Fortuneswell

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Fortuneswell
Fortuneswell is located in Dorset
Fortuneswell
Fortuneswell
 Fortuneswell shown within Dorset
OS grid reference SY689732
District Weymouth and Portland
Shire county Dorset
Region South West
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town PORTLAND
Postcode district DT5
Dialling code 01305
Police Dorset
Fire Dorset
Ambulance South Western
EU Parliament South West England
List of places
UK
England
Dorset

Coordinates: 50°33′30″N 2°26′23″W / 50.55836°N 2.43968°W / 50.55836; -2.43968

Fortuneswell from Priory Corner.

Fortuneswell is one of the largest of eight villages on the Isle of Portland, just off the coast of Dorset in the English Channel. The old fishing community village lies on steeply sloping land on the northern edge of the island (Underhill), where Chesil Beach, the tombolo which connects the island to the mainland, joins the island.

The nearby village of Chiswell is found east of Fortuneswell, and Castletown is found north. Both of these neighbouring villages almost merge into Fortuneswell, as they share the limited space on the northern slopes of the island. However, Fortuneswell occupies the steepest land far above sea level, whereas Castletown and Chiswell occupy flat land close to sea level, next to Portland Harbour and Chesil Beach respectively.

As with the rest of Portland's villages and settlements, Fortuneswell, including Maiden Well and Mallams, has been designated as a conservation area, as it is a place of special architectural and historic interest, given protection to ensure that people can continue to enjoy their character for years to come. Underhill, incorporating Chiswell, Maidenwell, Fortuneswell and Castletown became designated in 1976 with boundary extensions in 1997 and 2000.[1][2]

The village has a main shopping street with several shops, and along with Easton, Fortuneswell is the main hub of the Isle of Portland's activities.

In Thomas Hardy's 1880 novel The Trumpet Major, he described the village as the "Street of Wells".[3]

History[edit]

The name of the village comes from an ancient well that a spring ran to from Verne Hill.[4] The name Fortuneswell has been an old pedigree, and was first recorded as "Fortunes Well" in 1608, where its name came from the belief in the occult star-telling power of its water, where one's luck could be seen.[5] It is most likely that the Romans discovered the natural springs and turned them into ponds and wells across the island, including Fortuneswell. Natural ponds at Fortuneswell, like in the other Portland villages, were walled and maintained by the community since Roman times. Many cottages had their own well or cistern, and public wells would be dug deep into the bedrock to obtain a yearly supply of pure water.[6] The ancient Fortunes' Well was eventually covered up by the council around the time of World War I, and although it still runs underground it is now piped.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, the village consisted of quality, spaced out houses, some of which were built by stone merchants and sea captains. However the area's characteristics changed dramatically in the late 19th century.[7] This was down to the demanding projects of building Portland's harbour breakwaters and the Verne Citadel, which led to a large influx of outsiders coming to Portland, (known as Kimerlins to Portlanders - a term meaning stranger), to work and serve on these government works. As a result businesses all over the island grew and thrived, and Fortuneswell was transformed with facades of impressive carved masonry and elegant windows. In 1861, Eliots Bank opened in the village, and on the same street Captain Abraham Scriven erected the Royal Hotel, at a cost of £3000. In 1866, Henry Russell built a grand drapery emporium in the centre of the village. Naturally, many any Victorian terraces were erected to cope with the increasing population, with the older houses being described as "wretchedly small" with the new ones being little better. It was hoped that new houses would be detached or semi-detached, with gardens, however in reality terraces made up the majority of new buildings. Although a small number of such fine houses were erected, over the next fifty years rows of terraced houses were packed into every farmland and garden on the steep hillside.[8]

By this point as gasworks had to be built in Chiswell, sewerage systems installed, as well as reservoirs etc. as the scattered wells and springs became totally inadequate to supply water for both the population and government works. By 1881 locals of the village had to queue up to 20 minutes to gain access to the ancient well near High Street junction to fill buckets. Conditions deteriorated and the majority of the island faced diseases such as measles, bronchitis and typhoid. A night cart was refused, street lamps remained unlit due to the price of gas, and there was still no piped water supply available.[8] Also by 1875, Portland's schools, especially those in Fortuneswell, became overcrowded. A new private school was opened as a result, by Miss Clara White at Manor Place. The year of 1895 was a turning point for Portland, and once a water supply was established from Upwey near Weymouth, the first water to pass through taps on the island was in 1900.

From 1930, a demolition scheme threatened many historic houses throughout Underhill and despite much objection, a good amount of the village's historic, Jacobean, Tudor and Georgian cottages would be demolished, with no builders taking the opportunity to restore them. During the Second World War, compulsory blackouts at night caused problems themselves. Fortuneswell became such a dark canyon that specially marked hurricane lamps were hung to reduce the incidents of people walking into each other or objects. White lines had to be painted on any sharp bends too, such as Priory Corner. With the importance of Portland's naval base, the island was a natural target for German aircraft, and Fortuneswell had various cases of raids and bombings. In the village houses and four-storey shop premises alike would be badly damaged, including The Sun Inn, which was eventually demolished. St John's School, in the village, was ultimately destroyed when a high explosive bomb hit its playground, however as it was a Sunday, no casualties occurred.[9]

After the war it was decided to erect many new houses at Tophill, namely 100 houses at the Weston estate. However the biggest project was for the Verne Common hillside. The site's panoramic view across Dorset initially aided the idea of building quality villas on the land. This was to have been similar to those at Torquay, to stop the drift of professional people to Weymouth. However speed and utility were fundamental and so in 1949 the council authorised the construction of hundreds of permanent prefabricated low rent houses. These houses at Verne Common, including East Weare Road overlook Castletown, although are designated part of Fortuneswell. In 1963, the village's one way traffic system was introduced.[10]

Commerce and amenities[edit]

The one-way street through Fortuneswell.

Over the last few decades, many shops in Fortuneswell have changed hands frequently, while a few shops have lasted longer periods and became familiar businesses before eventually ceasing trading. One notable example is Way's Shop, which dated back from the 18th century, and continued trading until it closed in early 1973.[11] Fortuneswell was the main business centre on Portland until the 1970s, when many well-established businesses ceased trading. However in 1995 a refurbishment scheme over Underhill bought new life and confidence to the village. Current various shops and businesses include a tailor shop, a carpet and furniture stores, a café, a pharmacy, a fish & chip shop, a hardware store, an estate agent, a newsagent/post office, and a hairdresser. The Portland Centre was a tourist information centre in the village, although it has now closed.[12] A small number of commercial property and shops in Fortuneswell have been victim to fires, including a takeaway shop and a greengrocers who were victims of arson in the late 1980s.

The New Star Inn, Royal Portland Arms and the Britannia Inn are located in Fortunewell.[13] Close to the New Star Inn once stood the now gone Meissner's Knap – the Royal Hotel built by Captain Abraham Scriven in 1863, which hosted many important visitors to the breakwater works.[14] The British Legion Hall, in High Street, was erected in 1926 over the premises of what is now the British Legion Club. It was formerly known as the Yerburgh Hall. At East Street there remains a well-equipped Working Men's Club. It is known as the North Portland Working Men's Club, while the South Portland Working Men's Conservative Club is located within Easton Square, in the Jubilee Hall of 1888.[15]

The no longer remaining Regal Cinema was built in Fortuneswell during 1932 and blocked the view of St. John's Church. It was very popular until the advent of television, and in the 1960s it tried to boost patrons by specialising in 'X' Certificate films, particularly as entertainment for Royal Navy sailors. It then became a popular Bingo hall. In the 1990s the building had renewed interest when it became Rumours Nightclub, which featured a large model aircraft hung from the ceiling of the dance floor. A victim of alleged arson, the nightclub caught fire one evening and was demolished soon after. Easton also had a cinema; Easton Palace. Almost opposite the site of the Regal Cinema site is Portland's smallest thoroughfare - Manor Place which is less than thirty inches wide but serves several houses.[16] Within the area of the old site of the cinema stands the Royal Manor Theatre.

A reminder of industry in the back streets of Fortuneswell lies an old Victorian steam laundry, built in 1900, which later housed a Defence Industry Contractor. The building was then converted into an Art Community Centre.[17][18]

The Underhill Methodist Church was built in 1900, at the top end of the village.[17] The old school building beside the church was the Brackenbury Day School. Near to the church was the Portland Underhill Library, which closed in early 2012 due to lack of volunteers wishing to run it, as well as being a cost-saving measure after consultation with community representatives.[19] Despite attempts by the local community to save the library, including a petition signed by 13,636 people, libraries across Dorset suffered from closure, including the Underhill site, which closed in late April.[20] The village is now served by a mobile library instead, although Tophill library at Easton continues to operate.[21] Opposite the church is the Portland Council Offices, which were built in 1934, and possess a fine council chamber.

At High Street is a former Bible Christian Chapel, which has a gabled front with rusticated round-arched openings. It is dated 1865, and has been used by Jehovah's Witnesses since at least 1983.[22]

The play area of Victoria Gardens.

Located in Fortuneswell and close to the villages of Castletown and Chiswell is Victoria Gardens, which were opened in 1904 to mark the 1897 Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Before the gardens were created, the land was known as Little Common.[23]

Towards the highest point of Fortuneswell, heading towards Priory Corner, is Old Hill - a very steep footpath linking Underhill with Tophill. Once a main route for those travelling from Tophill, it once crossed the track of the Merchant's Railway that used to take stone blocks from Tophill to Castletown where they would be loaded onto boats. Old Hill was once the location of a Pet Cemetery by the famous Dickey Hoskins. He was paid to dispose of unwanted pets and promised to give them a burial on Old Hill. However, he took the pets to Weymouth and sold them so he made two sources of income in return for appearing to dig a few 'graves'.[24]

Education[edit]

Infant and primary education within the village became provided by Isle of Portland Aldridge Community Academy in 2012. The two schools within Fortuneswell, Brackenbury Infant School (including the Community Nursery) and Underhill Community Junior School, both closed in 2014, along with other schools on the island, all to be replaced by a new school situated at Southwell Business Park.

Underhill Community Junior School was built of Portland Stone in 1913 and the hall was added in 1966. In 1992 the school had three new classrooms added, whilst the existing building was successfully modernised.[25][26][26][27][28] Fortuneswell was also home to Brackenbury Day School, which opened in May 1845 and continued to operate into the 20th century. In 2012 the school became The Brackenbury Centre, which had been renovated and opened to the public as a community centre for art, clubs and socialising.[29]

Grade listed features[edit]

Fortuneswell has a wide array of architecture and buildings, a number of which are Grade Listed. There are some particularly older dwellings nestled beside Victorian and later built houses.

Houses[edit]

The early-to-mid 19th century Bow Cottage, along with its boundary wall, at Artist Row, has been Grade II Listed since May 1993.[30] 116 and 118 Fortuneswell, are a pair of attached houses of early 19th-century date. Although the exact date of construction is unknown, the houses are depicted on the 1841 Tithe Map. They have been Grade II Listed since May 1993, and this includes the houses' front garden walls and gate piers.[31] 81 Fortuneswell, dates from the late 19th century, and is an office building in row, immediately adjoining the Post Office, in which it shares some of its detail. It has been Grade II Listed since May 1993.[32] 6 and 8 Fortuneswell became Grade II Listed in May 1995, and both date circa 1820-30.[33] 59 and 61 Fortuneswell are two houses with shops at junction with High Street. Dating from the 18th century, they both have modifications in the 19th and 20th centuries. The houses represent an important corner site, and one of the earliest buildings in the area. They became Grade II Listed in May 1993.[34] The Post Office at 79 Fortuneswell became Grade II Listed at the same time, and is dated 1894. It has a very typical brash commercial design which has remained unaltered. During 2012, the post office finally left this building.[35] 165 Fortuneswell is a house at end of row set at right angles to the main road. It dates from the early 19th century, and has been Grade II Listed since May 1993.[36]

Queen Anne House at the top of Fortuneswell, was built circa 1720 by architect and quarry merchant Thomas Gilbert, who used the house as his own residence. He would later design St George's Church on Portland, a Grade I Listed building.[37] Queen Anne House, along with its boundary wall and gate piers became Grade II* Listed in May 1993.[38] Another particularly grand house is The Captain's House, located at the bottom of Mallams, and within the proximity of the villages of Chiswell and Fortuneswell. The house, together with the attached wall to the south east, has been a Grade II listed building since September 1978. The house is said to date back to the mid-18th century and has been subject to local stories for many years. It stood in ruin for over one hundred years before being privately renovated in the late 1990s.[39][40]

At Old Hill, is The Old Rectory, which was originally the rectory to St. George Church at Reforne, Easton. It later became a private hotel, and by the end of the 20th century was now three dwellings. It is of 18th century origin. The houses have a dramatic site on the scarp slope above Fortuneswell, and was bounded to the south, until its removal, by the Merchant's Railway. The rectory, along with its boundary walls, became Grade II Listed in May 1993.[41]

Overlooking Victoria Gardens, is a former police station. The station and its court room are dated 1904 and 1906. Amongst many of its interior features, the block of 6 cells has two of these retaining original 19th century pattern doors. The station became Grade II Listed in May 1993, whilst it was still active. At the start of the 21st century the police station closed, and relocated to Castletown area.[42] The front boundary wall and steps to the station have also been Grade II Listed since May 1993, dated 1906.[43] 1, 2 and 3 Castle Road, were formerly police dwellings, attached to the station. These three houses, along with their boundary wall and steps, have been Grade II Listed since the same time. They date from the early 20th century.[44][45]

High Street[edit]

High Street contains various notable houses, and was once a separate hamlet known as Maiden Well. This is past the upper end of Chiswell, where the road turns into Fortuneswell and becomes High Street. 58 High Street was built in the 18th century, with late 20the century alterations. It was built as one of a pair with No. 60 adjoining, and became Grade II Listed in September 1978.[46] At the same time, 62 (Tenastelion) and 64 High Street, a pair of mid-18th century houses, became Grade II Listed too.[47] 147 High Street forms part of the best remaining row of houses in Underhill, forming an effective visual stop at its lower end. It has been Grade II Listed since September 1953, and dates from the early-to-mid 19th century.[48] 137 and 139 High Street, with the front boundary wall, became Grade II Listed at the same time, and are a pair of houses, probably from the mid 18th century, but re-fenestrated in early 19th century. They are one of the best group of houses remaining in Underhill.[49] The mid-19th century 163 High Street has been designated Grade II since July 1975.[50] 60 High Street, and its attached outbuilding was designated Grade II in September 1978. It dates from the mid to late 18th century, and was refenestrated during the mid 19th century.[51] In July 1975, 165 High Street became Grade II Listed. It dates from the early 19th century, with some parts possibly of earlier origin. The building, which adjoins No. 120 Chiswell, steps down the steep incline at this point in High Street, and the return frontage faces down into Chiswell, holding an important position in the townscape.[52]

107 and 109 High Street are both of early 19th century origins, and have an unusual design with larger windows than usual, becoming isolated by demolitions and 20th century changes to surrounding buildings. In May 1993, they were designated Grade II.[53] In September 1953, 135 High Street, and its front boundary wall, became Grade II Listed. As the end property to the best remaining group in Underhill, it dates from the late 17th or early 18th century.[54] 141 High Street, including its boundary walls, piers and gate, became Grade II Listed at the same time. It too dates from the late 17th or early 18th century, but was also re-fenestrated in early 19th century. Again part of the best remaining row in Underhill, it has an exceptionally complete frontage still retaining its stone slate roof.[55] 159 and 161 High Street became Grade II Listed in July 1975. They date from the early to mid 19th century. The pair, along with the adjoining No. 163, were renovated in June 1991, including with replacement windows, but sympathetic to original detail.[56] 10 High Street and its attached outbuilding was designated Grade II in May 1993. It is of late 18th century origin, with later alteration. The outbuilding is characteristic of the small-scale development in Fortuneswell in the 18th century.[57] At the bottom of the street is Maiden Well, the remains of a boundary wall and well head or cistern, probably of 18th century origin. As a small square construction, it is set opposite the right hand boundary to The Captain's House. The well looks rather like a mounting block, but is the remains of one of the water sources which were so important to the Island until the bringing of piped water in 1900. None of the formal well heads have survived, so that this modest remnant has historical interest.[58]

Mallams[edit]

The steep street Mallams was once a separate hamlet from Fortuneswell, and features various notable buildings - with the road having extensive terraces from the 18th and 19th centuries. Both 53 and 60 Mallams are Grade II Listed, the former in May 1993 and the latter in September 1978, and both date from the early 19th century.[59][60] 17 Mallams was Grade II Listed in May 1993, and is dated from the early 19th century.[61] 19 Mallams, dates to the early 19th century, and appears to have been built at the same time as No. 17 adjoining, but is stepped down following the line of the street. It is one of few on this side of the street not fundamentally modified in the 20th century. It became Grade II Listed in May 1993.[62] 42 Mallams was also designated Grade II at the same time, and dates from the mid to late 18th century. It is a house with greater architectural pretension than most in the row.[63]

62 and 64 Mallams both date from the late 18th century, and have mid 19th century fenestration. They were Grade II Listed in May 1993,[64] as was 58 Mallams, which dates from the late 18th or early 19th century. The house probably has a refenestration of an earlier front, and the ground-floor window was at one time wider than now.[65] Fair Winds (63 Mallams), was designated Grade II in September 1978. It is a detached house at lower end of row, and dates around the early 19th century. Except for the unfortunate loss of sash windows and original door, this is rather more grand than most houses in the area, and is unusual in having a brick frontage which the RCHM notes "the only use of facing brick dating from before circa 1850 on the Island".[66] At Mallams, the K6 Telephone Kiosk found opposite No. 63 Mallams, became Grade II Listed at the same time. It was designed in 1935 by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott - the English architect known for designing the iconic red telephone box.[67]

Public houses[edit]

The Royal Portland Arms has been Grade II Listed since September 1978. The pub dates from the mid-19th century and was often visited by King George III.[68] It held the arms and uniforms of Portland Militia in the 1750s too. The New Star Inn is Grade II Listed, and has been since May 1993. It dates from early-to-mid 19th century, with an early 20th century pub front. It is a forceful and unaltered frontage characteristic of its era.[69] The Britannia Inn was named after a Royal navy ship which frequently visited the dockyard.[70] It became Grade II Listed in May 1993, and dates from the mid to late 19th century.[71]

St. John's Church[edit]

St. John's Church is located in the village.[72] It was built on a steep hillside in 1838-40 by John Hancock of Weymouth. According to Stuart Morris' book Portland Camera, the early vicars were both colourful and controversial characters.[73] It has been Grade II Listed since January 1951.[74] The churchyard walls, gate piers, railings, and steps of St. John's Church, dating from 1839–40, became Grade II Listed in September 1978.[75] At this same time, two headstone monuments, about 5 metres north east from the west tower of the church became Grade II Listed. The two headstones are of mid 19th century origins, and set very close together. Both have inscriptions that are now barely decipherable, with one still recognizable with the name John Green, and the other Joseph.[76]

Other[edit]

At Hambro Road is a War Department/Admiralty boundary stone dating from the 19th century. This small round-topped stone is one of many similar boundary stones on the island but retained in the urban context. It is partly buried in made-up pavement. It became Grade II Listed in May 1993.[77] At the same time, two other similar boundary stones within the village became Grade II Listed. They are both found at the junction of New Road and Old Hill. Aside from the obvious military association, the markers are also a reminder that for long Old Hill was the principal means of access to Tophill from Underhill, until the construction of New Road in 1810.[78]

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