“A very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better.” (Persuasion, chapter 11)
Last week I read this fascinating volume: The History of Lyme-Regis, Dorset, from the Earliest Periods to the Present Day by George Roberts. Published in 1823, this book appears to be the main resource for information on the seaside town of Lyme-Regis during the Regency. I found it on Google Books. I was beside myself with joy! Internet writers kept referencing it and, on a hunch, I searched for it on that wonderful repository of public-domain, out-of-print books – and there it was, within my reach. I needed it because in The Wise- and Light-Hearted, our characters are now enjoying a seaside holiday at Lyme, and internet searches were not dredging all that I needed to know. Mr. Roberts was a native of Lyme and a perfect source of information, and I am very thankful for him.
I not only enjoyed the facts about Lyme itself, but also the review of English history this book afforded. Lyme was, off and on, pretty involved in the major moments of history, and from its viewpoint I learned about England’s invaders, the English Civil War, the Duke of Monmouth, and the actions and personalities of various kings and queens. The History of Lyme-Regis named lots of people, which gave me a better idea of what English men and women were named during those centuries – let me tell you, there were more than just Williams and Marys! (Among those names I was surprised to learn were: Nicholas, Ambrose, Gregory, Amos, Solomon, Ignatius, and Abraham for men; Julian, Fayth, and Hannah for women. I was under the mistaken impression that only American Pilgrims and Puritans used Old Testament names, until perhaps the 1800s, when they started showing up in England. Why I thought that, I don’t know, but I’m glad I was corrected! This shows I need to read more widely, I guess.)
Jane Austen liked Lyme. She went there at least twice, and she wrote so thoroughly of it in Persuasion that, when our Regency characters needed a place to get away, I knew we had to use it. I’ve never seen the ocean in person, but I love what I’ve heard about it and seaside towns, its natural appendages – so right now I’m quite enchanted with Lyme and wish I could go there for real.
Here is how the native himself, the author, describes it:
“In the western part of Dorsetshire, on the very confines of Devon, between and on the ascent of two romantic hills, at the deepest part of the West Bay … is agreeably situated the ancient town of Lyme, which enjoys a climate eminently mild and salubrious, distant from London one hundred and forty-three miles, twenty-four from Dorchester, and twenty-eight from Exeter. The lower part of the town is washed by the sea, from the violence of which it is protected by walls and jetties, while the environs are extremely rural and picturesque, abounding in romantic scenery, and views of that justly admired range of hills extending eastward so far as Portland, whose abrupt precipices terminate the prospect in that direction” (p. 5).
Lyme is perhaps most famous for the Cobb, a massive, curved stone wall built out into the sea that creates a harbor for the town. “The prosperity, and, probably, the existence of the town, since the erection of the Cobb, have been intimately connected with its security, alternately rising and falling with the structure” (p. 16). You see, a harbor was necessary for a seaside town’s commerce. You can walk on the Cobb quite comfortably, though the upper part will more than likely be windy.
Maybe one day I will see Lyme in person; until then, I will enjoy one of my favorite aspects of writing: armchair travel.
Did you know anything about Lyme-Regis before this post? Do share!