The Society’s History
On April 13th 1934, a group of 30 people met in the Three Cups Hotel to found “A society aimed at the preservation of the beauty and antiquity of Lyme Regis”.
Today, they would have named it “The Lyme Regis Civic Society” but the name chosen in 1934 was The Lyme Regis Preservation Society. The fledgling society was a branch of The Council for the Preservation of Rural England. Today, the Society is still affiliated to the CPRE but we now call it The Lyme Regis Society. However, that name is not very descriptive and many people are possibly unsure about what the society does.
A look at some examples from the last 77 years may help. Joan Walker described the first fifty years of the Society’s history in a book; so information is readily available. Joan says that the work of the Society falls into two categories: preventative action to stop “misfortune from occurring to the architectural or natural beauty of the environment” and positive action to improve the environment or inform people about the town and its history. We still have the same two strands to our activities today.
An example of positive action given by Joan Walker is that in the 1930s the Society encouraged builders to use materials which would harmonise with the old grey colouring of the town. Working with a panel of architects, a pamphlet was prepared and published giving advice. The pamphlet and samples of materials were kept at the Borough Council’s offices for reference. In similar vein, the Society recently, at the request of West Dorset District Council carried out a survey describing the characteristics of different areas of the town. The information gathered was passed back to the council where it became part of the Dorset Historic Towns Survey which is purportedly used to ensure that new development is in keeping throughout the county.
Throughout its life, the Society has held lectures throughout the winter months for its members and the public about the town’s culture and history. Speakers and subjects have always been chosen to provide interest and information but in this respect, Joan Walker says that no-one could match Muriel Arber who first visited Lyme as a girl and developed a lifelong love for the town and its geomorphology. She became“the” expert on the area’s landslips and her book “Lyme Landscape with Figures” is still regarded as a classic 25 years after being written. In recent times we have been entertained by many interesting speakers but probably none as distinguished as Muriel Arber.
It is probably in the area of preventative action that The Lyme Regis Society most comes into the public eye. One notable case is that of a Grade II listed hotel that had been closed and left to deteriorate for years. No, not the Three Cups but the Langmoor Hotel which was at the top of Broad Street. It had been bought by the County Council in 1959 so that “an undistinguished wing could be demolished and Pound Street widened”.
Ten years later, after the derelict building had been severely vandalised, the Council voted to demolish it and this led to a Public Inquiry. The Society was represented at the inquiry by Laurence Whistler, the glass engraver, who argued that the building should be preserved. The outcome was a success for the Society and the building was sold to a local builder who renovated it into two dwellings: Broadway House and Broadway Cottage both of which still add character to the top end of the town. Whistler even helped with the renovation, designing a new pediment in keeping with the building to replace an ugly porch that had been added at some point.
Sewage disposal is an area where many arguments have occurred and inquiries held. Sewage pipes run downhill and when they reach the sea, what does one do? This has been a perennial problem in Lyme. In 1970 the County Public Health Engineer presented a scheme. Covered stabilisation tanks were to be built under a seawards extension of Cobb Gate car-park. The river was to be culverted as it emerged under Buddle Bridge and a car-park for 70 cars created on top of the development. The Society was slow in raising objections because a sewage treatment scheme was much needed but eventually it was decided that opposing the proposal was essential. A Public Inquiry was held in 1972 and the following year the successful (for some) result was announced. The Borough Council and many residents were very unhappy which is quite understandable but can you imagine how the town would have looked today had that scheme gone ahead?
Other sewage schemes were put forward and eventually, after much discussion and argument, in the mid 1990s a scheme was approved as Phase 1 of the town’s Coast Protection Works. The result is an attractive enhancement of the sea front and most visitors have no idea that they are walking over a sewage treatment plant.
Over the years the Society has had many more beneficial effects on the town. From major items such as helping raise funding so that Ware Cliffs could be donated to the National Trust and remove any potential threat of their development, to minor ones such as objecting to illuminated signage on the Co-op which could have been the start of a plethora of such signage on Broad Street.
On Marine Parade one can see three notable successes for the Society over recent years:
The new Shelters development where the Society helped the Town Council by compiling a survey of what townspeople thought should go into the development and then chaired the Steering Group that helped bring the development to fruition.
The beach huts where the Society proposed swapping dull brown for sugar almond colours and then provided the paint so the Council could start the work.
Largigi House, the replacement for The Bay Hotel Annex which is now a fitting addition to Marine Parade after the Society raised objections to the “brutalist” development that was originally proposed.