The rapid decay of the Romano-British civilisation, which followed the withdrawal of Roman control and reduced Britain to a more barbarous state than Julius Caesar had found it five centuries earlier, was made evident by the 1937-8 excavation in Dorchester, which showed how squalid was the life of the squatters who misused the Roman house at Colliton Park.
No doubt similar conditions remained in our district for many generations – the bare report that a Saxon coin (probably of the seventh century) was found on the Roman pavement in Newberry Terrace tells us little, but the Chapel erected to the memory of St. Aldhelm within sight of our town should remind us that his coming proclaimed the dawn of the Christian Era in this region.
For three centuries after the landing of St. Aldhelm, recorded history tells of continual strife and bloodshed caused by raids and invasions by men of the northern countries on a people whose civilisation was rapidly improving under the influence of the Christian Church by whose encouragement, literature, music, art and craftsmanship attained high levels.
That Weymouth Bay was the scene of many of the Viking raids is undoubted as the following extracts from the Anglo Saxon Chronicle show:
- AD 787. This year…………….came first three ships of the Northmen from the land of the robber. The reve then rode thereto and would drive them to the king’s town for he knew not what they were and there he was slain. These were the first ships of the Danish men that sought the land of the English nation. (In another & more comprehensive account of this incident the king’s town is specified as Dorchester).
- AD 837. Alderman Ethelhelm, also with the men of Dorsetshire, fought with the Danish army in Portland Isle, and for a good while put them to flight, but in the end the Danes became masters of the field and slew the alderman.
- AD 982. In this year came up in Dorsetshire three ships of the pirates and plundered in Portland.
- AD 1052. Earl Godwin………drew up his sail and his ship, and they went west at once to the Isle of Wight, and landing there they plundered so long that the people gave them as much as they required of them, then proceeded they westward until they came to Portland, where they landed and did as much harm as they could possibly do.
There were undoubtedly intervals of peace as, for example, during the reign of King Athelstan (925-940), and for some time after Canute became king (1017), but the kind of tension which prevailed may perhaps be judged from another extract from the Chronicle:
- AD1006. Then the king ordered out all the population from Wessex and from Mercia, and they lay out all the harvest under arms against the enemy, but it availed nothing more than it had done before. For all this the enemy went wheresoever he would and the expedition did the people more harm than either any internal or external forces could do.
The next reference to Weymouth in a Saxon charter is one whereby King Ethelred (979-1016) granted to his faithful servant Atsere “a certain portion of land in that place called by its inhabitants Waye or Wyck”. From that time Wyke appears to have been an important manor, it being definitely mentioned in the Domesday Book.