Elizabethan Lyme Regis, Part III

An example of a Tudor merchant’s house

THIS third and final part of my series will feature buildings and places that Elizabethans would have been familiar with.

The thriving Butter Market stood at the lower end of today’s Church Street on the site now occupied by the Guildhall and the museum – it was then known as Cockmoil Square.

Close by there was a merchant’s house described as “a fair house in Lime and having a goodly tower”; the tower may have been constructed so that the merchant could keep watch on his ships leaving or returning from foreign parts.

On the seaward side of the square was Gun Cliff, so called because a cannon mounted there could defend the Cobb and the bay.

There are several references to the Dark House, which made up part of the square; it was in fact the town’s dungeon where those who broke the law were confined in a dark, damp and most likely rat-infested cell and fed only on bread and water.

Cockmoil was a provincialism for a jail; ‘cock’ was used to describe something small, ‘moil’ being an Elizabethan adage for drudgery.

Pound Street takes its name from the animal pound that was situated at the top end of today’s Broad Street, close by the bull ring where bulls and bears were baited by savage dogs, a popular blood sport of the times.

Also in the vicinity was the town’s bowling green and a nearby tavern for players to refresh themselves.

In 1569 The Court of Husting’s recorded “there is too much bowling and to little shooting”. Able bodied men aged 17-60 were required by law to keep a bow and four arrows and required to practice at the Archery Butts in Mill Green.

It seems that Elizabethan men much preferred bowling, so fines of one shilling were imposed for being ‘common bowlers’. The records state that “there be divers merchants and other honest men who doth bowl too much, unlawful games are used and no bows exercised”.

Strangely there was also a problem with “people using the butts on the Sabbath contrary to statue” – archery practice being more entertaining than church.

The town’s water supply, known as ‘pot water’, came from two natural springs. The west supply came from Saint Andrew’s well (originally the site of a chapel/shrine), which stood at the top of Silver Street, the name being linked to the Roman occupation and its Latin name via ad Silvestris, ‘the wooded way’, or ‘the way to the woods’.

The easterly source was from a spring located close to the Charmouth trackway. In 1550 the town accounts show an expenditure of just over £40 for building channels in West Street ‘for getting in the water.

This ends the three-part series on Elizabethan Lyme Regis, it also is the last of my ‘Tales, From Lyme’s Past’ blog. In all there have been 20 in the series and I hope readers have enjoyed delving into our town’s unique and fascinating history.

For the past four years I have been researching and writing an historical novel which I hope to see published in 2021. It is set in Lyme, Bermuda and Virginia during the 16th and 17th centuries and is based on the life of a Lyme orphan.

If you have enjoyed my articles, maybe you will be tempted to purchase a copy.

Peter Lacey
Local author and historian 

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