TODAY we've got a bit of a parks special in Looking Back and we're starting off by taking a look at the history of some Weymouth gardens with a breath-taking view.

Sue Hogben has diligently researched the well loved green space of the Nothe Gardens and has provided us with some pictures.

The Nothe peninsular had always been viewed as an open community space as far as the town and its residents were concerned.

In the early 19th century local pilots watched out for incoming vessels from here, spy glass in hand, sat snug inside their makeshift cabin, a rickety upturned wooden hull.

Victorian coastguards set their sights firmly on the far horizon, guarding the shores from possible smugglers or would-be invaders.

The windswept top was frequented by wealthy tourists of the day and artists with easels at hand.

Then during the 1850s and 1860s this land was requisitioned by the War Office and despite a series of futile protests from the town’s corporation, the Nothe became a full blown military site

By the 1870s all construction work was completed. Weymouth’s corporation, keen to reclaim the use of this popular piece of land again, approached Colonel Belfield, CRE (Commander Royal Engineers) the man charged with constructing the Weymouth and Portland coastal defences.

Once all negotiations were completed between the War Office and Weymouth Corporation, for a peppercorn rent of £1 a year, Weymouth inhabitants and their lucrative tourists could once more enjoy the stunning views from atop its ridge.

Eager to make a start, paths were laid out and a variety of seats put in place…but it was still very much a military site, consequently, certain restrictions were made on those earlier plantings.

No trees or shrubs should be placed that obstructed the firing line of any of the great guns that now dotted this headland.

Locals would frequently find their way up the slope to partake in some of the soldiers' benefits, using their smoking and reading tent to catch up on world events, or to listen to the bandsmen rehearsing for their next performance.

There was even a sad case reported in the local papers of a family of five starving young children who went from tent to tent begging the soldiers for scraps of food. (Their parents were reported and taken to court.)

Over the following years, folks continued to enjoy its blossoming gardens, as more paths were laid out, rockeries built, additional trees and shrubs added.

True to Victorian pleasures, a bandstand was added, where local and visiting musicians would play, many of them being resident or visiting military bands. The gardens were still part of a bustling military site at the start of the 20th century.

Come the Second World War and the vital defences of our shores, the Nothe Fort and its gardens were brought into military action once more.

A heavy anti-aircraft battery was set in place on the top near the fort, their guns manned by men and women of the Artillery division. A set of temporary huts housed those troops serving their time on this windswept ridge. (These were also used afterwards to house many of the Weymouth families who lost their homes during bombing raids.) A powerful searchlight was set atop the sea facing wall.

Sadly, a massive landslide in the 1988 saw the tall sea wall and its searchlight housing swept downwards and into the sea.

A line of massive Portland stone blocks now hug the shoreline, attempting to retain this notoriously unstable ground in its place.

*This year, Weymouth Civic Society has chosen to celebrate Weymouth and Portland’s community spaces on Saturday June 17.

Free maps will be available, detailing all these community spaces and setting out routes that people can take to tour them.

A series of events have been planned in many of our parks and gardens for that day. See the Facebook page Parks, Gardens, Trails and Open Spaces of Weymouth and Portland for more information.


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