Gloucester Lodge, a handsome red brick building on the Esplanade, stands still, commanding a fine view of Weymouth Bay.* It was built in 1780 by the Duke of Gloucester, ‘Silly Billy’s’ father, and was lent by him to King George III as a summer residence. Year after year till his final collapse, the King with his family enjoyed the benefits of Weymouth’s air and sea water, and made the little town’s fortune.
‘Weymouth was a gay place in those days [1805-6],’ wrote the Hon. Amelia Murray. ‘Two Royal yachts and three frigates in the bay; a picturesque camp of sharpshooters on the look-out; Hanoverian cavalry careering on the sands, and singing their fine musical choruses as they passed along the road; an infantry regiment, with its lively band; beautiful girls and charming children on the Esplenade; the King, Queen and Royal Family walking among their subjects …’
It was still, in 1814, a fashionable watering place, with its Theatre Royal, and its Assembly Rooms, where balls were held, and strict rules of etiquette were laid down. Gentlemen might not appear in boots, or ladies in riding habits. No one would be permitted to dance in coloured gloves. Gentlemen were requested to leave their swords st the door, and – very reasonably – no dogs would be admitted.
When the King came to Weymouth, the countryside for miles round was stirred up by his arrival, and, as Thomas Hardy describes in The Trumpet Major, numbers of people made their way up to the top of the downs, to wait half through the night for the passing of the royal carriages. ‘Thank God, I have seen my King!’ exclaimed a loyal subject after the great post-chariot, drawn by four horses, had dashed by in the light of dawn; but all she had seen, in point of fact, was ‘a profile reminding her of the current coin of the realm’.
Princess Charlotte decided that the people should see more of her than a profile, and ‘with plenty of cloaks & such like good things’ drove in an open barouche. When she arrived in Weymouth it was a little after eight, and starlight. The esplanade was filled with people, and the troops of the 17th Hussars were lined up to greet her, with the band playing ‘God Save the King’, accompanied by cheers.
It was a heartening and auspicious arrival, or so it seemed: and she was pleased with her bedroom, which had been the Queen’s, and had big windows looking over the sea. So had the drawing-room, ‘which is a very large comfortable room with large sophas at each end of it’. On one of these ‘sophas’, soon after her arrival, she sat with her feet up to rest her knee, and played ‘bagammon’ with General Garth. There was no quarrel this time, but for Charlotte the discovery of a disaster which cast a cloud over her first days in Weymouth. A little turquoise heart had fallen out of the ring which she had been given by Prince August. ‘Thank God the ring is safe on my finger,’ she said, but the stone could nowhere be found. She knew that she had had it when she arrived, ‘so that I still have a hope the maid may find it when she sweeps the room in the mg …’ Pathetically, she demanded of Mercer ‘whether you think it is unlucky&promises any ill luck, or will bring any’.
The turquoise heart was never found, and Charlotte, who had vowed that she would never remove the ring from her finger, continued vainly searching. A heart made of turquoise, the cheapest of stones, could easily have been replaced: but ‘you know,’ she wrote, ‘what a treasure it is to me, and what an inestimable value I set on it.’
It was a sad beginning to her holiday, and the silence from ‘F’** himself nagged at her constantly, so that she did not benefit from the amenities of Weymouth as quickly as she might have done. ‘I had such a horror of coming to this place,’ she wrote, ‘that I cannot but think it will bring no good to the F business.’
*It is now a hotel.
[an extract from ‘Prinny’s Daughter: A Biography of Princess Charlotte of Wales’ by Thea Holme]