Washed Ashore Exhibition August-October 2018

Our first exhibition ” Washed Ashore” included stories of items that have been found on the beaches of West Bay.

The exhibition also highlighted the problem of plastic pollution in our seas and included sea sculptures produced by children from Loders Primary School using plastic washed up on the beach.

One of the historic items we had in our exhibition was a piece of Shrapnel from a Heinkel III bomber and part of an incendiary bomb 1942, loaned by Bridport Museum Trust.

A Heinkel III crash-landed just off the beach between West Bay and Eype on the 6th November 1940. They were suffering with both a compass failure and English efforts to mask the German radio beacons, which led them to believe they were over the coast of France. They mistook the water for shingle. Three out of the four crew survived, the missing airman was believed to be have been dragged out to sea as he tried to escape from the aircraft. His body was recovered and buried with full military honours.

The aircraft had been carrying an intact X-Gerät radio known as ‘Wotan 1’, which was designed for precision bombing. The troops on the spot were set to guard the aircraft and not let anyone interfere. Naval personnel at West Bay offered to lend a hand and were rebuffed.  The vital, sought after, internal equipment was not immediately retrieved from the water and was irreparably damaged. There was anger that the raid of Coventry, a week later, might have conceivably been avoided.

We always love hearing local stories and John Hawkins told us this story about his grandfather.

My Grandfather was a great beachcomber. He found a very old gold coin and not realising it’s true worth, took it to the pub and exchanged it for a drink not realising it’s value.

Do you have any stories of treasures you have found on the beach at West Bay? unfortunately, all we find is plastic pollution.

Smuggling and the Dorset Connection

We had another packed centre for our talk ‘Smuggling and the Dorset connection’ on Friday by the Chair of Bridport Area Development Trust Trevor Ware We had some lovely feedback from those who attended:

“Wonderful talk, well presented – very informative.”

“Cracking evening on Friday, thank you so much for putting this on.”…

Smuggling was rife along the Dorset coast between about 1700 and 1830. Britain was at war almost constantly and the finance for these wars had to come from taxes, most of which were on luxury goods such as lace, spice, wine, spirits, tea and perfume. Avoiding these taxes by smuggling was an attractive sideline with high financial rewards in times of low wages or poor fishing. The smuggling expeditions were often financed by the local gentry, known as “venturers”.

Almost everyone in the coastal villages of West Dorset would know someone involved in smuggling. The coast from West Bay east down to the Fleet was a popular landing place for smuggled goods. The payment for a night of smuggling was equivalent to two weeks of wages for an agricultural worker.

By the eighteenth century drinking tea was extremely popular but very expensive due to high levels of duty. This resulted in huge demand for cheap tea which was met by illegal means. Being light and easy to transport tea was a very profitable commodity surprisingly even more than gin or brandy. In 1745 the tax of tea was reduced in an attempt to cut the profits of the smugglers but they just moved on to other goods.

Two of the most famous smugglers operating in our area were :

Jack Rattenbury (1778-1844) was a fisherman, pilot, seaman and smuggler. He is famous not just because he was a smuggler but because he wrote a diary of his activities and then published It (Memoirs of a Smuggler). He operated along the coastline to the west of West Bay and into Devon.

Issac Gulliver (1778 -1884) was a smuggler (following in his father’s footsteps) he operated along the coast from Poole to West Bay. He even planted trees on Eggardon Hill to act as a landmark for the luggers bringing in their cargoes.

Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark –
Brandy for the Parson, ‘Baccy for the Clerk.
Laces for a lady; letters for a spy,
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by!

Extract of A Smuggler’s Song written by Rudyard Kipling

In the early 18th Century prevention was mainly land-based as this didn’t prove very successful and as prevention developed ships were bought in. Revenue cutters were built at the shipyard at Bridport Harbour (West Bay. )They were armed with especially powerful weapons called Carronades, only supplied to the Revenue Service and the Royal Navy.  The shipyards also however worked for the smugglers adapting their boats to cater for the requirements to secret their goods on board.

In the 1840’s Britain adopted a free trade policy slashing the tax on import goods within 10 years most smuggling had died out.

South West Tourism Excellence Awards 2019/2020

We had an amazing evening at the South West Tourism Excellence Awards at Exeter Cathedral. We were so proud to have been selected as one of the finalists in the ‘New Business Category.’ The Discovery Centre was one a record 773 entries from the region, including Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Bath, Bristol, Somerset, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. To our delight and amazement, we won the silver award! A great achievement for all those who have been involved in helping us achieve such an accolade in just 19 months since we opened!

The awards were presented at a special event in Exeter Cathedral attended by over 400 invited guests. They were the result of visits and assessments by an independent judging panel, which made the final decisions.

The judges described the Centre as “Communicating in a very imaginative & personal way”. The full list of winners can be found here. Congratulations to all the winners, it was great to have some neighbouring businesses representing our part of Dorset.  See the other winners here.

Listen to our interview on Dorset Breakfast on 10/02/2019 on Radio Solent (around 34 minutes in) https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p0807mlw

South West Tourism Award Finals

A bit of news to brighten our day we’ve just heard that the Centre has been selected as one of the Finalists in the New Tourism Business Award category of this year’s South West Tourism Excellence Awards – the region’s ‘grand final’ in tourism awards. We can’t believe we are one of the 100 Tourism businesses from across the South West that are in the Final! The awards this year saw a record 773 entries from the region including Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Bath, Bristol, Somerset, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

The finals ceremony takes place in Exeter Cathedral on 6th February, so we have to wait a while to see if we’ve won Gold, Silver or Bronze. Thank you to all who have contributed to our success. It has been an amazing 16 months since we opened and have welcomed 31,000 visitors through the doors.

Dorset Tourism Awards 2019

Exciting news, West Bay Discovery Centre is one of the finalists in the New Business Award Category of the 2019 Dorset Tourism Awards ! Many thanks to all those who have helped us reach this point.

A record 146 entries were received from across Dorset, with 77 selected as finalists . We are in good company ,West Bay and Bridport are well represented as Lyme Regis Rib Charter, Bridport Tourist Centre, West Bay Play area and Highlands End are also finalists under other categories. The results will be announced on October 17th.


We were amazed to receive the Gold Award under the New Business Category, it has been a fantastic 14 months since we first opened the doors! Thanks to everyone involved in getting to this point and those who have supported and encouraged us.

Architecture in West Bay

When discussing the southern end of Pier Terrace, we often hear mutterings of “ugly”, “no building regs then, of course”, and “shame”. It’s certainly true that the actions of the crazy lad who set fire to numbers 9 and 10 in February 1929 changed the by then 44-year-old Pryor designed terrace forever.

However, if we look at the rebuilt section from a different perspective, separate from the original building, it seems wholly sensible to have such wide windows making the most of the views over the sea and harbour. In fact, compared to the somewhat mean windows of numbers 1 to 8, you can imagine the light flooding into these apartments during the day, and the occupants enjoying a glass of wine in the glow of a golden sunset.

If there are views to be viewed, making the most of them is something we all do, whether it’s choosing a house which is orientated a particular way to making the decision between blinds or no blinds on our windows. Arguably, 44 years on, perhaps a lesson had been learned about the dim living rooms?

On and off for 90 years there was a balcony wrapped around the side of number 10 Pier Terrace. It must have afforded a great view over the row of cottages, which were also severely damaged in the fire. The charred remains of the balcony are clearly visible on photographs of the fire damage. A picture from 1920 shows it to be there then, but it isn’t there in earlier photographs. In a picture of the floods from 1974, there’s a balcony taking up the same space on the rebuilt section of the building. Does anyone know when it finally disappeared? Are the concrete protrusions from the side of the building the remains of the balcony supports …?

It’s fascinating to read the changes in our older buildings. Dorset Architectural Heritage Week runs from 13th to 22nd September when many properties will be open to us. On the 14th September, the mezzanine area of the renovated building the Discovery Centre occupies will be open and will give visitors a deeper understanding of the chapel’s architecture. Details of participating properties can be found on  www.dahw.org.uk.

Shipbuilding in West Bay

Our shipbuilding exhibition is running until the end of October. The importance of Bridport Harbour’s shipbuilding industry has surprised visitors, who didn’t realise the scale of the operation up until 1879 when the last ship was launched.

Of course, the weather and waves have little respect for exceptional craftsmanship and inevitably even the fine vessels built here were lost at sea. Such a calamity was visited upon the brig, Titania, built in Bridport Harbour in 1850 for CT Bowering & Co of Liverpool.

Captain Frame steered the Titania away from Philadelphia on the morning of October 9th 1865, carrying a cargo of coal and hay, along with a few passengers. Four days later a severe gale hit and the ship sprang a leak which, despite every effort of the crew with the pumps, continued to spew water into damaged hull. As much as could be was thrown overboard was jettisoned, along with the cargo, in the forlorn hope that the Titania would be able to limp to safe harbour or be rescued.

Two days passed ‘in this incessant labour’ when it was discovered the water was now 11 feet deep. The six crew and 10 passengers – nine men and one woman – abandoned the vessel and boarded a 10 foot raft. They saw the Titania sink only two hours later, while they floundered in the sea, the weight of them sinking the raft to one foot below the surface.

As a newspaper reports, “In this wretched state, without food or water, they floated for about 24 hours”.

Well, that’s just one of the many fascinating stories waiting to be discovered at the West Bay Discovery Centre. We hope to welcome you soon.

Crabbing in West Bay

For decades families have been crabbing around the harbour. Recently there have been so many folk in search of the local crustaceans that getting around some parts of the harbour has proved quite challenging!

Many of our visitors aren’t familiar with the coast or the needs of the animals that live here. What should be a couple of hours of fun can cause all sorts of problems. Rubbish left behind: discarded plastic buckets, weights, string and so forth, which are an environmental nuisance, especially if they make their way into the water.

Last week there were bits of dead crab strewn all around one area on east pier and one child was seen actually stamping on his catch. Some people are still using hooks, which can get caught on sea birds and fish and often there is a general disregard for the fact that the harbour is a working harbour with frequent boat traffic and no barriers.

It was great to overhear Colin who is currently running the stall selling crabbing equipment, offering sound advice to those buying their kit from him, for example, how they should use harbour water, not tap water, and change it frequently. Thanks too to Colin and Tim in the newsagents for taking our crabbing leaflets to hand out with purchases, which we hope will help with advice when it comes to crabbing around West Bay’s harbour.

Our crabbing leaflet is also available in the Discovery Centre. There’s advice on the equipment to use, how to sex your crabs, how many to keep in a bucket together and how to release them responsibly so that they live to get caught again tomorrow!


10 Fun activities for children in West Bay

There are plenty of fun activities for children and the whole family to enjoy in West Bay, look at our suggestions and come and discover new things to do!

1) Visit West Bay Discovery Centre

West Bay Discovery Centre

In rain or shine there is plenty for children to enjoy at West Bay Discovery Centre. We may look small but we are packed with things to do! Our simple aim is to allow you to make the most of your visit to West Bay. Come in and see what we have here.

2) Pick up one of our free Children’s trails and discover what West Bay was like for children 150 years ago.

West Bay Discovery Centre children's trail

3) Explore the Wild Side of West Bay, pick up one of our free leaflets . We even have compass, maps and binoculars for sale to help you discover more.

Discover the Wildlife around West Bay - free leaflet

4) Play pirates at West Bay children’s playground . This award-winning playground is made of ropes that reflect Bridport ‘s heritage as a rope making town and is designed for ages from 0 to 99.

West Bay Play Area

5) Go crabbing – please pick up one of our free “Careful crabbing” guides. The crabs in West Bay love eating your bacon but would like to be treated well by you too!

Careful Crabbing in West Bay

6) On the beach there are lots of opportunities for fun! Build a sandcastle, skim a stone, jump over waves, create sculptures and pictures on the beach, swim in the sea. Please take notice of safety notices regarding swimming and don’t sit right under the cliffs! Our beaches are lovely, we want them to stay that way, so follow Litter Free Dorset’s message “Take only memories and leave only footprints in the sand.”

West Bay - East Beach things to do on the beach with children

7) Have an ice-cream, we have been told that there are 30 different places to buy ice-cream in West Bay, with a choice so vast you are sure to find your favourite flavour. Just watch out for the sea-gulls they like an ice-cream too!

8) Climb a cliff the South West Coast Path takes in both East and West Cliff, which were made famous in the popular TV Series Broadchurch. Follow the footpath up either cliff and enjoy the amazing scenery from the top. Children will need close supervision and dogs should be kept on leads. If you are interested in making this a circular walk we can provide you with further details.

West Bay walks along the South West Coast path

9) Go fishing with charter fishing boat trips or go angling off the beach or Jurassic Pier. Visit West Bay Angling centre for more detailed information. You may be lucky enough to catch our local fishermen unloading the fish and shellfish they have caught in Lyme Bay

Fishing in West Bay Dorset

10) Get on the water and take a exciting trip on the Lyme Bay Rib. Alternatively hire a rowing boat and take a leisurely row up the river. Or why not try canoeing or paddle boarding?

If you are staying in the area and want to explore further along the coast pick up one of the tourist leaflets or ask one of the volunteers for suggestions. They are always willing to help you.

West Bay Discovery also has additional activities for children running during the school holidays. Please look at our What’s on page on this website , or our Facebook or Instagram for the latest information.

Summer volunteering opportunities

West Bay Discovery Centre is nearly a year old and with the holiday season upon us, we are getting busier by the week. Since opening on 1st August last year, we have welcomed nearly 17,500 visitors, which is amazing. The comments in the visitor book are brilliant and we’ve had some lovely Trip Advisor posts … so, where better to spend a couple of hours a week and meet some lovely people?

August is going to be our busiest month yet with lots of things planned for kids and grown ups. Unfortunately, our dedicated team of volunteers do like to go on holiday (strange, but true), so now is a good time to try out volunteering at the Discovery Centre for the month of August.

A shift of stewarding a week can be in the morning or the afternoon. You’ll never be alone, there’s always another volunteer to keep you company, and we’ll make sure you get the most out of your volunteer experience… plus, of course, our visitors are usually cheerful (they’re in West Bay, so it makes sense!)

You don’t have to know everything about West Bay to help us out in August … there’s lots of information that you’ll pick up as you go along, and there’s always someone to point you in the right direction. If you love West Bay like we do, that helps!
If you’re interested in giving us a test run then please contact us o 01308 427288, or message us through Facebook.