The Life of the Lyme Mariner

HISTORICALLY there are numerous biographies on eminent and distinguished personages while the lives of ordinary people for the most part go unrecorded.

Digging deep into the past I came across a Lyme man whose life has passed into obscurity.

Captain William Bridle was born on February 7 1820, just five years after the Battle of Waterloo. He was born in a cottage (long since demolished), built by his father in a field opposite what is now the cemetery in Charmouth Road.

His lifetime was prior to Lyme undergoing a change in its social structure resulting from improved transport links such as paddle steamers, steam ships, the railway and transformation from Port to Resort.

He was eldest of a family of four boys and the same number of girls; it is hard for us imagine what family life was like in a cottage with none of the amenities we take for granted today.

Despite the living conditions, his mother and father both lived to a very old age and William himself died in 1906.

He went to a Dame School run by a Mrs Hawkins in what later became the London Inn in Church Street. This type of school provided very basic elementary education for a small fee. The teachers were mainly untrained women.

He remembers being taught in the infants and learning his alphabet while the “bigger boys were taught sums, reading and writing”. He makes no mention of girls being at the school.

Mrs Hawkins’ school kept moving, first to Haye Farm house, then the Uplyme Toll Gate dwelling and finally to Silver Street. He recalls having to wade through deep water in Middle Mill fields (on his way to Haye Farm) before the waterfall footbridge was built and how his friend nearly drowned when caught in flood water.

He proudly remembers his first ‘copy book’ and dates it to 1827, it contained models of handwriting for pupils to copy.

When he was in his early teens and working as an errand boy, his father sent him to Mr England’s night school in Sherborne Lane. Two hours of tuition for five nights a week cost a shilling a week (the daily pay of a labourer) which equates to approximately £40 today.

For Lyme to have had a night school in the early 1830s was certainly enlightened. The curriculum included reading, writing and cyphering, an archaic term for arithmetic.

William recalls: “I got past pounds, shillings and pence, and cross multiplication.”

However, he felt that the cost of his tuition was a waste of money. It was not until 1880 that elementary education for children aged 5-10 years became compulsory and it was not entirely free throughout the country until 1891.

At the age of 15 years he answered the call of the sea as did many other Lyme boys. He served under Captain Dollin as cabin boy on the schooner Jane.

His first voyage was to Neath, seven miles north of Swansea. The cargo was culm (anthracite), the refuse of coal screenings. The loading and discharging carried out by the crew was a very dusty and dirty undertaking.

Life on a coastal trading schooner was one of hardship but William states: “I couldn’t complain of usage although I was not allowed Sunday duff (pudding) until I could say the compass.”

To be continued…

Peter Lacey
Local author and historian

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