The present seaside town of Weymouth originally consisted of two independent towns, Weymouth and Melcombe Regis. Weymouth, the older of the towns was granted its first charter in 1252. It takes its name from the small river Wey that runs into Radipole Lake north-west of the town. While Melcombe developed on the north side of the inlet (mentioned as a licensed wool port in 1310 and carrying the suffix "Regis" since 1336).
Probably the darkest hour in the history of the twin boroughs occurred on or about June 24th, 1348, two ships were moored to the Melcombe Regis harbour quay. They carried goods, some passengers, and... the plague. Rats scurried ashore, and a few days later the first victims were found. The Black Death had arrived in England. In those times, ordinary people and even the "learned" ones knew little about hygiene or about the way diseases spread. In some areas 60% of the inhabitants died, and Europe lost about one third of its population in the plague of 1348-1350.
Despite this set back both settlements soon became competitors for importance, at times, this competition became real hate. Coastal and Continental trading have been there since the early Middle Ages, the latter evidently not always legal. Fierce rivalry between the boroughs over trade, smuggling and even piracy led Elizabeth I in 1571 to combine them to form the basis of the modern town.
There is a memorial in the gardens opposite the Pier Pavilion, to John Endicott and Richard Clark, "captain and pilot of Weymouth who in 1583 sailed thence to join Sir Humphrey Gilbert's voyage of discovery to Newfoundland". From the Plymouth Company, John Endicott and five others bought a strip of North America that was 60 miles wide and "extended from sea to shining sea," from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This included Salem, Massachusetts, and he sailed there in the Abigail. Endicott became Governor of Massachusetts Bay colony in 1649 and retained the post, with only a few breaks, until his death in 1665.
In 1588 many local ships fought the Spanish Armada in a major battle off Portland, and successfully captured the San Salvador which was brought into port and looted. The Mayor is reputed to have run away with the pay chest!
The first bridge was built between Weymouth and Melcombe Regis them in 1593, but the fierce rivalry continued. In 1645 a cannonade was fired across the harbour by Royalist Weymouth into Parliamentarian Melcombe; a cannonball stuck into a building wall can be seen to this day; Melcombe repaid in kind by sending fire ships across to the southern quay.
A new era began for Weymouth when in 1773 the first notable holiday resort was opened. However, business really picked up only after George III spent some time for convalescence in Weymouth in 1789. It must have been a marvelous sight to behold when the King emerged from the bathing cart (still to be seen in the Town Museum) into the water while a band, hidden in other carts, played "God Save The King"! For the next 15 years he visited Weymouth regularly, and in 1809 the thankful citizens erected a statue of the King near the beach, at the expense of 200 guineas (which price included a lion and a unicorn).
Until 1832 both towns sent their own MPs to Parliament, some of them as famous as Sir Christopher Wren (for Weymouth) and Sir Francis Bacon (for Melcombe). Today, Melcombe Regis is a part of Weymouth, incidentally the part that is still referred to as "the Town" by elder citizens.
The Nothe Fort which comprises over 70 rooms on three levels (Ramparts, Courtyard and Magazines) was built in 1860 as part of the defense of Portland Harbour and was designed and constructed by the Royal engineers to house a 12 gun battery of massive canons. Later adapted for modern guns, it remained in active service until 1956 when coastal Defense was abandoned. it was sold in 1961 to Weymouth and Portland Borough Council and has been restored and opened to the public by Weymouth Civic Society, assisted by the Council
Weymouth played a major role in the invasion of France during the second World War. A memorial, opposite the Royal Hotel, commemorates the sailing from Weymouth and Portland of the American assault force - including the United States 1st Infantry Division and Ranger units - that saw the bloodiest D-Day fighting with more than 2,000 casualties on Omaha Beach in Normandy. The plaque records that 517,816 troops and 144,093 vehicles were embarked through Weymouth and Portland by the 14th Major Port, United States Army, between 6th June 1944 and the end of the war, on 7th May 1945.
Today, Weymouth harbour supports a fleet of a few fishing vessels and a notably larger number of private yachts and cruisers. Every imaginable type of vessel can be seen; luxury yachts and cruisers, power boats and racing yachts, row boats and fishing boats, Tall Ships and paddle steamers, life boats and Naval vessels. It is also the embarkation point for the Channel Islands Ferries. Condor operate a high speed hydrofoil service to the Channel Isles.
The town still is a holiday resort with some 4500 hotel beds though it never could re-gain 19th-century glory. The impressive sweep of the Georgian seafront houses a wide variety of hotels, restaurants and pubs, cafes and ice cream parlors. Current development and construction work tries to link up, in up-to-date style, to the days when the town claimed to be the "Naples of England".