Lyme in the 20th Century – Part III

Laying electric cables in Bridge Street, Lyme Regis, May 1909

THE early 1900s saw not only the coming of the railway but also the telephone, electricity and the first private cars.

In December 1908, the Lyme Regis and Charmouth telephone exchange opened.

The hand-cranked battery powered phones only attracted a handful of subscribers, the Alexandra Hotel being one with a call number of 10.

Electricity (The Lyme Regis Electric Light and Power Company) came in June 1909 when the town became the first in Dorset to adopt the new technology with what has been described as “a home-made electricity supply”.

The Malthouse adjacent to the Town Mill became the power station with an engine-powered generator, while Higher Mill had a water-driven turbine as a secondary source.

As with the telephone, take up was low and mainly to commercial premises and affluent residents, although there were 90 street lights with some on Marine Parade.

Gas (The Lyme Regis Gas and Range Company) still remained the principal source of lighting. A chain controlled the gas supply to the fragile gas-mantel lights.

Gas and the locally generated electricity gave little in the way of adequate lighting, compared with today homes were dimly lit and many did not even have a gas supply.

The most squalid dwellings were in Mill Green which had a reputation for being both the poorest and the roughest part of the town.

The Kelly’s Directory for 1910 lists commercial undertakings and the addresses of those designated private residents.

There were only 64 names on the somewhat exclusive list which included a high percentage of women who were either widows or spinsters.

Just two private residents are listed as living in Mill Green, one was a curate serving St Michael’s Church.

The commercial list gives an overview of the many shops and services available to the more wealthy residents and tourists.

The town’s working-class would have taken advantage of a produce market held twice weekly.

Apartment Houses appear in the list offering accommodation; it marks the beginning of what became known as bed and breakfast.

There were two banks both in Broad Street. Lloyds only being open two days a week, but open all week was The Wilts and Dorset Bank.

The more unusual listings include The Rational Sick and Burial Society, a cycle agent (bicycles were a new and novel form of transport), a cow-keeper and a female pork butcher.

The Wiscombe’s (a name familiar today) had three entries – coach builder, boot maker and tobacconist.

Also listed was Frederick Shephard, a photographer in Church Street who had a thriving trade in picture postcards that had been available since 1894.

In January 1902 the Post Office allowed divided-back postcards, so for the first time it was possible to write a message alongside the address.

This led to picture postcards becoming somewhat of a national craze. It was a time when very few people could afford or operate a cumbersome plate-camera.

While there was a rail link from Axminster there was none from the GWR station at Bridport.

However, Robert Warren operated a three-horse Omnibus service (until 1922) which left the Three Cups Hotel in the morning and returned late afternoon.

The route took the coach along the Old Charmouth Road (The Spittles and Timber Hill is all that remains) which entailed having to negotiate the wind swept and accident prone Devils Bellows.

In 1911 a coach returning from Bridport during the winter was caught in a blizzard and the journey took five hours.

Passengers on the exposed outside seats must have been in a sorry state when they reached Lyme. To be continued…

Peter Lacey
Local author and historian

Woodmead Halls

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


eleven − ten =