West Bay, Bridport, Dorset
Jurassic Heritage Coast
West Bay, Bridport, Dorset - Jurassic Coast

West Bay, Bridport

Thursday, 25th July 2024, 1:35pm

West Dorset, UK

West Bay on Facebook West Bay on Twitter West Bay on Instagram West Bay on YouTube - West Bay UK

West Bay Logo West Bay Logo

Harbour Heritage

It is believed that a natural harbour and outlet to the sea originally existed close to the foot of East Cliff, fed by the River Brit. The Doomsday Book (compiled in 1086) appears to suggest that ownership of the West Bay area around the 11th Century was split between Symondsbury holding the west bank of the River Brit for the Abbey of Cerne and the Manor of Burton Bradstock holding the east bank for the Crown. However, medieval records indicate disputes over both beaches and harbour involving a third party upstream on the River Brit; the Borough of Bridport. 'Right of Wreck' was a contentious issue, the Abbot of Cerne and the Prior of Frampton (for Burton Bradstock) apparently often taking legal action against the 'Borough' for removing wrecks from the foreshore. In 1280, Bridport claimed all rights to sea wrecks on the beaches and then in 1288, claimed rights to 'Take tolls from all Ships'. Bridport was land-locked, the only access being along the River Brit. Records of the harbour can be traced back to the 13th Century when sluices first existed. The area was then known as 'Bridport Mouth'.


In the late 14th Century around 1385, a local merchant, John Huddersfield began the construction of a harbour or 'haven' under the instructions of King Richard II, paid for by a ½ penny levy for every horse-load of saleable goods imported or exported. This was extended for a further 3 years in 1388. While in 1392, The Patents Rolls records showed that a harbour had begun. By the mid 16th Century the estuary to Bridport Haven had deteriorated, was no longer considered navigable and would therefore be considered as a creek. In the 17th Century the first piers were constructed on a framework of stilts and the area took the name of 'Bridport Harbour'.


In the 18th Century around 1721, a Royal Assent was obtained to repair the harbour, the introduction stating: 'that by reason of a great sickness which swept away the greatest part of the inhabitants and other accidents, the haven became neglected and choked with sand, the piers fell to ruin and that the town suffered in consequence.' In 1740, John Reynolds was commissioned to design a more permanent harbour, moving it to its current position with a longer channel and pier entrance. Sluices at Ire Pool were also constructed and a shipbuilding yard was established. However, in 1744 a great storm caused considerable damage. In the 19th Century, following an Act of Parliament for the purchase of suitable land, a larger harbour basin was constructed at a cost of £24,000. Robust piers of a solid construction were built. In 1823, the harbour came under the control of the Commissioners with Bond being issued. The following year, the Great Storm of 1824 caused considerable damage to the piers and harbour.


In 1837, parish boundaries were changed. Bridport Municipal Borough Council was granted control of West Bay as far as the foot of east and west cliffs. A strip of land from the east bank of the River Brit to just east of Harbour Road (now known as West Bay Road), linking Bridport to West Bay was also passed over at the expense of Burton Bradstock and Bothenhampton Parishes. Symondsbury and Burton Bradstock had previously shared parish control of Bridport Harbour (West Bay). In 1856, John Coode undertook extensive repairs and a rapid establishment in buildings, including Public Houses then took place. The majority of land in West Bay at that time was owned either by Lieutenant-General Augustus Pitt-Rivers (to the east) or Henry Edward Fox-Strangways, the 5th Earl of Ilchester (to the west). Together with other local entrepreneurs, they formed the West Bay Land & Building Company. In 1884 the Bridport Railway was extended down to the harbour. By now shipbuilding at the harbour was in sharp decline, so in an attempt to transform the area into a holiday resort, The Great Western Railway (GWR) decided to rename Bridport Harbour as ‘West Bay’. Some old 19th Century maps refer to the sea at Bridport Harbour as West Bay, so perhaps making the renaming of the area an obvious choice at the time. In 1885, Edward Schröder Prior built Pier Terrace (next to the harbour’s east pier) in an attempt to exploit the new holiday trade. In 1887 an Esplanade was built along the west beach’s seafront together with ‘The Mound’ by the harbour’s west pier.


20th Century. In 1901 a Pavilion was built upon The Mound and in 1916 the Esplanade was extended. In 1914, Giles Stephen Holland Fox-Strangways, the 6th Earl of Ilchester sold a 15 acre plot of land known as Watton Eweleaze, on West Cliff (Watton Cliff). The West Cliff Estate was formed and bungalows were built on the resulting plots of land. Long term battles took place between the elements and repairing of the harbour piers, Esplanade and The Mound. Alas, The Pavilion ultimately lost that battle in 1942 and had to be demolished following destructive gales! At auction in 1958 on 31st July and 1st August, Captain George Pitt-Rivers sold his ownership of land to the east of West Bay, including East Cliff, Haddon House, a Croquet Lawn opposite Haddon House, Swains Row, the Timber Yard, Allotments, West Dorset Golf Club, Freshwater Caravan Park and a large area of Burton Bradstock. In all, totalling 1,682 acres. In 1967, a new Promenade was constructed along west cliff and the seaward side of west cliff itself reshaped to reduce land slippage. Severe flooding to West Bay took place in 1974 when the sea severely breached East Beach. Various landslides took place on West Cliff, resulting in the installation of drainage in the 1970’s and further strengthening in the 1980’s together with extensive repair work to the Esplanade.


21st Century. A decision was made to spend £18 million to replace the West Pier, strengthen the existing East Pier and develop a new outer harbour with slipway. Due to the way prevailing wind and sea currents have changed over the centuries, the harbour entrance had been rendered unnavigable for almost 50% of the year. A new West Pier, named 'The Jurassic Pier', built on a different angle and of a ‘Banjo Pier’ configuration has addressed this issue. Extensive rock armouring has also been used to hopefully protect West Bay from serious damage and flooding in the future.


Harbour Origins

It seems likely that between the 1390's and 18th Century an effective harbour on the coast came and went, according to the movement of the shingle bar and periodic storm damage. There may have been periods when it was quite well developed but also periods when it was little more than an anchorage, with no facilities for loading, unloading or storage of goods. References during this time include the following:
Records of the presence of sluices for shipping or to prevent flooding
A harbour was established but probably damaged and destroyed over the next two centuries by various storms
Early piers constructed on a framework of stilts
Piers and sluice constructed
Ship building yard opened
Public houses shown on site of Bridport Arms
Extension to East Pier
Further extension of East Pier
New larger harbour constructed with solid entrance piers and River Brit diverted. Later, the Great Storm destroyed piers and caused massive damage to harbour, properties and shipyard. Extensive repairs to the pier and harbour followed.
Rapid growth in buildings
13 dwellings within boundary of ship yard
West Pier badly damaged during ten days of storms
Bridport railway constructed
John Coode constructed stone and rubble filled piers
Ship building yard sold
Harbour lost its bond port status - went into decline
Esplanade opened and the Mound wall extended
Construction of the Pavilion on the Mound
Great Landslide on West Cliff
Extension of the Esplanade. First bungalows built on West Cliff
Storm damage to the harbour and Promenade. Harbour Commissioners reported 8 to 10,000 cubic yards of shingle were being removed per annum and ordered that this should stop (ineffective)
Storm damage to eastern end of Esplanade
Flooding of West Bay
Storm - Damage in front of the Pavilion and the sea wall
Esplanade damaged
The Mound wall destroyed by storm and rebuilt. Opening of sea wall
Major storm and extensive damage leading to demolition of the Pavilion
Steel piling on East Pier
Flooding due to storm
West Pier piling works
Programme of works on both piers including sheet piling. Promenade construction
New promenade constructed and West Cliff re-graded
East Pier breached and repaired
Landslide on West Cliff. Drainage installed. East Pier breached by storms
Severe storm caused flooding and damaged shipyard housing development. Old Shipyard housing development completed
West Pier emergency repairs. Last commercial ship to offload timber
Exceptional storm caused extensive damage to sea walls and freak denudation of East Beach causing great damage to property. Rock armour placed at root of West Pier and the Mound. Works on the Esplanade
Severe storm. Slumping in West Cliff
Extensive repair work to the Esplanade. 18,500 tonnes of rock armour added to the sea defence over previous four years. Commercial shingle extraction stopped
Flood defence wall constructed around harbour
Emergency works to West Pier. Re-grade of West Cliff
Strengthening of rock armour at the root of West Pier
Emergency works to East Pier
Emergency repairs to West Pier. Further emergency works
Loss of shingle on West Beach
Emergency repairs to West Pier
Decision taken for a £17 million programme to rebuild West Pier on a new alignment, new slipway with outer harbour and strengthen East Pier
Sourced from the Keystone report for West Dorset District Council

1974...Floods at West Bay

1997...West Bay just before its new harbour facelift

1899...View from East Cliff

1902...The Esplanade

1910...The Pavilion on
The Mound

1913...The Harbour

1922...View from West Cliff

1929...The new sea wall on
West Beach

1928...Damage to Esplanade

1942...Pavilion demolished

1970...Severe storms

1970...Damage to Esplanade

1930...View from West Cliff

1930...View from East Cliff

1955...View from East Cliff

1955...View of Esplanade

1967...New Promenade construction


Visit the Bridport Museum in South Street or the Local History Centre in Gundry Lane for more information