West Bay: A photo essay
Andy Farrer takes his camera to one of the most televised places in Dorset
Published in August ’15
Long before Danny Latimer’s body was found at the foot of the East Cliff, a more enduring mystery had been playing out to the south of Bridport: just why is West Bay so called and when did it get its name?
There’s no doubt that the railway made the name change official, in the sense that West Bay became a station stop originally called Bridport Habour, but changed, for reasons presumably of attracting tourists (ie fare-paying passengers), to the altogether more tranquil sounding West Bay. The words West Bay, though, had been appearing on maps for a few decades before (much as Bridport Harbour would persist on others for decades after) and indeed the road between Bridport and West Bay had been called West Bay Road for longer than West Bay has been so called!
In Chris Chibnall’s Broadchurch, West Bay is just called ‘the beach’. But the now iconic opening shot was not West Bay’s first appearance on what was once known as the small screen. Bridehaven (AKA West Bay) was, a dozen years before, a close-knit community where ‘feuding families, ruthless business dealings and the sea dominate local lives’, and where, following a tragic diving accident which claims the life of his close friend, ‘Mike [Nicholls] returns to Bridehaven where he grew up, to take on the job as Harbour Master’. Yes, Harbour Lights, now only available as an Australasian format DVD, first imprinted West Bay, if not itself, on the public consciousness.
This is not to say that West Bay had not hitherto been on the radar: by the simple expedient of existing it appears to have irked Sir Frederick Treves to the levels of spiteful ire he normally reserved for Sixpenny Handley in his book Highways and Byways in Dorset.
He starts by writing that: ‘the essential hamlet of West Bay is made up of disorderly old houses of the humbler type arranged with no more method than if they had been emptied out of a dice box. Among the more seaward of these are picturesque thatched cottages which have stumbled onto the very beach and are standing there, knee deep in shingle, with their backs turned to the ocean, and with a suggestion that they were wondering how they ever got there.’
Sir Frederick is just clearing his throat at this stage as he continues: ‘West Bay as an irresponsible haven for shipping is pleasant enough, but there is another feature about the tiny place which is lamentable,’ he thunders, ‘there is evidence that it is making pretence to be a seaside town and a resort for the holidaymaker. A block of dwellings has been dumped down in the unoffending hamlet, where a “terrace” – although in itself architecturally admirable – looks as out of place as an iron girder in a flower garden.’ Escalating in tone like an autotuned Murray Walker, Treves concludes by saying: ‘As a village of the incongruous, West Bay has probably no equal in the British Isles. So long as it was content to be a nursery tale harbour it was charming enough, but West Bay as a “seaside resort” is a pitiable mockery.’
All of which seems a little harsh and owes more, one suspects, to Treves’s dislike of tourism and tourists in his native Dorset as anything else.
West Bay these days makes more than a pretence at being a seaside town, its harbour, quay and retail and food offerings are very definitely geared towards the leisure market; its accomodation from the terrace, which still looms over quay, to the swanky new flats to holiday parks mean that West Bay is more than just Bridport’s harbour these days, it is very much a place in its own right, no matter that it’s neither west of Bridport, nor a bay.