The Day Lyme Nearly Died

No, it wasn’t this week but the horrendous storms made me think!
I took the picture above at high tide on Wednesday morning (5th Feb). You can see a broken red life-belt holder and Chris Andrew’s picture (below) shows damage to beach huts and the Cart Road completely hidden be pebbles.There is even a rumour that a crack has appeared in the Cobb but, even if this turned out to be true, this was absolutely nothing compared to what happened on 11th November 1377.

John Fowles described it as “what sounds like the most terrible storm of all Lyme’s history”. 77 houses were totally destroyed and 71 more lay wasted and empty. 15 great ships, 20 smaller ones and 20 fishing boats were lost. The Cobb lay obliterated and many of the town’s merchants were dead, or bankrupt, or gone away. It was estimated that rebuilding the Cobb alone would cost £300 yet the town was only able to raise £5 from the survivors. In all, only 8 “burgesses” and 21 poorer families totalling less than 100 people were left in the town.

We know all this because the King, Richard II, appointed an inquest to be held and the documentation still survives. Fowles says “There can have been no point in our history where the town was closer to abandonment. Yet somehow it clung to existence, though over a century had to pass before it began to prosper again.”

From the inquest documents we know the names of those 8 burgesses to whom Fowles believed we owe thanks for Lymes continued existence: Richard Tyneham, Thomas Dorset, Robert Membury, Adam Littlemire, John Richman, Roger Milward, Philip Le Bouche and Edward Blower.

We have plans for a series of small items about uears in Lyme’s history in our Newsletter. It will be called Lyme Through the Years and should, over time, build up an interesting history of the town. Please look out for it.

Ref: – Medieval Lyme Regis by John Fowles, published by The Friends of Lyme Regis Museum in 1984

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