From dinosaurs roaming the coast to the start of the Black Death, Mad King George creating the seaside holiday to Allied Forces setting sail on D Day; Weymouth and the coastline seen from Jurassic Skyline° has played a key part in shaping England’s history.
The Jurassic Coast is a 95 mile stretch of outstandingly beautiful coastline from Exmouth in East Devon, to Studland in Dorset. It was made a Natural World Heritage Site in December 2001 by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) because of its rocks, fossils and landforms. The rocks in the cliffs let us take a walk through time. They are a near complete record of 185 million years of the Earth’s History, covering the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods of geological time; also known as the age of the Dinosaurs. The oldest are in the West and the youngest are in the East. The different rock types along the coast create amazing landforms like Durdle Door and Chesil Bank, each one beautiful and unique.
It was in June 1348 that a ship bearing a Plague-stricken passenger from Gascony docked in the town. Taken to one of the nearby cottages on the harbour side the man soon died, and before long, every resident along the street in the neighbouring cottages succumbed to the same fate. Named Hell Lane the street was renamed in the nineteenth century to become Helen Lane and can be found located one street back from the harbour side behind the harbourmasters office
King George II first made the decision in 1789 to visit Weymouth for his health. It was a sleepy port and fishing village, nothing much of note had taken place since the Black Death had arrived there in the Middle Ages. Then overnight, and for several months a year, it became the epicentre of polite and political society
A king can't just turn up with his bucket and spade, though; overnight, camps sprung up for whole regiments of soldiers on the surrounding hills, while naval squadrons tacked to and fro in the bay. The king was still central to government, which meant the constant arrival and departure of his chief ministers. Then there were 'the Quality' who flocked around George, bringing with them endless court scandal and social intrigue. Culture in the town was also transformed. The playhouse presented the latest West End plays and opera, while glittering balls took place in the Assembley rooms. Prices of course rocketed and the town filled to bursting point, not just with hangers-on but with county folk who tramped the dusty roads into the town hoping for a glimpse of their monarch. For his visits the king purchased Gloucester Lodge based on the seafront.
The health benefits of seawater bathing extolled from the 1840's, created a fashion throughout in seaside towns throughout the country. Modesty was paramount and ' bathing machines' soon appeared up along the coast. These wheeled cabins would be wheeled out into the sea when an awning would be lowered to further shield the bather from view. Bathers of both sexes were required to wear all enveloping costumes for the sake of modesty. There was even a special breed of burly men and women named 'Dippers' and 'Bathers would then be employed to escort the bather into and out of the sea.
Another lasting legacy of King George’s visits is the Osmington White Horse. A hill figure sculpted in 1808 into the limestone of Osmington Hill just north of Weymouth called the South Dorset Downs. King George is pictured riding on his horse, and can be clearly seen for miles around. It is 280 feet (85 m) long and 323 feet (98 m) high in size. Local stories say that the King was supposedly so angered by the fact that the carved figure showed him pointing away from Weymouth that he never returned to the resort. The truth however is less dramatic and suggests that the King never actually saw the chalk figure since it was not cut until after his last visit to the town.
Weymouth was host to over half a million troops and nearly 150,000 vehicles that departed the town in less than a year towards the end of the War in Europe. This of course included a major participation in troops leaving to fight in ‘The Longest Day’, the D-day invasion of occupied Normandy. The US 1st Division (‘The Big Red One’) were to cram on to vessels in Weymouth and Portland harbours prior to setting sail for France and the assault of Omaha Beach. The infantry were loaded on to small landing craft in Weymouth and ushered out to the larger transporter ships lying at anchor in Weymouth Bay while Portland played host to the larger hardware; tanks, guns, trucks, amphibious vehicles and other equipment.
Mulberry harbour was an ingenious piece of engineering designed specifically with D-Day in mind. The floating breakwaters were sailed across the Channel so that the landing craft of the Normandy beaches could land more easily. There were two harbours taken across, the largest of which was used at Omaha, the destination of the troops departing Weymouth. Parts of Mulberry harbour can still be seen floating in Portland harbour to this day.
Forever affiliated with the Royal Navy, all of the armed forces are commemorated in the town with particular remembrance for D-day. Around its anniversary in June every year, the town holds a veterans’ festival. One of the highlights of the week-long celebration is the modern day re-enactment of a beach landing complete with amphibious vehicles, landing craft, soldiers, gunfire, smoke, fighting and tanks. It’s an absolute marvel to watch as within moments, the baddies are captured, the bridge is built, the infantry are across and the tank is driving over it.
A service at the cenotaph, directly opposite The Esplanade, is another way the town remembers those that have given their lives to give us what we have today.
The most profound influence on Weymouth and Portland in recent years was London 2012 Olympics. Chosen as the Sailing event venue investment into road improvements, seafront renovation and the creation of a new Sailing Academy all helped this stretch of the Jurassic Coast become even more popular with tourists.
During the London 2012 Olympics thousands of first time visitors came to Weymouth and Portland from around the globe to enjoy its many attractions, helped by hundreds of dedicated Ambassadors.
There was unparalleled global media coverage, with beautiful images of the borough being transmitted via television, web and print. This reached a crescendo on the opening day of the Olympic sailing with Weymouth all over the media and trending on Twitter.
100,000 people visited the Sports Arena on Weymouth beach. They enjoyed a range of free sports including sailing, kayaking, wheelchair basketball, cricket and volleyball. Dorset also enjoyed an unprecedented, diverse and vibrant collection of arts and cultural activities during the 2012 Games.
The sailing events for the 2012 Games took place in Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour with the Nothe hosting over 4000 visitors a day watching the sailing from close quarters. Thousands more found vantage points along the coast to view the action and cheer on Team GB.