Lyme-Regis (St. Michael the Archangel)

LYME-REGIS (St. Michael the Archangel), a borough, market-town, and parish, having separate jurisdiction, in the union of Axminster, Bridport division of Dorset, 22 miles (W.) from Dorchester, and 144 (W. S. W.) from London; containing 2756 inhabitants. This place derives its name from the river Lim, on which it is situated. In 774, Cynewulf, King of the West Saxons, granted by charter "the land of one mansion near the west bank of the river Lim, not far from the place where it falls into the sea, to the abbey of Sherborne, that salt should be there boiled to supply the wants of the church." In Domesday book, Lyme is surveyed in three parcels, one belonging to the Bishop of Salisbury, a second to Glastonbury Abbey, and the third to William Belet, one of the king's servants. Edward I. gave to it the privileges of a borough and port, and assigned the town as part of the dower of his sister, Margaret, Queen of Scotland. It furnished Edward III. with four ships and 62 men for the siege of Calais, but afterwards became so impoverished, that in Camden's time it was little better than a fishing-town. During the civil war in the reign of Charles I., Lyme was a station of considerable importance to both parties; it was early fortified by the parliament, and though besieged by Prince Maurice, always remained in their possession. The first engagement of the English fleet with the Spanish Armada, in 1588, took place off this part of the coast; and in 1672, another occurred between the English and Dutch fleets, when the latter, being beaten, retired to the coast of France. The Duke of Monmouth landed at Lyme in 1685, and slept at the George inn; he was soon after defeated at Sedgmoor, and twelve of his adherents, condemned at Dorchester by Judge Jeffreys, were executed here. Few events of importance have since occurred: about forty houses were destroyed by fire, in May, 1844.

The town is situated at that extremity of the county which borders on Devonshire, between two rocky hills, and is divided by the river Lim, which rises about two miles northward. One part of it, occupying a steep declivity, has a very striking appearance, the houses rising in succession, and being mostly built of blue lias stone; the principal street, called Broad-street, contains excellent shops, and is a very handsome thoroughfare. The town is lighted with gas, and the inhabitants are supplied with good water from a copious spring about half a mile distant. Recent improvements have made Lyme a fashionable bathing-place: the accommodations for visiters are good; there are baths, and assembly, billiard, and card rooms, with some libraries. In 1846, an act was passed for further improving the town. The surrounding scenery is remarkably fine; the walk upon the Cobb is almost unrivalled, and several beautiful villas have been erected in the environs. There was formerly a considerable trade with France, Spain, and the West Indies, which has declined; and a few vessels were at one time fitted out for the Newfoundland fishery. The port, which, in a return made to the exchequer in the 31st of Charles II., is represented as a member of Poole, has the privilege of bonding corn, wine, spirituous liquors, hemp, tallow, timber, deals, iron-bars, and other goods; the vessels belonging to it are chiefly employed in the coasting-trade, and a packet sails to Guernsey once a fortnight. The harbour, or Cobb, about a quarter of a mile west-south-west from the town, existed so early as the time of Edward III.; it was originally composed of vast pieces of rock, rudely piled, but is now a work of regular masonry, consisting of two piers, inclosing a basin. A breach made in it during the "Great Storm," was repaired by government in 1825, at an expense of £17,337. The dues, which average about £450 per annum, are appropriated to its repair. The manufacture of broad-cloth for great coats, often called "Lyme cloth," is carried on in the vicinity, and the town was formerly noted for the manufacture of lace. The markets are on Tuesday and Friday; and fairs are held on February 13th and October 2nd.

Lyme was incorporated by Edward I., and its privileges were confirmed and augmented by succeeding monarchs, particularly by Henry VIII. A court of pie-poudre was granted to the mayor and burgesses by Mary, and a new charter by Elizabeth; to which various privileges were added by James I., Charles I., and William III. The government is now vested in a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors, under the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., cap. 76; the number of magistrates is ten. Sessions are held four times in the year; and there is a court for the recovery of debts, under the direction of the mayor and aldermen: the royalty of the manor is vested in the corporation, and a manorial court takes place annually. Lyme returned members to parliament, with only three intermissions, from the 23rd of Edward I. to the year 1832; but by the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45, it was enacted that it should thenceforward return only one representative. The borough now comprises the parishes of Lyme and Charmouth, and the franchise is vested in the £10 householders; the mayor is returning officer. The parish comprises by computation an area of about 1200 acres.

The living is a discharged vicarage, valued in the king's books at £10. 5. 7½., and in the patronage of the Prebendary of Lyme-Regis and Halstock in the Cathedral of Salisbury: the tithes have been commuted for £272. 5., of which £218. 10. are payable to the vicar. The church, which was rebuilt about the end of the fifteenth century, has portions in the decorated and later styles, and consists of a nave, chancel, and two aisles, both of which are embattled on the outside: one of these aisles was formerly dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and the other to St. Nicholas. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, Wesleyans, and Roman Catholics; also two almshouses, founded in 1548, by John Tudbold. A convent of Carmelite friars existed here; and in the fourteenth century there was an hospital for lepers, dedicated to St. Mary and the Holy Ghost. The vicinal way from Hogchester, on the ancient Ikeneld-street, runs through the parish. Some fine specimens of antediluvian remains are found, from which the most eminent geologists, both British and Foreign, have enriched their collections: among these especially are the bones of the Icthyosauri and the Plesiosauri; and fossil remains of the greatest interest are discovered in the blue lias which forms the line of coast, and on which the town itself stands. From this stone is made the celebrated mortar which has the property of setting under water, and is so extensively used in London for stucco plaster. Among the natives of the place were, Captain Thomas Coram, who established the "Foundling Hospital," born about 1668; and Sir George Summers, the distinguished admiral, who discovered the Bermuda Islands.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.

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