2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Geography of Great Britain


Population: 51,760 (Weymouth)
Ordnance Survey
OS grid reference: SY6779
District: Weymouth and Portland
Shire county: Dorset
Region: South West England
Constituent country: England
Sovereign state: United Kingdom
Ceremonial county: Dorset
Police force: Dorset Police
Fire and rescue: Dorset Fire and Rescue
Ambulance: South Western
Post office and telephone
Post town: Weymouth
Postal district: DT3, DT4
Dialling code: 01305
UK Parliament: South Dorset
European Parliament: South West England

Weymouth is a town in Dorset, England, situated on a sheltered bay at the mouth of the River Wey on the English Channel coast. The town is eight miles south of Dorchester, and five miles north of the Isle of Portland. Weymouth had a population of 51,760 in 2004, and is part of the borough of Weymouth and Portland.

Weymouth and Portland have a history stretching back to the 12th Century, with the area playing a part in the Black Death, the settlement of the Americas, the Georgian Era, and World War II. Whilst fishing and trading in the port has declined in importance since its peak in earlier centuries, tourism has had a strong presence in the town since the 18th Century. Weymouth continues to be a popular tourist resort, and the town's successful economy depends on its harbour and the beaches of Weymouth Bay. Weymouth is a gateway town situated approximately half-way along the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, a 95 mile stretch of coast, important for its varied geology and many unique landforms. The South Coast of England, in which Weymouth lies, is very often the sunniest part of the United Kingdom. Weymouth harbour is now home to cross-channel ferries, pleasure boats and private yachts, and nearby Portland Harbour is home to the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy.


Weymouth Bay, by John Constable
Weymouth Bay, by John Constable

Weymouth originated as a settlement on a constricted site to the south and west of Weymouth Harbour, an outlying part of the village of Wyke Regis. A settlement here is not noted until the 13th century, the likelihood being that the town developed from the mid 12th century onwards. By 1252 it was sufficiently established as a seaport to become a chartered borough. Melcombe Regis developed quite separately on the peninsula of land to the north of the harbour, being mentioned as a licenced 'wool port' in 1310.

Melcombe Regis is thought to be the first port at which the Black Death came into England, aboard a visiting spice ship in June 1348. In their early history Weymouth and Melcombe Regis were rivals for trade and industry, but the towns were united in an Act of Parliament in 1571 to form the double borough of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis. Since then both towns have become known simply as Weymouth, despite Melcombe Regis being the part of town in which the main beach and tourist attractions are. The town now also encompasses the outlying suburbs of Upwey, Broadwey, Preston, Wyke Regis, Chickerell, Southill, Radipole and Littlemoor.

During the English Civil War (1642-51) more than 500 people were killed in the Battle of Weymouth on February 27, 1645. Later, in the 18th Century, on board the ship "Charity", emigrants from the town crossed the Atlantic Ocean and settled in Weymouth, Massachusetts. More townspeople emigrated to the Americas to bolster the population of Weymouth, Nova Scotia. The first settlers of Salem (then called Naumking), Massachusetts, later infamous for its "Witch Trials", came from Weymouth, Dorset. There is now a monument to that effect on the side of Weymouth Harbour.

The notable architect Sir Christopher Wren was the Member of Parliament for Weymouth for 1702, and also held control of nearby Portland's quarries from 1675 to 1717. Interestingly, when he designed St Pauls Cathedral, Wren had it built out of Portland Stone, the famous stone originating from Portland's quarries. Sir James Thornhill was born in 'The White Hart' public house in Weymouth and in 1722 became MP for Melcome Regis. In later life he became a famous artist, and coincidentally, decorated the interior of St Paul's Cathedral.

The town is amongst the first modern tourist destinations, after King George III made Weymouth his summer holiday residence on fourteen occasions between 1789 and 1805. A mounted white horse representing King George is carved into the chalk hills of Osmington to the east of the town. A myth developed that, because the horse faces away from the town, the King took offence, believing it was a sign that the townspeople did not welcome him, and that the designer subsequently killed himself. This myth has been disproved as King George died before its completion.

The promenade displays Georgian architecture
The promenade displays Georgian architecture

The seafront of Weymouth's Esplanade is composed almost entirely of Georgian terraces, which have been converted into apartments, shops, hotels and guest houses. The buildings were constructed in the Georgian and Regency periods between 1770 and 1855, designed by prominent arcitects such as James Hamilton, and were mostly commissioned by wealthy businessmen, many of whom had already been involved in the growth of the city of Bath. Almost all of these terraces still survive, and form a long, continuous arc of buildings which face Weymouth Bay, along most of the length of the Esplanade.

Weymouth and Portland were important in World War II, and were subjected to bombings by German planes, as were many locations along the South Coast. Portland harbour was home to a large naval base, and Weymouth was home to Nothe Fort, together an important part of the D-Day preparations and Bouncing bomb development. The Bouncing bomb was tested in the Fleet lagoon to the west of the town. Weymouth's history is documented at the Brewers Quay Timewalk museum, a tourist attraction and former brewery on the southern shore of Weymouth Harbour.

Politics and demographics

Weymouth and Portland shown within Dorset
Weymouth and Portland shown within Dorset

The district of Weymouth and Portland was formed on April 1, 1974 under the Local Government Act 1972, and was a merger between the borough of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis and the nearby Portland urban district. The Mayor of Weymouth and Portland is Howard Legg, with David Harris as Deputy Mayor; both are members of the Liberal Democrat party. Weymouth and Portland and Purbeck districts are in the Dorset South parliamentary constituency, created in 1885. The constituency elects one Member of Parliament. The current MP for Dorset South is Jim Knight, a member of the Labour Party, who currently holds the post of Minister of State for Schools.

Dorset South was the second most marginal seat in the 2001 elections, being only won by 153 votes. At the 2002 general election, Jim Knight was elected the member of Parliament for Dorset South, which was the only constituency in which Labour gained votes from the Conservative party in that year. This may have been due to a high-profile anti-Conservative tactical voting campaign which was conducted in Dorset by MP Billy Bragg. Whilst Jim Knight was expecting to have a difficult 2005 election, he won with a margin of 1,812 votes. This was in contrast to many other areas, where Labour suffered a noticeable decline in the popular vote.

Year Population
1971 42,370
1981 45,090
1991 48.350
2001 50,920
2004 51,760
Age Percentage
0-15 18.3
16+17 2.3
18-44 32.4
45-59 20.8
60-84 23.2
85+ 3.1

In 2004 Weymouth's population was 51,760, in an estimated built up area of 1850 hectares (18.5km²). This gives an approximate population density of 28 residents per hectare. In 2005 there were 23,405 dwellings in Weymouth. The population of the town has grown steadily over the past 35 years, mainly as a result of migration. As is the case with many seaside towns, there is an above average number of older residents (60 - 84), however the largest proportion of the population is between the ages of 18 to 44. The population is largely of native English origin, with 98.8% of residents being of white background.

The area's crime rates are below average compared to the UK, with Weymouth's rate of 13.4 crimes per 1000 households lower than that of England and Wales (14.4/1000). However, Weymouth's crime rates are above those of the South West England average of 10.7 per 1000. The town's house prices are relatively high by UK standards, yet around average for most of the south of England. The average price of a detatched house in 2005 was £278,284, with an average apartment or maisonette costing £134,812.

Geology, geography and ecology

Weymouth lies on weak sand and clay rock (dark green)
Weymouth lies on weak sand and clay rock (dark green)

Weymouth is situated on weak sand and clay rock which in most places along the Dorset coast, except for narrow bands at Lulworth Cove, Swanage and Durdle Door, has been eroded and transported away. At Weymouth the weak rock has been protected by Chesil Beach and the strong limestone Isle of Portland that lies just offshore. The Isle of Portland also affects the tides of the area, producing an unusual double low tide in Weymouth bay.

The borough has two lakes which are both RSPB Nature Reserves, Radipole Lake in the town centre, and Lodmoor near Preston. Radipole lake, the largest Nature Reserve, and mouth of the River Wey before it flows into the harbour, is a large important habitat for many species of birds and fish. Radipole is an important tourist attraction, as along with Weymouth Beach, it is situated very close to the main town centre and shops.

Weymouth is the largest town in the area, larger than the county town of Dorchester, which lies just to the north, and hence is a centre of activity for many of the nearby population. Weymouth is separated from Dorchester by the South Dorset Downs, a steep ridge of chalk. The countryside surrounding Weymouth, which lies on the South Dorset Downs, is less agricultural than the valleys in the centre and north of Dorset, but has some dairy and arable farms. This area contains numerous small villages, including Wyke Regis, Chickerell, and Osmington Mills. Many of the nearest villages have become the outskirts of the main town.

As Weymouth is low lying (below sea level in some areas), the eastern areas of the town have been flooded several times from the sea during extreme low pressure storms, until in the 1980s and 1990s a high sea wall was constructed around the harbour and at Preston beach. Beach nourishment and groynes ensure that the sand beach, important both for tourism and as a natural defence against the sea, is wide and has a shallow incline.

Another effect of Weymouth's low lying nature, and the ameliorating effect of the lakes and the warm seas which surround the town, is that winter frost is rare: on average 8 times a year. Days with snow lying are equally rare: on average 0 to 6 days a year. Almost all winters have 0 or 1 days with snow lying; it may snow or sleet a few times in a winter, yet snow almost never settles on the ground. The town, along with other low lying and coastal areas in the south west, experience the mildest winters in the UK. The borough's growing season lasts from 9 to 12 months a year.

Due to its location in the south west of England, Weymouth has a temperate climate with a small variation in daily and annual temperatures. The average annual mean temperature in Weymouth from years 1971 to 2000 was 10.2 to 12 °C. The warmest month is July, with an maximum average temperature range of 12 °C to 21.7 °C. The coolest month is February, with an maximum average temperature range of 1.9°C to 9.9°C. The borough, along with the rest of the South Coast, often has has the sunniest weather in Britain. The resort averaged 1768 hours of sunshine annually between the years 1971 and 2000, and between 1990 and 2005 there were five years in which the town had over 2000 hours, a rare event in the UK. Weymouth's average annual rainfall is below UK average at 751.7mm (see rainfall in the United Kingdom for comparisons).

Tourism and industry

Nothe Fort is one of several maritime-related museums in the town.
Nothe Fort is one of several maritime-related museums in the town.

Tourism has for a long time been the largest industry in Weymouth, though this has declined slightly since its peak in the late 1990s. As well as its large, shallow sandy beach and two lakes ( Radipole and Lodmoor), Weymouth has several museums, an aquarium, a skate park and a large shopping centre. There are several caravan and camping sites, mainly just out of town, as well as many hotels on the seafront, and hundreds of small guesthouses near the town centre. The town is also a gateway town situated approximately half-way along the UNESCO Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, a 95 mile stretch of coast, important for its varied geology and many unique landforms.

The town's theatre is built on a peninsula of reclaimed land between the harbour and the Esplanade. The Pavilion theatre was built in 1960, after the old Ritz theatre was destroyed by fire in 1954. The Pavilion is owned and operated by Weymouth & Portland Borough Council. It was announced in 2006 that the Pavilion complex and surroundings will be entirely redeveloped from 2007 to 2011, in time for the 2012 Summer Olympics. The 10 acre site will include a new theatre, a World Heritage Site visitor centre, a new ferry terminal, a 4-star hotel, an undercover car park, a shopping arcade, offices, luxury and low cost apartments, houses, public squares, promenades, and a 300 berth marina.

Weymouth Outer Harbour
Weymouth Outer Harbour

Weymouth harbour is situated in the centre of the town, and although it was the reason for its foundation, the harbour effectively separates the two areas of Melcombe Regis (the main town centre) and Weymouth (the southern harbourside) from eachother. The harbour was historically home to a large fishing fleet, and for many centuries was an important passenger, trade and cargo port. Goods handled in the harbour included wool and spices, and in the 20th Century, Weymouth was a bulk importer of fertiliser.

The harbour is long and narrow, and formed the estuary of the River Wey, until the building of a bridge which separated the harbour's backwaters from Radipole Lake. The Inner Harbour is a recently refurbished marina with hundreds of berths for pleasure boats, cruisers and sailing boats. The old harbourside, which is near the seaward end of the harbour, still hosts a fishing fleet, and is a terminus for ferries to the Channel Islands and the French port of St Malo. There are also boats offering pleasure trips along the Jurassic Coast and to the Isle of Portland, and there is still a small passenger ferry service across the harbour, linking the Brewer's Quay shopping centre to the main town centre. In 2005 the town centre had 292 shops, 404,000 square feet of floorspace, and the area had almost 40 hectares of industrial estate.


The Weymouth Harbour Tramway (or 'Quay Branch') in 2005
The Weymouth Harbour Tramway (or 'Quay Branch') in 2005

Weymouth railway station is the terminus of the route from London Waterloo and the route from Westbury and Bristol. Although its size had been fully appropriate for the intense rail traffic that came into and out of Weymouth on busy summer Saturdays, it was oversized by the time it was demolished in 1986. A smaller, modern station took up part of the site, while the rest of the old station site was given over to commercial development. Parts of the South West Main Line west of Poole have been reduced from dual to single track, reducing the capacity. As part of 2012 Olympic preparations local councils have lobbied the Department for Transport to relay the track and increase services to London and Bristol, as well as introducing new direct services to Exeter.

An unusual feature of railways in Weymouth was that until 1987 scheduled trains ran through the public streets along the Weymouth Harbour Tramway to the Quay Station at the eastern entrance to the harbour, for trains to travel to the European mainland by sea. Due to declining business, goods traffic ceased in 1972, whilst passenger services continued until 1987, when these services ceased from lack of use as well. The Quay Station now houses the Condor Ferries Terminal. Condor Ferries' main UK port is Weymouth, and the HSC Condor Express runs from Weymouth Harbour to the Channel Islands of Guernsey, Jersey and to the French port of St Malo.

The town is on the A354 road, which connects the town to the A35 trunk road in Dorchester, and which terminates at Easton on the Isle of Portland. The A353 road runs east from the town to the south of Warmwell, where it connects with the A352 road to the Isle of Purbeck and Wareham. Contracts for local bus services are held by First Group, which bought the local Southern National company. In the 1980s the town centre was bypassed by the route to Portland, but the government's road building policy changed before the proposed relief road could be completed. Currently, the busy A354 follows its original route through the suburbs of Upwey and Broadwey, where traffic problems are common at peak tourist times, and particularly on the regualar event days such as the town's annual carnival.

In addition to lack of support from central government, the project has been held up by opposition from residents and environmental groups, who object to the proposed route's partial destruction of a local nature reserve, which is an AONB and SSSI. With Weymouth scheduled to host 2012 Olympic sailing events the project has reopened with the local authorities favouring a more environmentally friendly proposal than in the 1990s.

Sport and recreation

Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy.
Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy.

The local football team, Weymouth F.C., have remained outside the Football League but, in common with many other non-League clubs, they became professional in 2005. The team have enjoyed erratic success at their level over the years, on at least two occasions reaching the third round of the FA Cup, the highest club competition level. At the end of the 2005-06 season they were crowned Champions of the Conference South (the sixth level of English football) meaning that they will play in the Conference National (the fifth level) for the first time since 1989. Their current home is the out-of-town Wessex Stadium, but until 1987 the team played at a ground near the town centre, now the site of an Asda supermarket. The club's move predated the move to new out-of-town grounds by professional league clubs, and came at a time when there had been no new league football stadia opened in England for 32 years. The stadium is now set to be rebuilt again on land occupied by a pitch-and-putt golf course, coincidentally with Asda again building on the previous stadium site. Weymouth's record attendance for the Wessex Stadium is 6,000 against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup in the 2005-2006 Season.

Just south of Weymouth in Portland Harbour is the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, where the sailing events at the 2012 Olympics will take place. The main reason that the resort was chosen to host these events was due to the fact that the Sailing Academy had only recently been built, so little new on-site facilities were needed. Weymouth and Portland's waters have also been credited by the Royal Yachting Association as amongst the best in Northern Europe. The town regularly hosts local, national and international sailing events in its waters. These events include the J/24 World Championships in 2005, staging trials for the 2004 Athens Olympics, the ISAF World Championship 2006, the BUSA Fleet Racing Championships, and the RYA Youth National Championships. In addition to sailing, the waters of Weymouth Bay are frequently a venue for other watersports. The reliable sailing wind is also very useful for windsurfing and kitesurfing. The sheltered waters in Portland Harbour and near Weymouth are used regularly for angling, diving to several shipwrecks, snorkelling, canoeing, jet skiing, water skiing, and swimming.

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