The oldest and perhaps the oddest place in Bridport is The Chantry, down South Street. In medieval times it was lived in by two priests who used to get through nearly 50 pints of beer a week and eat lots of salted fish, peas and beans. When they had guests such as the Rector of Bridport, they used to order even more ale. We know this because the priests kept meticulous records of their spending.
Held for the first time last year, the 2015 Ropewalk Fair from Friday 8 May to Sunday 10 May exists to highlight Bridport’s unique rope-making past and to celebrate the town’s current netting industry.
Events are being held across Bridport, with a family fun day on the Millennium Green at Mountfield on Sunday.
It also helps to raise a bit of money for the £1.2 million redevelopment of Bridport Museum in South Street and the £2.6 million restoration of the Literary and Scientific Institute in East Street.
Two guided walks on Saturday 9 May, led by local historian and author Richard Sims, a leading voice on the rope, net and twine industries. During the tour, Richard will bring to life the history of key sites such as the hidden ropewalks and old industrial buildings.
Tours leave the Museum at 11am and 2pm. £2.50 per person.
Places for guided walks must be booked in advance due to limited space and past demand. Please email email@example.com or phone 01308 458703.
A heritage exhibition in the Town Hall.
Family fair on the Millennium Green on Sunday 10 May, with rope and net-making demonstrations, music, food, tug-o-war competition, games and community stalls offering classic village fete type activities but with a rope or net twist.
Shops are also being invited to “dress” their windows with net for a competition.
Emily Hicks, the curator of Bridport Museum, says: “Stalls for community groups are only £10 to cover administration costs, and you can keep the profits for your group.”
She’s also keen for people to volunteer as stewards over the weekend. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01308 458703 to find out more, or get a booking form for a stall.
The fair’s principal sponsors are Huck Nets, with Amsafe, Sicor and Coastal Nets also chipping in.
For centuries Bridport and its surrounding villages have been shaped by rope, net and twine making.
Real physical evidence of the lives of past generations of Dorset people can be seen in homes, gardens, mills, factories, warehouses, and pubs. Pymore Inn, for example, opened in the 1850s to quench the thirst of Pymore Mill workers. It also had a shop to supply them with provisions. Likewise, Dottery owes the existence of its corrugated iron chapel – its lovely tin tabernacle – to the presence of Pymore Mill. The Gundry family donated the land on which the chapel still stands, partly to save workers from having to trek over to Bradpole to worship.
But it’s also very important to remember just what hard work it was (and still is).
In July 1951, for example, the magazine Picture Post published a revealing feature about Bridport net-making. This tells the story of a Mrs Hughes, a 75-year-old outworker living in Bridport, who cannot remember the time when she could not braid. (“Outworker” means that she worked from home).
“As a young married woman she lived near Crewkerne, 11 miles away. Her husband’s wages were only 11s a week, but she could average £2.
“The money was hard earned.
“She had five children under six, but every Friday she sent her husband off to work, settled the elder children with neighbours, loaded the pram with the baby and the completed nets and walked to Bridport to collect her earnings and do her shopping.
“Then she walked back in time to get the tea for the children and to cook her husband’s supper.