Lyme Regis is a coastal town in West Dorset, England, situated 25 miles west of Dorchester and 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." In the 13th century it developed into one of the major British ports. The town was home to Admiral Sir George Somers, its one time mayor and parliamentarian, who founded the Somers Isles, better known as Bermuda. Lyme Regis is twinned with St. George's, in that Atlantic archipelago.
The town has a population of 4,406, 45% of whom are retired. Lyme is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. The Royal Charter was granted by King Edward I in 1284, with the addition of 'Regis' to the town's name. This charter was confirmed by Elizabeth I in 1591.
In 1644, during the English Civil War, Parliamentarians here withstood an eight week siege by Royalist forces under Prince Maurice. It was at Lyme Regis that the Duke of Monmouth landed at the start of the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685.
In the early 1960s, the town's railway station was closed, as part of the Beeching Axe. It was rebuilt at Alresford, on the Mid Hants Watercress Railway in Hampshire. The route to Lyme Regis had been notable for being operated by aged Victorian locomotives, one of which is now used on the Bluebell Line in Sussex.
In 2005, as part of the bicentenary re-enactment of the arrival of the news, aboard the Bermuda sloop HMS Pickle, of Admiral Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, the actor playing the part of Trafalgar messenger Lieutenant Lapenotiere was welcomed at Lyme Regis.
Lyme Regis is well-known for "The Cobb", a harbour wall full of character and history. It is an important feature in Jane Austen's novel Persuasion (1818), and in the film The French Lieutenant's Woman, based on the 1969 novel of the same name by local writer John Fowles.
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.
The first written mention of the Cobb 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.
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.
The parish church is St Michael's, on Church Street. Its full title is parish church of St Michael the Archangel. It is situated above Church Cliff and dominates the old town. There are three ways to access the churchyard. From Church Street, enter through the archway and up the steps, next to the Boys' Club or from higher up the hill, direct from Church Street. From Long Entry, there is a steep climb either up steps or up the service road in front of the flats overlooking Lyme Bay. Mary Anning is buried here and there is a stained-glass window dedicated to her memory by members of the Geological Society of London, an organisation that did not admit women until 1904.
The museum, built on the site of Mary Anning's birthplace and family shop off Bridge Street, houses a large collection of local memorabilia, historical items and exhibits explaining the local geological and palaeontological treasures.
Set into the pavement, outside the museum, is an ornate example of Coade stone work, in the form of ammonites, reflecting both local history (Eleanor Coade) and the palaeontology for which the town is famous.
On the West bank of the River Lym near the Town Mill is the site of an old chapel " St Mary & the Holy Spirits", known locally as "Lepers Well". The term "Leper" was used as a blanket description of medieval skin diseases and not necessarily "Leprosy" as it is understood today. There is a small plaque on the wall telling of the hospital which stood on the site 700 years ago. The water still runs today although one assumes in a much reduced flow. Little information survives today, the land was left untouched for many years and some locals can remember livestock being kept on the land before it was landscaped into a visitors garden in the 1970s.
The town is famous 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. The Blue Lias rock is host to a multitude of remains from the early Jurassic, a time from which good fossil records are rare. Many of the remains are well preserved, with complete specimens of several important species. Many of the earliest discoveries of dinosaur and other prehistoric reptile remains were made in the area surrounding Lyme Regis, notably those discovered by Mary Anning (1799–1847). Significant finds include Ichthyosaur, Plesiosaur, Dimorphodon, Scelidosaurus (one of the first armoured dinosaurs) and Dapedium. The town now holds an annual Mary Anning Day. A fossil of the world's largest moth was discovered in 1966 at Lyme Regis.
The coast around Lyme Regis is subject to large landslips. This means that Jurassic age fossils are regularly exposed and can be found on the beaches, but also causes devastation to the town. One of the most spectacular landslips occurred on 24 December 1839, 3 miles west along the coast in Devon belonging to Bindon Manor and known as "The Dowlands Landslip". About forty five acres of fields growing wheat and turnips were dislodged when a great chasm was formed more than 300 feet across, 160 feet deep and three quarters of a mile long. The crops remained intact on the top of what became known as "Goat Island" among the newly formed gullies. On February 3rd 1840, 5 weeks later, there was a second landslip nearby but much smaller than the former. This strange phenomenon attracted many visitors, and the canny farmers charged sixpence for entrance and held a grand reaping party when the wheat ripened. The area is now known as The Undercliff and is of great interest because of its diverse natural history.
In 2005, work began on a £16 million engineering project to stabilise the cliffs and protect the town from coastal erosion. The town's main beach was reconstructed and re-opened on 1 July 2006.
On the evening of 6th May 2008, a 400m (1,312ft) section of land slipped onto the beach between Lyme Regis and Charmouth. Local Police described the landslip as the "worst for 100 years".
The town has a busy calendar of annual events, including the 'Lyme Regatta', The Lyme Regis Fossil Festival (in conjunction with the London Natural History Museum) and Mary Anning Day. The traditional conger cuddling event takes place during Lifeboat Week. The 'Lyme Regatta' is an event which takes place over a whole week, during August and is organised by a committee of local volunteers. Funds are raised for local charities.The Summer Regatta includes outdoor movies, parades, games such as egg tosses, events such as rubber duck races on the River Lym, and fireworks.
Around 1834, the English Romantic artist J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851) painted a scene of Lyme Regis (now in the Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio, USA). His near-contemporary, James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903) also visited and stayed in Lyme.
Beatrix Potter's 1904 holiday in the town resulted in illustrations for her book Little Pig Robinson.
In addition to Mary Anning and John Fowles, notable residents include: