An extraordinary week in Weymouth, England. Asking around, informal research, chance encounters. Lots of walking, observing, absorbing. There’s a richness there in Dorset. An appreciation of a spectacular landscape, a wealth of history and a kind of modest pride embedded in the character of the place. Not boastful in any way, but genuine, palpable and charming.

My interest is understanding identity — in the character of a place and in making visible the texts, images and stories that are just below the surface. But also in the moment: the experience of walking down a path, a view out, a conversation. Feeling one’s way in the landscape; sensory cues, a way in.

A single, large volume makes more sense now, not twelve. An edition of 250 or more of the book will be printed, bound, numbered and distributed along the Weymouth Esplanade, with an indoor installation somewhere else in town. The book will be a scaffolding structure to view in and branch out from the connections between characters and places along the Dorset timeline. I’ll use maps, images and texts.

One of the essential structures I discovered this week was the Coast Path, originated as a route for the coast guard to patrol for smugglers. I followed this remarkable Jurassic Coast trail for miles on either side of Weymouth: Abbotsbury and Chesil Beach at one end and the ruins of the ancient Roman temple on Jordan Hill (with a perfect view of the Osmington White Horse) at the other. The geo-historical bookends of the South Dorset Downs limestone ridge to the north of Weymouth. At the center, the Coast Path crosses Town Bridge — the heart of Weymouth — and directly over the mouth of the River Wey, the town’s geological namesake.

Every mention of Weymouth evokes the River Wey. The river is the reason for the town and earth’s slow work is embodied in its name, and in several place names of the area. The five-mile length of river begins its journey up at the wishing well in Upwey, broadens at Broadwey, and empties its wide mouth into the sea at Weymouth.

From Jane of Chickerell, a geography lesson.

In Weymouth, Massachusetts, the town name evokes more of a misplaced geography. There, Weymouth points elsewhere: across the ocean but also back in time, to a moment when one people forcibly replaced another. Contained within the original 1642 deed between the natives and the Dorset pilgrims is the germ of a complex story: the Charity, Thomas Holbrook and the Wessagussetts (today living on in the name of the town yacht club); the beginnings and dissappearances of nations, fueled by greed and arrogance.

From Jim of Weymouth, MA, an American history lesson.

From Jack of Weymouth, England, the ten bobs tour and memories of chance encounters in Massachusetts.

From Bob and Colin of the Isle of Portland, a bottomless library of images.

Philip Larken, the British poet, said that Weymouth is delicious. From Sally, Simon and Rowan, warm food and company, and a tremendous generosity of spirit.

All of them revealed delicious Weymouth to me this week.

And here is another Weymouths story: a transatlantic reconnection, a corporate agreement. In 1999, Walmart Stores Inc. purchased ASDA, a large British supermarket chain with roots tracing back to J.H. Hindell’s Dairies in 1920 Yorkshire. Today, it’s the second largest retail chain in England and a key part of Walmart’s international strategy (“part of the Walmart family”). Walmart store #3200 is on Middle Street in Weymouth, Massachusetts and an ASDA Superstore is on Newstead Road in Weymouth, England. A cultural “exchange” that began 350 years earlier gives way to this final flattening out and another deed — American corporate greed erasing cultural difference and local economies at a global scale. Olympic anxiety about empty storefronts is widely reported, while small businesses in Weymouth worry about what’s to happen when the games are over.

View Weymouths in a larger map

My hope is to unravel some of these connections and stitch them back into the book as evidence of larger structures (time, geoglogy, chance) and more inimate ones (conversation, experience, memory).


No Comments

Leave a Comment