Seeing the sights in jaunting cars and brakes

Public transport has a fascinating history in this town. Donkeys, both saddled and drawing carriages, played an early part in taking the

Public transport has a fascinating history in this town. Donkeys, both saddled and drawing carriages, played an early part in taking the growing little resort's visitors around the town and into the country district. In local stagecoach days heavy, crude types of vehicles maintained services from Weston to Bristol and Bath.It followed that as the resort grew there was an increasing demand for public transport. Weston's first guidebook of 1822 tells us that: "Jaunting cars, wheel and sedan chairs, ponies, and donkeys are to be hired in the village, in the environs of which there are many beautiful drives".Many of these beautiful drives, alas, have long since vanished. Roads have been straightened and widened to meet modern needs, and trees have been felled. It is difficult to realise these days the enchantment that some of these drives had. The old road out of Weston over the hill, which we still know as Bristol Road, was once beautifully tree-lined, and the winding road through Worle was a tunnel under the trees.At Uphill and Hutton, too, the parties travelling in the horse-drawn brakes of former days did not want for shade on hot summer days as they travelled the sylvan highways.Enterprising folk in village Weston were not slow to cater for the public transport trade. In the 1850s we learn that: "There are plenty of comfortable chaises in Weston, able horses, civil drivers, and the roads are passable".By the time we get to Beedle's Handbook of about 1870 there are local stables catering for the holiday trade in a big way, whose advertisements appear in the guidebook.There was John Dommett, of Park House Stables, Church Road, and the Royal Crescent Mews, licensed to let flys, britzskas, etc., who "having increased his number of horses, carriages, etc., is now in a position to furnish wedding parties with first-rate equipages and good greys on the shortest notice. A large and comfortable brake, for parties wishing to visit Cheddar or other neighbouring places. Terms moderate."There were also H Taylor and Son, Riding Masters, near the railway station, 'Licensed to let saddle horses, dog carts, etc.,' while W Tottle, of Alma Mews, Greenfield Place: "Begs to inform the Gentry that at the above-named Mews may be had Easy Landau Flys of a superior description, specially constructed on Easy Springs, with Spring-Seat Cushions, kept ready in the Yard. Also, Basket Carriages, Brakes for Excursion Parties, Britzskas, Wagonettes, etc. "First class stables and coach houses to let. Horses taken to Stand at Livery, at reasonable prices. An Excursion Brake leaves the Yard for the Cheddar Cliffs every Tuesday and Thursday during the season, a Quarter to Eleven. Fare, to and fro, Three Shillings each."Then there was Henry Dart, 2, Albert Buildings. "Licensed to Let Close and Open Flys, Basket Carriage, etc. All Orders left at the Royal or Imperial Hotels, Verandah Mews, High Street or at the above named residence will meet with prompt attention."The excursions by horse brake must have been very jolly affairs, except when it rained. A popular short ride was round the hill to Kewstoke and back along the toll road. It was 1s. 6d., with a halt for tea or other refreshment at either Worle or Kewstoke.So numerous did the carriages, horses, and donkeys become that in 1869 the Local Government Board put some by-laws into force. They referred to: "Hackney carriages, bath or wheel chairs, saddle horses, saddle ponies, saddled mules, and saddle donkeys". The by-laws laid down where the stands were to be for plying for hire, and other regulations included the proviso that: "Every owner or driver shall be sober, and conduct himself in an orderly, respectful, and respectable manner, and obey the reasonable orders of the person hiring his carriage".There was also a law against dangerous driving. "Every driver shall drive at a reasonable speed" and "if the driver or any other person having or pretending to have the care of any hackney carriage, be intoxicated while driving, or by any other wilful misconduct, injure, or endanger any person in his life, limbs, or property, he shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding five pounds ...."There was also this proviso: "The Inspector of Nuisances to order the occupier of any premises whatever, whereon shall be any accumulation of manure, dung, soil, filth or other offensive matter to remove same within 24 hours after notice duly sent."Fares were also prescribed. For "Flys and other first-class carriages drawn by one horse only" the fare for one or two persons for any distance not exceeding a mile was one shilling, and for every half-mile beyond the first mile, sixpence. Then there was the 'time' fare: "For any time not exceeding One Hour, and for carrying One or more Persons, Two shillings; For every Half-hour commenced after the first Hour, One Shilling".The trip to Cheddar was the most popular excursion, and a pretty drive it was along the winding, dusty road over the Mendips with the thrills of negotiating the dangerous 'Devils' Elbow' hill near Locking, and Banwell rhoddy. Banwell, of course, then had its village pond and swans, and Winscombe had not gone all suburbia.Mr Cox, of Cheddar, enterprisingly went all out to cultivate the lucrative horse drawn holiday traffic from Weston. He took a page in the Weston town guide of the day to advertise that "The most wonderful production of Nature in this island is the Stalactite Cavern (now lit by Gas) discovered by Mr Cox in 1838".After giving a most vivid description of his cave in the advertisement Mr Cox commented: "With the exception of an occasional stooping of the body, the Cavern may be seen with the most perfect ease; the paths are well gravelled, and free from wet; and Ladies are enabled, without soiling their apparel, to inspect every portion of the interesting interior."Mr Cox also announced that he had established the Cliff Hotel and pleasure gardens opposite a sheet of water, with boats, etc., where parties bringing provisions for dinner may be accommodated with table-cloths, knives, etc., at sixpence each person; but Dinner, with Wine, Spirits, etc., can be had on the premises." The advertisement concluded, in large lettering: 'Good stabling and coach-houses'.With the arrival of the railway in 1841 Weston guidebooks began to advertise combined rail and road trips. One recommended a rail trip to Yatton: "Little more than a quarter of an hour's ride up the Great Western line. On arriving at the station a respectable hotel with livery stables, kept by a Mr Mountstephens, will be observed on the left where a four-wheeled carriage may be hired, which will convey the company through Yatton to Wrington, a distance of only four miles, and will return for them in the evening, at a cost of about 10 shillings only, driver included."There were stables in all the principal streets of the town in those days. A former Meadow Street trader, Henry Harding, who wrote his recollections of the town centre in the 1840s mentioned the large workshops of Mr Pond, the blacksmith, at the Grove Park end of High Street, where no doubt the shoeing of horses could be seen at all times of the day. Nearby were a large yard and stables belonging to the London Hotel and opening into Worthy Place.Further along High Street was the residence of Mr Hurst. "He kept horse and carriages for hire," wrote Mr Harding, "and also horses and vans for taking passengers and luggage to Bristol, or for conveying goods to and from the city for local tradesmen in the days before the railway came. He charged two shillings for the single journey, and three shillings and sixpence return, as against five shillings single and nine shillings return charged by the stage coach."Further along High Street the Plough Hotel had its stables at the rear, while opposite: "Was an orchard belonging to Mr Hoy, of the Plough Hotel, where people gathered on summer evenings to smoke, drink and gossip under the trees, the beer being brought across from the Plough in gallon jars". Leisurely days and leisurely ways difficult to associate with High Street as we know it now.Mr Harding also tells us that: "Messrs Rossiter's shop site was once occupied by Mr Robertson, the owner of the coach which ran to Bristol every morning; the house was the coach office, and the coach regularly started from there."From the Plough Hotel round into Regent Street was a long garden, enclosed by a high, ivy-covered wall, above which rose very tall poplar trees. "Between this garden and the Regent Street entrance to Wellington Lane were the house and stables of Mr and Mrs Parsons, who let out saddled donkeys. The women and her son and daughters drove the donkeys, while Parsons stayed at home to take the orders."There came the time when Weston could boast that the rising resort had licensed 74 first-class carriages, 41 second class, and 48 donkey chairs. It was a moment to recall that but a few years earlier: "The only conveyance in the place was a sedan chair owned by one Emmanuel Pimm, and carried by him and his nephew."On the occasion of a party or a ball Emmanuel and his nephew had a warm time: everyone required them, but as they had a monopoly, woe to the lady who had ordered them if, when they arrived, she still had another hairpin to fix, or the other shoe to put on, and would be ready in 'just two seconds'. Like the tide Emmanuel never waited, but marched off and took somebody else.We are told that this monopoly ended when John Shephard astonished the populace by introducing a four-wheel carriage, a most curious creation: "Like a round cupboard on wheels, with a tilt on top and curtains all round".Next came a four-wheeled donkey wagon owned and driven by Jimmy Burge. Progressive Jimmy Burge also introduced the first fly. It is recorded that: "It was something like a travelling chariot, yet it wasn't one, and it was something like a mourning coach, and yet it wasn't that either, so it must have been something between the two. It was painted bright yellow and had great leather bands for springs. When in motion it swayed about like a boat on a rough sea."The inhabitants were simply amazed at the prodigious sight; they came and stared, and went off only to come back and stare again. In fact it took weeks before they grew accustomed to the grandeur of it." In public transport Weston, obviously, had at last really arrived.* This article, edited by Jill Bailey, was originally published on December 29, 1967

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