What happened to Weymouth? The decline of a favourite seaside town

Weymouth seafront

I have loads of fond memories from holidays in Weymouth. Ma Lee used to work for a famous chain of betting shops, who in the early 80s also owned a string of holiday camps to rival Butlins and Pontins. One of which was Blue Waters in Weymouth. Memories of the actual holiday park are hazy, although I do remember that there was a kids “Starcruiser” Club, and you’d be either a “comet” or a “planet” depending on whether your caravan number was odd or even. I may still even have a Starcruiser badge somewhere in the loft. There would be treasure hunts and party dances and disco dancing competitions (although my disco dancing competition triumph came many years later at a Haven camp down in Hayle, Cornwall – I still can’t hear Rhythm is A Dancer without breaking into a routine…)

I didn’t return to Weymouth for years. Ma and Pa Lee and I toured the holiday parks of England and Wales, with various friends in tow. I was in my mid-teens the first time I returned, staying in a guesthouse on Brunswick Terrace. And then again, in the summer of 2001, with Ma and Pa Lee and a (now ex-) boyfriend in tow, finally old enough to sample the many bars and pubs of the seaside town. The weather was glorious, I bought a bright pink bikini and sunbathed on the beach, we stayed at a B&B at the top of what seemed like the world’s steepest hill, and we drank our way around a pretty impressive 11 pubs on an all-day pub crawl. For me, Weymouth became synonymous with a fun seaside town.

Mr Fletche and I visited early in our relationship (mainly to visit the fab Monkey World) and then again with Ma and Pa Lee in 2011 when this next picture was taken on a very windy day at Portland Bill.

Windy day at Portland Bill
Photo by Ma Lee…

So when we fancied a seaside getaway over the Easter holidays, Weymouth was one of the first places we thought of. Mr Fletche was in charge of the accommodation (a very odd AirBnB in Portland), I was in charge of the activities – like this slightly-longer-than-planned hike – and we both agreed that we’d spend a good portion of our time revisiting some of our favourite Weymouth haunts.

On Easter Sunday, after a lovely morning stroll around Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove, we took the bus into Weymouth for a late lunch and drinks. It’s a good sign for the afternoon when there’s some sort of music festival going on at Custom House Quay. We pop to the Ship Inn to wet our whistle. This is a pub that holds fond memories – a teetering gas heater outside whilst a selfie was being taken (Pa Lee and his mini tripod largely responsible); more than one karaoke night, singing Shania Twain and Dusty Springfield to a thankfully small but appreciative audience (Ma and Pa Lee). But there is something soulless about this pub today. The fixtures and fittings are largely the same, but it’s brighter, cleaner and more, well, generic. They now do cocktails and “eclectic global fare”. It’s a Hall and Woodhouse pub, so there’s a decent local beer selection – albeit served in plastic glasses because of the frivolities going on outside – but something is not quite hitting the mark for us. Maybe we need food.

Boats at Weymouth Quayside, Dorset
Boats at Weymouth Quayside, photo courtesy of Pixabay

If there’s one place that never lets us down for food in Weymouth, it’s the Marlboro fish & chip restaurant on St Thomas Street. There’s one vacant table, just for us, and we settle down to a cracking chippy meal. Bellies full, we head over Town Bridge and towards Brewers Quay. I’ve always loved this area, with it’s pretty coloured houses leading up to the impressive brick fascia of Brewers Quay, yet now it is lying empty and unloved, awaiting redevelopment. The Red Lion is still there, on the optimistically-named Hope Square, and we nestle under the awning outside, avoiding the drizzle which is now pervading the air. Entertainment is provided by two staff trying to fold a marquee up into a small pouch the size of an umbrella cover. This is as entertaining as it gets.

We head back over to the town centre; the band is still playing indie hits on the quayside but the crowd has largely dispersed now the weather has turned, apart from a couple of hardy souls, slopping warm, flat lager out of their plastic pint glasses. We hunt for a pub that fits the bill for our next drink. Weymouth used to be full of small back-street pubs, with pool tables and juke boxes, yet now these pubs have been turned into venues attracting the Friday and Saturday night “yoof”, advertising happy hours and shots as if this is the Magaluf strip. Weymouth has always been a nightlife hub; I remember drinking in The Clipper when it was Barracuda – and was it a Yates Bar before that? – and purchasing test tube shots from a scantily clad hostess (and this was about five o’clock in the afternoon). But now every pub is either soulless and generic, like The Ship, or selling itself on buckets of bottled beer and pitchers of lurid-coloured cocktails. There are two Wetherspoons pubs within 5 minutes of each other – surely that says it all?

Weymouth seafront
Weymouth seafront, photo courtesy of Pixabay

Of course, Weymouth’s beach and promenade is it’s pride and joy, but resorts need to provide more of an all-weather experience, and all Weymouth seems to have now is a run-down amusement park, an overpriced observation tower, and pubs. The tired-looking high street is full of phone shops, tattooists and charity shops – much like many high streets up and down the country, but I somehow expect something a little more from Weymouth. It’s chain store after chain restaurant after chain store after chain restaurant – where are the independents? Shops with shabby fascias lie empty, and Weymouth’s growing homeless population are using their doorways for shelter. As a host town for the 2012 Olympics, there is little to show of the “legacy” which was shouted about in the run-up.

Olympic Rings, Portland, Dorset
Olympic Rings on Portland, courtesy of Pixabay

Maybe it’s us. Maybe we’ve changed, and Weymouth has always been like this, but whereas before we’d just get stuck-in and order another bottle of WKD, now we’re a little more refined. We want pubs with a decent local beer selection. We want to have more of a choice for food than bland pub grub or a chippy tea. We want shops that showcase local art and talent, not another H&M or New Look or Card Factory. Weymouth has never been a kiss-me-kwik-hat, stick-of-rock, amusement-arcade kind of resort, but now it seems to have lost it’s identity altogether.

And don’t get me started on Blackpool. Or Rhyl.

Have you revisited a much-loved place from your younger days which has changed beyond recognition?  Do you think this is a case of remembering Weymouth through rose-tinted glasses – which are now firmly off? And which seaside resorts in the UK are still worth a visit? Let me know in the comments!

You’ll note that my Weymouth pictures (except my hair-raising one at Portland Bill) are all stock photos from Pixabay. We were clearly so disappointed that neither of us took any photos…

A Brummie Home and Abroad_ The Decline of the UK Seaside Resort. Focusing on Weymouth in Dorset

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18 Replies to “What happened to Weymouth? The decline of a favourite seaside town”

  1. I think many of the great British seaside destinations are in decline now. Where I always went as a child, Jaywick, next to Clacton, is now pretty much entirely boarded up and closed down. The Clacton council keep trying to get the place demolished, its run into such disrepair and decay. The people still living in wood-frame bungalows there feel differently. Clacton itself isn’t much better. I have a lot of memories there; now the place is shifted and remodelled in hard to define ways. Maybe it’s partly a consequence of ageing; the places we love change and begin to alienate us. It’s not just that but that maybe a part of it.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Daaamn. That’s some immense darkness for a seaside resort. What a world. I’m not surprised you left but I must confess, I would have found the exchange sickly fascinating, if very disturbing and somewhat enraging.

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  2. Possibly the Olympics are partly to blame. A lot of money was thrown at bits of Weymouth and the surrounding areas, but they might not have been the bits the would be the most use to the town after the Olympics left.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One of the problems is that infrastructure wasn’t improved – the roads around the town are still a nightmare (they’ve just added loads more traffic lights since our last visit) and there is barely any parking. Whatever money has been spent doesn’t look to have improved the town for residents or tourists 😦

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  3. It’s so sad… Britain has some really beautiful beaches. We took the nursery children to Margate last week and the sand to see the skies they were so blue it was all so hot it was like being in Europe and then you turned around and you saw the derelict shops and everything else. Thankfully the beach was empty so I’ll children have free run of pretty much everything but still it’s a shame that people don’t use what they have on their doorstep more than just getting onto a plane and going somewhere exotic … and expensive…

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  4. I understand what you mean about the lack of independent shops and the general decline of some if these places as we’ve seen a few in our travels. It’s sad to see and your honesty about your time away is refreshing, but sad at the same time. The no taking of photos tell a story!

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  5. I think a lot of it may have to do with how cheap flights have gotten- why go to a seaside town when you can fly to Spain for £40 return? (I’m not a fan of hot vacations, so I tend to buck these trends haha, but its it’s a common thing to see)

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  6. Ah what a shame. I’m glad to see we are investing in our seaside towns in the North East. Steve and I spent a cracking day at Tynemouth yesterday. Whitley Bay is getting revamped as we speak and it’s great news.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. That’s too bad. Towns can ebb and flow. For a while, my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin’s pedestrian mall was like that. I just read an article stating it a foodie town! Glad to hear it’s back on track!

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  8. Aah, seaside towns. I used to visit a LOT of schools for work, and I have to say it was often the seaside towns that had the least investment. The kids were looovely, but they all had such low aspirations for themselves.

    I’ve noticed a lot of my friends who can no longer afford to live in London have started to move the the seaside. It is starting to gentrify some of those areas, but although you might like to love the craft beers and independent shops that those people bring, they still cause a problem, as it drives up prices for the locals and makes them mad.

    This may all get even worse post Brexit. *sigh*

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  9. Had that experience last September in Plymouth, MA. When I was younger there was a great animatronic display about the Pilgrims. It was on a hill overlooking the harbor. Really told a great story about the landing and life afterward. I saw it as a child. My son saw it as a child. Last year we tried to show it to my husband’s nieces and it was gone. In its place were brand new condos overlooking the harbor. So sad that one of the most fun displays in town is now gone and the animatronic models were for sale online.

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