Lyme Regis in the 20th Century, Part IV

Aerial ropeway at Monmouth Beach

A FEW Edwardian visitors recorded their impressions of the town, their observations are of interest, albeit from the perspective of the more privileged classes.

One who travelled to Lyme from Bridport described the horse driven coach journey as being “unequalled with its great sweeps of rich country, deep woods, steep hills and valleys you drop into”.

Another writer found Lyme to be “old-fashioned and quaint, even to the custom of flinging slops out of the window without even a gardy-loo”.

The river is described as “picturesque, if it were not for the rubbish that the inhabitants throw into it”. One artist titled his drawing of the river as ‘The Sewer’.

The borough council did little to stop what was a century’s old ingrained practice. It was left to the mill owner to flush the river by opening the flood hatches and send the sullage seawards.

Disposing of rubbish was obviously a problem, to the extent that the council allowed it to be dumped in the sea at Cobb Gate, the only proviso being “when the bathing season ended”.

Sir Fredrick Treves (Highways and Byways in Dorset 1906) described Lyme as “a sober drab town”. The Guildhall was, in his opinion, “a nondescript building with mixture of architectural styles” and compared it to a German Stadhalle.

He thought the Cobb was “the chief glory of Lyme” and that the area around the Buddle was the most curious. He explains that “so narrow is the river that the houses on each side nearly touch one another”.

The fossil shop he found to be unique in that it was possible to buy fresh fish and fossils in the same place.

Many writers saw Lyme as a “perfect holiday place with wonderful scenery”. The townsfolk were seen as “honest people with virtues you do not see every day”.

There were, however, snobbish residents and those who could afford long term stays who considered themselves to be of the intellectual class. They objected to what they termed the “excursionist class who lowered the tone of the resort”.

They complained to the local paper that less desirable visitors were attempting “to turn this old world town into a bad imitation of Blackpool and that a little intelligence would prevent ruination”.

Vulgarities such as the sale of cheap sweets and ice-cream on the beach, sand artists and a foreign band blocking the Marine Parade were all targeted objections.

None of the writers make any mention of the industrial complex situated to west of the Monmouth Beach.

The Lyme Regis Cement Works had two 100-foot chimneys and an aerial ropeway (for conveying stone) which had three 60 foot towers, the site dominated the far end of the beach. It was the town’s major employer having some 90 to 100 workers on its payroll.

In 1913, an attempt was made to close it down following complaints of dust, smoke and sulphurous fumes. A postcard poll voted overwhelmingly in favour of keeping the Cement Works.

It no doubt took into account the economic effect closure would have on the town and the workforce whose dependants numbered some 275.

Richard Bull’s excellent paper on the Cement Works can be accessed via Lyme Regis Museum’s website.

Edwardian visitors were the last to perambulate what was “a somewhat ancient town”. From 1913 onwards the town witnessed the demolition of some of its older buildings during the redevelopment of Broad Street and the widening of Bridge Street which saw the seaward side of the street removed.

To be continued…

Peter Lacey
Local historian and author

Find all of Peter Lacey’s previous ‘Tale of Lyme’s Past’ blogs here.

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