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Friday, 27 July 2012

George III in Weymouth

Weymouth bay
from Weymouth and Melcombe Regis New Guide
by E Groves (1835)
A superior seaside resort

In November 1788, George III became mentally unstable, precipitating the Regency crisis. But just as George, Prince of Wales, was about to take power as Regent, the King recovered. However, the King was not completely better. Dr Crane, author of “Cursory Observations on Sea-Bathing”, advocated the benefits of sea air, sea bathing and even seawater drinking as a cure for a wide variety of ailments and was quick to recommend his home town of Weymouth as the best place for the King to convalesce.

“Weymouth of late years has been much frequented for its commodious Sea-Bathing, which it furnishes, in a manner superior to any other in the Kingdom…I do not wonder at its being the Resort of many people of the first Distinction.”

Weymouth seafront today
Gloucester Lodge

The Duke of Gloucester owned a house in Weymouth and offered to lend this to his brother for his seaside holiday. Gloucester House or Lodge (1) was a modest red brick house built sideways onto the Esplanade with a sizeable garden called the Shrubbery. However, it was not big enough to accommodate the Royal party comfortably, and the gentlemen were forced to stay in neighbouring buildings.

Gloucester Lodge
on Weymouth seafront today

The Royal visit of 1789

The King, together with the Queen and his four oldest daughters, arrived in Weymouth at the end of June 1789 to a tremendous welcome. The words “God Save the King” could be seen everywhere –on caps, on windows and even on bathing assistants’ waistbands. The anthem was played often, sometimes in the most unlikely places. On one occasion, a band hid in a neighbouring bathing machine and struck up the anthem when the King went to bathe in the sea.

The people were delighted that the King had recovered and had come to be amongst them and they were determined to let him know.

George III’s favourite holiday destination

The visit was a big success. The Queen declared that the King was “much better and stronger for the sea bathing”. Life in Weymouth exactly suited the King and he came back in 1791 and then every year until 1805 except 1793 and 1803.

When the King was in Weymouth, the government came to him. Pitt visited him here whilst serving as First Lord of the Treasury and it was in Weymouth in 1798 that the King signed papers elevating Admiral Nelson to the peerage.

The daily routine

The King’s routine varied little from day to day. He usually rose early and bathed in the sea and then spent time riding, walking and sailing. The King was able to forgo many of the restrictions imposed on his freedom in London. In Weymouth, he was able to walk about freely and talk to his subjects, reportedly ending his sentences with the refrain: “What? What?” He particularly liked to talk to local landowners about agriculture, gaining him the nickname “Farmer George”.

A replica of George III's bathing machine
on Weymouth seafront
Public amusements

The King enjoyed going to the theatre where he was perfectly happy with the mediocre entertainments provided. Fanny Burney, one of the King’s party in 1789, was not impressed with these shows, describing them as “in the barn style” – a mere medley of songs, dances and imitations. Sometimes the theatre managed to secure famous actors, such as Mrs Siddons and John Quick to perform for the King.

The Royal family visited the Assembly Rooms, where balls were held twice a week. Here they could attend in a private room, cordoned off from the public, but not hidden from them.

Excursions from Weymouth

The King liked to visit the local landowners. In 1789 he visited Mr Damer at Came House, the Welds at Lulworth Castle and Sherborne Castle, the home of Stephen Digby, one of the King’s equerries.

Lulworth Castle
from The Beauties of England and Wales
by J Britton & EW Brayley (1803)
Warships and military reviews

George loved to sail and frequently went on cruises aboard the warship Southampton often visiting the Isle of Portland.

Bow and Arrow Castle, Portland
from The Beauties of England and Wales
by J Britton & EW Brayley (1803)
As the war with France progressed, an increasing number of army camps sprang up around Weymouth to guard against the threat of invasion. From 1804, these troops were augmented by men from the German Legion. The King regularly attended military reviews of these troops.

Weymouth remembers 

On 4 October 1805, George III left Weymouth for the last time. But the King was not forgotten. Two lasting monuments to Weymouth’s Royal visitor remain.

The first is the Osmington white horse - a carving of George III on horseback in the hillside at Osmington, overlooking Weymouth bay. It is thought that this was carved in 1808.

The white horse at Osmington
The second is the King’s Statue - a statue of George III in his coronation robes on Weymouth seafront. The foundation stone was laid at the end of the Esplanade in 1809 and unveiled the following year. It has been painted in heraldic colours since 1949 and remains a popular landmark today, with a replica of George’s bathing machine in the gardens below it.

Statue of George III
on Weymouth seafront
Note
(1) Fanny Burney refers to the Duke of Gloucester's house as Gloucester House in her diaries; others refer to it as Gloucester Lodge.

For an audio visual presentation about George III in Weymouth see George's seaside adventure.

Sources used include:
Britton, John & Brayley, Edward Wedlake, The Beauties of England and Wales (1803, Vernor & Hood et al, London)
Burney, Fanny, Diary and letters of Madame D'Arblay, edited by her niece, Charlotte Barrett (Henry Colburn, 1846, London)
Chedzoy, Alan, Seaside Sovereign - King George III at Weymouth (2003, The Dovecote Press, Wimborne)
Editor of the Picture of London, A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-bathing Places (1815) 
Groves, E, The Weymouth and Melcombe Regis New Guide (E Groves, 1835, Weymouth)
Hibbert, Christopher, George III (1998, Viking, Great Britain)

All photographs by Andrew Knowles - www.flickr.com/photos/dragontomato

2 comments:

  1. When the court was in Weymouth for the summer the Royal Mail went to great trouble and expense providing a special daily coach service carrying mail and passengers between there and London, via Windsor and Kew. There is much on this - and on Ralph Allen - in ‘The Mail-Coach Men’ by Edmund Vale, Cassell 1960.

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    1. Thanks for the reference - I am always eager to find out more about life in Georgian Weymouth.

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