« AnteriorContinuar »
the two towns. Weymouth is a place of great antiquity, and is said to have been known to the Romans under the appellation of Clavinio. It is incidentally mentioned in the writers of later periods, and in the reign of Edward III it appears to have been a seaport of some importance, as it furnished that prince with 20 ships and 264 men for the siege of Calais. In 1588 six ships were sent from hence to oppose
the Spanish Armada. During the Civil War, Weymouth was taken alternately by Charles and the Parliament, and sustained considerable damage during the contest. It had also lost the greater part of its trade by the superior convenience of Poole, and had become little more than an insignificant fishing-town, when, about 1763, it was discovered to be excellently adapted for sea-bathing, then becoming fashionable, and the Duke of Gloucester, brother of George III, having visited it, and derived benefit from its salubrious air, purchased a house here, and established its reputation at once. It was now resorted to by persons of the highest rank, and in 1789 their Majesties, and a part of their family, visited it, and became so much attached to the place, that the visit was repeated in many succeeding years.
No means were omitted by the inhabitants of the town to improve the good fortune which had befallen them : in 1772 very fine Assembly Rooms, a Hotel, and other buildings were erected; the Esplanade, a beautiful and extensive terrace, half a mile in length, affording one of the most charming promenades imaginable, was subsequently formed; it is ornamented with a statue of George III, and has a fine gradual descent to the Sands at each end, with flights of steps in the centre; several ranges of handsome houses, either let as private residences, or fitted up with every accommodation as lodging-houses, have been erected; a very elegant and well-conducted Theatre, several Libraries, and Public Rooms, add to the attractions of the place; while the beautiful Bay, on which the town is situated, making a semicircular sweep of nearly two miles, and sheltered from every wind by the surrounding hills, admits of the salutary exercise of bathing at almost all seasons; and the sands are perfectly firm and smooth. With all these recominendations, backed by the patronage of royalty, it cannot be deemed surprising that Weymouth should have attained a high degree of fashionable celebrity; and although its distance from the metropolis (128 miles) must diminish the number of its visitants, it has the effect of improving their quality.
The public buildings of Weymouth, beside the fashionable erections just noticed, are, the Church, a plain, low edifice, which has recently been adapted to the increased population by an addition of 800 seats; the altar is ornamented with a fine painting of the Last Supper, by Sir James Thornhill, who presented it to his townsmen, after having refused £700 for its purchase ; two Meeting-houses for Quakers and Independents; a small Town Hall ; several Forts, one of which mounts 21 pieces of cannon; and extensive Barracks for cavalry.
Both Weymouth and Melcombe Regis returned Members to Parliament as far back as the reign of Edward II ; in the succeeding reign the latter town was burnt by the French, but it appears to have recovered its prosperity in the following century, when the inhabitants had many privileges bestowed upon them by Edward IV; some of the immunities granted, then and at other periods, excited the jealousy of the people of Weymouth, and the inhabitants disputed so fiercely, and “ so wearied the Lords of the Council, by their contentious importunities," that, on the suggestion of Sir W. Cecil, an Act of Parliament was passed in 1571, by which they were incorporated as the united Town and Borough of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis;" were to be jointly governed by a Mayor, Recorder, Aldermen, Burgesses, and other officers; but were still to enjoy the privilege of returning four Parliamentary Representatives, who are elected by the freeholders of the two towns, about 200 in number. The joint population, according to the latest census, was 6622 persons.
Sir James Thornhill, the celebrated painter, was born at Melcombe Regis in 1675; he was originally a house painter, but afterwards applied himself to historical subjects with diligence and success. He was employed in decorating the cupola of St. Paul's Cathedral, the Hall of Greenwich Hospital, that of Blenheim House, and in other public works; and his performances have obtained the praise of the most judicious critics: the “ Committee of Taste," however, of his time, appear to have had a very odd notion of rewarding genius; and they accordingly paid Thornhill by the square yard for his paintings; the price was 40s. per yard for the dome of St. Paul's, and a less sum for the walls of the other buildings. In 1720 he was knighted by George I, and having acquired a competent fortune by his labours, fixed his residence at a seat, since called Thornhill House, near his native town, where he died in 1734, in the 60th year
of his age*.
WIMBORNE MINSTER is beautifully situated on the river Allen, near its confluence with the Stour, 100 miles from London. It was known to the Romans under the title of Vindogladia, in allusion to its situation near the river, and its Saxon name of Wimbourne is derived from the same circumstance, Minster being added from its being distinguished by a fine church. Under the Saxon dynasty it was of considerable importance; and a Nunnery, founded here about 715, by St. Cuthburga, sister of Ina, King of Wessex, was one of the earliest and most celebrated in the kingdom. Its existence, however, was not of long duration ; it was destroyed by the Danes, and in the reign of Edward the Confessor, a College of secular Canons was established in its stead, which continued until the general Dissolution, when a great part of its possessions was granted to Seymour, Duke of Somerset ; Queen Elizabeth subsequently appropriated the remainiug portion to the foundation of the Grammar School; but Charles I, under the advice of Laud, resumed the lands, and re-granted them for the support of a choral establishment, consisting of three priests, three clerks, six choristers, and an organist, which establishment is still continued.
The Church, a venerable structure, 180 feet in length, is built in the form of a cross, and has two square towers, one at the west end, and the other, which was anciently finished by a lofty spire, at the intersection of the cross aisles. The exterior of the building presents a mixture of the Saxon and early English architecture, which is particularly observable in the central tower. The interior is divided into a nave, choir, side and cross aisles: the roof of the nave is supported by six massive pillars on each side, and the choir by eight; in this part of the Church are eight stalls, with carved oaken canopies, on each side; the ascent to the choir is by two flights of six steps each; the altar is handsomely decorated with piches, &c., and an excellent organ is placed over the entrance.
* He is said to have been of an avaricious disposition, and this is in some measure confirmed by his conduct on the marriage of his only daughter to the celebrated Hogarth; he was so much offended at the match, that he refused to see the young couple, or to afford the slightest assistance towards their establishment in life, and when a friend, hoping to interest him in behalf of his son-in-law, showed him one of Hogarth's matchless productions, he coolly evaded the claim, by observing, “ The man who can paint so well, does not need a portion with my daughter!”
Many distinguished personages were interred within the walls of this edifice; but most of the monuments by which they were commemorated, have decayed by the lapse of time, or have been destroyed by the hand of fanaticism. The most remarkable of those which still remain is that of King Ethelred, on the north of the altar; this prince was slain in battle with the Danes in 872; the brass plate on his tomb represents him crowned, and from its miserable execution might be supposed to have been placed there very shortly after his death; from Leland's account, however, it appears to have been “ there layid” but a short time before he wrote, early in the sixteenth century. Nearly opposite to this monument is a handsome tomb, on which lie the effigies of the Duke and Duchess of Somerset, ancestors of Henry VII; another tomb, near this, commeniorates Gertrude, wife of the Marquis of Exeter, who was the grandson of Edward IV, and after having long enjoyed the favour of his cousin, Henry VIII, was at length put to death on the scaffold by that blood-thirsty tyrant. Several other monuments remain in various parts of the church, but almost all have been more or less mutilated.
No fewer than ten altars, composed of alabaster, and richly decorated, existed here previously to the Reformation; and in addition to a long list of gold, silver, and jewels, it appears that upwards of fifty inestimable relics of Saints, Martyrs, Virgins, and Apostles, enriched the treasury*.
* The mention of a few of these will enable the reader to form a judge ment of the value of the whole collection : here were, a piece of the real cross, a part of the manger in which Our Lord was laid, a fragment of bis garment, one of the thorns which composed his crown, the thigh-bone of Št. Agatha, some of the blood of St. Thomas à Becket, &c. &c.
Here are three Meeting-houses, for Presbyterians, Anabaptists, and Methodists; an extensive Poorhouse, a School, and two Hospitals, or Almshouses, of ancient foundation, but slenderly endowed. The population, in 1821, was 3563 persons, some of whom are employed in a small woollen manufacture, and the women in knitting hosiery. This town has no corporation, but is governed by two Bailiffs : the market-day is Friday.
Matthew Prior, the poet, is said to have been born here, about 1664, while other accounts state him to be a native of London, or of Winburn, in Middlesex. This uncertainty is the effect of his having entered himself in the books of St. John's College, Cambridge, where he was educated, at one period “of Dorsetsbire," and at another " of Middlesex;" and he is said to have done so, with the view of hiding the meanness of his origin. He was early distinguished by his poetical abilities, and the "City Mouse and Country Mouse," written by him, in conjunction with Charles Montagu, afterwards Earl of Halifax, in ridicule of Dryden's "Hind and Panther," introduced both its authors to the notice of the Ministry. In 1691 Prior was sent as secretary to the British Ambassador to the Hague, and conducted bimself with so much address, as to gain the favour of William III, who gave him an appointment about his person. In 1697 he was appointed secretary to the Embassy which concluded the peace of Ryswick, and the next year was sent to Paris in the same capacity. In all these posts his services gave great satisfaction to his employers, and were rewarded by considerable sums of money, and the appointment to various offices. In 1701 he was brought into Parliament, and distinguished himself, uot very creditably, by voting for the impeachment of Lord Somers and other peers, charged with advising the King to a treaty in which he had himself been engaged as an agent.
From this period to 1711, he produced several poems, which are so well known as not to need particular mention: in that year he was employed pri