The History of Lymington
The origins of the town of Lymington can be traced by to the 6th century Saxon settlement of ‘Limen Tun’, although there is evidence of earlier settlements in the region and the remains of an Iron Age fort nearby. The name Lymington appears in records as early as 689 AD, but the Domesday Book of 1086 has the name down as Lentune. In the 12th century Lymington was made a town and given a charter allowing it the right to hold a town market. The market is still held weekly on a Saturday and is believed to have been running consistently since at least the 13th century.
The town is situated on the west bank of the Lymington River and is a port on The Solent , the stretch of water along southern England that separates the Isle of Wight from the mainland. Lymington is in the beautiful and historic New Forest district of Hampshire.
The picturesque High Street of Lymington has St Thomas Church , which was built around 1250, at its head. The cobbled street winds down from the church to the quaint fishing harbour, still in use today by commercial fishermen. It was from the saltwater that Lymington grew prosperous, but it was not through fishing. From the Middle Ages and up until the 19th century, Lymington was famous for its production of salt. This was transported all around the country. There are many references spanning several centuries to Lymington’s importance as a salt supplier, including a quote from Daniel Defoe from the 18th century suggesting that all of southern England got its salt from Lymington. The salt was obtained from seawater by sun evaporation or boiling in copper vats to leave a salt residue. Since the early 19th century, Lymington has also had a somewhat unique swimming pool, served with saltwater directly from the sea.
Lymington was also historically a seaport and, since the 17th century, had a boat-building industry. This, no doubt, contributed to the number of times over the centuries between the Middle Ages and the 18th century that Lymington was attacked and burned by the French. The port of Southampton even saw Lymington as something of a rival port during these years, leading to some jealousy between the two towns.
During the 17th and 18th century, smuggling became a part of Lymington’s life and history. At one stage it is even said that the vicar was in league with the smugglers, allowing the tower in St Thomas’ Church to be used for the storage of contraband goods. The most famous smuggler in the history of Lymington is said to be Tom
Johnstone. Born in 1772, his father was a smuggler, but he was raised as a fisherman and only put his seafaring skills to smuggling uses later on. He was eventually caught by the French and spent some time in a French prison, before negotiating his release on the basis that he would deliver letters to a spy in England. His freedom was short lived, as his ship was intercepted by the British Navy. He managed to escape arrest by handing the letters over and shortly afterwards
escaped the Press Gang. He later volunteered to become a Navy Pilot and helping in the efforts to get the French out of Holland.
During the 18th and 19th century Lymington continued to grow into the picturesque market town that it remains today. It gained its first theatre in the latter part of the 18th century and a cricket club in the early years of the 19th century. Before the end of the 19th century, Lymington had a football team and also the Royal Yacht
Society . By this time, the boatbuilding industry in Lymington was busier building yachts than fishing boats.
Lymington has become very famous for its sailing. It has held many world famous regattas in recent years, such as the Royal Lymington Cup, Etchells Worlds, and McNamara’s Bowl. The beauty of the town is drawn in a large part from its mix of Victorian and Georgian architecture in the town centre. These buildings were erected during the periods of growth and prosperity in Lymington and stand today as a testament to a wealthy and fashionable town, both passed and present. During the Victorian era the town was fitted with gas lighting and other civic improvements were made, including the paving of the streets.
Lymington was also home to a number of troops during the 18th and 19th centuries. These included various overseas legions, among them the King’s German Legion who were based there at the time of the Napoleonic Wars. In the last century, apart from the yachting, Lymington has based much of its prosperity on a thriving tourist industry. This has boomed due to Lymington’s proximity to both the popular New Forest and the coast.