LYME Regis welcomed a visiting party from Virginia last week, as they toured towns and cities in the UK connected with the birth of America.
The trip was arranged by Preservation Virginia, which manages a number of historical sites across the state, including Historic Jamestowne – the site of the first permanent British settlement in North America.
Lyme Regis was included on the visitors’ itinerary because of its historic connections to Jamestown, forged thanks to former mayor Admiral Sir George Somers.
Somers, who was also a Member of Parliament for Lyme Regis, was appointed Admiral of the Virginia Company’s Third Supply in 1609, and was to lead a fleet of ships to relieve the settlers of the new English colony of Jamestown.
However, during the voyage, his flagship Sea Venture was caught in a terrible storm and, after three days, Somers was forced to steer it onto the reefs that surrounded Bermuda to save all 150 crew and passengers.
He claimed the islands of Bermuda in the name of James I and remained there for 10 months while his company built two new ships, Patience and Deliverance, from the wreckage and the plentiful Bermudian cedar wood.
Eventually they continued their journey to Jamestown, but on arrival found the population almost decimated by starvation and disease. They decided to abandon the settlement, but on their way back down the James River they met another relief fleet, commanded by Lord Delaware, and decided to stay after all.
Somers did, however, return to Bermuda to collect more supplies but shortly afterwards died on the islands. His heart was buried in Bermuda in what is now known as Somers Gardens in the town of St George’s, and his body was returned to the Cobb in Lyme Regis, for burial at Whitchurch Canonicorum, near Charmouth, where he had lived in Berne Manor.
In 1996 Lyme Regis and St George’s, Bermuda, were officially twinned to recognise the historical connections between the two towns, and in 2015 Lyme was ‘tripled’ with Jamestown, creating what is known locally as the Historic Atlantic Triangle.
Relationships across the Atlantic ‘increasingly important’
During last week’s visit, the party from Virginia were welcomed to the Guildhall by the Mayor of Lyme Regis, Councillor Brian Larcombe MBE, for a civic reception.
Councillor Larcombe spoke about how the need for maintained relationships across the Atlantic was increasingly important, as “the natural and trading environment changes and innovation sees the world become a smaller place as the pace and reach of change becomes greater”.
He added: “All the more important, therefore, that relationships are maintained at every level and the tripling of St George’s, Jamestown and Lyme, in its own way, plays its relatively small but valued part in recognising the historic heritage and mutual benefit of the links that are common to us.”
John Dover, chairman of the Lyme Regis/St George’s Twinning Association, then gave a brief outline of the historic connections between Lyme and Jamestown.
The party then visited Lyme Regis Museum, where a portrait of Sir George Somers was unveiled by Mr Dover and the High Sheriff of Hereford, James Hervey-Bathurst, who has family connections to Somers and has loaned the painting to the museum from his own personal collection.
The Virginians then met David Tucker, director of the museum, who spoke about other points of interest in Lyme’s history, including famous fossil hunter Mary Anning and her geological discoveries.
The guests enjoyed lunch at the Alexandra Hotel and visited the statue of Sir George Somers in Langmoor Gardens before going to the Church of St Candida and Holy Cross in Whitchurch Canonicorum, where Somers is buried.
Churchwarden Hilary Joyce gave a talk on the history and significance of the church and Dr Bill Kelso, who has led the archaeological work at the Historic Jamestowne site and was travelling with the party from Virginia, spoke about the shrine of St Wite (St Candida) and the possible links to the reliquary recently found in Jamestown.
The party then visited the ancient and sacred St Wite’s Well, near Morcombelake, before returning to their hotel in Hampshire.