Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Remembering all of those who lost their lives in conflict

WEYMOUTH and Portland’s recent Armed Forces weekend, forming part of commemorations for the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, was a huge success.

Uniforms were everywhere, displays and exhibitions entertained crowds in glorious weather and the air was full of nostalgia.

Two tiny incidents stick in my mind. One involved an elderly gentleman on the Esplanade who was keen to get a picture of the parade “because years ago I marched down there”.

The other was two children’s interpretation of all the warlike things around them, but it didn’t involve one kid brandishing a rifle pretending to shoot another kid with a pistol.
Instead Darth Vader was using his light sabre to bash the living daylights out of Spiderman!

Times move on, I suppose, but it was lovely to see the amount of real and facsimile documents which were available to help give the event realism and atmosphere.
People could see ration cards, colourful advertising posters for recruitment to the Women’s Land Army and read details about what to do if they came across an anti-personnel bomb.

The entire event was so broad that it really did have something for everyone from a chance to sample wartime bread pudding and potato scones on Portland to engineers laying out pyrotechnics beneath the sands of Weymouth beach.

The sad thing is that the veterans of World War I are all gone and the ranks of those who fought in World War II are thinning fast because, if you were 16 on the last day of conflict, you’d now be 85.

I talked with many veterans about the friends they had lost in recent years and what the future might hold for them and commemorations like this and they all seemed to feel that the baton of tribute would be passed on to veterans of the Korean War, the Falklands and Iraq.

It underlined that there will always be conflict somewhere involving military personnel from this country who, as they grow old, will be veterans that crowds will respect and cheer many years ahead to remember all those who gave their lives for their country and for freedom down the centuries.

Enjoy two hours parking for the price of three!

IF anyone needed any confirmation that Weymouth and Portland often has trouble with its finances then look no further than Portland Bill car park.

A local couple decided to enjoy a trip out to the Bill for the first time in ages and took some friends along with them for the ride.

They parked up near the lighthouse and bought a parking ticket for two hours for which they paid £1.50.

Sadly, when it was too late to cash in on the opportunity, they realised that the charge for one hour was only 50 pence and that they could have saved themselves 50 pence simply by going back as the first ticket expired and buying themselves another one hour ticket.

Not unnaturally, this caused a certain amount of consternation in official circles when I asked why the Bill had such apparently confusing rates of charges. It is being checked and if I get a response from the council I’ll let you know.

Gulls invading the home

GULLS are renowned for decorating cars with their droppings but one man found out they are just as adept at fouling living room carpets.

His family had gone shopping and left him alone in the house working away at his computer.

After a while he heard noises coming from downstairs, went to investigate and found they’d left the kitchen door open.

The tapping noise he had heard persisted, but he was able to track it down to the living room where he discovered a large seagull.

It was pecking at the French doors, asking to be let out, having by then done a fair amount of poop on the carpet.

The bird wasn’t frightened and the man was able to lean over him, unlock the door and free the bird.

However, he may find himself on the receiving end of pecking of different sort after he scraped up the pooh solids on the carpet but made a decision to leave his wife “to take responsibility for shamPOOing and hOOvering”.

She may laugh at his little joke… but I wouldn’t put money on it!

Last stop… Blackpool?

WEYMOUTH, this is Weymouth. The train now arriving at Platform 2… appears to be a bit off track.

So might the announcer at Weymouth Railway Station have billed the arrival of one train recently which caused confusion among every passenger who saw it.

Did its engine cab board detail familiar destinations such as Waterloo, Bournemouth or Bristol. No it did not.

Instead people were left scratching their heads at a sign which read: “Blackpool Pleasure Beach”!

Apparently rolling stock can be brought in from anywhere although whether this sign indicated an engine far from home or an engine driver who should be locked up in a home remains to be seen.

Art, manufacturing and science - the legacy of Belmont

An artist’s impression of Belmont

PROTECTIVELY wrapped, Belmont, at the corner of Cobb Road and Pound Street in Lyme Regis, is preparing for a future as interesting as its past.

Belmont is architecturally important for its origins as a Georgian maritime villa, most notably its embellishments in Coade stone - the durable, finely-detailed, ceramic artificial stone used by leading architects of the day for ornaments, statues and decoration. 

For 50 years, Eleanor Coade, the remarkable businesswoman who developed the Coade stone process, owned and ran its Lambeth manufactory. Given Belmont by her uncle in 1784, soon after its completion, she kept it until she died in 1821. With its Coade stone urns, friezes, quoins and heads, Belmont was a dazzling advertisement for her products. 

Except for Neptune above the front door, all the decorative heads are of women, which may tell us something else about Eleanor Coade’s progressive qualities.

Dr Richard Bangay, local GP, geologist, botanist and astronomer, bought the house in 1883, extending it greatly - including the octagonal observatory tower which still stands, the winding gear that rotates its roof intact. 

Belmont’s last owner was author John Fowles, who lived and wrote there from 1968 until his death in 2005. He described Eleanor Coade as “that very rare thing, both an artist and a successful early woman industrialist”. On moving in, he observed “a kind of female feel” to Belmont, and “almost a gratitude that something is going to happen after its ten empty years”. 

Near the end of his life, hoping that Belmont’s history would be preserved and that it might also be an inspirational residence for young writers, Fowles approached The Landmark Trust for help. With a generous bequest from a Dorset resident, it bought the house in 2007.

The Trust rescues important historic houses, covering upkeep and running costs through holiday letting. Belmont was a challenge. Could sufficient restoration funds be found before the building deteriorated beyond recovery? Was there time to research Belmont’s structural history, and for the complex planning procedures required? Should the house revert to its original Georgian or later Victorian form? How should the trust represent the different histories of Coade, Bangay and Fowles?

Belmont’s Grade II* listing reflects the importance of the Coade stone fa├žade and the associations with Eleanor Coade; only remnants of the Victorian extensions remained, the rest having been removed in the 1960s. So architectural integrity led the trust to restore the elegant clarity that Eleanor Coade knew, removing what remained of the Victorian additions but keeping Bangay’s unusual observatory tower. 

With the original window arrangements on the south and east reinstated, John Fowles’ writing room on the first floor overlooking the Cobb, with a library of his books, will be the centrepiece of the house.          

Being guided around by project manager Carole Paton and site manager Stuart Leavy was a revelation. Work began in October last year. With much of the roof at risk, the blue lias masonry fracturing in many places, the rear wall in danger of collapse, the front leaning badly at the top, and many of the Coade stone features threatened by decay of their iron fixings, it wasn’t a moment too soon.

Following good conservation practice - minimising intervention, retaining original features wherever possible, using authentic materials for necessary replacement - the external walls are secured and the strengthened roof re-slated. From expert scrutiny of structural clues, the original room layout is returning.  

Where the Coade stone has already been cleaned and repaired, its intricate patterns and detailed clarity are wondrous. Meticulous care is evident throughout the restoration. 

Historical accuracy, appropriate materials, specialists working with traditional craft skills, time and quality: these explain the £1.8million price tag, raised from over a thousand individuals and a number of charitable grant-making trusts.

By the autumn of 2015, Lyme Regis will once again see a delightful Georgian villa, its lime-based rendering washed the original delicate pink and its Coade stone crisp and fresh; John Fowles’ spirit in the writing-room; the garden back to its small 18th century domesticity with woodland running down to Lister Gardens; the house and observatory visible again from the Cobb.

A single let for up to eight people, Belmont will also be used for two intensive free weeks each year by MA students from the University of East Anglia’s renowned Creative Writing School. On occasional weekends the house will be open, free of charge, to the public. At these times Bangay’s observatory will be accessible, too, so we can see the mechanical renovation of its revolving roof, being carried out this autumn by four volunteers from the local U3A SciTech group.

The stable block, entered from Pound Street, will become an interpretation centre, open several afternoons a week through the summer season, celebrating the lives of Eleanor Coade, Richard Bangay and John Fowles.

Belmont’s three important owners - combining science, the arts, manufacture and commerce, and reflecting the “enlightenment” values from which the house originated - will continue to infuse its spirit. 

I finished my visit knowing that it is possible, given sufficient determination, energy and care, to rescue a significant historic building in Lyme while respecting its architectural, cultural and human history. 

Conservation work in progress


HAVING been brought up and lived in North London for just over 60 years, Irene Roper moved to Lyme Regis after bringing her grandson for a holiday in Charmouth, which she remembered from childhood visits, and after her son started teaching in the area. She moved to the area with Dave, her partner of 30 years, who has sadly since developed dementia and now requires full-time care. Irene has since spent a lot of time raising awareness for dementia and is thankful for the support of her three sons and seven grandchildren. She is also heavily involved with the Lyme Regis and Charmouth RNLI Guild, organisers of the annual Lifeboat Week, and below talks about this year’s events.

WHAT did you do before retirement?
My career was spent working with young children and their families. I originally trained as a nursery nurse and went on to become a midwife. I then worked in various children’s nurseries and pre-school playgroups before joining my local authority social services, supporting families in need. Eventually, I trained as an early years care and education tutor and taught at a local college before retiring in 2002. I still do some work setting and marking exam papers.

HOW did you get involved with the RNLI Guild?
Even before I moved to Lyme I was introduced to Jan Dover, who had lived in the same area of North London as me, and she asked if I would like to help during Lifeboat Week. I had always been interested in the work of the RNLI and was happy to join in. The rest, as they say, is history and on moving to Lyme was quickly invited to join the guild committee and become a volunteer at the lifeboat shop.

WHAT is your role within the guild?
I am now vice-chairman of the guild and my main role is to co-ordinate and organise Lifeboat Week. This starts in October/November every year and ends with the publication of the programme at the end of June, so I will have a couple of months break after each Lifeboat Week and then start all over again for next year! I am also very involved with the team that run the shop. Unfortunately, our volunteer manager recently retired but a dedicated group are keeping it going and if there is anyone out there who would like to take on the manager’s role we would love to hear from you. I also love working with all the committee members and crew whose dedication and support is constant. I certainly couldn’t do it without them. 

WHY is it important to support the RNLI?
The RNLI is a completely voluntary service with the aim to save lives at sea. It is so much a part of Lyme and other coastal towns and we continually have people coming into the shop who tell us how they have been helped by the various crews around the country. It really is like being part of a large family, some of whom regularly respond to a “shout” to help people in trouble. They need our constant support as without them and the RNLI lifeguards, the town would be a less safe place for everyone to enjoy.

WHAT do you enjoy about Lifeboat Week?
Lifeboat Week is the highlight of our year and also our main fundraising event. Although it is very hard work, it is my favourite event of the year and I particularly enjoy the bathtub race and looking at the children’s pavement art. As well as raising money, I have a chance to meet hundreds of visitors who come especially for Lifeboat Week and, along with all our hard working volunteers, can raise awareness of the work of the RNLI. I will admit to moments of panic but it usually all goes according to plan. One of my favourite moments was talking to a young boy who was with his family registering for the crab fishing competition. He was one of the last to register and, on handing him ticket number 88, he promptly burst into tears. When asked what was wrong he said “I won’t be able to catch 88 crabs!” All was quickly explained and off he went, one happy child with his line and bucket.

WHAT do you think the highlights will be this year?
I’m sure that weather permitting the RAF Falcons and the Red Arrows will put on their usual magnificent displays. However, the return of the tug o’ war between the lifeboat crew and the coastguards across the harbour entrance is always a great sight and members of the crew sitting in stocks while having wet sponges thrown at them should prove great fun!

ARE there any new events this year?
This year sees the introduction of some new events including fossil polishing arranged by the museum, the Chesil Flying Club will be flying illuminated model planes and there will be a performance by The Luggers, a local group of ukulele players who are quickly becoming a popular attraction at lots of venues.

WHAT are your other personal interests?
When I have time I love to settle down with a good book and am a member of a reading group in Axminster. I enjoy knitting, swimming and writing (but not for publication) and I am also on the Uplyme WI Committee, writing the monthly meeting reports. It’s not all jam and “Jerusalem” and I have learnt so much from the various speakers.

WHAT do you like about Lyme Regis?
Lyme Regis is one of the friendliest and welcoming places I know. I have made so many friends since moving here. For such a small town, there are so many events and nearly all of them are run by volunteers. I am constantly amazed at the generosity of the people and particularly the support they give to the RNLI.

WHAT do you think it’s missing?
Apart from a couple of moving pavements to help get up the hills! I really would like to see the establishment of an exciting and challenging children’s adventure playground with dedicated areas for different age groups. We are frequently asked in the shop where is the nearest play area for children? If ever one were to be built I would love to get involved in the planning.