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Bridport On a War Footing

Bridport was on a war footing, and a total of 800 evacuees were billeted in the town, local villages receiving another 600. Most were children but the youngest had mothers to look after them. The senior pupils of the grammar school met a party of infants. Air raid precautions were in full swing and the town was blacked out. Seven couples rushed to the registrar to apply for special marriage licences. You could be fined for showing a light at night. Who knew what the war had in store?

William ‘Gordon’ Parsons was just one of the khaki-clad soldiers stationed in Bridport during the Second World War. Most never went back there, but Gordon did, in fact he fell in love with the south Dorset town and its West Bay seascape – and he has vivid recollections of the two months he spent in the town in 1942 – on duty for his country and the free world.

He tells of a ‘recce’ he made to West Bay with his Pal Jim Ripley (later killed in Sur Andre sur Ome.) As they walked along they passed women making fishnets on the pavements. Then, smelling the sea, they struck out across the fields – and met two Yeovil girls coming from the beach, with whom they had a drink at the Bridport Arms. This inn became Gordon’s lodgings, although he was actually posted not to the Bridport Arms but to the Bridport Armouries!

One memory is that of being one of a party which moved the belongings of the wife of Gordon’s Officer Commanding, Major Jack Kindersley, to a mansion in the neighbourhood of Piddlehinton, another the large melees of soldiers in the centre of Bridport after an evening ‘pubbing’ in the town. A radio officer, Gordon drove the platoon officer around in a jeep.

He made a lifelong friend of John Powell of Melpash, who he got in touch with again through the Legion magazine. Before leaving the town as a soldier, he was given a 21st birthday party at the Bridport Arms, and later went back there on leave. He met local fishermen Harry Hawks and his brother who used to bring steaming bowls of winkles into the lower bar at the Bridport Arms, telling of their rejuvenating powers.

During one of his leaves at Bridport Gordon went out in a rowing boat with Harry to salvage some bales of raw rubber, which had floated away from a torpedoed freighter, beaching them on the West Cliff, from where they were washed back out to sea in a gale, and some were stolen. ‘Hawks’ may have been a nickname, as Gordon knows of no one by that name at West Bay although Hawkins is a local name.

During the preparations for the landings at Dieppe, the famous movies star Lieut. Commander Douglas Fairbanks came ashore from one of the American ships in the flotilla. “There was much giggling, oohing and ahhing.” When some residents got back to their rooms… they were surprised to find exhausted Canadian soldiers in full battle gear asleep on their beds.

The Dieppe Force, which consisted mainly of Canadians, trained in and off the Isle of Wight. A force of 5,000 Canadian, 1,057 British, about 50 American rangers and a handful of Free French took part in the raid, but some of the landing craft missed the target beach, German armed trawlers attacked one of the gunboats, landing craft had to scatter for safety. Twenty-seven light tanks were landed but were destroyed, together with many of the attacking servicemen, who were pinned down on the narrow beach by an accurate and murderous fire.

Heavy loss of life took place. It was one of the war’s worst disasters. Gordon and his buddies returned to enjoy the friendly atmosphere of West Bay and Bridport, where several roofs, including those of the Bridport Arms and the Methodist Church, were set on fire by smoke shells fired during practices. Landmines were laid on the beach.

One night, looking out of west-facing windows at the Arms, “I was witness to the exciting sight of tracers bouncing off the cobblestones in my direction, some slamming into the building as two planes roared overhead…I watched the exchange of tracers until they faded out far to the southwest over the Channel.”

The town was to be honoured when Very Important people called there. The special visitors were none other than King George VI and his aides, who took tea at the Bull. This was supposed to be top secret, but a huge crowd watched the King leave the inn with his aides. Meanwhile, the Home Guard practised at a rifle range at Colmers Hill near Symondsbury.

War Weapon Week raised no less than £200,000 in 1940. This went towards the construction of HMS Bridport, a coastal patrol vessel. Through National Savings – one person in every three in Dorset belonged to a savings group – the target figure was reached in January 1943.

Now, one day, a ship bought with Dorset’s money will sail the seas, proud in a glorious tradition. This is a people’s war, and it will be a people’s ship!” enthused the ‘Bridport News.’ The vessel was later taken over for air-sea rescue operations. The ship’s bell was eventually placed in the Town Hall.

Early in the war, senior girls at the grammar school knitted items for the Army and a bomb did considerable damage near the Lord Nelson pub. Later, the Women’s Institute and Scouts collected a mountain of gifts for London and southeast England, which had been shattered by V-bomb attacks.

Bridport was the home of the country’s ‘Ideal NAAFI Girl.’ The NAAFI’s provided meals for the troops. Miss Eileen Bishop (21), formerly an assistant in a draper’s shop, competed with 25,000 others for the title, and when she alighted from the train at Bridport station after interviews and stage and radio appearances, she got a rousing reception.

Elsie and Doris Waters, the popular broadcasters, appeared in ‘Gert and Daisy’s Weekend’ which topped the bill at the Bridport Palace. Others who trod the boards there at this time were Charles Bickford, Barton MacLane, Harry Langdon and Betty Blythe. Among film actors seen were Gordon Harker and Sydney Howard.Farmers were informed that if they wished land to lie fallow for more than a year they had to receive permission, otherwise the land would be forcibly ploughed up. In pursuance of the food production programme pigeon shoots were arranged throughout the county.

An increase in Home Guard numbers was being called for. The Home Guard in Dorset was being described as a “formidable military instrument,” although weakened by men joining the regular forces, and an appeal was issued for every man who could to come forward.

The ‘Bridport News’ reported on January 1, 1943: “A huge tidal wave, towering 80 feet high, smashed through the famous Chesil Bank… and swept a mile inland, causing tremendous damage to homes and property.” For more than a week no trains could run between Portland and Weymouth because the lines were under water. The receding floods left enormous boulders in the gardens of homes far inland.

People indoors were knocked over as the water rushed through doors and windows. Nothing like this inundation, the paper reported, had been seen in Portland since 1824, when the seas swept over the beach and drowned 25 people.

And 10 days after this giant wave had hit the coast to the east; the sea wall was breached for 40 feet at West Way during a great gale of wind.

Peace, when it came, was celebrated in grand style, with bunting, bells and street parties. There were still 230 evacuees in the town at the end of the war, and a few families liked the town so much they made Bridport their permanent home.



The Day West Bay Fished a Dinosaur

One day in the 1980’s an ignominious lump of nondescript bone was brought into the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester by a Mr E Taylor. It soon became apparent however that it was a portion of the skull of an animal, for it bore sockets for the creature’s teeth and in its dimensions varied from 46 to 67 millimetres in size.

The skull fragment had apparently been caught up in a fishing net during a trawl for scallops off West Bay, west of Portland. As a remnant of an ancient vertebrate this find in itself was not that unusual, for the seabed in the area in question forms part of the world-renown (and richly fossiliferous) Jurassic Coast Heritage site, and consists of a stage of the Jurassic strata known as the Lower Kimmeridgian, after the village of that name near Kimmeridge Bay. Long before the discovery of the skull, numerous vertebrae of  marine reptiles and possibly even of dinosaurs had regularly been obtained from the same area as tidal action wore away the enclosing rock. While some of these show wear and colonisation by bryozoans and worms, others are fresh-looking suggesting that the bones are still being eroded from the entombing clay.

But the West Bay skull-bone shows both fresh and eroded areas. From examination, it was clearly part of the skull of a large theropod dinosaur, and isolated and fragmentary bones of this kind are generally classified as Megalosaurus (or “large lizard”). This is a genus of dinosaur originally identified from Jurassic strata at Stonesfield in Oxfordshire. The type specimen exists as a group of bones first described by William Buckland in 1824. Although the specimen skull fragment from West bay is similar in general appearance, it evidently belonged to an individual much larger than the reptile(s) who’s remains were excavated from Stonesfield. Thus the latter’s  subnarial height exceeds 164 millimetres, as compared with 110 mm for the Stonesfield specimens. The teeth are also relatively closer together in the Dorset example; the inter-dental plates relatively lower in height.

Robert Battiscombe (1752-1839) – Royal Apothecary

The Battiscombe family moved to west Dorset in 1452, when John Battiscombe purchased the farm at Vere Wotton (sometimes called Verse) about a mile from the market-town and sea-port of Bridport.  It was here on the 3rd of October 1752 that a boy hesitantly came into the world, apparently showing little appetite for life and unimpressed by the prospect of being born into the Dorset gentry. Ahead of him, though, was a long and prosperous journey that would include over forty years of service to his sovereign, King George III.
Peter and Lydia Battiscombe, the boy’s parents, were so concerned their son would not survive the day that they sent for the vicar. Sensing the urgency of their message, he hurried to the child, who had been given the name Robert. At a private ceremony in the family home the clergyman received Robert into the church. Before leaving, father and churchman held a whispered conversation about burial arrangements for the child. Several weeks later, having won his battle for life, Robert Battiscombe was presented by grateful parents to the congregation of the Parish Church of St. Mary’s, Bridport, and baptised.

For his early education Robert was sent to a school at Crewkerne, then in 1766 he went to Eton as a King’s Scholar; he stayed for three years. At the age of seventeen he was apprenticed for five years to the apothecary George Hailes of Hill Street, Berkeley Square, Middlesex, for a fee of £157.10s.0d.

Sometime before 1780 Robert moved to Windsor, where he set up in business and opened an apothecary’s shop in the town. Here he married and brought up five sons: Richard, Robert, William, Henry and Christopher, all of which followed their father to Eton and were ordained, except Christopher, who died in infancy. There was also a daughter, Myra. From time to time Robert would return to Eton to celebrate the achievements of his sons, for there is a note in his papers: “Attended the Speaker at Eton….their Majesties and the Princesses were present”.

A memoranda book and some of his accounts have survived; they reveal he was supplying medicines, attending and treating the King and other members of the Royal Household from 1780, several years before the onset of the King’s malady, which these days is often referred to as the madness of King George.

The quarterly account of bills for services to the Prince of Wales was regularly over £50. There were similar accounts for the Queens: from April 1782 to July 1784 the total was £346.14s.3d. Bills for the following quarter amounted to over £400. In 1810 the Queen’s and Princesses accounts came to a little less than £600; Princess Amelia was very ill and the apothecary attended her until her death in November and received £300 from the King for his services. The memoranda book records that in 1786 he had bled Princess Amelia six times. In 1787 he bled the Prince of Wales in April and in June he bled the Princess Royal twice and Princess Amelia three times and in July he also bled Princess Mary.

October 1788 saw the onset of the King’s illness.  At the suggestion of Dr. Warren the apothecary attended the King on 30th of October and the 1st and 4th of November, when he “cupped his Majesty” and on the last visit “applied blisters to the head”. On the 5th of November and then at regular four-nightly intervals Robert Battiscombe was on duty and always noted in his diary which doctor was in waiting.  In December he several times had to dress the blisters on the King’s legs and on the 25th he played drafts with the King.  Battiscombe was on duty all through January and notes that on the 13th “saw the King, talked of having his music sent down to him”; a fortnight later he “talked about his horses, music etc.” By mid-February he notes “thought him much better”. He had an hour’s conversation with the King on the 14th and noted “appears nearly well”. On the 27th the apothecary was told through an equerry “that my further attendance at Kew House is from this day dispensed with”; yet on 2nd of March he bled the King again. He goes on to record that for these and other services “his Majesty made me a present of £100”.

In 1793 there is a note about another of the Princesses: “Princess Sophia has had hysteric fainting for weeks. Tried all kinds of private medicines without effect”.   From time to time in his memoranda book it is noted that he felt the King’s pulse.

In May 1805 Robert Battiscombe was sworn in as Apothecary in Ordinary at a fee of £38.13s.2d. From this time he received many presents from members of the royal family: from Princess Amelia a silver watch and a bread basket;  from Princes Sophia a silver tea caddy; from Princes Augusta  a silver inkstand  and Princes Mary gave him an egg cup and four spoons and on another occasion a coffee pot stand and lam. Princess Elizabeth presented him with a muffin dish and cover. He also received from King George a watch and from the Queen a kettle and a lamp, for his care of Princess Amelia.

Bills rendered for services to the Royal establishments were usually paid four months in arrears. However, in 1808 Robert Battiscombe had to chase-up payment of his bills.  To the King he wrote “With the most profound respect….to lay my case before Your Majesty and to state that my bills for medicines for the use of your Majesty, their Royal Highnesses, the Princesses and your Royal Household are twenty quarters in arrears. That the bills have been delivered into the proper office vouched by Sir Frances Millman….I presume to suppose there may be some delay in the official department, which encourages me to lay my case at your Majesty’s feet.”

During 1810 Robert Battiscombe sat with the King every fifth night. This attendance started in October and lasted till mid-April 1811, when his salary was increased to £300. In 1811 he gave up his business at Windsor but he continued to serve as Royal Apothecary and his appointment was confirmed by King Geoge IV, though there are few entries in his memoranda book for his later years.

The Apothecary could afford to extend a little credit to his Sovereign. He came from landed gentry and in 1798 inherited property in Dorset and Somerset. His papers show he was a shrewd businessman who occasionally invested in shares. He was no stranger to the county of his birth and frequently travelled to Bridport on family business.

Robert Battiscombe’s death was registered at Windsor during the first quarter of 1839. On his death the gifts he received from the King and members of the Royal Family were weighed and divided equally among his children.

Bridport’s Shipping History

The Church took a great interest in Bridport Harbour from its earliest days. Considering that Bridport rope making had royal support, this may not be surprising. The harbour, which was to receive ships from as far as Russia, was in existence in the 13th century and in 1444 the Bishop of Sarum ‘granted an indulgence’ for its repair.

Sixteen ships were built here in the Napoleonic wars alone. In 1856 a vessel of over 1,000 tons was launched in the present harbour at West Bay, and defeating the notorious silting-up of the harbour entrance was able to put to sea. To give some indication of her size, although built for the open sea she could probably just have navigated the Gloucester to Sharpness canal, which was then the widest canal in the country.

Twenty years later saw the end of wooden shipbuilding of any size. The last wooden vessel, the ‘Lilian,’ took the water in 1879. Today, fishing, including trawling, is carried on and there is much pleasure boating, the harbour being filled with small craft, but the import and export trade has been lost.

A large number of ships were registered in Bridport, many of them being built there.
Ships once sailed the mile up the river Brit to the town but it became silted up. On the river near Bridport is the significantly named Port Mill, where flax was boiled, or softened by blows of heavy timber.

West Bay Harbour was improved in 1744 and in 1830, as many as 528 ships were recorded as using it, sailing in and out of the long narrow entrance as they do today. Hemp and flax were imported on a large scale at the height of the rope making industry. But by 1881, only two-tenths of the harbour dues of 50 years before were collected.

West Bay, where the present harbour is, was separated from the town by a flood plain, over which for hundreds of years ran rough tracks. The first road was laid down in 1819 and in 1884 the Great Western railway line was extended to the port.

All through its history the harbour has had a struggle with the elements: mainly south westerlies from which there was no shelter, and high tides. Yet coastal and foreign vessels continued to trade: from Russia came hemp and flax and from Scandinavia timber.

The flax and hemp were vital to the town. In 1793, a total of 1,800 Bridport people and 7,000 from the areas around were employed in the rope and net trade. Most of Bridport’s buildings today date from the second half of the 18th century when the trade prospered.

At the harbour in West Bay large sailing ships were built in a yard where Heron Court stands. West Bay at one time had six slipways, which could be used for launching and repairing vessels or for just beaching them.

So which was the great ship of over 1,000 tons, which was launched here? It was the ‘Speedy,’ which sailed out of the Dorset harbour on her trials soon after taking the water in 1856. Shifting sands and shingle at the mouth of the Brit made it a hazardous task to take out or bring in such large craft.

Massive harbour works at the mouth of the river have taken place over the years.

Going back to the beginnings of the port, in the late 13th century the Abbot of Cerne held land on the east and west cliffs at West Bay. And the Prior of Frampton was making the most of any wrecks coming on to the shore. At that period vessels were coming up to the town up the river, and remains of moorings have been found and are visible at low water there.

In 1326, with invasion imminent, a survey was carried out around the coasts of all ships of 50 tons and upwards but Bridport was omitted from the list, indicating that only very small vessels were able to come up the Brit. By 1395, a Customs officer was on duty at Bridport, about the time that the river-mouth was converted into a better harbour.

In 1446 work took place on the maintenance of the harbour, but for the next 300 years the entrance was continually choked with shingle.

Piers, sluices and wharves were constructed in a four-year programme in the mid-1700. But the harbour was again choked with sand in 1818. In 1823 to 1825 further improvements were made, using 200 men. As a result, Bridport became a full bond port in 1832 and trade flourished until the railway came to West Bay in the late 19th century.

The work done in the port in the 18th century meant there was a depth of at least 11 feet of water between the piers at all spring tides, allowing vessels of 100 tons to enter or leave. Later, of course, the entrance had to be deepened for ships up to 10 times that size.

Already, back in 1751 the new harbour was considered to be “a safe port where may ride about 40 sail.” Nicholas Bools (or Bowles) established a shipyard. And the first vessel built was the ‘North Star,’ of 52 tons, in 1769.

It has been calculated that some 400 ships were launched between then and 1879, including smacks, schooners, luggers, cutters and even barques, brigs and brigantines.

A privateer, the ‘Resolution’ was built in 1779 during the American War of Independence. A privateer was an armed vessel and officered by private individuals holding a government commission, and authorised for war service.

So we see that the intensive shipping activity was inseparably linked with the prosperity of Bridport. Without the harbour the rope making could not have flourished, and without the trade that developed there might still be just a shingle river-mouth opening on to the sea. Few boats and a popular yet quiet seaside resort for those living in Dorset and beyond to enjoy.

This is the heritage of Bridport’s great industry of times past. And for those with maritime interests, these are among the proud ships that took the water in its harbour, when it was in its heyday:

‘Abby’ (schooner, 1837,159 tons); ‘Aberdeen Packet’ (sloop, 125 tons); ‘Britannia’ (301 tons); ‘Lord Donoughmore’ (cutter, 80tons); ‘Portia’ (barque, 1861, 298 tons); ‘Rutland’ (cutter, 1797, 82 tons); and ‘Good Intent’ (sloop. 1788, 36 tons). Each must have had a tale to tell.

John Beard – Educator of Bridport

For the townsfolk of Bridport January 4th, 1911 was an occasion of dreary solemnity and from something more than just the depressing effect of wintry weather. People at home drew the blinds of their windows down; businesses put up their shutters. A cortege bearing a plain oak coffin passed through the town en route to the cemetery. Clearly someone special, someone almost everyone in Bridport had taken to their hearts, was no more.

This special citizen who had prompted such an outpouring of reverence and mourning on his last journey was John Beard. Beard was born in Bristol on March 20th 1833 and died in Bridport on December 30th 1910, his allotted 77 years being ones of making outstanding strides in the education and rectitude of generations of Victorian boys growing up in a Dorset market town. Indeed, many prosperous men had John Beard to thank for the special training they received.

As a child growing up in Bristol, Beard became a pupil-teacher at that city’s Red Cross School, where the more advanced boys taught those in the lower forms. On leaving this school he attended Borough Road Training College from 1852 to 1853, from there going on to teach at Chatham for a few months.

But in 1854 Benjamin Templar, then Headmaster of Bridport General Boys School left to take up another head position in Manchester. The position of headmaster at the Bridport school, which had only opened in 1849, was then filled by Beard, an appointment that was to last for the next forty years. Under its new Head, the school would soon make its presence felt in the community – and in the fortunes of a rising generation of its acolytes.

Beard’s own dedication and attendance record were legendary. In his two score years at the school he was known to have been absent no more than about four days from incapacity. He was also possessed of a stoical sense of duty, being so devoted to his job that he often kept working when he should have rested. A colleague once told him: “I’m afraid you are too young (he was only 22 at the time) in fact some of the pupil-teachers are nearly as old as yourself.”

But from the first it was evident that the new Headmaster was an exceptionally gifted man. On the founding of the General School just five years before, it was intended that technical instruction should be in the curriculum. To this end the school even bought up adjoining allotment land for use as an open-air gymnasium. However, at the time no rigid code or syllabus had been drawn up. Beard was therefore not limited by curriculum; he taught mensuration, land surveying and any other subject fitting boys for science and technology-orientated careers.

When he had been in post at Bridport for only four years, Beard met and married Ellen Swain, the youngest daughter of a local captain, at the Congregational Chapel in Bridport’s Barrack Street on June 20th 1858. It was for both parties a marriage as successful as the groom’s academic career. The Beards raised three sons and two daughters, two of the sons themselves becoming teachers, while the third, Ernest, having apparently inherited his maternal grandfather’s love of the sea, became a sailor and emigrant. The grandfather – Captain Swain – was a harbour master at West Bay, a job which Ernest was to take up in a new life in Calcutta. Sadly, Ellen pre-deceased John by twelve years in 1898.

After some time the state began to interfere more in the running of schools. School Commissions had to march in a rigid step according to new rules. Beard was given – and heeded – the advice that he should obtain certificates in sciences, so qualifying him to teach these as a supplement to the ordinary school course. In fact, John Beard was the first teacher in Bridport to qualify as a science master, and was one of only three in the whole county. Besides giving special class instruction, he extended his expertise to private schools and seminaries. Evening schools were begun, though these were dropped after a time. In about 1874 however, John Beard revived evening schools in Bridport, these being attended by 150 to 200 pupils.

Beard also took an active interest in the Working Men’s Institute in South Street, appreciating its worth as another means of combining education with recreational activities. Here his lectures were highly instructive, appreciated and well attended. He always gave of his best when coaching dozens of young men privately for examinations towards lucrative positions or occupations. By the 1800’s Beard’s name was a household word in Bridport.

At the time, the Headmaster was getting through a prodigious amount of work, despite having no assistant master to share the burden, and only two or three pupil-teachers. His institution was almost a secondary school without rates to support it, though many of his former pupils who had become wealthy men regularly sent subscriptions to support the General School. Alas, the grants ultimately dried up, and the sciences had to be discontinued.

Needless to say John Beard was no less industrious during school holiday time. Much of this time was spent touring the continent with his family, collecting any material he thought would be of interest to his pupils. He also visited many places of historic interest and was in Paris at the time the Franco-Prussian War ended. His lessons based on this foreign material were always of exceptional interest during the new term.

In his latter years Beard also found time to write two books, on English History, and another entitled ‘Outlines of the English Language.’ The key to John Beard’s great success lay in the practical and attractive way he imparted knowledge while leaving his students to think for themselves. He further managed to temper a firm, disciplinary approach with an amiable, smiley demeanour and kindly greetings.

In politics Beard was a life-long Liberal, and indeed served for some years as Vice President of the Bridport Liberal Association. Though he resigned when Gladstone presented his Irish Home Rule Bill.

Sadly though, John Beard’s retirement in the company of his wife of forty years proved to be all too brief. Ellen died only four years later, leaving John a widower for the remaining twelve years of his life. At his own funeral in 1911, the Revd. J. Menzies, for so long a friend and colleague of the former Headmaster delivered a last moving address at the graveside in Bridport Cemetery that bleak winter afternoon.

Bridport News – 1857

This letter published in the 17th January 1857 edition of The Bridport News, caught our eye.

Sir, – Are you disposed to take the part of one that has been most unmercifully abused? If you are, please to insert this letter.

People have been saying hard things about me for the last three months; and not only so, but have fathered the railings of their own tongues and pens upon me, and in more cases than one, forged my name. Can people believe for a moment that I could so forget my own exalted dignity as to condescend to abuse, not only my faithful attendants, but myself into the bargain? May my heart cease to beat and my hands to move if ever I do. I don’t profess to be perfect; none of my species are, anymore than the species of my revilers.  What, in my transition state, I did occasionally go to rest for the night without putting out my light? Was it not a new duty I had to discharge, and are not all liable to perform new duties somewhat irregularly for a time? Hitherto, I had been allowed no light in the evening, however much I might have wanted it, and I cannot sufficiently thank the Congress of Paris for bringing about an event, in commemoration of which my internal darkness is illuminated.

Then again, some said I was two-faced, and told East Street one thing, and West Street another, while the information which I gave the north and that which I gave the south differed from both, as well as from each other. This would seem to prove that I am four-faced, which I admit. It is probable that I may have said different things to different parties, but then it must be remembered that my stomach was in a disordered state, and everybody knows that a disordered stomach will produce a disordered head, and thus lead to confusion. But, whatever I may have said, I say the same to all parties now; and I am glad to be able to state that it is now a considerable length of time since I left my light burning all night. I flatter myself that I have been very punctual of late in extinguishing it.

It has been said that there is great difficulty in seeing my face and my hands at a distance. Now I beg leave to say that my duty is to give information to the people of Bridport within the three bridges, and not to be stared at through telescopes from Bradpole, the Harbour, and other foreign parts.

My light is complained of. Now I have never been to London, but I have heard that there are some of my own species there illuminated, whose light is not as good as mine.

On the whole, I think the public have good reason to be satisfied both with me and my patrons. I will mark the hours as they pass, let the public improve them.


P.S. Please excuse bad writing. My hands are shivering in the cold wind and rain.

Bridport – Alice Jane Greene

Alice Jane Greene born in Bridport in 1863. Founder of Moreton Bay College, Brisbane, Qld, Australia.

Alice Jane Greene born in Bridport in 1863. Founder of Moreton Bay College, Brisbane, Qld, Australia.

Moreton Bay Girl’s High School – Queensland, Australia

The school the forerunner to Moreton Bay College, designed and built by John Greene born from Bridport.

The school the forerunner to Moreton Bay College, designed and built by John Greene born in Bridport.

Bridport Family – Education Pioneers in Australia

The Greene family from Bridport is well known on the other side of the globe – as educators in Australia as it was emerging to nationhood. To have five sisters involved in the foundation and running of a school far from their native land must be a unique situation.

So it is that a girls’ college in Australia which dates from 1901 had its origin in Bridport. In that year Alice Greene and her sister Anne founded Moreton Bay Girls’ High School in Brisbane. At the age of 38, Alice was at the helm. But the family connection had not started there, for the school had actually been designed and built by their father.

On the school’s first roll there were 20-day scholars and six boarders: today, over 1,000 families are associated with the college, which is considered among the best independent girls’ schools in Australia.

But it has been a struggle. In 1944 the school was handed over by the Greene family to the Methodist church. In 1959 there were 167 pupils and the number increased to 180 in the early 1960’s. However, the roll later dropped to 125 and it was decided to close the college, although this decision was soon rescinded. The Uniting Church assumed responsibility and set up a new board with the local population strongly represented.

In 1980 the boarding section was closed down and the following year the enterprise moved to a new site. Things were changing for the better, and the year 2000 was a remarkable one, seeing notable successes in competitive athletics and in public speaking and debating. The college choir sang at the prestigious Choralfest in Melbourne.

Then in 2001 came the centenary of the college. The enrolment that year for pre-school to Year 12 was 1170 girls. In 2002 the college won a prestigious 70-year-old swimming championship. Early in 2003 the Moreton Bay Boys’ College opened its doors. The number of staff is now approximately 200.

In 2003 one of the college’s ‘Old Girls’, Quentin Bryce, was inducted as Governor of Queensland a post she held until 2008 when she was appointed Governor General of Australia.

Alice Jane Greene, the central figure of the story, was a native of Bridport, Dorset, born on July 26 1863. She was the daughter of John and Ellen (Webber-Greenham) Greene. Her father was a cabinetmaker and Grandfather Greene was a mariner. She went into teaching specialising in science and after the family moved to Cardiff in Wales she was senior mistress at Cardiff Higher School for five years. In the early 1890’s she and her sister Anne went out to Australia to join their father.

Anne and her sister Helah established a school and studio in Tenterfield in northern New South Wales where she taught general subjects, art and music. The school opened in February 1895. Their sister Alice who had been teaching at Rockhampton Girls’ Grammar School joined Anne and Helah there.

In 1900 John Greene built a school in Wynnum, Queensland which was officially opened in 1901 as Moreton Bay Girls’ High School, Alice was the Principal, and remained in this post for an amazing 42 years. Her other sisters, Hilda and Elsie also taught there.

At some point, the name changed to Moreton Bay College, the name by which it is known today.

It seems that John Greene and Mary Ellen Greenham had 11 children. Ada, (who married James Diamond, of Cardiff, Wales and who remained in that country); Alice; Emily (who married Harold Wearn, a dentist and lived in Sydney, Australia), Mary (who married Herbert Kay, had two children and lived in Brisbane), Anne (also known as Ella, who did not marry, taught cello and violin and was the school housekeeper);Samuel, who was Mayor of Wynnum before it became part of Brisbane and married Ruth Hargreaves; John William (known as Will) who became Lord Mayor of Brisbane; Elsie (who did not marry and went to London University, became a bachelor of arts and then returned to teach general subjects at the school); Hilda (who did not marry but studied and taught music, returning to England to continue her studies and went back to teach at Moreton Bay in 1910); and Harold who worked in shipping, went to India and has descendants still living there.

Every great project has its pioneer, and it was Alice (known as Alice J. Alison Greene) who is actually credited with founding Moreton Bay College. She did not marry.

A special ‘In Memoriam’ edition of the school newsletter was published in 1967 but, frustratingly, there is no mention of Alice’s date of death so we must assume it was in that year. In Queensland public records of deaths go only back to 1954.

Alice’s first teaching position in Australia was at Rockhampton Girls’ Grammar School in 1893-4; she resigned to go to Tenterfield in northern New South Wales to join her sisters Anne and Helah at a school there which was set up by Anne in 1895.

Anne Greene was an interesting person. Born in 1878 she was the fifth child of John Iley Greene and Mary Ellen Greenham. Anne had studied Art before leaving Britain for Australia. After she arrived in Australia she and her sister Helah established a school and studio in Tenterfield in northern New South Wales where she taught general subjects, art and music. The school opened in February 1895.

In 1911 Anne returned to Britain to further her studies and to work as an artist. She studied at the South Kensington Art School in London and had success as a still-life artist. She also spent time in Paris and later established a studio in Southampton.

While Anne was in Paris she became interested in eurhythmics, or the harmony of proportions, and later introduced it at Moreton Bay College on return to Australia.

With the outbreak of World War Two she was unable to return to France or go to Australia so she did not actually return to Queensland until after the war. After an accident her health became poor and she lived in a nursing home. She died in 1954.

This is the story of Dorset people who saw a land of need and opportunity 12,000 miles away. The Green sisters introduced a vastly improved and enlightened system of education to the girls of Queensland, with a curriculum including music, art, English, science and physical education. Throughout, the enterprise has been Christian-based. The family must have been very much faith-oriented.

Here we have a story of courage – of people leaving their home surroundings in the late 19th century to work on the other side of the world for the good of mankind and to become “First Australians”. They did not go there initially to improve themselves and their situations, but to improve those of others.

Bridport to the First Charter and Beyond

In 2003 the West Dorset town of Bridport celebrated the 750th anniversary of the granting of its first charter. This account is a short history of the major developments in the town up to that time and thereafter.

Little is known of the settlement of the area where Bridport grew up, prior to the 9th century. The nearest Iron Age fort is Old Warren at Little Bredy. The name also appeared in a document when land at Little Bredy was granted to Cerne Abbey in 987, but few artefacts of the period from about 4000 BC to 43 AD have been found. The Romans appear to have introduced the tradition of cultivating hemp and flax in the rich alluvial soils of the Brit and Asker River valleys, but did not establish any camp or town on the gentle intervening spur between the valleys.

With the incoming Saxon settlers however, the town’s history can be said to begin. Bridport began as an artificial creation in 878 AD first known as Brydian, just one link in a system of fortified burhs built by King Alfred as a defence against the Danes. The land chosen was part of the royal manor of Bradpole, and therefore a crown possession from the start. Brydian was allotted 760 hides of land, and became a centre of local administration and commerce. The burh was surrounded by a rampart of earth, turf and timber, and was probably surmounted by a timber palisade. Within this enclosure the settlement was laid out on a gridiron pattern with a wide main street. This survives in the present town as the southern end of South Street. Within the burh there would have been ample accommodation for tradesmen, and there would have been several churches.

During the reign of King Athelstan (925 to 939 AD) a mint was established in the burh, though the Brydian mint was relatively unimportant. Coin-production here continued until after the Norman Conquest, though this appears to have ceased soon after. As the town was crown property, it is likely that William I ordered the building of a castle at Bridport, and it has been suggested that a slight elevation in the ground to the east of South Street is probably the denuded remnant of the castle motte.

During the Norman period land in the Bridport area not owned by the Crown was mainly vested in the Church in the form of abbeys. A Church belonging to St.Wandrille’s Abbey existed in Bridport in 1086, and is believed to have been the antecedent of the present St.Mary’s. Many other religious houses were already in existence by the mid 13th century.

The main period of urban development appears to have occurred in the early 13th century. The influx of population from the rural manors into the town necessitated an extension of the town boundaries by 1250. By this time a new town had been laid out to the north of the earlier Saxon burh, with two main streets meeting at a T-junction. These streets replaced South Street as the main streets of the town. Trade was then drawn away from the Saxon settlement and towards the new market area with its wide streets and regular burgages. It was the growth in the town’s economy and status, due largely to the stimulation of industry to meet the demand for rope to supply King John’s military ventures, that led to Bridport qualifying for the receipt of its first Royal Charter from Henry III on June 22nd 1253.

This Charter, which had been obtained principally by the Dean of Wells, Giles de Bridport, effectively founded the borough. In the Town Hall can be seen a roll of the Bailiffs from 1290 together with the original precept from the Sheriff of Dorset to the Bailiff calling for the election of two MP’s. Edward I granted the right to return two members, and twelve burgesses were empowered, from which two Bailiff members were elected. It is recorded that Thomas Newburgh and Robert Hill were the first members representing Bridport at Westminster. From early on, a proportion of Bridport’s population comprised immigrants from Normandy.

St. Andrews was the church of the planned town to the north of, but continuous with the Saxon burh and it is noted that this church was in use as a priory by Carmelite friars around 1265. It formerly stood on the site of the present Market House-cum-Town Hall. Buildings originally occupied the space behind the Town Hall, but these were later demolished. St.Mary’s Church in South Street however is almost certainly older than St.Andrews, though much of the present building dates from the 13th century.

However, early in the 14th century there is evidence of an economic downturn, largely attributed to the wet summers of 1315 and 1316 which severely affected crops and food. Bridport was one of the first coastal towns to suffer the effect of the bubonic plague epidemic, during which peasant and labourer mortality was very high. Despite difficulties, Bridport by the end of the 14th century was the fourth largest borough in Dorset.

It is informative to see how the wills of the victims give an insight into the lives of the town’s citizens at the time. Buildings were in multiple occupation and use. Some of the wills mention land suitable for growing hemp. Land seems to have been in small parcels of 1 rood (about 9.75 acres,) and usually left to surviving family members. The forerunner of the Greyhound Hotel, formerly a tavern, came into the possession of the town authorities by means of a reversion included on a will of 1386.

The market function of the town was originally catered for by The Shambles or Butchers Row, which formerly occupied the road intersection area. Documents record that in 1556 Thomas Balston Bocher was granted two shambles in the market of Bridport for his butchery business. However, the ground floor space of the Town Hall to this day is used as a market. Elizabeth I granted Bridport the right to hold three annual fairs and a Saturday market. The broad span of the main streets today reflects the allocation of space for the market, the fairs, bull baiting, the stocks, pillory and even hangings.

Not least among the trades and industries, which had attracted Bridport’s royal patronage, were the net, rope and sail makers. These industries were fully established by 1250, and were based upon hemp and flax grown locally. The ropewalks needed to bind the rope strands together have left their mark in the long alleyways still to be seen off the main streets. Such was the industry’s importance that in 1322 six Bridport ropers were sent to Newcastle to train workers for the fledgling rope industry there. But by the 15th century rope and sail making were already experiencing the threat of competition from low-cost producers in Genoa, Normandy and elsewhere in England.

At first the workers petitioned Henry VII, warning the King that competition from abroad could devastate the economy of Bridport. When a ropewalk was set up in Burton Bradstock, the ropers of Bridport petitioned Henry VIII to pass in 1530 what might be called “the 5-Mile Act.” This act banned the sale of hemp within 5-mile radius of the town other than at its market and for the maker’s own use. This appears to have worked in the short term, for Bridport was able to maintain its lead.

Although critical to the town’s economy and status, the development of the harbour and port is a matter of considerable ambiguity among historians. The earliest reference to a harbour at Bridport appears in Hundred Rolls of 1280. It is noted that ships were coming up the river as far as the borough by1280, indicating that some quay or harbour must have been in existence from 1256. Then in 1388 Richard II made a grant to Richard Huderesfield for the purpose of re-making the harbour, which by this time had evidently fallen into disrepair. Little had been done, though, towards this end by 1392 when the King issued a second grant, this time to the Bailiff of the Vill of Bridport.

The quay facilities did however receive some help in the 1440’s, when ecclesiastical authorities raised funds for its reconstruction and maintenance. In 1619 James I granted Bridport a Charter “confirming the rights and privileges of the borough” and granted letters to the bailiffs allowing them to raise revenue towards the upkeep of the harbour. Then in 1670 Charles II granted powers to repair the old harbour or construct a new one in return for a levy payable to the exchequer. But the serious effort to build a proper harbour was persistently dogged by silting up of the outlet due to drifting Chesil sand, and would not be realised until the early years of the 18th century, even though sea-borne trade continued throughout this time.

Then in 1588 came the Armada. Two sea battles on the 23rd of July could be heard and seen by the people of Bridport. Bridport men in the Dorset Militia followed the battles eastwards overland until the fight died away in the afternoon. For a time afterwards the town experienced economic difficulties due to the familiar problem of harbour blockage. Also about this time Beaminster and Lyme Regis contributed funds for the building of a market and a school, the latter of which is thought to have stood near the present market house.

Bridport was much involved in the emigration to the New World in the early 17th century, and it has been estimated that about 200 local people sailed to Massachusetts between 1620 and1650. At least some of these would have come from the town or its west Dorset hinterland, including Symondsbury and Askerswell. The town was also assisting the policing of the coast, in operations against pirates operating out of Lulworth Cove and Studland Bay. For example in 1613 the Bailiffs of Bridport paid the princely sum of 11s.3d for expenses incurred in the imprisonment of captive pirates. This fact suggests that some kind of harbour was in operation, despite a reference in Queen Elizabeth’s Charter to a blockage by sea and wind sometime after 1619.

During the Civil War, it appears that Bridport did not suffer the degree of damage or casualty as did Weymouth, Lyme, or Corfe, probably because it was not a defended or walled borough. After the Restoration in 1660 the town’s authorities, woefully short of revenue, resolved that repairs to the Church and the roads would have to come out of parish rates. On the 11th of June 1685, the Duke of Monmouth and his rebel army landed at Lyme and immediately moved to attack the militia at Bridport, though this was based at the east end of the town at the time.

Then, 1721 an act of Parliament legislated for a harbour and piers to be built, these being completed twenty years later. To the west of the harbour a shipyard was established which would be a success from the beginning. It is not known exactly when Nicholas Bools (or Bowles) founded the shipyard, but a 52-ton sloop called ‘North Star’ was, in 1789, the first to leave one of the six slipways at the harbour. Between 1772 and 1879, when the yard closed, altogether 353 timber ships were built and launched, often at the rate of four or five a year for several consecutive years. Many of these vessels were involved in the growing overseas trade, exporting cargoes of rope, sail, nets, butter and cheese, while importing mainly coal timber, hemp and flax.

As in many other English towns there grew up a thriving coterie of clock and watch maker-repairers in Bridport from around 1700. Daniel Freake, John Bishop, J Dashwood, W Brown and Adam Cleak were the craftsmen in the forefront of the local horology business. Cleak, for instance, came from a family of Exeter clockmakers and set up shop in West Street. It is interesting that through his sister’s marriage Adam Cleak had a nephew, John Summerhayes Jr, who emigrated to New York and himself established a clock-making business there in about 1820. It should therefore be pointed out that anyone with this or a similar name living in New York State today may be able to claim Dorset ancestry through this single migrant to the New World.

In 1906, discussions on the planning for secondary schools in Bridport took place. The town experienced a drought from July to October in 1911, during which time a Regatta was held at West Bay. Then in the spring of 1913 a Town Council proposition to provide a Municipal Market for livestock caused much opposition. Bridport had at this time about eleven hundred burgesses, who were to be replaced by the Representation of the People Act of 1918.

In its own way Bridport, like every town and village in the land, had to endure the devastating years of the two World Wars. The invasion of Belgium in August 1914 led that November to the arrival of about 40 warmly welcomed refugees in Bridport. During this conflict the town’s industry went into hyper-drive to produce huge volumes of supplies. Between the wars however, there were as elsewhere, definite signs of a recession. A report headed ‘Ropes, Nets and Halters’ made it clear that this industry was showing every sign of decline and contraction.

Bridport marked the 700th anniversary of the first charter in 1953. By this time the harbour was declared to be no longer a profitable operation. Until the early ‘60’s the population of the town was in decline in response to economic circumstances. By 1963 it had declined to 6,530. The old custom of beating the boundaries was re-instated in September 1968.