Lyme in the 20th Century, Part V

‘The Master Smith of Lyme Regis’, by Whistler

IN the early 1900s the town was governed under the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835. The Corporation (as it was known) was less democratic and more powerful than a modern town council.

It met once a month in the Guildhall, its male-only members were mainly tradesmen and consisted of 12 councillors and four alderman, the latter being co-opted and next in status to the mayor, a role which one of them frequently held.

Kelly’s Dorset Directory (1915) lists Alban Woodroffe as mayor. A wealthy man whose residence was the imposing Georgian Rhode Hill House in Uplyme, his luxury steam yacht the Sheila needed some 32 meters of the Cobb’s north wall as a mooring.

The town and port were managed by a combination of Corporation and public officers. The Corporation was also responsible for the Borough Petty Sessions which were held every Wednesday in the Guildhall. The mayor chaired the sessions assisted by three borough magistrates.

The police station was in Coombe Street and had a sergeant-in-charge of three constables when the town’s population was some 2,750.

A Court of Hustings met monthly to administer harbour business while a Cobb warden was responsible for collecting harbour fees. The Cobb is listed in the directory as a ‘hamlet’ and it was there that the coastguard had its station.

The row of coastguard terraced cottages near the bottom of Cobb Road and the watch-house (now a fish shop) can be seen today. The coastguard presence attracted much interest from visitors with the men in naval uniform going about their duties.

The lifeboat station was adjacent to the Cobb, today a public toilet. In April 1915 The Thomas Masterman Hardy (named after the captain of Nelson’s flagship at the battle of Trafalgar) replaced The Susan Ashley, a lifeboat that had served Lyme for 24 years.

In those days the lifeboat crew consisted of a coxswain, 2nd coxswain, a bowman and the 10 oarsmen who rowed double-banked in five rows. Weather permitting they could hoist one or both of their two sails, if not the crew had to rely on muscle power for the several hours a rescue could take.

Lyme was moving with the times; there was a dentist in Broad Street and a ‘cinematograph theatre’ showing silent films in the Assembly Rooms at Cobb Gate.

However, Broad Street with its many shops retained a link to the past in Samuel Govier. The town’s master-blacksmith had what was described as “an ancient forge that had been in the family for 300 years”. It was close to what is now Tesco Express.

Govier was the subject (1895) of a fine portrait by Whistler, ‘The Master Smith of Lyme Regis’ which is now in The Boston (USA) Museum of Fine Arts.

Other links to times past was the curfew bell rung at eight o’clock each evening. The town also retained, as it has to this day, the post of town crier along with two sergents-at-mace.

An important event took place in June 1913 when the mayor opened Langmoor Gardens above Marine Parade. The town had been able to purchase the land thanks to a bequest from James Moly of Langmoor, Charmouth.

It would be hard to imagine the seafront without such an outstanding feature as the gardens that have long been enjoyed by residents and visitors.

The summer of 1914 saw the outbreak of what was then termed the Great War and the war to end all wars. The four years that followed was a time of hardship and sadness at the loss of so many men who died during the conflict.

To be continued…

Peter Lacey
Local author and historian

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