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The Cobb: Lyme Regis

 There was too much wind to make the high part of the new Cobb pleasant for the ladies, and they agreed to get down the steps to the lower, and all were contented to pass quietly and carefully down the steep flight, excepting Louisa; she must be jumped down them by Captain Wentworth. In all their walks, he had had to jump her from the stiles; the sensation was delightful to her. The hardness of the pavement for her feet, made him less willing upon the present occasion; he did it, however. She was safely down, and instantly, to show her enjoyment, ran up the steps to be jumped down again. He advised her against it, thought the jar too great; but no, he reasoned and talked in vain, she smiled and said, “I am determined I will:” he put out his hands; she was too precipitate by half a second, she fell on the pavement on the Lower Cobb, and was taken up lifeless!
Persuasion, Chapter 12

lyme regis

Lyme Regis  is a coastal town in West Dorset, England, situated 25 miles west of Dorchester and 25 miles (40 km) east of Exeter. The town lies in Lyme Bay, on the English Channel coast at the Dorset–Devon border. It is nicknamed “The Pearl of Dorset.” The town is noted for the fossils found in the cliffs and beaches, which are part of the Heritage Coast—known commercially as the Jurassic Coast—a World Heritage Site.

Jane Austen visited Lyme Regis three times in 1803 and 1804, staying for several weeks in the summer of 1804. The dramatic events in Persuasion led to a flow of fans to the town: the poet Tennyson is said to have gone straight to the Cobb on his arrival, saying, “Show me the exact spot where Louisa Musgrove fell!”

lyme regis
The steps called “Granny’s Teeth”…steep indeed, and the most plausible spot for Lousia’s fall.

The first written mention of the Cobb (the harbour wall) is in a 1328 document describing it as having been damaged by storms. The structure was made of oak piles driven into the seabed with boulders stacked between them. The boulders were floated into place tied between empty barrels.

lyme regis
Photo of the Cobb by by Jim Linwood

The Cobb was of economic importance to the town and surrounding area, allowing it to develop as both a major port and a shipbuilding centre from the 13th century onwards. Shipbuilding was particularly significant between 1780 and 1850 with around 100 ships launched including a 12-gun Royal Navy brig called HMS Snap. The wall of the Cobb provided both a breakwater to protect the town from storms and an artificial harbour.

Well-sited for trade with France, the port’s most prosperous period was from the 16th century until the end of the 18th century, and as recently as 1780 it was larger than Liverpool. The town’s importance as a port declined in the 19th century because it was unable to handle the increase in ship sizes.

It was in the Cobb harbour, after the great storm of 1824, that Captain Sir Richard Spencer RN carried out his pioneering lifeboat design work.

Captain Wentworth and the Musgroves walk the Cobb in search of Captain Harville, Persuasion, 1995.

A 1685 account describes it as being made of boulders simply heaped up on each other: “an immense mass of stone, of a shape of a demi-lune, with a bar in the middle of the concave: no one stone that lies there was ever touched with a tool or bedded in any sort of cement, but all the pebbles of the see are piled up, and held by their bearings only, and the surge plays in and out through the interstices of the stone in a wonderful manner.”

The Cobb has been destroyed or severely damaged by storms several times; it was swept away in 1377 which led to the destruction of 50 boats and 80 houses. The southern arm was added in the 1690s, and rebuilt in 1793 following its destruction in a storm the previous year. This is thought to be the first time that mortar was used in the Cobb’s construction. The Cobb was reconstructed in 1820 using Portland Admiralty Roach, a type of Portland stone.

 


From Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

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