A Description of the town of Lyme Regis, Dorset, England as described by Samuel Lewis in A Topographical Dictionary of England, Published in London in 1831.
LYME-REGIS, a borough, market town, and parish, having separate jurisdiction, though locally in the liberty of Lothers and Bothenhampton, Bridport division of the county of DORSET, 22 miles (W.) from Dorchester, and 144 (W.S.W.) from London, containing 2269 inhabitants.
This place derives its name from the river Lyme, on which it is situated. In 774, Cynewulf, King of the West Saxons, granted by charter “the land of one mansion near the west bank of the river Lim, not far from the place where it falls into the sea, to the abbey of Sherborne, that salt should be there boiled to supply the wants of the church.” In Domesday-book Lyme is surveyed in three parcels, one belonging to the Bishop of Salisbury, a second to Glastonbury abbey, and the third to William Belet, one of the king’s servants. Edward I. gave to it the privileges of a borough and port, and assigned it as part of the dower of his sister, Margaret, Queen of Scotland. It furnished Edward III. with four ships and sixty-two men for the siege of Calais, but afterwards became so impoverished, that, in Camden’s time, it was little better than a fishing-town. In the early part of the last century it was in a flourishing state, and had all the conveniences of a harbour, by means of an artificial breakwater, called the Cobb.
During the civil war in the time of Charles I., Lyme was a station of considerable importance to both parties; it was early fortified by the parliament, and, not-withstanding that it sustained a siege by Prince Maurice, always remained in their possession.
The first engagement of the English fleet with the Spanish Armada, in 1558, took place off this part of the coast, and, in 1672, another, between the English and Dutch fleets, occurred, when the latter, being beaten, retired to the coast of France.
Cosmo de Medici, Duke of Tuscany, on his visit to England, in 1669, landed at Lyme; as did also the Duke of Monmouth, in 1685: he erected his standard and read his declaration in the market-place; but was soon after defeated at Sedgemore, whereupon twelve or thirteen of his adherents, who were condemned at Dorchester, by Judge Jefferies, were executed here.
The town is situated at that extremity of the county which borders on Devonshire, between two rocky hills, and is divided by the river Lyme, which rises about two miles northward. One part of it, occupying a steep declivity, has a very striking appearance, the houses rising above each other in succession; whilst the other, near the sea, is so low as to be subject to repeated inundations from the spring-tides: the shore is bold and rugged; the streets are well paved and lighted, and the houses, many of which are handsome, are built of a kind of stone called blue lias, and covered with slate. Recent improvements induce the expectation that Lyme will become a fashionable bathing-place; the accommodations for visitors are good, and there are hand-some assembly, billiard, and card rooms, with a good library: the surrounding scenery is remarkably fine. It formerly carried on a considerable trade with France, Spain, and the West Indies, which has greatly declined: a few vessels are fitted out for the Newfoundland fishery, and there is some trade with the Mediterranean ports. In a return made to the Exchequer in the 31st of Charles II., Lyme is represented to be a member of the port of Poole. The vessels belonging to it are chiefly employed in what is termed “the seeking trade.” A packet sails to Guernsey once a fortnight. The harbour, or Cobb, which forms the only safe shelter for vessels between it and the Start point of Portland, is about a quarter of a mile west-south-west from the town, and existed so early as the time of Edward III.: it was originally composed of vast pieces of rock, rudely piled on each other, but is now a work of regular masonry, consisting of two artificial piers, projecting on each side, and enclosing a basin; it is six hundred and eighty feet in length, twelve in breadth at the foundation, and sixteen in height: it was partially rebuilt in 1825, at an expense of £17,337.0. 9¼. Various acts have been passed for its maintenance; by one of Charles II., £100 per annum out of the customs were allowed for its repair, which grant is still in force: two Cobb-wardens are chosen annually by the inhabitants. The number of vessels which entered from foreign parts in 1826, was thirty-four British, and four foreign; and the number of those which cleared outwards, thirty-two British, and four foreign. Sixteen vessels were built and registered here in 1824, six in 1825, and eight in 1826; and in March 1828, there were belonging to the port thirteen vessels of more than one hundred tons’ burden, and twenty-six of smaller size. The dues of the harbour belong to the town, and among the privileges attached to it is the exemption of its vessels from the payment of duties in the harbours of Dovor, Rye, and Ramsgate. The custom-house, a modern brick building, supported by columns, is northward of the Cobb-gate; beneath it is the market-place. The manufacture of woollen cloth is carried on in the vicinity. The markets are on Tuesday and Friday; and fairs are held on February 13th and October 2nd, for cattle, etc.
Lyme was originally incorporated by Edward I., and its privileges have been confirmed and augmented by succeeding monarchs, particularly by Henry VIII. A court of pie-powder was granted to the mayor and burgesses by Mary, and a new charter by Elizabeth, to which various privileges were added by James I., Charles I., and William III. The municipal body consists of a mayor and fifteen capital burgesses, assisted by a recorder, town clerk, and other officers: the capital burgesses are chosen from among the freemen. The mayor and two burgesses are justices of the peace, the retiring mayor becoming justice for one year, and the year following he is both justice and coroner. The magistrates for the borough hold a court of session quarterly, in January, April, July, and October, and there is within their jurisdiction a small gaol, but no trials have occurred for several years. They have also power, under the charter of Edward I., to hold a court of hustings weekly; but about forty years have elapsed since the last was held. The royalty of the manor is vested in the corporation, and a manorial court is held twice a year. Lyme has returned members to parliament, with only three intermissions, since the 23rd of Edward I.: the right of election has been much litigated, but in 1785 it was decided, by a select committee of the House of Commons, to be “in the freemen only, as well non-resident as resident;” an indefinite number of freemen is elected, and admitted to the freedom of the borough, by a majority of the corporation; the present number is about fifty: the mayor is the returning officer.
The living is a discharged vicarage, in the peculiar jurisdiction of the Prebendary of Lyme-Regis and Halstock in the Cathedral Church of Salisbury, rated in the king’s books at £10. 5. 7½., and alternately in the patronage of the Prebendary and of the lessee tenant. The church, which is dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel, is an ancient structure, with portions in the decorated and later styles, and consisting of a nave, chancel, and two side aisles, both which are embattled on the outside, and at the upper end of each are three or four steps, appearing to have been ascents to an altar; one of these aisles was formerly dedicated to the Virgin Mary. At the entrance to the belfry is a large and lofty stone building, like a porch, over which is a room, used for a school, and bearing date 1720. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, and Wesleyan Methodists. Here are two almshouses, founded in 1548, by John Tudbolt. A convent of Carmelite friars formerly existed here; and in the fourteenth century there was likewise an hospital for lepers, dedicated to St. Mary and the Holy Ghost. Some fine specimens of antediluvian remains have been found in the vicinity, and are deposited in the British Museum: they are considered to be the bones of the Icthyosauri and Plesiosauri. Among the natives of this place was Captain Thomas Coram, to whom the “Foundling Hospital” owes its origin, who was born about 1668, and died in 1751; and Sir George Summers, the celebrated admiral, who discovered the Bermuda Islands.