500 BC - 1370 AD
Lymington began when the Ancient Britons constructed early earth defences around 500 BC which can still be seen at Ampress and nearby Buckland Rings. These fell to Vespasian in 43 AD following a Roman invasion.
The Saxons arrived in South West Hampshire in the 6th century. They founded a settlement called 'Limen tun' after "Limen" a Celtic name meaning either elm river or, more probably, marshy river.
So Lymington became the little village by the marshy river.
At the time of Domesday book in 1086, the settlement was called Lentune.
The Borough of New Lymington was ultimately created after William de Redvers granted his Charter of privileges between 1193 and 1217.
In 1346 during a war with France, Lymington provided Edward III with 9 ships and 159 men.
During the hundred years war the French attacked and burned Lymington in 1338 and again in 1370.
Middle Ages - 19th Century
In the past, salt was very valuable. Workers were often paid in part with salt, coining the term "salary".
It was used in considerable quantities for culinary, tanning and curative purposes, also as an antiseptic ("rubbing salt into the wound") and as a way of preserving meat (many bacteria finding it harder to live in very salty environments). Some people still claim that the standards of a primitive society can be measured by the amount of salt available.
Historically, Lymington salt marshes provided an excellent place for salt production from the Middle Ages to the 19th Century. They benefited from strong sunshine and low humidity which helped evaporation.
Although documentary proof is lacking, it is suspected than salt was being extracted from sea water all along the south coast from at least the late Saxon period. However, the first records of salt production in Hampshire are in the Domesday Book, listing 22 saltpans divided between 12 manors in 1086.
Among other records, a large salt 'granary' existed on Lymington Quay in 1250.
In 1694, the salt industry had become profitable enough to attract the attentions of the powers on high, and it was William III that decided to impose a duty on salt.
Salt had been sold for 2/8 a bushel (a bushel of salt would be a cube of 7 inches or 17cm), and the additional duty came to 1/8. A much higher duty was also imposed on foreign salt. Shortly afterwards, in 1697, the duty was doubled to 3/4.
In 1730 the salt duties were repealed, but this only lasted for two years.
According to records of salt duties, Lymington's greatest prosperity was during the mid 1740's. Between 1724 and 1766, around 184,480 bushels, or about 4600 tons, was produced. By 1796, there were 103 saltpans in the Lymington area.
After this peak, the salt industry began a long and slow decline, mostly due to crippling taxes on coal (£30 for each ton), which was needed to heat the saltpans and improved transport carrying cheaper Cheshire mined salt to the rest of the country.
In 1798, the salt taxes were doubled yet again. The amount collected in 1804 was only half that collected in 1797 and by 1813, the number of saltpans was down to only 68.
By 1817, taxation on salt, transportation costs of coal, and taxes on the coal itself had raised the price of salt to over 60 times its original cost. The salt industry was in terminal decline and in 1825, efforts had already started to fill in the evaporation ponds to make the area more suitable for grazing cattle.
Sensing the changing times an oyster farm also began. In 1866 the salt industry in Lymington ceased, when the last saltern closed. Only two of the windmills used in the extraction process were still standing in 1871.
How salt pans work
Seawater is channelled into trenches which carry it into many large, shallow gravel bottomed ponds. Here, much of the water is allowed to evaporate in the sun.
The partially evaporated water is then drawn off by copper pipes into a boiling house, and boiled in 2-yard square copper or iron pans, which takes about 8 hours.
The piping is powered by wind pumps, which stood some 12 to 14 feet high.
An average sized saltpan can make about three tons of salt per week, and consumes about 18 bushels of coal for every ton of salt produced.
The pans only ran for 16 weeks during an average summer, but in a year with excellent weather, this can be extended for as long as 22 weeks.
Lymington as a Harbour
With the decline of the salt industry, Lymington continued to grow as a port town and trade centre. With the trading of salt came imported commodities such as oils and animal skins from America, Newfoundland, Holland and the Baltic. Vessels such as the 'Charming Sally', the 'Dolphin' and the 'Sea Horse' left from Lymington Quay to face the perilous Atlantic round-trip, lasting three months.
With legal trade came smuggling and Lymington's infamy grew with an increasing number of hostelries (at one time as many as 45 scattered about the town) some acting as head quarters for groups of well organised smugglers.
Drainage tunnels around the Quay were used under the veil of night to transport contraband. The shady industry thrived with brandy and silks being amongst the favourite of all contraband. Lymington's notoriety spread; indeed Daniel Defoe is attributed with complaining of the "rogueing and smuggling" in 1720.
Gas street lamps were introduced in 1832 and Lymington went on to become one of the first towns in the South to convert to electric street lamps. However in 1933 the town reverted back to gas. Most say this was a result of the increased cost of electricity while others cynically point out that the Mayor and several councillors held shares in the Lymington Gas and Coke Company.
A piped water supply was only introduced in 1884.
With its daily double tide the river has supported a local fishing industry for generations. In 1871 the Lymington Oyster and Fishing Co. Ltd. was formed but oysters soon gave way to breeding fish.
At the mouth of the river, the Jack in the Basket marker post still stands where fishermen's wives would lovingly row out and leave their husbands food and drink in baskets.
Now about 12 commercial fishing boats operate out of the Quay, ranging from 20 to 40 foot trawlers and crabbers. Principle catches are shellfish including oysters dredged from the Solent in the winter.
There is a busy trade in charter boats catering for anglers as well as pleasure cruisers to the Isle of Wight.
Lymington Harbour and Commissioners administer activities on the river through the Harbour Master and the Chief Executive. There is a speed limit of 6 knots in the river and anchoring is prohibited.
Visitors are advised to sail straight to the Town Quay, where there are up to 140 berths for a maximum overall length of 12 metres.
During the summer months there is a vibrant yachting social scene at the Marina and throughout the town.
The ancient Parish Church of St Thomas the Apostle dominates the western end of the High Street. Parts of the building date back to the early 13th century, but there was a religious establishment on the site long before. The tower, which was added following the Restoration of the Monarchy in the 1600s, was later surmounted by the distinctive white cupola.
The building was originally an exact Latin cross, to which in about 1325 a Mortuary Chapel was added by the Courtenays in the North-Eastern corner. Here, under an immense grey slab, originally inlaid with a brass figure and armorial shields at the corners, are laid the remains of some Courtenay family member, but their names are unknown as the brasses having been stripped away long ago.
The Church was gutted during the civil wars, when Puritan soldiers occupied it and, it is believed, erected a fortification or block house at the eastern end in the churchyard, to command the town. In 1662, on the Restoration, the Church was in ruinous condition, however the inhabitants set to work and repaired damage in the style of their time - building the tower and pulling down the south transept.
A clock was in place in the tower by 1674 (replaced in 1835) and a peal of six bells was completed by1684. The Church was enlarged several times from 1756 onwards. In 1911 there was a general restoration - possibly thanks to a legacy from Mrs Earley, who also bequeathed her two houses (117 and 118 High Street) to the town for Municipal Offices.
In 1927 the Courtenay Mortuary Chapel was restored and re-dedicated by the Bishop of Winchester. It is interesting to note that at one time Henry Frances Lyte, the author of the hymn "Abide with Me", held the curacy at Lymington.
The Catholic Church, dedicated to "Our Lady of Mercy and St Joseph" was built at the lower end of the main street by the Weld family in 1859. Prior to this, local Catholics had been able to attend Mass at the private chapel on the Weld's estate at nearby East End.
The United Reformed Church, as the then Congregational Church, was established in the High Street in 1847, although as Presbyterians or Independents they had met in the Old Town Meeting in St Thomas Street for the previous 150 years.
In 1688, the Baptist Church was founded in New Street, but earlier the members had met secretly in other locations for fear of persecution.
Enjoy a leisurely stroll through historic Lymington Historic Town Trail [11Mb]