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Lulworth – West

Thomas Weld and The Yeomanry

The Yeomanry was formed in 1794. One of the first landowners to raise a troop was Thomas Weld of Lulworth and he became a Captain in the Dorset Yeomanry, as did other troop leaders. Later in 1794 King George III was asked to grant Commissions to all the troop leaders, but in the case of Thomas Weld he was unable to do so as he was a Roman Catholic. The Government had ordered that no Roman Catholic was to be allowed in the Yeomanry, so Thomas Weld had to resign.

The Weld’s were suspected of harbouring French refugees in the cellars of Lulworth Castle and Major James Frampton was ordered to check. Frampton was a friend of the Welds and when he arrived at the castle with his troop he was welcomed most cordially by the butler. “We have come to search the cellars, John; what have you got down there?” The butler replied “only beer, why not come in and try it?”and with that the whole troop dismounted and accepted the butlers invitation.

Major Frampton’s report made no mention of the beer and simply stated “I have visited the Cellars at Lulworth Castle. I found no French refugees there.”

Lulworth Castle

Essentially a Jacobean building, it was built in 1608-10 as a hunting lodge for Thomas Howard, the third Lord Bindon. It became the family seat of the prominent Catholic Weld family when Humphrey Weld purchased it from Lord Bindon in 1641. After the disastrous fire of 1929 which gutted the castle, it lay derelict for many years, until it was restored by English Heritage in 1998. The park and its estate continues in the hands of the Weld family today, but English Heritage now care for the castle. Grade I Listed. Photo by Mike Searle. Please click on the photo for more information about Mike Searle.

Essentially a Jacobean building, it was built in 1608-10 as a hunting lodge for Thomas Howard, the third Lord Bindon. It became the family seat of the prominent Catholic Weld family when Humphrey Weld purchased it from Lord Bindon in 1641. After the disastrous fire of 1929 which gutted the castle, it lay derelict for many years, until it was restored by English Heritage in 1998. The park and its estate continues in the hands of the Weld family today, but English Heritage now care for the castle. Grade I Listed. Photo by Mike Searle. Please click on the photo for more information about Mike Searle.

Thomas Weld – A Cardinal at Lulworth and Rome

Visitors to Dorset’s historic Lulworth Castle should look out for one painting in particular hanging on a wall. The work of Cornelius Jansen, the picture is especially significant, for it is a portrait of the man who saw the building of the castle to its completion: the second Sir Humphrey Weld, Governor of Portland. Two generations later Lulworth was in the possession of Humphrey’s grandson, Thomas Weld the elder, who in 1786 was responsible for the first freestanding post-Reformation Catholic chapel to be built in England, within the grounds of the castle. However, it was his son, also called Thomas, who was to leave his own outstanding mark upon the estate – and upon the Catholic cause. This Thomas is the subject of this summary biography.

Something should be mentioned at this point of the condition of church and state in the realm at the time. The England of the 18th century, into which the younger Thomas was born, had not long begun to emerge from a Protestant supremacy in which Catholics could not hold or inherit property, vote at elections, or take an oath of Allegiance to the Crown. The Test Acts, which enforced these privations upon dissenters, were repealed by an Act in 1729, and in 1791 the Catholic Relief Act was passed, though it would be another 38 years before full emancipation was achieved. The Welds appear to have been an influential part of 17th and 18th century aristocracy with family or property associations in other counties, particularly Berkshire and Staffordshire, before acquiring their entail in Dorset.

The younger Thomas Weld was born in January 1773, not in Dorset but London, where his parents were staying, apparently for the occasion of the birth. His paternal grandparents were Sir Edward Weld and Mary Theresia Vaughan, while his mother was Mary Massey, a daughter of the Massey-Stanley family of Hooton Hall at Puddington, Cheshire. Young Thomas was one of six children but as he was the eldest son the estate would revert to him upon his father’s death.

When Thomas was only three years old in 1776 his father inherited the Lulworth estate upon the death of his elder brother Edward, eventually taking up his residence at the castle in July of that year. Within two weeks Thomas senior had employed contractors to transform the castle into a grand 18th century country house.

Together with his younger brothers Thomas was educated by a Jesuit tutor employed at Lulworth. However, he would remain at home for longer than either his father or uncle, but is thought likely to have rounded off his education studying for a year at the Jesuit Academy in Liege. But France was then convulsed by the Revolution, and so because of the danger Thomas was not able to travel freely around Europe.

When Thomas came of age at 21 his proud father was prompted to write, in a letter to Bishop Walmsley, that his heir”…was all that one could wish for in a son…”. Generous, creative, and kind, Thomas developed keen interests in art and music, learning the cello, French horn and flageolet and filling sketchbooks with pencil drawings of scenes from life and nature. Indeed, in one early portrait he is portrayed with sketchbook and pencil in hand.

That same year, 1794, a company of Trappist monks, having already fled the French Revolution were invited to Lulworth and resettled in a small house near the castle. Them move was part of an ambitious plan by the elder Thomas Weld to build a small cob-walled monastery on the estate for the monks, though this was intended to be just an interim measure towards a plan to restore and re-consecrate the ‘dissolved’ Cistercian Abbey at nearby Bindon. The Order was originally designated the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, though for a reason not clear this was later altered to St. Susan. This event, possibly more than any other, may have winged young Thomas’s faith. And determined that he should study for the priesthood.

But within the next two years, another development arose in Thomas’s life that would normally have been irreconcilable for one in hold orders. He had fallen in love with Lucy Clifford of Tixall and in 1796 they married. The time would come when Thomas’s infringement of the Church’s vow of celibacy would earn him the title “Cardinal of the Seven Sacraments,” though by the time he reached that exalted position he was a widower. For the next 14 years the Weld’s had a home – Westbrook House – at Upwey, where their daughter Mary Lucy was born in 1799. Here, Thomas and Lucy could pursue their interests of music and regular visits to London and Paris, though Thomas, in the company of Bishop Milner, also attended the consecration of the new cathedral in Cork in 1808.

In 1810 Thomas senior died from a stroke following a year of declining health. This event brought a greater burden of responsibility on his eldest son. Thomas the elder was a wealthy man who had left his affairs in good order, but his younger sons were not so financially responsible. Thomas found himself having to pay off his younger brother’s debts and provide a jointure for his mother. This came at a time when rising bread prices and depreciating land values due to the recession in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars affected the Weld fortune as it affected everyone else’s. The Welds moved to a more modest residence in the resort of Clifton, and Thomas closed Lulworth Castle for about three years. With his three younger brothers Thomas became a subscribing member of the Catholic Board in 1812.

But in the Waterloo year of 1815 Lucy Weld fell ill and died. To support her grief-stricken brother-in-law Lucy’s Sister Constatia Clifford took her place as a surrogate mother to care for Mary Lucy until she came of age or married. Thomas then came under pressure from the Church authorities to close the provisional monastery at Lulworth, and eventually the St. Susan’s monks were repatriated in 1817. Mary Lucy, Thomas’s daughter, married Hugh, son of the 6th Lord Clifford in 1818. Soon after Thomas sold the Clifton home, finally leaving to study for ordination under the Abbe Carron at a seminary in Paris.

From then on, Thomas Weld’s rise through the Catholic hierarchy was steady and sure. After three years he was bestowed with minor orders from the Archbishop of Chartres, being ordained Priest and returning to England in 1821. Back home his first appointments were at the Chelsea Chapel and as assistant Priest at St Mary’s in Cadogan Street. During this time Lulworth was being managed through his agent, Thomas Billet who sub-let the castle three times: to a Mr Baring in 1817, to Robert Peel in 1820 and the Duke of Gloucester in 1824.

In 1826 Thomas Weld was consecrated as Bishop of Lower Canada, although he remained based in London as Co-adjutor to Bishop MacDonell of Upper Canada. Two years later he signed over Lulworth Castle to his younger brother Joseph, who was noted for his standing in the yachting world. By this time, however, through his daughter the Bishop had six grandchildren.

The Duke of Wellington managed to pass the Catholic Emancipation Bill in 1829, and proposed that Thomas should be appointed Bishop of Waterford. But the Duke was over-ruled by the Vatican, which instead conferred upon him the first Cardinal’s Hat any Englishman had worn since the Reformation and summoned Bishop Weld to Rome, for which he departed with his family. Once there, Thomas was made Priest-Cardinal of San Marcello in 1830.

But in 1831 Hugh Clifford’s father and Mary Lucy died within a few weeks of each other. Hugh then succeeded to the title but returned to England only briefly before re-joining his father-in-law in Rome. The Cardinal had been much attached to his only child, as he would now be to his grandchildren, and is said to have taken one with him whenever he left Rome.

Little is known about Cardinal Weld’s affairs in Rome after 1831. He would have presided over commissions, and his great friend Cardinal Wiseman considered him a business-like chairman. Thomas made his will in 1828. The winter of 1837 was a severe one and led to the Cardinal contracting bronchitis, and after twenty years as a senior cleric in the Roman Church, he died.

There is however, a touching little addendum to this story. One of the Cardinal’s present living descendants, Sally, was clearing out an attic in the castle house in 2003, when she discovered a Harrods hatbox bearing a label reading: “Cardinal’s Robes.” The robes have been placed on display in St. Mary Chapel in the Castle grounds – the church the Cardinal’s father built.

The Dorset Coast – Durdle Door

Looking like a resting dinosaur is Durdle Door on Dorset's Jurassic Coast. Photo by Chris Downer. For more information abut the photographer click on the photo.

Looking like a resting dinosaur is Durdle Door on Dorset's Jurassic Coast. Photo by Chris Downer. For more information abut the photographer click on the photo.

Dorset – Smugglers Coast

The south coast of England in particular has had a long tradition of smuggling, especially where there are many coves or inlets ideal for concealing contraband. Devon and Cornwall are particularly well endowed in this regard, but Dorset has hardly been less important as a focus for the trade. The life of Isaac Gulliver, the ‘smuggler’s king’ of Dorset, has been covered in a biographic feature on the site, here I am considering the more general look at smuggling and what motivated people to become involved in its illegal operations.

Usually thought of as a male preserve, what may at first surprise many people is the extent to which women were also involved. Some of these would have been smugglers wives, though this is not invariably the case. Dorset, in the heyday of smuggling, was of course a very rural and sparsely populated county, with much agrarian poverty. The business of importing goods, usually liquor, from cross-channel boats under the cover of darkness in order to flout excise regulations was a lucrative sideline that impoverished families living within a few miles of the coast would find too great a temptation to overlook.

The register for Dorchester Gaol 1782-1853 lists the names and occupations of no fewer than 64 women convicted of various smuggling related offences. Twenty one of these (32%) were from Portland alone, while just six resided in Weymouth, five in Bridport, three in Bere Regis and two in Lyme Regis. The parishes of another nine are not recorded. Wool and Woolbridge, Preston, Pulham, Sutton Poyntz, Langton Matravers, Marnhull, Morecombelake, Beaminster, Bradpole, Broadwindsor, Buckland Ripers, Charmouth, Chetnole, Chickerell, Corfe, Dorchester and Kington Magna account for the remaining sixteen.

Three notable examples are Charlotte Drake of Bridport and Ann Maidment, a Bridport buttoner, who both assaulted and obstructed excise officers, and Mary Applin of Langton, who committed an excise offence. Martha Lumb of Weymouth was sentenced to three months hard labour in 1822 for smuggling, while Catherine Winter, a Weymouth seamstress, served an 18-day sentence in 1844 for smuggling at the age of 70!

But regardless of the sex of the offender, for the populace as a whole, smuggling was generally considered an honourable trade. The customs officers or the “King’s Men” were responsible for ensuring that contraband was impounded and fines levied. At Poole the problem of smuggling was so rampant and the customs men so understaffed and overworked that Dragoons had to be deployed to assist them as early as 1723. Typically the customs officers were brave and resourceful with a strict code of conduct; so that names were never banded about and nothing ever put in writing.

Poole was especially ideal for smuggling operations because of the exceptional size and highly indented nature of its harbour, the second largest natural harbour in the world. Goods were disembarked into inlet hideaways at Hamworthy and then transported by waggoners to Bristol via Blandford. Furthermore, goods could be offloaded on the south Purbeck coast and hauled overland to be temporarily laid up in the deep inlets such as those at Arne or the Goathorn Peninsula for later distribution to Poole markets without the smugglers having to risk detection by passing through the harbour mouth. Longfleet and Parkstone farmers constructed secret tunnels down to the water’s edge for bringing goods ashore.

After 1759 the volume of smuggled goods passing through Poole significantly increased, though raised vigilance on the part of the Preventatives gradually brought this down. The Commissioners of Customs based in London frequently requested reports on the amount of smuggling going on in the Poole area.

Although landings and disembarkation operations took place from Lyme Regis to Christchurch, the coast from Portland westwards to Lyme attracted special attention. This was because most of the coast is occupied by the Chesil Bank, a shingle spit enclosing a lagoon (the Fleet) which was a convenient storage-sink to hold casks (“tubs”) for collection at a more appropriate time. One memorable incident took place in 1762 when a Cornish vessel was broken up on the Chesil in a winter storm and its cargo washed into the sea. There then followed a desperate attempt by Weymouth citizens to salvage what tubs of liquor they could before the customs house officers could reach them! In the end the citizens claimed 26 tubs to the revenue’s 10; another ten were cast out to sea but recovered the next day.

Probably the greatest hideout and smugglers haunt along this coast was Lulworth Castle, the seat of the Weld family, but which had a connection with smuggling throughout the 18th century from 1719 onwards. In 1719 revenue officers from Weymouth raided the castle and the entire Lulworth area. It has been said that maids working at the castle would routinely warn smugglers when the customs men were in the vicinity by showing a light at a window to indicate when it was safe to come in, but also act as a bearing. The gangs at Lulworth could comprise as many as 100 disguised and heavily armed men, who used Mupe Rocks as the disembarkation point, but the deep ravines and inlets along the coast west of Kimmeridge were also ideal for concealing kegs. A gap in the cliffs at Worbarrow Bay was a special favourite and tubs were raised to the top of Gad Cliff, and brought ashore at Arish Mell and for storage at Tyneham Church.

On a knoll near the coast between West Bexington and Puncknowle there still stands an unusual monument. This is The Lookout, a square building constructed as a signal-station for the Fensibles, but which may also have been used by Isaac Gulliver, who used the Bexingtons, Swyre and Burton Bradstock as landing sites after 1776.

Lyme Regis has had an especially long smuggling history extending back at least as far as the 16th century, when certain merchants were suspected of smuggling bullion out of the country by sea. In 1576 a revenue man called Ralph Lane was sent to Lyme with a deputy bearing a warrant to search ships alleged to be involved in the operations. His arrival however, provoked a riot during which the warrant was seized and Lane’s deputy was thrown into the sea. From Lyme contraband was traditionally floated up the Buddle River, often under the noses of the Preventives, who were frequently understaffed and restrained by bureaucratic regulations. Booty offloaded onto the Cobb could not be inspected until it had been carried half a mile to the Cobb Gate. Lyme is believed to be the birthplace of Warren Lisle, a customs officer who at 17 was appointed Patent Searcher at Poole and who made his first seizure of a cargo from a small vessel in Portland Harbour in 1724.

Weymouth was central to excise operations for the sea, but the town’s revenue officials had a long and shameful history of ineptitude and corruption. Enter George Whelplay, who in the 16th century failed to make any headway in countering popular local support for smuggling. Originally a London haberdasher, Whelplay came to Dorset to try his fortune as a public informer, and as such could claim a fifty per cent commission on each fine he imposed upon those he caught, but in 1538 he incurred the wrath of smugglers and fellow customs officers alike when he exceeded his remit. Whelplay twice stumbled on a cargo of horses being illegally shipped to France, but instead of coming to his assistance in rounding up the French boats the officials joined a gang of merchants and attacked him.

Around 1830 smuggling reached a climax in the Weymouth area, where, it is said; tunnels were constructed from the harbour to merchant’s houses and even to the residence of King George III. The leading figure in smuggling to be connected with Weymouth was Pierre Latour, otherwise known as French Peter, who functioned as a prominent gang-leader in the town. In Wyke Regis churchyard there is a grave of one William Lewis, a smuggler shot dead by a revenue officer on board the schooner Pigmy.

In conclusion, anyone who has anything to do with Dorset will know of Thomas Hardy, the well-known novelist-poet. Less well known is that Hardy was an authority on smuggling – and not without good reason. His birthplace cottage at Highter Bockhampton was actually a capacious safehouse for smuggled contraband that could accommodate up to 80 casks of brandy. “But this isn’tall.” When a child, Hardy was regaled with smuggling stories from his grandfather and his own father had a manservant who was actually involved in the trade. The Bockhampton cottage lay on the smugglers route between Osmington Mills and their markets in Sherborne and Yeovil.

Did Napoleon Visit Lulworth Cove?

Early in the 19th century an invasion of England by Napoleon seemed a distinct and imminent possibility. Along the south east coast, Martello tower defences were constructed as a response to the threat, but although Bonaparte’s grand design fortunately never came to fruition, a legend does abound that the Emperor did not entirely leave John Bull’s hallowed domain untouched.

There is a tradition that during the period of the invasion scares; Napoleon was briefly sighted on the Dorset coast near Lulworth, though Charmouth and Weymouth have also been implicated as possible locations. In modern times the legend was revived again in the 1930’s, when West Lulworth Women’s Institute collaborated on a publication called ‘Dorset Up Along & Down Along.’ In it there is a testimonial related to a member of the branch by a woman who in her youth was a French-speaking farmer’s wife living near the coast, and who claimed to have seen Napoleon walk ashore near Lulworth, roll up a map he had been studying and overheard in conversation the man utter the word “impossible.”

The woman in question, it was later determined, was born in 1784, but because she lived to the age of 104, she was able to tell the Lulworth WI contributor her story. The story goes that at the time of the encounter the witness was assisting her father, a china merchant, in his business and it was through this involvement that the young woman had learnt French. The most likely year of the encounter would have been 1804 when Napoleon was overseeing the assembling of his invasion fleet at embarkation points along the eastern end of the Channel. This period is intensely documented, yet there are a few days when the Emperor’s movements are unknown.

Napoleon was then based at the Chateau of Pont-de-Briques near Boulogne, and so it was thought most likely that the Grand Armee’s objective would have been south east England. Also if the Emperor’s intended landfall was the Dorset coast, it might have been expected that the fleet would have sailed from the Cherbourg peninsula, as this is the point on the French coast facing Dorset.

Certainly the ebb out of Boulogne would have taken the fleet westwards, but then the flood tide along the English coast and the prevailing south-west winds would have tended to drive the fleet back up-Channel. Furthermore, sailing due west from Boulogne would set a fleet on a course for the Isle of Wight, just missing Eastbourne! There was therefore no hope of making landfall at Lulworth with embarkations from Boulogne and other coastal stages in the east. The sandy beaches of Poole Bay would have been easier, but the Grand Armee was no more in a position to beach there either. French intelligence was well acquainted with the defences and conditions of the Dorset coast, since Napoleon regularly dispatched corsairs and spies to capture English fishermen and peasants for interrogation!

But Dorset may have been considered much less risky than the south east coast, which was the target for the two thousand vessels and ten thousand men of Napoleon’s fleet. There is the possibility that a minor diversionary attack was planned for the Purbeck coast, designed to draw the eastern fleet westwards towards Dorset, so leaving the south east coast vulnerable. Indeed, Napoleon was keeping up pressure from Brest for this purpose – a strategy that was not without some success, for in June 1804 King George III told the Duke of York:

“I cannot deny I am rather hurt there is any objection made to forming so large an army of reserves in Dorset where, or in Cornwall, I think an attack more likely than in Essex, Kent or Sussex.”

And later, when approving Dorset’s invasion garrisons and precautions the King asked for more troops to bolster the defence of the county. Certainly the alarm bells were jangling in Dorset as much as elsewhere once the threat from Bonaparte was made manifest.

But the French-speaking farmer’s wife was adamant that Napoleon did go ashore at Lulworth that day in 1804, when she would have been 20 years old. For, like many literate people, she had seen caricatures and cartoons of the Emperor and identified him, she said, by his facial profile and by his cocked hat, though this headwear was by no means unique. Perhaps then, we can see the merchantman’s daughter as unwittingly stumbling upon Bonaparte probably making a brief visit to assess the coastal conditions in preparation for his invasion plans.