Village's only signpost was on the sands

PUBLISHED: 13:15 25 September 2006 | UPDATED: 09:55 24 May 2010

In the early 1800s there was only one signpost at Weston. It stood on the sands near where the Royal Hospital is now situated, and was partially submerged by certain tides

In the early 1800s there was only one signpost at Weston. It stood on the sands near where the Royal Hospital is now situated, and was partially submerged by certain tides. There were two arms, one indicating the direction of 'Uphill, Hutton, Bleadon, Lympsham and Bridgwater', and the other 'To Weston, Kewstoke and Worle'.The route to Uphill lay along the sands, there being no road. Village Weston's scattered cottages and farmhouses were linked by little more than rough tracks. But the first local speculators, William Cox of Brockley, and Richard Parsley were soon to bring big changes. They lost no time after making land purchases for the Smyth-Pigotts, and in 1810 applied for and were granted an Act of Parliament authorising enclosure of all the waste lands in the parish.One version of what took place was that given by one of the early Westonians in an interview with the Mercury a great many years ago. He commented:"The Rev Wadham Pigott never interfered with squatters in waste land and commons, the squatters who built their cottages lived in peace in his life. But when he died other men ruled, and John Hugh Smyth-Pigott went round with his bailiffs and pulled down every squatter's house on the manor."Only one man saved his house, and that was the Parish Clerk, who was sharp enough to have a deed made out for the piece of land on which he had settled, and to get the Rev Wadham Pigott to sign it, and so he was safe. When the land increased in value, he had a nice little property, but all the others had to turn out and shift where they could."Enclosure Acts brought great benefits generally, and especially to the landed gentry. There were certainly many injustices, but we lack the information to appraise what happened at Weston. The track of rough carriageway along the sea-front was imposingly named the Strand. Knightstone island, then without a causeway, was named Night Stone Rock, and beyond it was Bearn Back Road. There were boundary divisions on treeless Worlebury. The Western area was in West Tining. Then came West Field, which was divided from Tor Field by Quarry Hill Road and East Field, no doubt surviving today in the name Eastfield Park.Among the few residences indicated was Leeves' Cottage, on the sea front. The only roads named were Quarry Hill, Bearn Back Road, Watersill Road (later Locking Road), Ashcombe Road, Moor Drove (Drove Road), and Rector's Way. Near the town centre appeared Wallclose Corner. The south end of the village was referred to as Weston, and beyond that was Uphill Moor. There was a Moor Drove Gate at Uphill, and a trackway, Parsley's Way, leading from the beach near Uphill. The old Bristol Road over the hill was shown, there being an Ashcombe Hill Gate at the Manor Road junction. Manor Road existed but was not so named. Near it ancient Manor Farm was indicated, and there were also some houses in an area named Ashcombe Batch. Below Ashcombe Batch was Brockham. The route of today's Milton Road was then Draway Lane.When Messrs Parsley and Cox obtained their Enclosure Act Weston changed swiftly. They had sand banks levelled and built Weston's first inn, then known as The Hotel, later Reeves', Roger's, and today the Royal.Robbins' Sixpenny Guide to Weston, published in 1861, contains interesting information about the early development of the resort.After commenting that the beer for Weston's hotel was fetched from Worle Brewery, the cask sometimes being carried on a pole by two men, it goes on to say that "Similar inconveniences resulted in obtaining the commonest necessities of life. There being no baker's or butcher's shop in the place, bread, meat, and other provisions, were usually procured from Worle or Banwell."We are also told that "The first private mansion erected was that of Mr Isaac Jacobs, then known as an extensive glass manufacturer in Bristol. The house built by him is that called Belvidere. Sidmouth House a smaller building in the rear was designed by Mr Jacobs as a billiard room and other necessary offices to his mansion."Whereat's Guide Book of 1845, commenting on this development stated: "Terminating the Parade, rise two noble and substantial private dwellings called Belvidere; one is an academy conducted by Mr Elwell, where Young Gentlemen are prepared for the University. These houses have a commanding terrace in front, and are altogether in design and construction of greater importance than most of the preceding." Belvidere is no more. It occupied part of the site later used by the Bristol Tramways' Garage, and was pulled down in 1925.Of the development immediately following enclosure Robbins' Guide also commented: "About this time Claremont Lodge was also erected by Mr Christopher Kington. And almost immediately after several other houses were built, when the place began to assume some little importance. The reader has now only to cast his eye over the scene which was but a hill covered with gorse and bushes to realise the transformation that has been effected."Early Westonians, if they did not have rates to worry about, had problems associated not only with enclosure but also with tithes. In 1818 the then Rector, the Rev Mr Scott claimed to be paid full tithes and brought a suit to enforce his rights.The parishioners contended that he was only entitled to a token tithe, or customary payments in lieu of tithes, such as twopence an acre for mowing mead, one penny for the fall of a colt, and some other old immunities. In the lapse of time, however, the people were unable to support their claim by sufficient legal evidence, and the rector succeeded in his claim the full tithes were payable.Something had to be done to convert the rough local trackways into roads. While there was the way out of Weston via the Bristol road which started near the present YMCA and went over the hill along the line of the existing road to Worle, there was great need for a road link with Uphill as an alternative to the sands.This sands route to Uphill must often have been a rough and dangerous journey. There were then no official arrangements for carrying away the seaweed and the wreck of the sea. Anyone driving a carriage along the beach at night with the aid of oil or candle lamps was liable to run into some formidable obstruction such as a tree trunk washed up by the tide.Captains Jones and Pigott, having been appointed waywardens, the title given to those put in charge of the highways, made the present road to Uphill. Some of the parishioners were allowed to advance their properties to meet the line of the new road on condition that ever after they kept the footpath in front in repair.At the time of Enclosure there were about 1,000 acres of local unenclosed common and wasteland, and the hill was treeless.The soil of all moors, commons and wastelands belonged to the lord of the Manor, under whom certain commoners had rights for pasturing their cattle and horses. At stated periods of the year the Manor's Steward would go to the moor, and order all the cattle and horses on it to be driven to one spot. There the owners would identify them, and make an oath in writing to their claim of pasturage. Those who were found to be without right were fined as trespassers.A document, dated 1801, setting out 'The usual Rules for driving Weston Moor' says: "To go to the mark stone on Uphill Green towards Mrs Kniftings (Knyfton) for every person to swear to his stock if required, and for every poor person of the Parish of Weston to pay 10s if not a common, and all other trespassers at the option of Mr Pigott or the Parishioners the whole stock to be driven on Ashcombe Batch, and the money left after all expenses is paid to be laid out in necessary articles in the parish."As can well be imagined, the system before Enclosure gave rise to many disputes. Enclosure had its evils. It was almost the deathblow to the peasant farmer. Often the peasants were bullied into unfair agreements, while some of them were obliged to sell their newly acquired holdings in order to pay their proportion of the expenses of Enclosure.Against this there was the great gain in the increased productivity of the land, the making of roads and, in the case of Weston, the freedom for private enterprise to go ahead with the building of houses and the creation of a seaside resort.The Weston Enclosure Act passed through the House of Commons in 1810, and a Commissioner was appointed to give effect to it. It mentioned waste lands called Weston-super-Mare Moor, and Weston-super-Mare Hill, and 'divers common fields called the East Field, the West Field, Tor Field, and the West Tyning, and divers other open and commonable lands'.There followed the task of perambulating the area and staking the lands with the proprietors and commoners. The work was offset by rest and refreshment at Weston's Hotel, then kept by James Needham. Bills for the eating and drinking that went with it survive. At breakfast there were salmon, soles, leg of lamb, beef, ducks, pudding, five bottles of port wine, and four bottles of sherry. Quite a good meal on which to start the day. There was the same sort of fare for dinner, but wine consumption went up to 16 bottles of port. There was also six shillings for hay for the horses.This article, edited by Jill Bailey, was originally published on March 10, 1967

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