A History of Weymouth

By Tim Lambert

Early Weymouth

In the Middle Ages, there were two small settlements on either side of the River Wey. They were Weymouth and Melcombe. Both grew into little ports. In 1252 Weymouth was made a borough (being made a borough gave it certain liberties). Melcome was made a borough in 1280. In the 14th century, Weymouth became a port for importing wine, while Melcombe was a port for exporting wool. Unfortunately, both small towns were devastated by the Black Death which arrived in England in 1348. But both Weymouth and Melcombe slowly recovered.

In 1571 Queen Elizabeth united the two towns. Unfortunately like all towns in that era, Weymouth was crowded and unsanitary. Plague struck Weymouth in 1604 and 1607. It returned again in 1624-25. But each time Weymouth recovered.

In 1642 there was a civil war between the king and parliament. At first, Weymouth was controlled by parliament but in August 1643 it was captured by a force of Royalists. But they only held the town for 10 months. In June 1644 it was captured by Parliament. The Royalists tried to capture Weymouth in February 1645 but they failed.

In 1665 Weymouth suffered a fire in which 37 houses were destroyed. In 1685 the Duke of Monmouth led a rebellion in southwest England. But his rebellion was defeated and afterward, 12 men were executed in Weymouth. After they were hanged the 12 men were beheaded and cut into quarters. Their heads and sections of their bodies were put on display in Weymouth and nearby villages.

Since the Middle Ages Weymouth had been a small port but in the late 18th century it began to develop as a resort. In the late 18th century people came to believe that bathing in seawater was good for your health and the wealthy began to spend time at the seaside. In 1789 King George III stayed at Weymouth. He returned several times in the following years. The royal visits boosted its growth as a seaside resort.

Modern Weymouth

During the early 19th century Weymouth grew rapidly. In 1801 it had a population of less than 3,000. But by 1831 It had grown to over 5,000. By 1901 Weymouth had a population of almost 20,000. Growth then slowed but the town had a population of 37,000 in 1951.

Meanwhile, a new guildhall was built in Weymouth in 1838. The railway reached Weymouth in 1857. The Jubilee clock was erected in 1887.

Weymouth was bombed during the Second World War. Nevertheless in 1944 many troops disembarked from Weymouth to take part in the invasion of Normandy.

After World War II Weymouth, like other British seaside towns suffered when foreign holidays became common. Nevertheless, tourism is very important for the town’s economy. In 2022 the population of Weymouth was 53,000.