Chiswell (pronounced /ˈtʃɛzɨl/ or /ˈtʃɪzˌwɛl/; rarely Chesilton) is a small fishing village at the southern end of Chesil Beach, in Underhill, on the Isle of Portland in Dorset, and is the oldest settlement on the island. The small bay at Chiswell is called Chesil Cove.
The village itself is almost indistinguishable from Fortuneswell, the largest village on the island, as the two settlements are very close. However this distinction can be made: Chiswell occupies flat land close to sea level, whereas Fortuneswell's streets wind up and down the steep hills. Between the village and Fortuneswell, where the main road follows, is Victoria Gardens.
Today the village is maintained by the Chiswell Community Trust.
The village's water cistern was once filled from a spring located in the West Weares area during the 19th century. The tank had a gas lamp on top and a post box on the side. Due to the water often being contaminated, the villagers would go to wells further up the hillside instead. The tank was demolished in the 1920s.
Over the centuries Chiswell has battled with the sea and has been regularly flooded during rough winter storms which can over top the 15 metres (49 ft) high Chesil Beach which protects the village. Flood defences installed during the 1980s have largely alleviated the problems. The original esplanade was built between 1958-65, and helped defend Chiswell greatly, although flooding was still possible. Wire-mesh baskets filled with stones have also been used to strengthen the ridge of the beach following disastrous storms in the 1970s and 1990s. In the 1980s, the promenade continued to withstand storms well but was reinforced all the same.
The later floods of 1978 and 1979 in particular caused widespread devastation in Chiswell and left the area with an air of neglect and dereliction. As a result, the Chiswell scheme was introduced which strengthened the defence with highly innovative defence works which has since brought stability and confidence to a community that suffered greatly from the severe storms of the late 1970s. The scheme was completed in 1986 and has been tested several times under the one in five year event, the storm surge. In December 1989, the Cover House Inn suffered unprecedented damage in a storm, despite the sea defence protection that was not existent during the previous storm. The inn's basic structure remained in good condition and the pub reopened three months later.
In January 1990 another storm hit Chesil Cove and the sea overwhelmed the defensive wall. A great deal of damage was caused and the mainland was cut off from Portland. Those who were stranded in the mainland from Portland had to spend the night as refugees in Budmouth School.
Many traditional large thatched cottages and buildings from Victorian times no longer remain, and were victims of flooding throughout the decades. A mirror found in Portland Museum was once in the upstairs room of a cottage in Chiswell when it got flooded, and traces of where the seawater rose can still be seen.
The village of Chiswell has various commercial businesses in place. The houses and shops in Chiswell have experienced many changes of ownership over the years. In some cases they changed use but others were converted to houses or even fishermen's stores.
The Cove House Inn has sat next to Chesil Beach and right at the sea front since the 18th century, and remains one of Portland's most popular pubs. Another pub is located at the entrance of Chiswell, named The Little Ship. One pub that no longer exists was the Lord Clyde Inn which suffered bombing damage in World War 2 and was demolished shortly after as a result.
The Bluefish Cafe and Restaurant is also close to Chesil Beach and lies within Chiswell, serving fish dishes as a specialty. The restaurant was once the Dap and General cafe. For many years the Fresh Fish shop was found next to the restaurant at Pebble Lane, but closed in 2011.
The Chiswell Indian restaurant Balti Island has had various changes over the last decades. Once a Chinese takeaway named The China Chef in the late 1980s, it was the Akash Indian Take-Away until it closed in 2002. In June 2003 it became The Kohinoor Cafe and in 2004 it became Cafe India, before finally in 2009 it transformed to the Balti Island. Close to the takeaway was once Blue Ribbon Trophies that was open around the late 1980s. Also close by was Artsmiths printing works, which was victim of a runaway lorry which smashed into the print shop section in the late 1980s. The certain part of the building was unoccupied and so no injuries occurred. The extension part of the building was never rebuilt after the accident and the main building was converted into a house.
At the southern end of Chiswell, where the road leads to the esplanade, a garage on the road was once the home of the Weymouth Perfume Company until the 1980s. Around the 1980s, both Stone's Shoe Shop and the Royal Standard Pub sat at the back of Baker's Ground, however both closed, with the former closing in 1989.
Portland Joinery Ltd is also based in Chiswell, who have provided joinery products and service to individual clients, house builders and contractors for over 50 years. The building the company is based in was once Conjurers Lodge, which was set up in 1816 when Rev. Francis Derry came to Portland to investigate allegations that the local Methodists were witchcraft believers. Roughly fifty of the locals were expelled from the church and so they worshiped in the upper floor of Conjurers Lodge for ten years until they were welcome back to the church.
On the outskirt of Chiswell, and into Victoria Square is the Portline (Weyline) Taxi company. The block once stood Chesil Beach Motors and their showroom. However, a huge storm and flooding greatly damaged the premises along with many cars. As a result, the company moved to Easton and the block was demolished. The company continues to run today. Nearby, the old "Agnes Weston" Hostel was once open in the 19th century. Agnes Weston was a 19th-century lady who provided hostels for every naval port for the pastoral care of men of the Royal Navy. The hostel later became a pub before being closed for good.
Accommodation in the area includes The Beach House bed and breakfast, which was built in the early 1800s.
A church is also located in the area: The United Reformed Church. It was founded in 1825 when the people of Chiswell banded together and converted a barn and stable into a place of worship. In 2009 it was to close, despite its congregation's attempt to save it.
Chiswell Walled Garden
The Chiswell Walled Garden is found within the walls of an old house that remains in ruin. The garden was made during the period 2001 to 2006 by the Chiswell Community Trust, with funding from Countryside Agency under their Doorstep Green Initiative. It is maintained by volunteer members of the Trust and is open to the public.
Also managed by the Chiswell Community Trust is Chiswell Earthworks, located at the end of the promenade sea wall, towards West Weares, and at the end of Chesil Beach.
Portland Fair and Baker's Ground
The village has held the annual November Portland Fair for many decades. The area which became a housing estate named Baker's Ground in the late 20th century was once the main site of the Portland Fair.
According to a letter in an issue of the Free Portland News in 2010, the large area of Baker's Ground was a builders yard in Victorian times and was bought by John and Ann Orton who would travel around the country with horses and caravans to try their hand at many pursuits. They once set up a theatre at Baker's Ground in the early part of the 20th century and put on plays with music and 'magic lantern' shows. The site remained un-used until the housing construction.
The Captain's House
The Captain's House has been subject to local stories for many years. It stood in ruin for over one hundred years before being renovated in the late 1990s. Two stories about the history of the unfinished house have been speculated. One story stated that the house belonged to a sea captain who was building the house from him and his fiancée, but her death left the house unfinished in his grief. The second story is that the house once belonged to Dr Motyer who was known for exploiting the local's ignorance of medicine over a century ago.
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