At the November meeting of Bridport History Society our new committee member, Carlos Guarita, introduced his latest book entitled Where the Dipping is Ripping. We were shown slides of many of the photographs from the book, which features images produced by Joseph Robert Potts taken before and after the First World War.
Potts was born in Felton, Northumberland in 1885. He came to Dorset and was living in Weymouth in 1911, working as a photographer. In the same year he married Harriet Mary Wills at St John’s Church, Portland and by 1912 he was working as a photographer for Shepard Photographers in East Street, Bridport. Shepard died in 1912 and Potts joined another of Shepard’s employees, Clarence H. Austin, as “Austin and Potts”. Unfortunately, Austin died in 1913 and Potts carried on alone.
When war came in 1914 Potts enlisted in the army and was sent to India as a Private in the Dorchester Regiment. He photographed his colleagues and the local sights. He transferred to the Royal Air Force in 1918 and was discharged in 1919. He returned to Bridport, working from 45 East Street, from Mrs Shepard’s Studio.
Carlos, himself a professional photographer, has published Potts’ photographs together for the first time and provided an analysis of them. I have seen previously in various books of our locality one or two of the images, but Potts was not acknowledged. The front cover of the book shows a young couple sitting on the front at West Bay, Bridport. The title “Where the dipping…” has been taken from another of Potts pictures, this time of Burton Bradstock. The Chesil Beach at Abbotsbury features with a beaching of the “Dorothea” in 1914 and another of May 1923, a barque, or ketch, the “Alioth”, stranded on the beach at West Bay which was wrecked later in the day. Potts photographs cover Burton Bradstock and Eype with several photographs of each and also of West Bay. The photographs show how the beach and cliffs have changed since the 1920s.
I was personally intrigued by Potts time in India from 1914, as my father was also sent there in 1918 and the troop, complete with “topees” (sun helmets) look just the same as in our family album. I think both men were stationed at Dagshai too.
Pictures of the funeral of “Lawrence of Arabia” at Moreton, Dorset in 1935 show Winston Churchill as one of the mourners.
Among the early photographs of town and village events, an unusual set include flooding at Diment Square, Bridport in 1913. The book has raised several thoughts in my mind. The flooding at Diment Square was not alone in Bridport, which had many floods in earlier years and also the more recent floods in the north of England, last autumn. Some of these were so bad that people may not be able to return to their homes. This also makes one think of global warming and are the floods of the last few years an indication of this, or is it because appropriate steps have not been taken to prevent flooding?
The photographs of the two beached ships, the “Dorothea” and the “Alioth”, also bring to mind the perils of shipwreck. Some years ago Bridport History Society had a talk by Gordon Le Pard on the subject of shipwrecks in Lyme Bay. Gordon told us that over 1,500 shipwreck sites have been identified for “The Maritime Archaeological Sites in Dorset”. The earliest wreck dated from around 1500 AD, in Studland Bay, and was possibly Spanish. The “Earl of Abergavenny” was wrecked in 1805 including a reputed chest of £30,000 worth of silver. It was eventually salvaged using a diving bell from Weymouth Harbour by divers who concluded that construction flaws caused its sudden sinking. In 1879 the “US Constitution” was swept into Swanage Bay, but towed off by steam tugs and was returned to Boston, USA where it is on view.
Last autumn we experienced some unusual seas on the south coast, described by one Coast Guard as the waves turning like the water in a washing machine. Unfortunately, a young man and his mother were walking on the shore, close to the waters’ edge at Burton Bradstock and they were both swept in by the waves. The mother managed to get out of the water, but her son was drowned.
We are also regularly warned about the danger of cliff falls and that we should keep a safe distance from cliffs, and not to climb for fossils, but wait until they have fallen from the cliff onto the shore.
One of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex Tales is Fellow Townsmen which features Bridport (as Port-Bredy) and harbour, with mentions of a Black-Bull Hotel and St Mary’s church. The two main male characters are Mr Barnet and Mr Downe, old friends. Barnet was well off, his father having sold his flax merchant’s business, whilst Downe was a struggling solicitor. They were both married, Downe with a loving wife and children, but Barnet had married “above him” and his wife was distant.
Downe suggested that his wife might visit Mrs Barnet and perhaps female company might settle her mood. This was agreed and Mrs Barnet took Mrs Downe for a drive to the harbour the next day. The weather was fine and the ladies decided to take a boat trip round the cliff. Unfortunately there was a sudden change of the wind and the boat threw both ladies into the sea. Mrs Barnet was recovered and Barnet took her home and with his attention she recovered. Mrs Downe was drowned and later Barnet suggested to the grieving Downe that perhaps he should engage a young woman with whom they were both acquainted, as a governess for his three children. Meanwhile Barnet’s wife had left him to go to a relative in London and sometime later she died there.
Downe decided to marry the governess, Lucy Savile, which was a blow to Barnet who had hoped to woo her, now that he was free. Barnet proceeded to sell his houses, etc., and left Port-Bredy for over 21 years. On his return he was told that Downe had died seven years earlier, his children married and Lucy living alone. Barnet immediately visited Lucy and asked her to marry him, but she declined. Barnet left apparently for good. Lucy changed her mind and after a few days went to the Black-Bull, but found Barnet had left without leaving a forwarding address. So Hardy ended his story, with no happy ending.
Potts excellent photographs show how apparently benign our sea can be, but we must always take care. Overall it is a most interesting book.
Carlos and I agreed in November it is too cold for “Dipping”.
Bridport History Society will open its New Year on Tuesday 14th January at 2.30 pm in the United Church Main Hall, Bridport East Street when Richard Sims will talk about “Coker Canvas and Bridport”, including Bridport sailcloth industry. All welcome, visitors entrance fee £4.
Happy New Year to all from Cecil Amor, Hon. President, Bridport History Society