, to help in the busy hostelry.
Unfortunately, Rachel was prone to being a tad light-fingered, and made away with a piece of Harriets precious jewellery, a fine gold ring. When Harriet questioned Sarah as to it’s whereabouts, she at first denied any knowledge, but under the later, much tougher interrogation of P.C. William Read, she soon cracked. Sarah revealed that she had swopped the stolen ring for another, so a constable was dispatched to the home of Mrs Wellman in Upwey, where he found the missing article upon her finger.
For her sins, the slippery servant was given the choice of paying a 5 shilling fine or spending 7 days behind bars. As poor Sarah had no money, she had no choice…she was ‘removed below.’
So you see…things don’t really change much do they…different era, different clothes, different papers, different people…same old headlines same old problems.
Enjoy reading gossip of old Weymouth and Melcombe Regis and its residents?
Why not grab a copy of Nothe Fort and Beyond…it’s chocka with tales of residents past, soldiers goings on and their misdeeds and many an image.
Available in the Nothe Fort and Weymouth museum bookshops
and on Amazon at £10