BLOG 117 – PORTLAND CIVIC DAY, SUSTAINABLE BRIDPORT, CHANGING PLACES, HARBOUR HOUSE, DORSET CRIME RATE & more
PORTLAND CIVIC DAY
I find Portland a really fascinating place and whenever we have visitors it is one of the places we tend to take them. There is something about its no nonsense mix of rugged beauty and rich heritage that give it a unique and special identity. So I looked forward to exploring it with the Mayor of Portland and other mayors last Friday.
Portland is not really an island but is reached via a narrow causeway from Chesil Beach. Human occupation of Portland dates back for thousands of years. It was called Vindilis by the Romans and there is evidence of successive settlements on the island. Much later, Thomas Hardy described it as ‘The Isle of Slingers’. This was because the inhospitable Portlanders used to throw stones to keep strangers away.
Portland is a huge block of limestone, measuring 4.5 miles by 1.75 miles and rising to a height of 400 feet above sea level in the north. The famous Portland Stone quarried there has been used for many well-known buildings. These include both our own St Paul’s Cathedral and the United Nations Building in New York. Many of the quarries are owned by the crown as Portland is a Royal Manor.
In the second half of the 17th century, Sir Christopher Wren, who was at one time MP for Weymouth, used Portland Stone to rebuild London after the Great Fire. Over six million tons were used to rebuild around fifty churches and other buildings. The stone was taken by barges along the coast to the River Thames.
The stone was also used to produce hundreds of thousands of gravestones for those who fell on the Western Front during the Second World War. These were shipped to France and Belgium to the huge war cemeteries. There were also half a million headstones for the Commonwealth war cemeteries in the same area. The Whitehall Cenotaph itself is also made of Portland Stone.
Today Portland stone is no longer quarried but is mined. The mayors first visit was to Bowers Quarry and Mine. The entrance to the mine is via the quarry and you walk straight in. Once inside there are several miles of tunnels constructed in a grid system. The photographs below give you an impression of the scale of the operation.
It was only a short walk from the mine to St George’s Church. Originally consecrated in 1766, St George’s was at one time the only parish church for the whole of the Isle of Portland.
St George’s is the masterwork of a local mason named Thomas Gilbert whose grandfather supplied the Portland stone used to build St Paul’s Cathedral. Look carefully at the spire and you will see a distinct similarity to St Paul’s.
The interior with its lectern, pulpit, box pews and galleries all surviving. It is a ‘preacher’s church’; with all the seating facing the twin pulpits – one for reading ‘the Word’; (scripture), the other for lengthy sermons has been beautifully restored by the Redundant Churches Fund.
The churchyard is a treasure trove of fabulous headstones and memorials that tell tales of murder, piracy and adventure in a gloriously atmospheric setting. There are inscriptions to Mary Way and William Lano, who were shot and killed in 1803 by a press gang, and Joseph Trevitt, an assistant warder at Portland Prison who was murdered by a convict in 1869. There is also a memorial added to a family gravestone of a son who was lost on the Titanic. To one side of the graveyard is a memorial constructed from headstones damaged beyond repair by a stray WW2 German bomb.
The third place we visited was the iconic Portland Lighthouse on the Bill. It is one of three lighthouses, the other two are now a B&B and a bird watching hide.
Portland Bill lighthouse has been standing majestically for the past one hundred and fourteen years at a height of 41 metres (135 feet). The distinctive red and white tower first shone its famous four flashes of light every twenty seconds on 11 January 1906 and had a range of 25 nautical miles which has guided passing vessels through the hazardous waters around Portland Bill as well as acting as a way-mark for ships navigating the English Channel.
In 2019, Portland Bill Lighthouse underwent a modernisation project and the character and range of the main navigation light were changed, decreasing from 25 to 18 nautical miles. New LED lanterns were installed and the rotating optic was relocated and placed on display at the base of the tower.
The Visitor Centre was refurbished in 2015, thanks to the generosity of David and Alice Gestetner, and the Lighthouse looks spectacular inside and out. The work was made possible by a grant from the Trinity House Maritime Charity.
The displays and information are very informative before you set off to climb the spiral stairs, but it’s certainly worth all 153 steps to witness the magnificent views from out of the various windows on the way up, as you stop to catch your breath! At the top, in the ‘lantern room’ you can see Dorset’s beautiful Jurassic coast for miles. You’ll even get a badge if you make it to the top.
Portland is always worth a visit whether the sun is shining or a storm is blowing.
SYMONDSBURY CORONATION TREE
On Tuesday morning I joined pupils from Symondsbury School and Symondsbury Estate staff to unveil a plaque beside one of the three flowering cherry trees planted to mark the coronation of King Charles III.
The coronation trees are but a small part of the work the estate is doing towards building a more sustainable environment through regenerative farming practice. The recently constructed ‘Bugingham Palace’ bug hotel see in some of the images aboveis is already occupied withe several different species. All of this is not only commendable but as time passes it will all become increasingly beautiful.
Speaking to the children it was eveiden that they are already very knowledgable about and aware of the importance of looking after the environment. Investing in the environment and young people is essential for the future of humanity.
SUSTAINABLE BRIDPORT – Launch Event
On Tuesday evening the Town Hall was packed with people participating in the official launch of Sustainable Bridport. Sustainable Bridport is the new face of Transition Town Bridport and the following statement borrowed from the Sustainable Bridport website sums up its aims:
Climate change is touching the lives of us all, biodiversity is being wiped out. Consumerism and economic growth as we have known it are no longer sustainable.
Imagine a future where everyone has a part to play in making our local community work- from energy supply, food production, transport, and leisure, through to all other aspects of life.
Sustainable Bridport works toward flexible and creative responses to:
- Reduce local energy consumption- personal and business.
- Encourage local production and consumption.
- Adapt to change and work with others to become more self-reliant.
- Trying to act alone, the challenges we face can feel overwhelming but when we come together, we start to realise our power and potential.
On the night, those present heard reports and presentations from a range of people describing the work already being undertake and were able to discuss what future priorities should be. The evening ended with a 3 minute soapbox opportunity for anyone to stand up and speak. I took the opportunity to talk about waste and litter and gave the forthcoming From Street to Sea mass litter pick on Monday 8th May a big plug.
The images below taken by Sarah Wilberforce provide a flavour of the event.
If you care about developing a sustainable future for Bridport and the wider world you can contact Sustainable Bridport by clicking HERE.
CHANGING PLACES @ WEST BAY HOLIDAY PARK OPENS
Thursday morning saw the official opening of the Changing Places facility at Parkdean’s West Bay Holiday Park. Being asked to open a toilet may not be have been what I imagined myself doing as Mayor of Bridport but this is no ordinary toilet.
A Changing Places toilet is larger than standard accessible toilets with extra features and more space to meet these needs. They are generally designed for dependent use, for example with a carer, hence the need for additional space.
This state of the art facility includes equipment such as hoists, privacy screens, adult-sized changing benche, shower, peninsula toilets and space for carers.
The changing bench and handbasin can both be raised and lowered at the touch of a button making using both so much more easier.
With the addition of the Changing Places toilet to the beach matting installed last year and the launch of the beach wheelchairs a few weeks ago West Bay can truly claim to be truly friendly and accessible to all.
On behalf of every potential user I would like to Dorset Council for securing the grant funding from the Department of Levelling Up to make this possible. And a big thank you to Parkdean Resorts who will be maintaining the facility. Thank you Sean and your team.
I am thrilled we have this facility here in West Bay and know it will make such a difference to both visitors and local people with restricted mobility.
In addition to the Changing Places facility many of the other resources available on the West Bay Holiday Park site including the swimming pool and soft play area are open to the public.
HARBOUR HOUSE CELEBRATION
On Thursday afternoon I returned to West Bay to join the staff and residents in celebrating the completion of a major building project.
The exterior has been transformed with new glass balconies giving the building a more contemporary look but more importantly giving the residents enhanced views from their rooms across West Bay and for many a clear view of the sea. But that is only a small part of the work that has been carried out, new double glazed windows and doors, strengthened balconies, roof repairs and the restoration of damaged stonework has all been completed over the past year. Not only has Harbour House been given a contemporary facelift, the structural works carried out mean that the building is now in tip top condition for the foreseeable future.
Meeting the residents and staff once again and having the opportunity to talk to some of the people who carried out the work made for a really uplifting and interesting afternoon. I had the honour in tandem with resident Ken of cutting the ceremonial ribbon to declare the works finally complete.
Whenever I go to Harbour House, I’m always struck by the warm and caring atmosphere between the staff and the residents. They are all a real tonic.
DORSET CRIME RATE
Dorset remains the sixth safest area in the country after experiencing a rise in crime markedly lower than other parts of England and Wales.
The Office for National Statistics released data on Thursday, 27 April 2023, which shows that overall crime rose by 3.7 per cent in Dorset during the 12 months to 31 December 2022. This increase is significantly less than the national average of 8.5 per cent and puts Dorset as the sixth safest area in the country.
A rise in crime was expected in part due to these statistics being compared to the same time in 2021, when crime fell as a direct result of the national and regional COVID-19 lockdown in January 2021.
View full article HERE.
BRIDPORT MUSEUM – Historic Guided Walks
Bridport Museum’s historic guided walks will take place every Thursday. The volunteer guides lead walks around Bridport, sharing some of their fascinating insights into the town’s unique past. The walk will start from outside the Museum at 11am and will last around one hour. All are easy level walking and cost £5 per adult and children are free. Walks may be cancelled due to the weather.
Phone 01308 458703 for details.
BRIDPORT COMMUNITY ORCHARD – Mayfest 2023
This year the Bridport Community Orchard Group’s Mayfest will be held on Sunday 30th April from 12noon to 3pm in the Community Orchard. Celebrate springtime with live music, refreshments, a treasure hunt, making masks & garlands, storytelling and lots more. Free admission.
DORSET COUNCIL – Planning for Climate Change consultation
Dorset Council has prepared three draft guidance documents to help those making planning applications in future take account of climate change considerations. The three documents are:
- Planning for Climate Change,
- Sustainability Checklist
- Listed Buildings.
To view the information and make a response click HERE. The consultation is open until the 8th June.
AND FINALLY – Lynne Atkinson
I was saddened to hear of the passing of Lynne Atkinson who passed away peacefully last week having lost her long battle with cancer.
Bridport has lost a stalwart member of several local organisations. Lynne was the long time secretary of the Bridport and District Allotment Society (BADAS) and was a kind, knowledgeable, efficient and hard working member for whom nothing was too much trouble.
She was also on the Hat Festival committee and was heavily involved with the Asker Nature Reserve Project.
Lynne’s contribution to the town will be sorely missed.