Bridport History Society – Birthday Celebration
The Bridport History Society was founded in 1995 to promote interest in and research into all aspects of local history and wider historical matters. On the afternoon of Thursday 14 July members and friends of the society gathered in the Town Hall to celebrate its 25th Birthday, a celebration postponed from 2020 due to Covid.
The theme of the afternoon was migration and local musicians Rough Assembly performed a show that was originally commissioned by the Somerset and Dorset Family History Society to mark the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower in 2020. They delivered a wide range of songs to tell the story of migration through the ages, a topic is ever more relevant today. To support the songs, Rob Jayne produced an excellent visual presentation.
Around the hall there were fascinating displays about families originally from West Dorset, who migrated to make their new lives in North America and Australia.
Following the performance I had the pleasure of presenting local historian and author Cecil Amor with a BLAH (British Association For Local History) Award for Local Historians for Outstanding Individual Contribution. Like me you will have read many of Cecil’s fascinating articles in the Marshwood Vale magazine . You can read some of his contributions to the Marshwood Vale magazine HERE
Bridport Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue Twinning Weekend
Here is the report and photographs I promised you in my previous blog. At 6.00am on Friday the twinning party from Bridport set off for St Vaast on a coach to Poole where we boarded the ferry to Cherbourg. After the smoothest Channel crossing I have ever had, we boarded the coach again and after a stop at the pretty little coastal town of Barfleur, twinned with Lyme Regis, for a spot of sightseeing and a late lunch we headed on to St Vaast.
On arrival we were greeted by our hosts and after a celebratory drink we dispersed to our various homes for the weekend. Our hosts, M and Mme Le Blainvaux-Kerauden, lived in a beautiful house in the heart of the town which they had spent the past 5 years completely renovating. Their excellent mastery of the English language put my extremely basic grasp of French to shame. We were made extremely welcome and their generous hospitality made us feel very much at home immediately.
The Saturday morning visit to the busy market and shopping area was followed by a quayside lunch of local oysters, bread and wine, which based on my limited experience of eating oysters were extremely tasty and lived up to the claim as being the best in the world. Lunch was followed by a walk around la Hougue a spit of land with a Vauban Tower and military fort at the end.
That evening twinners gathered for a reception at the home of the Twinning President Madame Madeleine Pinteaux. On behalf of the Bridport Twinning party Jonathan Dines presented Madeleine with a framed picture of Bridport and I presented her with an arial view photograph of Bridport Town centre taken by local photographer Neil Barnes on behalf of Bridport Town Council.
Another early start on Sunday morning in order to participate in the celebrations associated with the Blessing of the Boats. Local people had spent many months preparing for this important event which takes place every 10 years. The paper flowers they had been making were erected overnight and we awoke to a town transformed. The garlands that lined the streets and buildings were absolutely amazing.
At 9.00am the parade set off, led by the town band followed by the Bishop and several local priests, followed by the Bridport party with Town Clerk, Will Austin, Town Crier, John Collingwood and myself dressed in our formal robes and regalia. We have never been the focus of quite so much attention with the cameras and phones of the people lining the streets snapping away from every direction.
Following the parade there was an open air mass during which the names of all the fishermen lost at sea were read out, on several occasions the names of 3 members of the same family. Sitting through a long open air mass, dressed in full robes, chain etc as the sun became hotter and hotter was a challenge and I have to admit I dropped off for a few moments. That said it was a very moving ceremony.
Mass was followed by a special lunch with the Bishop on board a schooner, Le Marine to which only the Town Clerk and myself were invited, but we managed to smuggle our partners on board as well! Once again there were yet more of the delicious local oysters, elegant plates of finger food and a steady stream of sparkling wine had been consumed we made our way back on deck to witness the main event of the day, the blessing of the boats.
Afterwards a steady stream of large and small decorated fishing boats emerged from the port to sail past us, turn around, and sail past again. This time they were much closer to us at which point the Bishop blessed each one accompanied by a small band and choir on the quayside, and rounded it off with a blast on the ship’s horns. Some of the boats laid wreaths as they passed by in memory of fellow seamen lost at sea.
The formal events of the day were rounded off with a short service outside the Chapelle des Marins de Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue in which those lost at sea are honoured. Once again the names of those lost were read out and some of those around me were visibly moved on hearing certain names.
That evening we were invited to a barbecue along the street where other twinners were staying and were joined by several other local people linked to the twinning association. An excellent evening of feasting and conversation was rounded off by a glass of the hosts grandfather’s Calvados. My previous experience of Calvados was of a nicely rounded spirit but this was a raw blast of firewater!
On our final morning we travelled by Duck (an amphibious vehicle) to Tatihou Island. Due to the tide being out we were able to drive through the extensive oyster beds to the island. Once on the island we had a few hours to explore but due to the extreme heat we spent much of the time in the air conditioned island museum where an excellent display about the sea battle in 1692 at which the British navy routed the French. By the time we left the island the tide had come in, the oyster beds were no longer visible and the Duck had to sail us back to the mainland.
Back on the mainland we said goodbye to our hosts, boarded the coach and set off for home via a hypermarket to stock up on some nice food and drink, finally arriving back in Bridport around midnight.
It had been an absolutely fantastic weekend and we all felt really privilaged to have been in St Vaast for the celebrations. The Blessing of the Boats weekend is next scheduled to take place in 2030 and I look forward to engaging in more twinning events here in Bridport and St Vaast in the interveening years. If you would like to become a member of the Bridport Twinning Association click HERE.
And Finally – Bridport Folk Festival
It is the Bridport Folk Festival this weekend. Performances are scheduled to take place in a wide variety of locations across the town. To find out who is performing where and when, and book tickets click HERE.
My thanks to Carlos Guarita, Carole Masset, Will Austin, Anne Bark and others for the images which appear in this blog.