Welcome to my web site which contains maps, stories, history, advice and over 800 photographs to help you explore Portland, Dorset - The Jewel of the Jurassic Coast

Northern Chiswell

Portland, Dorset

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All the pictures on this page showing a thick border are thumbnails. Clicking on the picture will produce a larger version. Use your browser BACK button to return to this page.

There are many more pictures and stories in the 'Southern Chesil' page of this website which is reached by clicking on the 'S' arrow above.

Chiswell has an excellent community website full of news, history and pictures. Please click here to go there.

There are nearly fifty old pictures of this area to be seen by clicking here.

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The above image is copyright Dorset County Council 2000 and is reproduced here with permission.

Chiswell is an ancient community which has lived on the edge of disaster for centuries. 

Since Tudor times, fisherman's houses were built on the shifting stones of the Chesil Bank and these houses were frequently flooded during the powerful gales to which this coast is exposed.

Stuart Morris includes some excellent photographs of these houses and their inhabitants in his book "Portland - An Illustrated History" published by the Dovecote Press in 1985  - particularly see the pictures at the start of Chapter 3.

To appreciate what it was like living under the threat of the sea in Chiswell do try to get a copy of the book "Big Ope - Little Dreams" by John Matthews published by Artsmiths of Chiswell in 1990. A gem of a book which is so spellbinding that I finished it at one sitting.

By the early 1800s Chiswell was the biggest settlement on Portland. Then, in 1824 a hurricane hit the Dorset coast. Some 36 houses were destroyed, another 100 made uninhabitable and 26 people were killed- the community was destroyed. All you see in Chiswell now are the ruins of a few pre-1824 houses and newer properties.

 

For an amazing 360 degree panoramic view of Victoria Square please click the click

http://www.weymouthpanorama.co.uk/wp095.htm

 

Please click here for a detailed map. Click the BACK button on your browser to return to this page.

Please click here to visit the satellite image of this area on Google Maps. Click the BACK button on your browser to return to this page.

Please click here to explore this area in Google Street View.

GENERAL VIEWS OF CHESIL

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Chiswell seen in a long time exposure photograph using a 200 mm lens from New Ground.

Portland Fair is in full swing with the rides creating circles of light against the darkened houses.

Beyond the Fair is the Portland Beach Road.

This web page takes you on a tour of Chiswell from Brandy Row to Victoria Square then right up the hill to the northern part of Fortuneswell. Most pictures of Fortuneswell main shopping area are to the south-east of this page.

CHESIL HIGH STREET

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Before (1989) and after (2002)

The houses and shops in Chiswell have experienced many changes of ownership over the years. In some cases they changed use but others were converted to houses or even fishermen's stores. The derelict pair of shops above left was demolished to make way for new housing shown above right.

One feature of Chiswell which I was glad to see go was the public toilet block near Great Ope - an evil-smelling and filthy place which no-one would use except in the most dire emergency! This was recently cleared and an excellent Community Garden has been created in its place. There is a website describing the creation of this walled garden with pictures showing its hard-working volunteers creating this gem - please click here.

The following pictures were taken by Sandra and me in early 2010.

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The above left-hand picture is looking over Baker's Ground as it was being cleared for houses to be built and the houses are completed in the right-hand picture.

According to a letter in the Free Portland News in 2010, the large area of Bakers Ground was a builders yard in Victorian times and was bought by John and Ann Orton who travelled around the country with horses and caravans seemingly trying their hand at many pursuits.

They set up a a theatre on Bakers Ground  in the early part of the 20th century and put on plays with music and 'magic lantern' shows. They later erected a red brick building to show films which were a great novelty on Portland. The land lay unused except for the annual Portland Fair every November until it was built upon late in the 20th century.

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Above Left - A block of apartments under construction in Chiswell adjacent to the track leading up to the Cove House Inn (1990). Right - the very attractive final result (2002). A welcome replacement for derelict shops and cottages.

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Further development underway in Chiswell, 1989.

Gradually the length of Chiswell changed as the old - and mostly derelict - houses and shops were renovated or replaced. The Beach Inn has become a guest house and the whole area is smarter and cleaner. 

But, the character it had in the 1970s and early 1980s had its own strange appeal.

Left - A small gap between houses sold in 2008. I wonder what will be fitted into this tight spot!

Right - Another fine 21st Century development; new shops opening up in Chiswell.

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A cafe on the corner of Chiswell and Pebble Lane was, in the late 1980s, named "The Dap and General" after two Portland brothers who lived in the first half of the 20th century. 

They have been depicted as the Laurel and Hardy of the Royal Manor and very many stories have been recorded in the Free Portland News over the years. Some of these stories have been gathered together into a book "It Could Only Happen on Portland" published by Artsmiths of Chiswell.

It seems that Dap was a great admirer of Doctor Howard who rode an old motorcycle to get around Portland and wore a reversed cap. Dap thought this looked wonderful so went to a gents' outfitter for a cap. Having tried on everything in the shop without success the frustrated shopkeeper asked Dap just what sort of cap he wanted.

"None of these. I want one with the peak at the back!"

The old 'Dap and General' cafe has now become The BlueFish Cafe and Restaurant. This serves excellent meals and fish dishes are the specialty.

The fish shop is excellent for freshly caught local fish.

On the right  of the fish shop is the aptly named 'Pebble Lane' which extends up to The Cove Inn. This lane is, as its name suggests, covered in pebbles and is seen in the picture above.

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Above Left - Clements Lane winds from the back of Bakers Yard in Chiswell to Queens Road emerging between - what was - Stone's Shoe Shop and the Royal Standard pub - both of which are now closed. It is a pretty little lane made curious by a chimney pot at eye level adjacent to the lane. 

Above Right - Conjurers Lodge was set up in 1816 when the Rev. Francis Derry came to Portland to investigate stories that the local Methodists were believers in witchcraft. Some fifty of the Portland flock were expelled from the church. They worshiped in the upper floor of Conjurers Lodge for ten years until they were assimilated back into the conformist congregation.

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The Little Ship Inn stands at the southern end of a long block of premises - mainly commercial.

The block with blanked out windows (above right) belonged to Chesil Beach Motors and was their showroom. However, a huge storm wrecked their premises - and a large number of customers' cars - so new premises were bought on Tophill well above sea level! - and this block was demolished.

Chiswell Flooding, February 1979

The following pictures of the storm of 13th February 1979 were kindly provided by Alison Holmes' parents

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In January 1990 another terrible storm hit Chesil Cove and the sea overwhelmed the defensive wall. A great deal of damage was caused and the mainland was cut off from Portland. I was visiting Weymouth and was stranded; having to spend the night with dozens of other refugees in Budmouth School being fed delicious sandwiches by WVS ladies. Many Portlanders believed that such storm damage would be a thing of the past with the expensive sea defences completed. 

    

Above Left - A local man salvages timber on a cart as a JCB clears pebbles and mud from Chiswell.

Above Right - A car is smashed and overwhelmed by debris thrown over the sea wall. Behind it a boat lies smashed.

The clear-up operation took a long time. The Mainland was cut off from Portland for days.

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Above - Local fishermen lost a great many boats.

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The following pictures of flooding in December 1978 were kindly supplied by Gordon Cain.

 

CHESIL BEACH

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The 18th century Cove House Inn stands rather forlornly after the great storm of January 1990.

The windows are covered with rusty grills and the name board has been lost from the front of the building. There was no porch at that time and in past storms the sea had smashed open the door and roared into the bar as well as tossing pebbles onto the roof.

It is difficult to imagine, on a calm day, how violent the sea can be at this point.

Please click here for a Victorian view of this pub. Notice how it then stood on the shingle with no protection from the sea.

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Left - The house perched somewhat precariously on the edge of the beach is the Chiswell Gallery. It stands alongside the aptly named Pebble Lane which is a track generally strewn with pebbles.

Right - A view along the Chesil Beach from close by the Cove Inn. The wire-mesh baskets filled with stones have been used to strengthen the ridge of the beach following disastrous storms in the 1970s and 1990s, see below.

VICTORIA SQUARE

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Left - the Royal Victoria Hotel photographed in July 2003. Please click here for a Victorian picture from the same spot.

Right - This building became the 'Masons and Mariners' although the building was closed and up for sale in April 2010.

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Until the 1960s Portland railway goods depot stood in the middle distance just beyond the cars in this picture. Please click here to see an old picture matching this view. Please click here for an old picture taken from this same spot during floods in Chiswell.

The memorial at left is close to the site of the long gone railway building in Victoria Square.

An old Royal Navy house converted into an Outlooks Family Centre.

   

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Stone's shoe shop in Queen's Road - shut for the last time in 1989. Sadly, few old-fashioned specialised shops like this have survived.  In January 2003 work was underway to turn this building into a house and, by 2007, it had lost all signs of ever having been a shop.

The now closed Royal Standard pub stands on the left.

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Views across Victoria Gardens to the Royal Victoria Hotel part hidden behind the dilapidated and now demolished hut used as a place of worship in this 1989 photograph.

VICTORIA GARDENS

There are Victorian pictures of Victoria Gardens to be seen be clicking here.

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At left is the memorial to the troops who passed through Portland for the Normandy landings in 1944 and below is the plaque honouring the Americans who took part. The memorial words are at right.

 
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Please click here and here for old historic pictures taken from this same spot.

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Please click here and here for old historic pictures taken from this same spot.

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Please click here for an old historic picture from this same spot.

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Please click here for an old historic picture from this same spot.

OFFICERS FIELD

The "Officers Field", where there used to be a Sports Pavilion in the 1980s, lies between the main road and the cemetery. This belonged to the Royal Navy and was a popular recreational area for locals. In February 2008 a Planning application was published to turn this area into housing. The progress on this development in 2010 is seen below. I leave it to you to pass judgement on this development.

The panoramic view above shows the area just before the bulldozers moved in. The views below were taken on May 1st 2010.

 

The views below show the development in its early stages.

At least one local resident has a firm opinion on this development! Judgement by the number of car horns blasting out when I visited on May 1st 2010 a large number of Portlanders feel the same!

NORTHERN FORTUNESWELL

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THE "STRANGERS" CEMETERY

The "Strangers' Cemetery" on the road above Chiswell.

Burying the dead on Portland has always well illustrated the animosity between Tophillers and Underhillers and between Portlanders and others (Kimberlins or Strangers).

The dead of Tophill were always buried on Tophill, Underhillers in Underhill cemeteries and the rest here, in the Strangers' Cemetery

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This animosity still exists amongst the older Portlanders but is rapidly dying out as the Portland-born residents are becoming rapidly diluted by incomers from the Mainland.

Tophill (Easton, Weston, Southwell) residents were old traditional quarry workers, sheep farmers and growers of arable crops. Underhillers (Fortuneswell) were mainly Victorian migrants who came to serve in the Royal Navy and the Prisons. Those fishermen who lived at Chiswell were separate again. 

However, jointly, their hatred of Weymouth folk is legendary. In 1989 I was examining headstones in St George's Churchyard. An elderly man asked me if I was local. 

"Yes, I've lived in Weymouth for over thirty years"

He spat on the ground.

"That's not local! Let me show you something"

He led me to a gravestone. The inscription read

Sacred to the memory of Mary, daughter of John and Mary Way who was Shot by some of the Press Gang on the 2nd April 1803 and died of the wound the 21st May the same year. 

Aged 21 years

In all, four Portlanders died repelling an attack by a Press Gang organised and encouraged by the Mayor of Weymouth.

The old Portlander walked slowly away shaking his head.

It is curious that many of the graves have subsided so that they tilt sharply towards the south.

  

The graves of three French sailors.

                                           

 

 

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Development underway of homes alongside the old police station in Fortuneswell, 1989.

In the 1990s the police station was converted to private housing and there later ceased to be a permanent police presence on the Island - rather surprising for a community of over 15,000 persons. It was not as though Portland is a particularly crime-free area. In fact, comparing the year ending June 2003 with the previous period, the reported cases of wounding increased from 112 to 202 and the reports of criminal damage rose to 240 compared with 172 in the previous twelve months.

The police claimed that this increase may have been partly due to increased reporting of crime and not wholly due to a real increase in crime. Never-the-less, concerns over crime on Portland have led to reports (Dorset Echo, 25th July 2003) of vigilante groups being set up to patrol the streets of Portland in the absence of a police presence.

Possibly in response to these reports it was announced on 30th July 2003 that a police station was to be opened once more on Portland.

The old Police Station converted to apartments.

 

This row of houses used to be shops in the 1970s.

Please click here to see an old picture taken from this same viewpoint.

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