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.

Update

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!

Crabbing

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.

The Medical Units at Omaha

We wanted to share one more story from D-Day that came to light during our research.

The basic principles of the medical units were to find a casualty, treat him, remove him from danger and transport him to a secure rear area. At Omaha this was impossible – there was no rear area that wasn’t guarded by German troops. Private First-Class Charles Shay from F Company, who trained here at West Bay, was only 19 years old. “It was difficult for me to witness so much carnage and not be affected emotionally. I had to close my mind … in order that I was effective at doing what I had been trained for.” Shay survived, unlike many of the valiant selfless medics on that day who died, not with guns in their hands, but with bandages and syringes.

These men were in a state of perpetual crisis, dealing with an overwhelming number of casualties, many of whom were suffering from a multiplicity of terrible wounds. Danger and death were everywhere, lives hung in the balance and life-changing decisions became routine. Staff Sergeant Bernard Friedenberg recalled, “I moved on to the next casualty and the next and the next. It seemed endless.”

Responding to a young soldier with a gaping sucking chest wound, Friedenberg wrote, “It was arterial bleeding … I knew he would die if I didn’t get the bleeding under control.” He placed a large compress over the wound and applied pressure. He understood that the man’s only chance for survival depended on maintaining pressure until someone could operate on him and there were no such facilities on Omaha beach. It would take hours to get him relocated. Around him were the cries and screams of others needing attention. What should he do? If he left the man with the chest wound, he would die, if he stayed others would die. Who would live? Who had the greater value? Which parents would never see their son again?

“Who should live and who should die is not a decision a twenty-one-year-old boy should have to make”, he wrote sadly. He gave the man with the chest wound a shot of morphine and moved on to help the others. “For more than fifty years I have wondered if I made the right decision and I know I shall never stop feeling guilty.” In fact, like so many of his combat medic colleagues, Friedenberg suffered from PTSD for decades.


Photo: Bernard I Friedenberg

One thing to remember: Medics carried no weapons. Theoretically, they were protected by the Geneva Convention, but on Omaha beach a German soldier was unlikely to see or register the red cross on the armband and helmet of an enemy soldier from a distance in the confusion of battle. They may have had no weapons, but a medic possessed something far more useful; his ability to offer comfort and a friendly voice to a soldier dying on a French beach.

Remembering the GI’s in West Bay


We were delighted to welcome the 1st Infantry Division Living History Group and dignitaries including a representative of the US Embassy, Dorset’s High Sheriff, Lord Lieutenant and Town Mayor to the West Bay Discovery Centre on Saturday 18th May. They came to visit our exhibition “Warm Beer and Cabbages” as part of Bridport’s weekend of honouring the GIs Just as 75 years ago the arrival of men in uniform and their vehicles generated a lot of interest.

We have been so grateful to the locals who shared with us their treasured childhood memories of the GI’s who became their special friends.

Arthur Watson told us how one morning the GI’s disappeared from their lives without even a goodbye. One moment these soldiers were alive in the beauty of the Dorset countryside and then they were lying dead or injured on the French beaches. The American families did not realise the deep impact their sons and husbands had on the local community and did not inform them what had happened to them.

One of these children, Arthur Watson, told us “seventy-five years on from D-Day I still remember the wonder of the American dream in West Bay. Such a great nation that came to us in our time of need and personified by the selflessness and sacrifice of its individual soldiers.”

Our guided walk by Elizabeth Gale -75 Years on…remembering the Normandy Landings and local connections.

These anniversaries make you stop, think and remember. Without them such great and brave men could easily be forgotten.

The Exhibition “Warm Beer and Cabbages” about the GI’s In West Bay will close on Sunday 23rd June 2019, so there is still a chance to visit us and see it.

Got any gum, chum?

It is hard to imagine the impact that 200 plus fit young men with their strange accents had on the close-knit, war-weary folk of Bridport Harbour, but there are still a number of people, children during the Second World War, who remember the time the GIs were billeted in West Bay from November 1943 to June 1944.

Arthur Watson’s family moved to West Bay in 1939. ‘Got-any-gum, chum?’ on Wednesday 8th May at 7.30pm at the Salt House, is an opportunity to hear some of his childhood memories of life in war-time West Bay; including living alongside the GIs. The audience are invited to ask questions and share their own memories and stories. Tickets are just £3, available from the Discovery Centre, the Tourist Information Office or on the door.

On the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, our special exhibition, ‘Warm Beer and Cabbages’, is running until the last week of June and tells the story of the American Servicemen in the area and the first day on Omaha beach.

Tales of the Unintended

Sandy Hashimi our West Bay Discovery Centre Manager has been invited to produce some guest blog posts for Bridport Cottages . Some of which we have reproduced below.

Photographic Memories

One of the great things about working at the West Bay Discovery Centre, is the number of photographs that folk bring in to show us. Whether it’s a picture of the harbour taken 50 years ago or a cherished family snap on the beach, we encourage visitors to share their memories with us, all of which adds to the story of life in West Bay.

Unwitting Testimony

With a good number of photographs to hand, we were thinking about unwitting testimony; learning something from an object or picture that is unintended. As an example, I took this photo on my ‘phone recently when we had a very low tide. The focus was really the fishing boat and the wee rowing boat, but later I noticed three men at the far end working on the bottom of the harbour.

The Pier Terrace

pier terrace fire

The picture of Pier Terrace was taken specifically to record the fire in 1929, but we see that there was some sort of balcony around number 10. The photograph wasn’t intended to provide information about the building – other than it was on fire – but nonetheless it did. It started us on a search through old photographs of Pier Terrace to try to pinpoint when this balcony appeared, as it certainly wasn’t on those dated 1910 and earlier.

Unintended Evidence

Clearly, the concept of unintended evidence has fed into novels and films – the traveller taking a picture of his companion, only to find later that in the far distance a shady figure has its hands fixed around the neck of a slender form. (It goes without saying here that if you do notice anything of this nature in one of your pictures, you should perhaps let the authorities know!)

What Else Do Pictures Tell Us?

Have you ever tried to figure out what time of day a photograph was taken? The picture doesn’t exist to tell you, but quite often you can work it out by the length and direction of shadows or the people around go about their daily life. Obviously, a photo of West Bay which includes St John’s Church clock really helps!

What If …

And how brilliant are photos anyway? When you look at them, you could wonder how different the image might be if the shutter was opened a few seconds earlier or later or the picture taken from a couple of inches to the right or the left. Perhaps the sun would have gone behind a cloud, that girl might turn away, the dog lay down, the wind calm and the flag fall flat. A photograph is a recording of a split second of time, and something, somewhere in that picture will be different in the blink of an eye.

So next time you check the pictures on your ‘phone, look carefully – you never know what you might have caught on camera.