Seafront land sold for £38 an acre at Weston's first auction

Today a single building plot in a favourable situation in Weston will fetch over £1,000. At the resort's first public auction in 1811 seafront land went for £38 an acre!

Today a single building plot in a favourable situation in Weston will fetch over £1,000. At the resort's first public auction in 1811 seafront land went for £38 an acre! It was described as extremely useful for housing development since there was "excellent spring water to be found on each lot at a depth of 15 feet".A Weston-super-Mare Enclosure Act was passed through the House of Commons in 1810, and a commissioner was appointed to implement it. There was no local authority to levy rates for enclosure improvements, and the commissioner had to raise money to pay for expenses. He rightly concluded that land overlooking the seafront would be most valuable, and that Weston would develop southwards towards what is now the Royal Hospital.In 1811 the first auction in the locality was held "at the house of Joseph Leman, known by the sign of the New Inn, Worle". It was a success, all three lots offered were sold, and among them was one with 430 feet beach frontage and totalling 50 acres, which went for 375 guineas.Another auction was held at The Hotel (Reeves' later Roger's, and now Royal) in 1811. This was more seafront land, and James Partridge Capell bought 25 acres for £975, this being the rate of £38 an acre. By his purchase he secured the whole seafront frontage from about the north corner of the Grand Atlantic Hotel to Severn Road. Of course, it has to be remembered that in those days this land was well outside the village of Weston.Auctions were very much more convivial affairs in those days compared to today's formalities. For instance, at a further auction held in 1912 at Weston's Hotel those attending appear to have eaten and drunk as much as they could carry. The bill for the 'eats' was £5, there was nearly another fiver for port wine, and £16 10s. for punch! It seems to have been a very convivial affair indeed, for there was also an item 10s 6d for broken glasses.But for the fact that borough council workmen today remove hundreds of tons of drifted sand annually from the promenade wall, the sand would pile up over the wall and on to the promenade. We can appreciate what a nuisance drifting sand must have been at Weston in far-off days.In the time of the Enclosure Act there was no money for building a sea wall, but the commissioner had sedge planted in the sand banks at the point where there was greatest nuisance, which was the entrance to Watersill Road or, as it is known today, Regent Street. There was also resort to a fencing of interlaced brushwood and rows of trees to form a barrier.What were the greatest benefits of enclosure? Historian Ernest Baker comments: "Certainly the chief and greatest advantages Westonians derived were the laying out and making of public and private carriage roads, bridle ways and footpaths, bridges, gate and stone and gravel pits. The chief of the four carriage roads made was the Watersill Road, now Regent Street and Locking Road, starting from Huntley's Beach Restaurant and extending to the Watersill Bridge Gate."At the Watersill Bridge Gate, which was at a point between the Electricity Board premises and Mendip Road, a stone arched bridge was built over the rhyne, and this made a link with the outside world, which was later developed to provide an alternative route into Weston from Bristol to that winding through Worle and along the hill.Watersill Road was laid out to a width of 30 feet, and so also was the present Ashcombe Road, extending from Locking Road to Milton Road and thence eastwards to Ashcombe Gate. The third carriageway was called The Strand, and started at Knightstone and extended to the Royal Hospital. The greater part of it is now Beach Road. The fourth public road was Sand Road, a short stretch leading in a northwesterly direction from Kewstoke Church to Sand Bay.The commissioner also set out four private carriageways of a width of 20 feet. These included Moore Drive (now Drove Road from Locking Road to Uphill), and Kewstoke Road - an interesting route this - it began at Ashcombe Hill Gate at the top of Manor Road, and went straight over the hill to Kewstoke Toll gate. This road, of course, runs through the woods, and is still in almost its original condition. Another 20-feet road was laid down from the Reservoir eastwards to the end of the woods by the lodge. Then there was Quarry Road leading from the top of Grove Park to the Cecil Road quarry.The commissioner also set out 10 bridleways over the hill, and three private ways: Rector's Way, off Drove Road; Parsley's Way to give Mr Parsley access to his teazle fields in the Whitecross Road locality; and Jenkins Way which skirted the woods from the Quarry to Eastfield Park. Five bridges were built in the moor, and several footpaths established.The commissioner also ordered that all these roads be maintained by the owners, occupiers and tenants concerned, but at the same time they were given rights to take stone from the Cecil Road and Manor Road quarries for necessary repairs.These enclosure provisions amounted to a sort of Master Plan for the future Weston. This was the framework within which the future seaside resort was to grow - and how it grew!A good illustration of the layout of Weston before enclosure provisions took effect is to be found in a map of the village as it was in 1806. This was published in a reprint of the first guidebook to Weston, dated 1822, edited by Ernest Baker. F A Knight, in his Seaboard of Mendip, wrote: "The village was bounded on the south by Watersill Road, which followed the line of the present Locking Road and Regent Street to the beach. From this road ran the main thoroughfare of the village, 'The Street' as it was called, which took the line occupied by Union Street and High Street (since Knight's day, Union Street has vanished into the greater High Street). On or near The Street was the chief part of the village, comprising twelve buildings in all."At the beginning of West Lane, now West Street, were two more cottages, and on the beach at the other end stood the house of the Rev William Leeves. "Beyond Leeves' Cottage no houses are shown, and no roads are marked; though some distance farther on appears a rough track leading from Knightstone - then and long afterwards really an island - and going in the direction of Kewstoke."The only other road which is named on the map is Bristol Road, which was united with The Street by a sharper and more awkward corner than that which characterises the top of High Street today. A path across the fields, nearly corresponding with Lower Church Road, led to the parish church, near which stood the old rectory and the Grove Mansion, with a couple of cottages or lodges.It is possible to build up a picture of what our present High Street was like when it was known as 'the Street' in 1800. The Centre Point - the Meadow Street-Regent Street crossroads, now known as 'Big Lamp Corner' - was in those days the village green. Off this ran Meadow Lane, as it was known which led to Farmer King's old farmhouse, which stood on land now covered by Orchard Place.The site of Burton's premises was then a ditch-surrounded garden in which William Jones had built a tiled, plain-fronted house, which he sold later to a retired West India merchant named Bowen. The garden had a high wall and a row of poplar trees, and the spot was long known as Bowen's corner.In the garden of Bowen's houses was a carpenter's shop, with a goose-pen adjoining. There was no one-way traffic system in High Street in those days. Every day at sunset old William Gould's geese, headed by the gander, would march in from the fields and enter the pen of their own accord.Gould lived in a nearby cottage, and he could often be seen sitting at the door, with his wooden leg thrust out, as he busily plucked geese, often causing a miniature snowstorm down the Street.Bowen's house was said to be haunted. It had a window facing the street, the blinds of which always remained drawn. The villagers declared that the window had never been opened or cleaned. Small boys used to stare at it until they fancied they saw the blind move, and then scamper for their lives.The Street formed a narrow track bordered on either side with cottage walls or hedges and a watercress bed. An ox-pen and a pond were on the site of Lloyds Bank, while Hugh Hodges and his family lived in a cottage where the Midland Bank stands. Wooden legs seemed to be fashionable in Weston in those days, since Hodges also boasted one, like his neighbour, Gould, across the road. His son, Thomas Hodges was a cobbler, and could usually be seen working in a little workshop in front of the house.Three thatched cottages stood on what was known until recently as Lances Corner, but which is now Argos corner. The Norvill family lived in one. Mrs Norvill took in washing and ironing, while her husband mixed shoemaking with the sale of tea, tobacco, and snuff. He also kept pigs in a lean-to sty against the house.Of the Street Samuel Norvill once said: "It was called the Street, and very narrow it was, too; there was only room for one butt or cart to pass down it at a time. On the east side there was a ditch, and on the west a hedge banked up with stones to keep the earth back. The street itself was always very muddy and dirty; some stones were thrown down loosely on one side to make a sort of footpath."This then, was the heart of village Weston, so soon to undergo a vast transformation.This article, edited by Jill Bailey, was originally published on March 24, 1967