Sixty years ago on 1st January 1960 Weymouth experienced yet another example of its quite regular floods as the next picture of Consul berthed just upstream of the Town Bridge so graphically shows.
It was because Weymouth was ever prone to this sort of flooding, particularly when the wind was in the east and accompanied by storm surges, that riding posts were specially fitted along the harbourside to prevent the sponsons of the paddle steamers riding over the tops of the quay walls on big tides and getting caught up as the tide fell away.
Here is another shot of Weymouth Harbour taken a couple of months later on 29th February 1960 with the quayside again under water and with the bow of the Monarch just visible on the left of the picture. I like the two fishermen sitting nonchalantly chatting away and smoking their pipes despite the rising tide around them. They have seen it all before. They will see it all again. Just like their grandads and great grandads did. They knew that flooding was a regular occurrence in Weymouth. In my childhood all the quayside cottages had sandbags permanently stationed outside their front doors to guard against this not irregular eventuality.
The biggest flood ever recorded in Weymouth before or since was in the Great Storm on the night of 22nd/23rd November 1824 when winds likened by a local naval officer to a West Indian hurricane combined with a huge storm surge to devastate the Dorset Coast. At Weymouth the sea level rose above the level of the harbour walls carrying boats into the surrounding streets. The north end of the Esplanade was breached. At nearby Fleet residents ran for their lives as a tidal wave burst through Chesil Beach, thundered across the lagoon and tore up the valley to the village “at the speed of horses” before carrying away cottages and most of the old church. By the following morning many buildings in South Dorset had either their chimneys or whole roofs removed. Others had been completely demolished. Dozens were left dead. It was a truly dreadful night and a weather event way beyond anything which has happened subsequently.
That was one hundred and ninety-six years ago at a time when travel on land involved only the use of one’s own feet, donkeys, horses or other pack animals and travel by sea was still mostly undertaken in sailing vessels being blown along by clean, wholesome and fresh air.
The riding posts specially fitted along the quay walls at places where the paddle steamers berthed overnight and in the winter at Weymouth remain in place to this day although it is now more than fifty years since any paddle steamer made use of their services.
Kingswear Castle returned to service in 2023 after the first part of a major rebuild which is designed to set her up for the next 25 years running on the River Dart. The Paddle Steamer Kingswear Castle Trust is now fund raising for the second phase of the rebuild. You can read more about the rebuilds and how you can help if you can here.
This article was first published on 1st January 2021.