Friday, May 6, 2011

Weymouth -- Princess Charlotte's Refuge

1814 was a difficult year for Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Prince Regent, heir to the throne of Great Britain. She had agreed, unwillingly, to wed the Prince of Orange; she had fallen in love with an unsuitable Prussian prince; her mother Caroline, Princess of Wales, was leaving the country--and her--for life on the continent; and her father had her virtually imprisoned in Cranbourne Lodge at Windsor.

But in August, things improved--she was permitted to go to the seaside, which doctors had recommended for her health. She wanted to visit Brighton, but her father chose Weymouth, long a royal seaside favourite and a goodly distance from his summer home.

The Duke of Gloucester had first wintered there in 1780 and had built a fine house, Gloucester Lodge. George III visited, and bought the house from his brother in 1789 and spent the following fourteen summers in Weymouth. The Lodge became the royal home-from-home for various of the Princesses, and it was there that Princess Charlotte arrived in August, and she stayed until December!

In his 1840's book The Spas of England, author A. B. Granville, declared that the town's situation--facing east--was a great detractor, and that it really was not suitable for patients being subject to east winds. He does however admit that the Esplanade is "one of the finest marine promenades I have seen in England". The Esplanade was about a mile long and it faced the fine sand beach which stretched for two miles in an arc.

John Constable painted the bay in 1816.

But it was the town that interested Princess Charlotte and, starved of company as she was, the people visiting there. Gloucester Lodge was situated on the Esplanade in the midst of the Georgian terraces and residences which still line it.

In 1815, A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places was published, and it devoted some ten pages to the delights of Weymouth:
" rapid enlargements, and many elegant buildings, it has now become a very respectable place, with a population of 4000 souls. The most fashionable residences are, the Royal Terrace, Gloucester-row, Chesterfield-place, etc., etc. These being in the vicinity of the rooms, the libraries, and the theatre, and commanding extensive views, both by sea and land, are held in general estimation by strangers as well as natives."
Sea-bathing was recommended--"immersion in the briny flood is safe and delightful". There were some forty bathing-machines "in constant requisition from six in the morning till noon". In addition there was a hot salt-water bath in the centre of town for use "in many cases of human infirmity" at the cost of 3s.6d per session.

There was one theatre which held upwards of four hundred spectators: "The house is elegantly fitted up, and the performers are frequently of the first order of merit." The public rooms were in Gloucester-row, owned by a Mr. Russel:
"The Assembly-room is lofty, light, and spacious, and very handsomely decorated, as well as delightfully situated. The master of the cermonies is Mr. Rodber..."

Among the regulations which Mr. Rodber instituted were:

1. That Gentlemen are not to appear in the rooms, either on Tuesday or Friday evenings, in boots; nor Ladies in riding-habits.

II. That the ball shall begin as soon as possible after seven o-clock, and finish precisely at eleven.

IV. That no Lady or Gentleman can be permitted to dance in coloured gloves.

V. That no tea-table be carried into the card-room.

VII. That Gentlemen will be pleased to leave their swords at the door.

The terms of subscription were not cheap--one pound for a single transferable ticket.

Wood's Library and Hervey's Library served the public; one had a card room in addition to its reading material, the other rented musical instruments as well as books. Hervey's Library additionally hosted the post-office with daily delivery to and from London. The Church of St. Mary is deemed, by the author of the guide, inadequate to its congregation and without interest to antiquarians but is considered to have a good organ "erected here in 1806, by voluntary subscription" and is much praised for its singing and music.

The town was well stocked with hotels, lodging houses and boarding houses, though "the price, though in some measure regulated by the number of rooms, is high." At the boarding houses--Scriven's on the Esplanade and Clark's in St. Mary-street--the terms are three guineas per week. Some inns and taverns are rated as 'good houses': the King's Head Inn, the Crown Inn, and the Golden Lion.

Princess Charlotte, accustomed to solitude and inactivity, must have been overwhelmed by the delights on offer. If one cared to walk, there was always the Esplanade, but also the nearby town of Melcombe Regis, connected by a bridge to Weymouth: "from thence along the Quay to the end of the New Pier, is an amusing saunter, replete with variety." There was a Camera Obscura near the Look-out on the bay, and the ruins of Sandsfoot Castle not so far away.

And then there were the 'Aquatic Excursions':
"Sailing and fishing in the bay is a frequent and pleasant amusement at Weymouth, and for this every facility is furnished by the industrious and obliging boatmen of the place."

Portland, with its seven villages, castle ruins, cavern, light-house and quarries was additionally a site of interest for visitors to Weymouth:
"about four miles from Weymouth, is commonly called an island, but is, properly speaking, a peninsula, as it joins the main land by an isthmus composed of a ridge of pebbles."

Princess Charlotte must have seen it all--she was in the vicinity for five months, and it was probably the most carefree period of her life. She had the intention to return for the people loved her; she was regarded as the queen who would redeem the monarchy. There were illuminations on her arrival in the town displaying, in the center, the motto:
Hail Princess Charlotte,
Europe's Hope and Britain's Glory

How could one not enjoy oneself with an adoring public, a host of entertainments--and an unprecedented degree of freedom to enjoy them? The following summer she was betrothed to the Prince of Saxe-Coburg, in 1816 she was wed, and in November of 1817, she died. I hope she made the most of her months in Weymouth--she deserved all the enjoyment it could offer.

'Til next time,



Kristine Hughes and Victoria Hinshaw said...

No dancing in coloured gloves! This is a fabulous post, with lots of hard to find bits of info. Thank you so much for doing the research and for sharing it with us.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

You are most welcome! I'm delighted to have you visit. Aren't the Assembly ball rules delicious? I love the one above leaving swords at the door. It's always a joy to do research, and to share it! Do come again...