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Charmouth in the Age of Jane Austen
Jane Austen in Charmouth
Claire Tomlin writes in her book - “Jane Austen - a Life” that Jane Austen has been in Charmouth in the summer of 1803 and at Lyme Regis in November of that year and again in the summer of the following year. I have researched the village for that year and intend delivering a talk in due course. The following pages will be the basis for it and will be added and edited to in time. There was a Census taken of Charmouth in 1812 of the inhabitants, their occupation and number of members, male and female in each household. It is also useful in approximating where they lived as it progresses along the Main Street.

Jane Austen references in Persuasion to Charmouth

Chapter 11
The scenes in its neighbourhood , Charmouth, with its high grounds and extensive sweeps of country, and still more its sweet, retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation
Chapter 14 

Mary had had her evils; but upon the whole, as was evident by her staying so long, she had found more to enjoy than to suffer. Charles Hayter had been at Lyme oftener than suited her; and when they dined with the Harvilles there had been only a maid-servant to wait, and at first Mrs. Harville had always given Mrs. Musgrove precedence; but then she had received so very handsome an apology from her on finding out whose daughter she was, and there had been so much going on every day, there had been so many walks between their lodgings and the Harvilles, and she had got books from the library, and changed them so often, that the balance had certainly been much in favour of Lyme. She had been taken to Charmouth too, and she had bathed, and she had gone to church, and there were a great many more people to look at in the church at Lyme than at Uppercross; and all this, joined to the sense of being so very useful, had made really an agreeable fortnight.  

At the end of Marine Parade, where it intersects with Broad Street and Bridge Street, is the site of the most imposing building of Jane Austen's Lyme -- the Assembly Rooms. Sadly, the building was demolished in 1924, and the site is now a small car park. However, Fred assured us that in its time it would have rivalled the Assembly Rooms in Bath (presumably in terms of grandeur rather than size, since there's only a limited amount of space!).

It's well-recorded that Jane Austen visited the Assembly Rooms on several occasions while she was in Lyme. What is less well recorded is exactly where she stayed in the town -- probably in several different lodging houses. A short way up Broad Street there is a rather seedy looking building bearing a blue plaque (pictured below) with the inscription "Pyne House: This is the most likely lodging of Jane Austen, whose visits to Lyme in 1803 and 1804 gave birth to her novel 'Persuasion'."
Here is a 1825 map of Lyme which shows you the position of the Assembly Rooms at the bottom of the town ( note, Jane Austen was staying at Mr Pyne’s house which is also shown on the map)

But we can never visit the Assembly Rooms at Lyme Regis which Jane Austen visited in 1804, for they were demolished in 1928.

Jane Austen famously danced there on her visit in 1804:

The ball last night was pleasant, but not full for Thursday. My father staid contentedly till half-past nine (we went a little after eight), and then walked home with James and a lanthorn, though I believe the lanthorn was not lit, as the moon was up, but sometimes this lanthorn may be a great convenience to him. My mother and I staid about an hour later. Nobody asked me the two first dances; the next two I danced with Mr. Crawford, and had I chosen to stay longer might have danced with Mr. Granville, Mrs. Granville’s son, whom my dear friend Miss A. offered to introduce to me, or with a new odd-looking man who had been eyeing me for some time, and at last, without any introduction, asked me if I meant to dance again. I think he must be Irish by his ease, and because I imagine him to belong to the honbl. B.’s, who are son, and son’s wife of an Irish viscount, bold queer-looking people, just fit to be quality at Lyme

(Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 14th September 1804)

Here is a description of the rooms from my copy of John Fletham’s early tourist guidebook,  A Guide to all the Watering and Seabathing Places dating from 1803, which is slightly apologetic in tone:

Lyme has a small Assembly-Room, Card-Room and Billiard-Table all conveniently ranged under one roof ; and had the Library been joined to it, all the amusements which the place can furnish would have been comprised in one building. The situation for this edifice is happily chosen, as it commands a charming marine view as far as the Isle of Portland, eight leagues off, and the interior is compact and well arranged. Magnificence is not essential to enjoyment: often more happiness is found in a cottage than in a palace; and the rooms at Lyme frequently exhibit as cheerful countenance as are to be seen at Bath or Brighton.

Britain's greatest artist - J.M.W.Turner visited Charmouth in 1811 and painted this beautiful view of a squall looking towards Lyme Regis,which now hangs in the Kelvingrove Gallery in Glasgow. There are 3 drawings in his sketchbook which records the village in that year.
J.M.W. Turner`s painting of Lyme Regis
View from Stonebarrow Hill looking on to Charmouth and Lyme Regis c.1850
A View of Charmouth by Daniel Dunster c.1850.
We are very fortunate to have a link with the village over 200 years ago in the form of a Census carried out in 1812. When I originally saw the list of names with a description of their occupations in the Parish Records kept at the Family History Centre in Dorchester, I wasn't sure what relevance it had as their was no heading or year to it. But since then, with my researches on the village history I realise it is an early Census. By collating lists for the Poor Rates, Land Taxes and Burials for Charmouth, I can accurately place it at the end of 1812. For amongst the list of names is a Peter Clapcott, who is shown as dying on 28th June 1813. His Will is amongst a number that have survived from the people recorded on the List.
Closer study of the Census shows it to be the occupants of the houses that were in the village, as there is reference to a house, where Mrs. Mary Tozer lived as being void. Many of the inhabitants rented their properties from wealthy landowners, who lived elsewhere and hence do not appear on the list. The Poor Rates and Land Taxes for  the Year 1812 supply this information, but often leave out the occupants, especially if there are a number in the same building and is grouped together as "others". This is where the Census is exiting as it gives the number if Males and Females in each House. It also describes the occupation of the main person. I was particularly exited to find that Joseph Bradbeer was described as a Post Master. He would have been running his business from what is Nisa( Charmouth Stores), which shows it have been a shop for over 2 centuries. Almost every trade was represented and included Dress maker, Butcher, Carpenter,Shoe Maker,Fisherman,Builder, Dairyman,Baker,Taylor,Blacksmith and Surgeon. There were also three Inns at that time, which were the Fountain run by George Harvey and owned by Squire Gordon, who the following year closed it down and lived in it what is today Charmouth House. The George was owned by Samuel Gundry, who ran his brewery from the old building that still forms part of Palmers Brewery at Bridport. The tenant was Richard Hawkins. The largest of the Inns was the 3 Crowns whose landlord was Richard Clemoes, it's name was later to change to the Mail Coach Inn and finally the Coach and Horses. There are four men and five women shown as living there at that time.  
If we were to go back two centuries we would be surprised to see that the village had its own industry in the shape of Sail Making. For three of these business men are revealed on the list, they are William Burnard, George Webber's widow  and Jacob Ridley Kitt. They all rented or owned many of the fields in the village which would have been covered with Flax,the staple for their trade. The largest at that time was Kitts,which stood on the site of Charmouth Lodge,but at the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, was also the year that they went bankrupt with the decline in sails for shipping.  
The village had been centred along the Street for many centuries and the majority of those on the list were living along it. Both Lower and Higher Sea Lane were surrounded by fields, with few buildings. John Robins who appears in the list had recently built the  fine three storey. Sea Horse House in Rocket Lane as the latter was called then. Old Lyme Hill had a number of buildings along it, including the Poor House and the cottages where the Gordges lived.  
There were a number of farms surrounding the Street, the largest of which had been Charmouth Manor Farm, which had been bought by Lieutenant James Warden in 1788 and he kept the  fields to the South of The Street, which became known as Sea Lands. Those fields to the north were bought by the village Curate, Rev. Brian Combes and became known as Back Lands. By 1812, James daughter, Ann Liddon is renting them to John Harris, who appears as a Farmer on the list. Brian Combes, appears as the largest Land Owner and is renting his farm and other properties to some of the people who appear on the list. He is Rector of Catherston and although Curate for Charmouth, does the work of the absentee Rector, Rev Audain,who has quite a colourful life. Another clergyman, Reverend Puddicombe, the vicar of Branscombe, has inherited Wood Farm from his sister, Elizabeth, wife of James Warden. Mary Newton, William Burnard and William Palmer, who appear in the list are renting property from him. William Burnard runs his business from the  Mill buildings. William Browning, a coach man living in building opposite, owned by Frances, son of Joseph Bradbeer who share part of it and runs his Post Office from there.
The Mail and two other coaches pass daily through Charmouth from London to Plymouth, it being the Great Western Road – Bathing Machines are kept on the beach during the summer season, for the accommodation of the company who resort to this truly pleasant and healthy spot - advert in 1810.
Surname Christian Occupation M. F.
Baker Jacob Shoemaker 6 1
Bile Joseph Laborer 2 2
Bradbeer Joseph Post Master 1 1
Bragg William Surgeon 2 3
Browning Thomas Coach Man 1 1
Bugg Robert Laborer 3 2
Bull John Gentleman 2 1
Bullen Simon Gentleman 3 3
Burnard William Sail Cloth Maker 1 3
Butcher William Taylor 1 3
Channing Major Gentleman 2 4
Channon Maria     2
Clapcott Peter Gentleman 2 2
Clarke Mrs Widow 1 5
Clemens John Inn Keeper 4 5
Cole William Baker 2 3
Combe Brian Curate 2 3
Cood Robert Widow   2
Cook Amos Carpenter 1 3
Cozens William Laborer 2 3
Cozens Thomas Shoemaker 4 5
Dark Richard Laborer 1 4
Diment Benjamin Blacksmith 4 2
Diment Henry Baker 2 3
Edmonds Mrs     3
Edwards Mary Widow 1 2
Edwards William Butcher 3 3
Eyres Mr.   3 1
Fipping George   1 1
Gale Charles mason 1 3
Good Joseph Rev. 2 4
Goodling Henry Laborer 1 2
Gorge Digory Laborer 2 3
Gorge   Widow 4 1
Griffin James Laborer 2 1
Hackman Joseph Gentleman 1 3
Harris John farmer 4 2
Harris Stephen Gentleman 1 5
Hart George Gentleman 1 1
Harvey George Inn Keeper 2 2
Haskins Henry Thatcher 3 7
Hawkins Richard Inn Keeper 1 3
Haycroft John Taylor 2 1
Hill Mary Widow   2
Hunter John Laborer 2 4
Juson William Gentleman 1 2
Kitt Jacob Ridley Sail Cloth Maker 6 3
Lock Sam Carpenter 3 4
Lock William Laborer 1 3
Love James Butcher 4 3
Loveridge Aaron Dairy man 2 3
Newton Mary Spinster 2 4
Norman Henry Laborer 2 4
Oliver William Shoemaker 2 1
palmer William Butcher 3 6
Pattison Mr Gen. 1 8
Paul John House building    
Poor House       5
Potter John Shoemaker 5 3
Powell James Butcher 3 3
Rickard Miss Spinster 2 3
Rickard Miss Lodgers   2
Ridcout Mrs     3
Robins John Gentleman 2 5
Roper William Fisherman 2 4
Rudd Mrs Widow 1 8
Russell William Shoemaker 3 4
Shute Thomas Gentleman 3 5
Smith Henry Miller 2 5
Stokes Richard Gentleman 1 1
Symes Simon Gentleman 1 1
Symes Simon Lodgers   3
Tozer   House -vacant    
Wavring Mrs     3
Way William Mason 4 3
Webber Mrs     1
Welch F. Mantll Maker 1 3
West Richard Laborer 1 6
Wheaton Philip Carpenter 1 5
Whore Robert Laborer 7 3
Wild John Laborer 4 3
Willcox Mrs Widow 4
Total: 156 247