1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Weymouth and Melcombe Regis

WEYMOUTH and MELCOMBE REGIS, a seaport, watering-place, market town and municipal borough in the Southern parliamentary division of Dorsetshire, England, 142 m. S.W. by W. from London, on the London & South-Western and Great Western railways. Pop. (1891) 16,100; (1901) 19,843. It is formed of Weymouth, a fishing town and seaport on the south-west of the Wey, and Melcombe Regis on the north-east of the river, the two towns being contiguous. The situation on Weymouth Bay, which is enclosed to the south by the Isle of Portland, and north by the eastward trend of the coast, is picturesque. An esplanade about 1 m. in length fronts the sea. To the south of the esplanade is a pier of stone on wooden piles, and the Alexandra and other public gardens are attractive. The harbour lies between the pier on the north and the spur of land called the Nothe on the south, and is protected by a concrete wall extending 500 ft. northward from the Nothe. The principal buildings are the old town-hall, the market house, the guildhall, the Royal Dorset Yacht Clubhouse, the theatre, the Royal Victoria Jubilee Hall, the Weymouth and Dorset eye infirmary, the Weymouth royal hospital and dispensary and the barracks. Of the numerous churches none dates from before the 19th century. Opposite the Royal Terrace is an equestrian statue of George III., erected in 1809 in commemoration of his jubilee. A mile S.W. of Weymouth is Sandsfoot Castle, a fort erected by Henry VIII. for the protection of the shipping. The principal exports are Portland stone, bricks and tiles and provisions, and the imports are coal, timber, garden and dairy produce and wine. Ship and boat building, rope and sail making, and brewing are carried on. The Great Western railway company maintains a regular service of passenger steamers to Guernsey and Jersey. The municipal borough is under a mayor, 8 aldermen and 24 councillors. Area, 1299 acres.

Although its convenient harbour was probably used before Saxon times, and bronze weapons and Roman interments have been found, there is no evidence that Weymouth (Waimue, Waymuth) was a place of early settlement. The first mention of “that place called Weymouth” occurs in a charter of King Æthelred (866–871), while it is again spoken of in a charter of King Æthelstan (895–940). Edward the Confessor gave the manor to the church of Winchester in 1042, and it remained with the prior and convent of St Swithin until the 13th century, when it passed by exchange to Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, though the vassals of the prior and convent remained exempt from dues and tronage in the port. Coming by marriage into the hands of the earls of March and Plantagenets, the manor was finally vested in the crown. The first charter was that granted by the prior and convent in 1252, by which Weymouth was made a free borough and port for all merchants, the burgesses holding their burgages by the same customs as those of Portsmouth and Southampton. The demand of six ships from the town by the king in 1324 shows its importance in the 14th century, but there is no mention of a mayor until 1467. It is probable that the town suffered considerably at the hands of the French at the beginning of the 15th century, though in 1404 the men of Weymouth were victorious over a party which landed in the Isle of Portland. Early in the 16th century the commercial rivalry between Weymouth and the neighbouring borough of Melcombe came to a height. Melcombe had received a charter from Edward I. in 1280 granting to its burgesses half the port and privileges similar to those enjoyed by the citizens of London, Edward II. in 1307–1308 granted that its men might elect for themselves two bailiffs. The date of the grant of the town at an annual fee-farm of 8 marks is uncertain, but in the reign of Henry VI. a commission was appointed to inspect the destruction wrought by the king's enemies on the town, with the result that the fee-farm was reduced to 20s. The continual disputes between the two boroughs led to the passing of an act of union in 1571, the new borough being incorporated under the title of the “Mayor, Bailiffs and Burgesses” by James I. in 1616; further charters were granted by Charles II. and George II. Melcombe Regis first returned two members to parliament in 1307, and Weymouth in 1319, four members being returned by the united boroughs until 1832, when the representation was reduced to two and ceased in 1885. The medieval fairs are no longer held. As early as 1293 trade was carried on with Bayonne, and six years later a receiver of customs on wool and wool-fells is mentioned at Weymouth, while wine was imported from Aquitaine. In 1586 sugar is mentioned as an import, and in 1646 deal boards were brought here from Hamburg. The town suffered severely during the Civil War, being garrisoned by the parliamentary troops in 1642, taken by the earl of Carnarvon in 1643, and surrendered in the following year. The town is described as “but little” in 1733, but a few years afterwards it gained a reputation as a watering-place, and the duke of Gloucester built a house here; George III. and the royal family in 1789 paid Weymouth the first of a series of visits which further ensured its popularity.

See H. J. Moule, Descriptive Catalogue of the Charters, Minute Books, and other Documents of the Borough of Weymouth and Melcome Regis, A.D. 1250 to 1860 (Weymouth, 1883); John Hutchins, History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset (3rd ed., Westminster, 1860).