In The Trumpet – Major by Thomas Hardy this is how the local inhabitants greeted the travelling carriages of King George III and his family, escorted by a detachment of his German Legion. He was en route for Weymouth, where he would stay at Gloucester Lodge. The next day his troops formed up for his inspection on the downs near Osmington and Sutton Poyntz, where later the figure of King George on horseback was cut in chalk in 1808. It is often said with humour that he is riding away from Weymouth. However it is known that he enjoyed bathing in the sea at Weymouth from a bathing machine, whilst his musicians played the National Anthem from an adjacent machine. It has been said that he expected Dorset to be invaded by Napoleon and his army, so the regular troops, including German detachments, were deployed here.
The 1st Dragoon Guards were billeted in inns in Weymouth and Bridport from 1791. Then in 1793 the Government built seven barracks to a standard design at locations including Dorchester, Weymouth and Bridport.
Bridport Barracks was for one troop of cavalry, about 60 men and horses. Four bedrooms for officers were at one end of the building and officers mess, kitchen and servants rooms at the other end. Above were billeted 58 troopers, eight to a room, NCOs having separate rooms. Below 63 horses were stabled. Outside were cook houses, two wells, stores, a forge and shoeing shed. A six bed hospital/infirmary was near Bradpole Road, at the top of what became Barrack Street. A Hanoverian Cavalry Company was first stationed there. Building costs were about £7,500 and later there was a government scandal over the cost of all the barracks. After the Battle of Waterloo the barracks were offered for sale in 1816. The Bridport Barracks became Delapre House after it was sold into private hands. In recent years it has been converted into flats.
Several of the Hanoverian officers stayed on in Bridport after disbandment, marrying into local families, for example Major Dammers married Miss Hounsell, daughter of Thomas Hounsell who owned Wykes Court twine factory. Also Hounsell’s sister married the Legion Chaplain, later Chaplain to the Hanover Court. No doubt other alliances were made wherever the troops were stationed, as occurred during more recent conflicts.
Thomas Hardy referred to the “Scarlet Tunics” of the troops in one of his short stories, The Melancholy Hussar filmed a few years ago, partly at Chideock and released in 1997. However the Kings German Legion Horse Artillery adopted the British short skirted blue coat, with red facings.
Before the regular troops arrived several volunteer forces were formed, including various infantry, Yeomanry Cavalry, Sea Fencibles and so on.
There was general rejoicing after Napoleon’s defeats at Trafalgar and Waterloo, but soon after the soldiers and sailors returned, some disabled and all requiring work. Trade with the Newfoundland fisheries had peaked during the wars, but with the end of hostilities the trade receded and was almost over by the 1840s. Local manufacture of lines, nets and fishing hooks, as well as some rope and sailcloth for the navy had prospered, but this disappeared, too. Farm and factory wages were low and bread prices rose, as a result of the Corn Laws of 1804 and 1815. Bread was the staple of the working classes and as a result there were “Bread Riots”, with 9 people fined or imprisoned in Bridport in 1816.
The Corn Laws were not repealed until 1846. In the 1830s machine wrecking and rick burning occurred on a small scale in Dorset. The Tolpuddle Martyrs were sentenced to transportation for forming a trade union to improve farm worker’s wages. Smuggling became more difficult, owing to the look outs being free to watch for smugglers and the navy having ships available to chase and board vessels, rendering some people in the countryside poorer and less able to “cock a snook” at officials.
Bridport History Society meets again on September 8th to learn about “Four Sisters—The lost lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses” from Helen Rappaport.
Cecil Amor, Chairman, Bridport History Society : Tel . 01308 456876.