Look beyond the deckchairs and the donkey rides and the cliched seaside bling and this colourful Dorset town is a treat for architecture buffs. One of Britain’s oldest resorts, its best bits are mainly Georgian (a gilded statue of George III reigns over the seafront’s Regency terraces) but the town’s narrow back streets and harbour quays are jam-packed with interesting buildings – so many of them, Historic England deemed it worthy of whole book (Weymouth’s Seaside Heritage was published in 2008). Our guide includes beach huts, promenade shelters, the remnants of a 1930s bandstand pier, a Napoleonic Fort and a ruined Tudor Castle. Talking of castles, the fine sand here is the perfect beach building material (see the Sand Sculpture exhibit on the seafront). Ice creams are obligatory.
Note, anything in inverted commas has been borrowed from British Listed Buildings or Historic England.
Grade II listed. Circa 1889
Seven of these gorgeous creatures line the Esplanade – all of them listed. There’s not a lot to say about them, other than what you see – a confection of glass, blue-painted timber, turned wood columns, ‘dragon beams’ and frilly wrought iron. Just ike the old days, they provide shade on a hot day, shelter from the rain, somewhere to rest or (unlike the old days), handy spots to vent a bit of anti-social behaviour. £50,000-worth of Government funding was recently spent on tarting them up, including cleaning up graffiti.
•The Esplanade, DT4 8QD
Grade II listed. Dated 1770-1850.
Weymouth’s long arc of seafront terraces are among the country’s finest: a mix of Georgian and Regency, mostly built between 1770 and 1850-ish, and big on bow-fronted bay windows, pillared porticos and neo-classicisms. Each adjoining terrace consists of up to 20 tall townhouses, each subtly different in style and collectively stretching along a mile of promenade from Devonshire Buildings (pictured) in the south to Brunswick Terrace to the north. Other highlights of the Esplanade are Victoria Terrace (numbers 132-146, features ‘one of the last, palace-fronted façades using classical forms built at a seaside resort’, says Weymouth’s Seaside Heritage), Belvidere (numbers 116-131), the Royal Crescent (numbers 101-115, the work of obscure 18th century architect James Hamilton, also responsible for the statue of George III, it’s actually a straight line). Devonshire and Brunswick are perhaps the most typically Weymouth, not least because almost every building is a guest house or B&B (think florid wallpapers, net curtains, cornflakes, the occasional shared bathroom…).
Old Fish Market
Grade II listed. Dated 1855
On Weymouth’s salty Custom House Quay, overlooking the River Wey harbour, the Portland stone building was designed by British architect Thomas Talbot Bury with the sole (no pun intended) purpose of providing a home for the town’s twice weekly fish market. During its rather chequered history, it was for a time, used as storage (first for coal then fertiliser) before returning to its original use in the 1980s. Now, it’s under the wing of Dorset fish and shellfish company Weyfish – beautifully restored and combining a traditional fishmonger with two seafood restaurant: Hatch on the Harbour (for fishy straight-off-the-boats street food and takeaway) and Catch for fine dining. The original architect, by the way, was apprenticed to Augustus Pugin before founding his own practice responsible for a number of Victorian buildings including 35 churches.
• 1 Custom House Quay, DT4 8BE
Greenhill Gardens Beach Chalets
Grade II listed. Dated 1923
As beach huts go, these quirky concrete-and-iron numbers are a rare breed (I’ve certainly never seen any like it before though happy to be proved wrong). Arranged as a double-decker row of ‘single-cell changing huts’, they were built by the local authority as part of a between-the-wars employment scheme and set on the prom between Greenhill Gardens and the north end of the beach (our favourite corner of Weymouth, thanks to the bowling green, immaculate lawns, flower beds, two cafes, great views and a collection of beach huts – including the candy-coloured beauties in the main picture, top of the page, above). Don’t miss the Floral Clock (dated 1936) in the gardens. Ice creams are available from the Jurassic Rocks Café (above the beach huts). And there are handy toilets. More info on Greenhill Gardens here.
• Greenhill, Weymouth DT4 7TH
Listed Grade II. Dated circa 1880.
One of the most prominent buildings on the harbour’s Custom House Quay, the John Deheers building is a former grain warehouse, built of Flemish red brick and noted for its ‘forthright design’ – an attribute which remained unchanged following its recent development into swanky, loft-style apartments. During restoration, builders uncovered a bit of ‘ghost signage’, revealing an earlier career as Hanney Bros Fish Merchants. They also spruced up the Deheers signs and brought in the Ebike Cafe to the ground floor. All the apartments, by the way, are now sold.
• 9 Custom House Quay, DT48BG
Maiden Street Methodist Church
Listed Grade II*. Dated 1866
Oh, dear. So sad to see this fine building in such a poor state of repair. After fire gutted the interior in 2002 (only six years after it was granted Grade II* listed status), the 1000-seater Wesleyian church has since been left to its own devices – a consolidated ruin, supported internally by scaffolding but boarded up and sprouting vegetation. A block inland from Custom House Quay, the building was designed by Foster and Ward in the ‘Lombardic Romanesque’ style (thanks to Historic England for that) and built of Flemish bond brick dressed with Portland stone. By all accounts the interior was quite splendid in a Methodist sort of way (stained oak, arch-braced trusses, polished Bardilla stone columns, cast iron shafts etc) but little of those original features remain. Planning permission for conversion to residential use was granted in 2019 but it has since been returned to the market and no sign yet of redevelopment.
• Maiden Street, DT4 8BA
Weymouth Pier Bandstand
Unlisted. Dated 1939.
No pier unfortunately; indeed, no bandstand. Aside from the name, this is all that’s left of the original structure designed by VJ Venning whose entry won a pier-for-Weymouth competition run by the Royal Institute of British Architects. In its hey-day, the 200-ft bandstand (a wide sheltered platform which jettied over the sea) featured all the usual on-the-pier, fun-world stuff (tea dances, beauty contests, wrestling, brass bands etc) but in 1986 it was deemed too costly to run and was demolished – or, somewhat dramatically, it was blown up – leaving only the Art Deco pier entrance (pictured). An amusement arcade occupies the ground floor while Italian restaurant Al Molo has the upper deck and the views.
• The Esplanade, Weymouth DT4 7RN
Jubilee Clock Tower
Grade II listed. Dated 1887
One of the town’s most striking landmarks, the colourful clock tower was built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Originally, it stood on a seafront promontory that jutted over the sands but when the promenade was extended in the 1920s, the tower took up a more roadside position (it’s more or less the first thing you see when you head towards the beach via King Street (on the B3155). According to Historic England, the tower is made of cast and wrought iron, is set on a stone base and features a four-face clock under a ‘square ogee cupola’. Decorative panels on each side of the plinth include the Queen’s head and the Weymouth’s boaty coat of arms. Loving the gilding and the bright paintwork.
• The Esplanade, DT4 7BE
Dated 1937. Grade II listed
A classic example of an Italian-style seaside ice-cream parlour, it’s not technically listed in its own right: the building it occuppies is the former Royal Arcade (look up to see the upper storeys of this ‘vigorous’ Art Nouveau number dated 1896). Hence, we assume the shop front itself is vulnerable to the vandalism that so many of its generation has succumbed to in recent years – but for now it’s still here in all its knickerbocker glory. Owned by Fulvio ‘Figgy’ Figliolini, Rossi’s has been in the same family since it first opened in the 1930s and the classic chrome-and-tiles premises survives more or less intact. Ditto the menu –try a good old-fashioned Banana Split or create your own sundae (vanilla scoop, raspberry sauce, chocolate sprinkles…). Check it out here.
• 92 The Esplanade, Weymouth DT4 7AT
Listed Grade II*. Dated: 1860-1872
At the tip of the Nothe Peninsula – a finger of land that juts into Weymouth Bay – this Victorian fort was built to protect Portland’s erstwhile Naval base and was part of an extensive coastal defence system collectively known as ‘Palmerston’s Follies’. Nothe Fort was demoted to a storage facility when coastal defence was abandoned in 1956, then sold to the local council five years later. After two decades of neglect and dereliction, listing and restoration, the fort was finally opened to the public in the summer of 1980 – by then under the watchful eye of the Weymouth Civic Society. The sea fort now combines a military museum dedicated to its history, subterranean tunnels, ramparts, a 20th century searchlight battery, gardens, café and magnificent views of the bay, the beach, Portland Harbour and beyond. More info on nothefort.org.uk
• Barrack Rd, Weymouth DT4 8UF
Listed Grade 11* (Scheduled Monument). Dated 1539.
The ruins of Sandsfoot Castle sit in manicured Green Flag gardens overlooking Portland Harbour and Weymouth Bay. Built in 1539 as part of Henry VIII’s maritime defences – a chain of forts which protected the Kingdom against French invasion – the Tudor artillery castle was abandoned by the military in the mid-17th century. On a residential road that slips down to the tiny beach at Castle Cove Sailing Club, it’s not that easy to find (satnav is useful); best and greenest way is on foot or by bike, along the Rodwell Trail (a two-mile stretch of way-marked path that follows the course of the extinct Weymouth to Portland Railway). On the trail, the castle is 1.4 miles from Weymouth seaside and takes about half an hour. It was clad in scaffolding when I visited (summer 2021) but the views alone are worth the effort.
• 39 Old Castle Rd, Weymouth DT4 8QE
The Riviera Hotel
Grade II listed. Dated 1937
Just beyond Bowleaze Cove, this curious Art Deco throw-back clings on to life despite clear signs of neglect (perhaps it would have been demolished by now were it not for its listed status). Designed by architect L Stewart Smith, the building is classic Streamline Moderne (think airport terminals inspired by ocean liners) with a hint of Spanish hacienda – a slender tower set amid a tiered crescent of concrete arcades, painted blue and white. The hotel was acquired by Pontins in 1958, closed in 1999 and sold again in 2009 (we believe to a Saudi Arabian consortium). In 2020, it was put for sale with an optimistic price tag of £5.5 million but has since been withdrawn. A pity because, given some serious investment, the 115-bedroom hotel could be fantastic. As it is, Booking.com’s rating is an unusually low 5.6 or ‘passable’ (the words ‘tired’ and ‘tatty’ turn up quite frequently in the reviews). Still, it’s worth a look (according to Historic England, the building ‘retains the purity of its original conception in the landscape’) and from Weymouth proper it’s a pleasant walk (50 minutes) or cycle (20 minutes) along the South West Coast Path, via RSPB Lodmor and Overcombe.
• Bowleaze Coveway, Weymouth DT3 6PR
For more info on Weymouth check out visit-dorset.com