History and Heritage of Lyme Regis

Lyme Regis is a town steeped in history. It featured in the Domesday Book, received its royal charter from King Edward I in 1284 and was one of the south coast’s major trading ports with a huge variety of goods passing through the town’s harbour. 

Famous connections

Many notable figures in history have either lived in or have connections with Lyme Regis, including Thomas Coram, who established the Foundlings Hospital for children and Joseph Lister, also known as Baron Lister of Lyme Regis, the pioneer of antiseptic surgery. 

The former Three Cups Hotel in Broad Street had many associations with famous literary visitors. Jane Austen, Alfred Lord Tennyson, G.K. Chesterton and J.R.R. Tolkien stayed there. And in 1944, General Eisenhower delivered an important briefing to senior officers before D-Day. The building also featured in the film adaptation of John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman in 1981. 

Mary Anning

The famous palaeontologist and fossil collector Mary Anning was born in the town in 1799. She would regularly go hunting for fossils on Lyme’s beaches with her father and brother and then sell their finds from their home – now Lyme Regis Museum. 

Mary was only a young girl when her father died and the sale of fossils became the family’s only source of income. 

She discovered the fossilised remains of marine reptiles including Ichthyosaur, Plesiosaurus and Dimorphodon. Several of her finds can now be seen at London’s Natural History Museum. 

Being a woman in Georgian England and someone with low social standing, much of her work was not recognised until many years after her death. However, her discoveries have hugely influenced what we now know about prehistoric life and the earth’s history. 

Admiral Sir George Somers

Born in Lyme in 1554, Sir George Somers became Mayor of Lyme Regis. 

In 1609 he 'discovered' Bermuda, after he set sail for Jamestown, Virginia on the ship Sea Venture, got caught in a hurricane and became shipwrecked on the Island. The ships passengers remained on the island for 10 months building a church and houses, which would become the English colony of Bermuda. Somers eventually reached Virginia. He set off to return to England and called in again at Bermuda where he died in 1610. His heart was buried on the island, but his body, pickled in rum, was brought back to England and buried in Whitchurch Canonicorum.  

Bermuda had really been discovered a hundred years earlier by Spaniard Señor Juan Bermondez who named the island after himself. Despite this, the towns of Lyme Regis and St George’s, Bermuda were officially twinned in 1996.  

You can find a statue of Somers in Langmoor and Lister Gardens which overlook Lyme Bay and The Cobb. 

Gruesome rebellions

The town gained a reputation for rebellion when in 1644, during the English Civil War, the town withstood an eight-week siege by Royalist forces.  

Over 40 years later in June 1685, the exiled Duke of Monmouth landed on the west beach - now called Monmouth Beach. He started the ill-fated Monmouth Rebellion (also known as the Pitchfork Rebellion) against his uncle, King James II, in attempt to claim the crown for himself. A month later, the rebellion was defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor.  

The Duke of Monmouth was executed for treason and 12 rebels were hung and quartered at the beach landing place on the order of the notorious Judge Jeffreys. 

The spiked church railings at St Michael the Archangel were famously used to display the heads and quarters of the rebels who were convicted in Judge Jeffreys ‘Bloody Assizes’. They remained there until King James II was deposed in 1688 and any attempt to remove body parts would result in severe punishment. 

St Michael the Archangel

The church of St Michael the Archangel holds a commanding position above Church Cliff Beach on the eastern side of the town. 

There has been a church on this site since AD 774 when the land was granted to the monks of Sherborne. The church was updated and rebuilt by the Normans around AD 1120, retaining much of the original Saxon stonework. 

The remarkable and enigmatic Lyme Tapestry, widely thought to be the work of Flemish weavers around 1490, hangs on the north side of the nave.  

Mary Anning is buried in the churchyard with her brother Joseph. Their grave was recently restored and Mary is commemorated in a stained glass window provided by members of the Geological Society of London. 

The Guildhall

The history of the Guildhall can be traced back as far as the Stuart period (1603 to 1714). The current Guildhall was rebuilt in 1887, incorporating original features such as the borough lock-up.  

The area by the entrance to the Guildhall was known as Cockmoile Square and was the site of the town stocks. The last man to be put in the stocks was Tommy Pearce who was sentenced in 1836 for drunkenness. 

The main chamber, with its curved ceiling and coat of arms, was once the local court and can today be enjoyed for weddings and civil ceremonies with views across the bay. 

Lassie in Lyme

Another claim to fame is that the town was also home to the original Lassie.  

On January 1st 1915 the Royal Navy battleship ‘HMS Formidable,’ with a crew of 750 men, was torpedoed out at sea. 

Two lifeboats were launched, but only one made it to the shore after a small crowd on the beach used ropes to bring it in. Forty-eight exhausted survivors were taken to the Pilot Boat Inn.  

The pub landlord’s collie-cross dog ‘Lassie’ revived one of the sailors put aside as dead, by licking his face and lying by his side. The dog went on to become the inspiration for Hollywood’s Lassie.

Jane Austen

Jane Austen's novel Persuasion was partly set in Lyme Regis.

Mary Anning

Mary Anning was a famous fossil collector and paleontologist who lived in Lyme Regis during the early 1800's.

John Fowles

John Fowles' novel The French Lieutenant's Woman featured Lyme Regis and the Cobb.