The changing face of West Bay
Have you noticed the changes going on at West Bay recently? If you haven't then either you are not a resident or you are not a regular visitor to the area! But West Bay has survived changes before.
The first major change would have been back in the late 19th Century when the Great Western Railway ran the first of the tourist train services. Until this time West Bay had been known as Bridport Harbour. This then gave rise to Pier Terrace, built to accommodate the expected influx of this new trade to West Bay. Pier Terrace was known to the locals as 'Noah's Ark' due to its shape and location. However, in 1905 Sir Frederick Treves (see below) referred to it as "Although in itself architecturally admirable, it looks as out of place as an iron girder in a flower garden."
From the 1920's, a private estate consisting mainly of bungalows was built on the west cliff. West cliff had previously been home to a 9 hole golf course which later located to east cliff to become an 18 hole course. The sea front gained an esplanade and promenade, then holiday chalets were built on part of The Old Shipyard site. More recently, a new housing estate has been built called 'Meadowlands', set a quarter of a mile from the seafront.
During this time of West Bay's development, the sea had its own ideas! The harbour piers and sea wall were continually being damaged, repairs and additional sea defences being a continual war against the elements. Finally a decision was made to rebuild West Bay's sea defences in the form of a new west pier. This would also remove the restriction of the harbour's channel being unusable for almost half of the year due to bad weather. It would also create a new outer harbour with larger and more convenient slipways. So the beginning of the 21st century also saw the beginning of a new West Bay.
Developers have been quick to notice this new opportunity. The remaining open land of The Old Shipyard was purchased by Wyatt Homes at a rumoured £2 million. Planning applications were applied for, causing more unrest in the local community than anything else in West Bay's recent history. Soon after construction of the 'Quay West' development took place in 2005, the Environment Agency produced a report indicating the building to be on flood-risk land.
In the meantime, other planning applications seemed to be going through unnoticed! A development of terraced homes on the east cliff, called 'Beachcomber' have been built. Harbour Garage (one of the last of the old village garages) has been demolished, making way for a new development of flats and shops (Maritime House). Approval was granted for two blocks of three story flats along Forty Foot Way (Driftwood). The Bridport Arms has undergone a complete renovation with substantial extensions, the new roofs being of thatch and slate, thus in keeping with the original.
Since 2000, coaches have been placed on the track beside the restored railway station for various projects, information centre, restaurants, etc.
Had the new harbour improvements not been implemented, then it is unlikely that many of the housing developments would have taken place either, but then West Bay would probably have finished up looking tired and run down. A catch 22?
Plans submitted by West Dorset District Council for the development of The Mound with a restaurant, new facilities for the Harbourmaster and HM Coastguard were abandoned following the Environment Agency flood risk report. However, the existing public toilets on The Mound have been refurbished. Plans to complete the sea angling jetty next to the Jurassic Pier have also been abandoned. A new visitor arrival facility, including public toilets at the West Bay Road car park was completed in 2009.
The next phase of regeneration consisted of changes to the roundabout at the entrance to West Bay, a new pedestrian crossing point at the junction of George Street with West Bay Road, a priority change at the junction with Station Road and a new pedestrian area between St John's Church and the shops opposite. It was hoped these measures would also calm the traffic speeds into West Bay and deter vehicles that entered West Bay to travel to the end of the Esplanade, turn around and then leave. A complete resurfacing of all roads, including the whole of West Bay Road also took place. The works were completed in Spring 2013.
The future is all about accepting progress and having the ability to adapt and move on. But let's make sure that all this progress is for the overall benefit of West Bay, its residents and its visitors.
Sir Frederick Treves (1853-1923)
Born in Dorchester, Frederick Treves became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1875. In 1884 Treves met Joseph Merrick, better known as 'The Elephant Man'. Although unable to diagnose his condition, Treves rescued Merrick from destitution, creating a home for him in the attic of The London Hospital.
In 1899 Treves became a consulting field surgeon in The Boer War. In 1900 he was appointed as surgeon extraordinary to Queen Victoria. Two days before King Edward VII's coronation in 1902, Edward fell acutely ill with perityphlitis; Treves was called to operate and was made a baronet later that year. Sir Frederick Treves was also a keen athlete, accomplished sailor and prolific writer.
He died in Switzerland of peritonitis, ironically the disease of which he was an expert. His ashes were scattered in Dorchester Cemetery. The funeral service was arranged by his lifelong friend Thomas Hardy, the well known writer and poet of Dorset.
Arthur and Jan Watson have run the Riverside since 1964. In March, 1960 the Watson family signed the lease for the Riverside Café and Post Office. The family had been running the Bay House Café in West Bay and the Old Watch House Café on East Beach. In those days the post office (next to the Riverside Café) was well used and the locals stayed for a cup of tea, a debate and a game of dominoes. Visitors were seasonal and most stayed on the municipal camping ground. Arther Watson’s father was in both world wars and was called up in 1939, so moved the family to safety in West Bay. Arthur said “I lived through the war in West Bay and went to school in Taunton as it was felt that a German invasion of Dorset was possible. Our most memorable times then were when the American forces were stationed in West Bay, we had our first banana, Wrigleys and rides on tanks. A German Heinkel also landed on the rocks below our house – they thought they were in Spain!”
His mother came from Tiblisi in Georgia and met his father in the early 1920s when his regiment was there. They married but he didn’t return to her after the war. His mother did bed and breakfast to make ends meet, before taking on the lease of the Bay House Café and then the Old Watch House Café on East beach. These businesses were operated from 1948 until the mid 1950s. The Bay House Café was a separate single storey building at the northern end of Pier Terrance, now the site of Harbour Café. She purchased the lease of the Riverside Café and Post Office on 12th March, 1960.
When Arthur and Jan Watson took over officially in 1964 the trade was limited to local fishermen, coach parties and people on camping holidays in the area. The menu was fairly basic with roast dinners and cream teas being the specialties. However local crab and lobster were listed and sometimes fishermen would bring in buckets of mackerel, whitebait or sprats and any other thing they caught. Monkfish, squid, John Dory and spider crabs were considered to be bait fish and were practically given away.
The business grew but West Bay became increasingly prone to flooding and storm damage and the Riverside got flooded several times a year during the 1960s and 70s. The disastrous floods in the 1970s called into question the future viability of the site, but in 1976 permission was granted for the present building to be put at a higher level. The demand changed radically and the Riverside was soon offering a full seafood menu. In 2016 Arther and Jan Watson sold the business to their general manager, Neil Chilcott.
When Good's warehouse was built on East Beach, it and the Bridport Arms formed the centre of the Bridport Harbour settlement. In the early 19th Century, it was used for the storage of flax, hemp, iron and wine. It has stone-mullioned windows, external staircases and an unusual basement with a barrel-vaulted ceiling with its apex supported by an arcaded spine wall. William Good was the first of the family to go into partnership ship building in 1805. He went bankrupt in 1813 but the business carried on as Good & Co. A John Good was named as a shipbuilder from 1819 to 1826.
By 1896, a Henry Good was advertising a coal yard, established for more than 100 years. The family of entrepreneurs then started a gravel business using a horse and cart. Extracting gravel from East Beach was halted in 1984 following fears of sea breaching and flooding. The company continued as paving and driveway contractors until 2009, when John Good sold the business to a Kent based company and the warehouse complex closed down. The grade II listed warehouse remained empty and was put on the English Heritage 'at risk' register in July 2010. The Environment Agency applied restrictions on any future use or development of the complex, due to flood risk. The complex has since been run as a shopping arcade called 'The Customs House'.
The Good family owned the Old Shipyard from 1914 to May 1961, then sold to developers. John Good owned an Art Deco bungalow on the eastern corner of the Esplanade during this time.