Lyme Regis is a small coastal town nestled in rolling hills on the Western side of Dorset's coastline near the Dorset-Devon border. For centuries Lyme's small harbour, the "Cobb" has offered sea farers safe haven and its not difficult when visiting to indulge in a little nostalgia.
Origins of Lyme's Name
In early ages Lyme was called by the Britons Llornboth meaning a 'city of ships'. Hisotorians have linked the harbour back to Roman times (Ravennas: Chorography of Britain). However the word Lyme is derived from the British, meaning "a naval harbour" and use of the name Lyme by the Saxons first appears around the time they were converting to Christianity. Links were formed with Sherborne Abbey, which was built around this time and the Abbey was granted land in Lyme alongside the more powerful Abbey at Glastonbury.
Lyme was popular around that time for an unusual reason, and that was the salinity of its sea water. The locals would boil the sea water in pans to produce salt which would, amongst other places, supply the Abbeys of Sherborne and Glastonbury.
The origins of the harbour for military use is not easy to establish, but it is known that King Alfred, who was considered to be the founder of the English navy organised a force to protect the Dorset coast from the attacks of the Danes.
The Domesday Book
Lyme's history is relatively quiet in terms of its appearances in records after the Norman Conquest, but the small town reappears in the Domesday Book. An entry appears for the Bishop of Salisbury, of which Sherborne Abbey fell under.
"The same bishop holds Lym: it is arable land: one carucate; and has never paid the geld. Fisherman rent it and pay 15 shillings to the monks for the privilage of fishing. There are four acres of meadow. The bishop has one house yielding 6 pence".
"Land of Holy Mary of Glastonbury.- This church held Lym in King Edward's time: paying geld for three hides. It is arable land: four carucates. Ulviet rented it and still rents it of the abbot, having two carucates, 9 villains, 6 bordars, and four acres of land there. The pasture is four furlongs in length and two in breadth; also ten acres in woods. There are 13 saltmen who pay 13 shillings. The whole is worth 40 shillings."
Edward I: The First Flourish
The town first began to prosper due to a charter signed by King Edward I at Aberconway in 1284. The charter granted that Lyme was a free borough, and the men in it to be free burgesses. These mercantile freedoms, granted in London and Melcomb-Regis, spurred the town's prosperity attracting many merchants. This in turn led to the building of a bridge across the river that divided the town.
Edward III: The Cobb
By the reign of Edward III there were some 77 merchants in Lyme and it had reached the summit of its prosperity. Each merchant had his own house and a recorded 15 "large ships" and 40 boats were recorded as harbouring in Lyme. 20 of these boats were thought to be owned by fishermen. It was the two merchants that built the 'Cobb' in the sea to protect their ships and soon after they rented the town off the king. The original Cobb's construction involved the use of oak beams with a loose materials as a filler. This was later on to be replaced with the stone version.
Lyme and the Egyptians
A surprising link is found with Egypt going back to the 10th Century. The necessity for a Hospital for Lepers was introduced through contact with the Egyptians. The hospital was established around 1336 as the Pope granted indulgences to collect alms towards its maintenance.
For many Lyme Regis evokes scenes of crashing waves, storms with brooding, dark skys and a caped woman stood on the Cobb. This is of course from the film "The French Lieutenant's Woman" (1981). The woman would be none other than Meryl Streep together with her suitor, the Victorian gentleman played by Jeremy Irons. The book was written by John Fowles and adapted by playwright Harold Pinter.
Lyme has attracted its fair population of famous visitors and perhaps one of the best know is the author Jane Austen. She spent several weeks staying at Lyme in the summer of 1804 and apparently enjoyed it a great deal. Austen features Lyme in her last published book "Persuasion" which was not printed until a year after her death in 1818. Whilst staying at Lyme there was some real life drama when Jane witnessed a huge fire.
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