FOR two centuries the statue of George III has presided over Weymouth seafront.

As a tribute to a much-loved monarch, a meeting point, traffic island, bus terminal and victim of many a high-spirited prank, the effigy has stood the test of time and is held in great affection by local people.

The three-plinth statue is topped by King George in his robes of state, flanked on each side by a unicorn – whose horn has gone missing more than once over the years – and a golden lion.

On October 25 it will be 200 years old and to mark its bicentenary the Friends of Weymouth Museum have organised a day of talks by local historians with an interest in the town’s heritage.

The Study Day will take place in the Resource Room of Weymouth Museum in Brewers Quay, on Saturday, October 23.

It will run from 10am until 3.30am and Dr Alan Chedzoy, Richard Samways, Stanley Pickett and Stuart Morris will give talks.

Topics covered will include George III and Weymouth, the commissioning and unveiling of the statue, James Hamilton, architect of the plinth, and the later history of the statue.

Weymouth Museum archivist Richard Samways said: “The statue is the focal point of the town and has been on the same spot for 200 years, despite several attempts to get rid of it.

“In the early 20th century it became a place where people gathered for public ceremonies or to celebrate a coronation or the end of a war.

“The end of the First World War was announced to Weymouth’s people there and people gathered there for the proclamation of Elizabeth II in 1952.

“When it became a traffic island in the late 19650s, its role as a central gathering place was lost.”

George III had a great fondness for Weymouth and visited the resort on 14 separate occasions, the first in 1789. At this time the town had a reputation as a health resort and the king came to swim in the sea to help his porphyria, a condition which led to him being labelled mad.

Richard added: “Weymouth started out as a health resort in 1750 and George III was advised to take the sea air and sea water so he came down to Weymouth and had a house in Trinity Road.

“The court came too, all the lords and ladies and the king’s brother the Duke of Gloucester. And of course the national papers came too and reported everything they did.

“The Napoleonic Wars were going on at the time but the king didn’t seem to care – he went out to sea on his ships. And the town benefited from the money that the royal presence brought in and was very grateful.”

As a result, it was decided that Weymouth should have a statue in tribute tot he monarch. The idea was first mooted in 1802 and a statue was duly designed and made. But the king fell ill in 1805 so the plan was mothballed and the edifice locked away in a backyard and forgotten, according to Mr Samways.

But 1809 marked the 50th anniversary of George’s ascension to the throne so the statue was dusted off and put in place. It was originally painted bronze, only becoming multi-coloured as late as 1948.

Richard said: “What is so rare about the statue is that it is actually made out of a ceramic stone called coade stone and manufactured in Lambeth in the late 18th century.

“Coade stone was invented by an extraordinary woman called Elizabeth Coade who came from a West Country family and had a house in Lyme Regis.

“She wasn’t married but she called herself ‘Mrs Coade’ to be respectable, and she was an entrepreneur. She set up a factory making artificial stone that didn’t crumble or get damaged by frost.

“It is very tough and was used all over the country for buildings, statues and decorative pieces.”

He added that he looks forward to seeing the statue in place for a very long time to come.

“The council don’t seem to be doing anything about its anniversary which is a shame as the statue is a focal point of the town and hopefully will be there for years to come.”

Tickets for the study day, including morning and afternoon tea, cost £4 and can be obtained from Sheila Wild on 01305 832030.