The Jurassic Coast is England’s only natural world heritage site. The Dorset and East Devon coastline’s geology represents 185 million years of earth history in just 95 miles. With striking scenery, views and walks, and a range of museums with fossil interest, there’s plenty to see. For ghosts, read on.
The village of Charmouth, with its 1,800 residents and 34 listed buildings has been around since the 9th century. In 1501, Catherine of Aragon is said to have stayed there on her way to marry Henry VIII’s brother, Arthur. And, after escaping from the Battle of Worcester in 1651, Charles II sheltered in the village.
Charmouth Lodge on the main road (The Street) is said to be haunted by two characters, the ghost of a monk and a white lady. The woman, apparently, was murdered and then put down a well, situated under the dining room. An interesting place to stay, perhaps?
Lyme Regis with its sloping shopping street, landscaped grounds and the Cobb (harbour), where The French Lieutenant’s Woman was filmed, is well worth a visit. The shops are interesting (particularly if you like charity shops) and the sea is impressive, even (especially) in bad weather. The streets are narrow and buses come scarily close to the walls.
A number of writers are associated with the town, from Jane Austen (1803 and 1804), to John Fowles. And the local area is subject to landslips, with one of the worst occuring in 1839. A further slip, which took place as recently as 2008, was described as the ‘worst for 100 years’. When slips occur fossils can appear.
Speaking of fossils of the ghostly kind, one story tells of a hand waving from the window of a house. The hand belonged to an old woman, apparently once confined in the attic, who waved to let the locals know when the coach had arrived at Horn Bridge. The coach didn’t want to navigate the streets of the town centre, which were very narrow, so it stopped by the bridge and tooted its horn. The old lady would hear the horn, and wave to the people who’d hurry to meet it. Visitors to Lyme can indulge in such stories, of which there are several, by going on a ghost walk (summer months only). Tourist Information has further details.
In 1755, Thomas Whitty wove his first carpet here, and the business developed a good reputation, with carpets being sold in the finest houses. The original factory was burnt down in 1826, and rebuilt, as shown here. Shortly afterwards, the factory went bankrupt, but in 1937, the town began making carpets again, on its present site in Woodmead Road.
In the old courthouse entrance, a coloured panel tells the story of an enterprising man, Robert Moulding, who, in earlier days (pre-first world war) used to poach salmon to feed his children (all 11 of them). When he was caught, the magistrate fined him 7/6d, which he couldn’t pay. So he went to the river, poached another salmon and took it along to the magistrate’s housekeeper who bought it from him for 7/6d! With this he was able to pay his fine. He later used his enterprising nature to set up a successful construction business.
Not far from Axminster is Shute Barton manor house, where the unfortunate Lady de la Pole was hanged during the Civil War, for being a Royalist. Rumour has it she continues to walk the grounds of the manor, while others say the woman is in fact Lady Jane Grey, whose family previously owned the building. In the 16th century they tried to put Lady Jane on the throne, fell from grace with the crown and lost their home. The manor was leased by the de la Pole family, who later bought it.
Not far away, in the other direction, is Monkton Wyld, a local hamlet with an interesting house, a former rectory. But more about Monkton Wyld next time…
Article written by Ellie Stevenson, author.
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- Jurassic Coast: Dorset & East Devon [leaflet]
- Jurassic Coast World Heritage Team & M Simons. A Visitor’s Guide to Charmouth, Dorset [leaflet]
- The Paranormal Database
- Tourist Information. Discover Axminster. Axminster Printing Co. [leaflet]