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                        West Bay [Bridport Harbour] c1905 from personal collection.

When Daniel Defoe visited Dorset in 1724 he found Bridport, a pretty large corporation town near the sea shore, tho’ without a harbour”.[1] In fact there had been a harbour at West Bay [as it is usually known] for centuries but it was variable in it’s position and prone to silting. In 1740 the harbour was moved to it’s current position and the River Brit was diverted to run between two parallel wooden piers.

For seafarers of any generation the approach to the harbour has been a daunting prospect. Lying on the vast ‘lee’ shore formed by Lyme Bay, it was a trap for unhandy ships, unable to sail against the wind. In Martin’s day the piers directly faced the prevailing south westerly winds which made it difficult to enter and even more difficult to leave, unless the weather was kind and the wind blowing in a favourable direction.

Despite these disadvantages Bridport, from earliest times, was an important place. There was fishing of course but since Anglo-Saxon times it had been a Royal Burgh and at least since the 13th century it was an important centre of rope and sail cloth production. In the valley of the river Brit, hemp and flax grew well and there was a thriving manufactory for rope, fishing nets, rigging, sail cloth and so on. Most of this production was done not so much in the town itself but in the surrounding parishes such as Allington, extending up to Beaminster. In Bridport itself there were a few ‘spinning walks’ but in Allington the tithe map records no less than thirteen of these rope [spinning] walks in the parish and the 1841 census lists a whole host of occupations engaged in rope and cloth production.

Thomas Rowlandson. The very hilly nature of the countryside in this area is shown nicely here the 9th September Martin recorded in his accounts,


9th September 1810 Went to Bridport Harbour by Water with Commissioner 7s

This is the only mention of any nautical outing made by him anywhere in the diaries and we do not know why he went there or indeed where from. He was at Abbotsbury, attending an inclosure meeting during this time and since there are no ports or harbour’s of refuge on this side of Portland Bill it may have been that he went in a boat launched of the beach. Over the next few years he attended Bridport on Turnpike matters and to help arrange the sale of the Down estate. In 1823 the harbour commissioners began a further rebuilding of the harbour extending it’s basin. What role, if any Martin had in this we cannot know but his next involvement with the harbour was at the behest of the town clerk at Bridport. Probably after completion of the works.

26th April 1827 £3 3s 0d Received of Mr Nicholetts for Measuring boundaries at Bridport Harbour

After that there are no more references to him working at the harbour. On the other hand over the course of all the diaries he attended Bridport on many occasions particularly in relation to Allington and to his turnpike work.

1 Defoe D A Tour thro’ the whole Island of Great Britain vol 1 1774.

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