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

West Bay, Bridport

Friday, 14th June 2024, 3:17am

West Dorset, UK

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Milestones of West Bay

Pier Terrace

Pier Terrace was designed by the Arts and Crafts architect Edward Schröder Prior. It was completed in 1886, two years after the arrival of the railway and renaming of Bridport Harbour to West Bay. The anticipation was for an influx of gentry to this new tourist destination.

Pier Terrace originally consisted of 10 terraced houses with a total of 60 bedrooms. Each house had a kitchen, scullery and lounge in the basement for the landlady. A living room and two bedrooms were on the first floor with a further living room, bedroom and toilet on the second floor. The top floor was for the servants, with three bedrooms. It was referred to by locals as 'Noah's Ark'.

In 1929 the southern end two houses were severely damaged by fire, thought to have been started by an arsonist. It also damaged the thatched roofs of two of the cottages on East Beach, the roofs of which were replaced with tiles. The end two houses of Pier Terrace were rebuilt as flats with bay windows to the western elevations. In 1973 the next four houses were damaged by fire but restored as per the original.

From the 1920s to the 1970s a large hut at the northern end of Pier Terrace was operated as Bay House Café. This was replaced in the mid 1970s by a permanent building attached to and similar in style to Pier Terrace, the ground floor becoming Harbour Café. During the 1920s to 1960s, the northern two houses of Pier Terrace were run as Bay House Hotel.

Salt House

The Salt House, as its name suggests, was built to store salt. From the late 17th Century, Dorset fishermen, mainly from Poole and Bridport, set sail in the Spring to Newfoundland, Canada with their boats laden with nets, ropes and salt. They would catch mainly cod (found in the colder waters) and also some seals, storing them in the preserving properties of the dry salt. The fishermen would then either sail south along the American coast or return across the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean countries to sell their catch, before returning to Dorset. The trade carried on well into the 19th Century.

The Salt House has since been used as a milking parlour, then as a cycle hire shop in the mid 20th Century and more recently as a museum / information centre until 2005. Now used as a community hall.

Sloop / Ship Inn / Bridport Arms

The Sloop was built around the late 17th or early 18th century (about 1700) and is thought to be the oldest surviving building in West Bay. It initially operated as a cider house and farm. The River Brit mouth and harbour basin were both to the east of the building at that time. Later it became a public house. On 21st April 1766, Giles L. Roberts was born at the Sloop. His parents owned the premises. Giles Roberts was to become a doctor in Bridport, developing a revolutionary ointment called 'The Poor Man's Friend'. By the beginning of the 19th century it was known as the Ship Inn. Then in 1822, it was officially renamed the Bridport Arms after having been purchased by the Bridport Harbour Commissioners and in later years the term 'Hotel' was added.

In 2005 the Bridport Arms Hotel underwent a complete restoration, the work being carefully monitored by English Heritage. It re-opened as a luxury hotel.

The Neptune / West Bay Hotel

The Neptune public house was built in 1739, being named after the Roman god of the sea. At that time it would have fronted the harbour, with the River Brit entering the sea to the east of the building. However, a few years later a new harbour was constructed and the river diverted further west, to where it is now. The old harbour was abandoned, the basin filled and eventually became the East Beach car park. The Neptune became somewhat isolated but in a prime position for the smuggling trade.

In 1884 the railway arrived at Bridport Harbour and in an attempt to attract tourists, the area was renamed West Bay. The Neptune found itself in a prime position to take advantage of this new trade opportunity, being located next to the railway station. It therefore relaunched as The West Bay Hotel.

Riverside Restaurant

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. Arthur 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 other things 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 Arthur and Jan Watson sold the business to their general manager, Neil Chilcott. He then resold in 2018, the premises becoming 'Rise'.

Good's Warehouse

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.