Village Weston described in faded manuscript

There was no local historian in village Weston, and for descriptions of what the resort was like in its early days we have to rely on the information given in diaries and

There was no local historian in village Weston, and for descriptions of what the resort was like in its early days we have to rely on the information given in diaries and letters of visitors. Village Weston could not have had much to offer. While its primitive state charmed some visitors, others wrote complainingly about the cart-rutted and stone-riddled tracks that served as roads, and of how when the wind blew they became enveloped in a sandstorm. There was more sand on the beach than today and no sea wall to keep it back. Since there were also sand dunes all along the front, one can well imagine how unpleasant conditions became when it was dry and windy.In 1869 the Mercury published some reflections that a humorous poet penned in 1829. Introducing it a Mercury writer commented: "It must be amusing to those old residents who can remember 50 years past to moralize over the condition of Weston-super-Mare at the time of their youth, and contrast its then rude state with its present beautiful and attractive appearance."Our old friends will recollect the cold, stony hill, without trees or shade of any kind, the unenclosed wastelands, the rugged seaside path, the miserably tortuous roads, the absence of footways, and the few old dilapidated straggling buildings that made up the then little village."It may also be possible that a few may entertain some recollections of the following verses, written we believe 40 years since, by the Rev Eagles (who was a celebrated writer of that day, under the nom de plume the 'Man in the Moon'), as at the time they were written, Weston-super-Mare was just attracting notice as a watering place:PICTURE OF WESTON-SUPER-MAREHouses huddled all together,All exposed to stormy weather.Not a tree or shrub we findThat can shelter from the wind.No regularity is there,No Street, no crescent, lane or square;A terrace walk, no tree to shadePolitely called an esplanade;A country tavern, wines to sellGraced with the name of Plough Hotel;One more by Reeve - a sporting house - A court kept for a market house.One eating house to grease your chops - With here and there some paltry shops.The walks are so beset with stones,A trifling fall would break your bones; and if you wished a ride to takeYou risk the breaking of your neck.There are asses here to ride -Boys for driver at your side - Let and hired by the hour,Some with two legs, some with four.Bathing dresses coarse as sacks,To adorn the ladies' backs.View again to rise your mirth Little Mrs Muggleworth;What between fat, flesh, and boneThis woman weighs near twenty stones - And if you wish her powerful aidShe'll dip man, woman, boy, or maid.Lone food they have, vile hill among,A lovely strand, full three miles long;And when the waves with solemn roarHave reached margin of the shore,although the water is not green'Tis pleasant to behold the scene.Again returning from its flood,It leaves behind it mud! mud! mud!And when a breeze blows o'er the landEach house must have its share of strand.If, when you would a repast makeYour mouth a share of sand must take!I close, lest you may think I slight it,Dear lovely Weston, how do you like it?The Mercury writer of 1869 who introduced this poem to the paper's readers, continued: "It is difficult to our minds to realise the position of the governing powers of our town fifty years since. "Weston then had the magistrates, the way wardens and overseers, and, last, though not least, that substitute for our present board of Commissioners, the real power of the state - the parish constable; who when he met, and had occasion to address one of the great unpaid, reverently doffed his cap and addressed that dignity as 'His Worship'."Then there was the visitor with recollections of Weston in 1839, by which time the railway had arrived, but when it was necessary for people to change trains at the junction."Arriving by train early in winter in the centre of a bleak moor, with a junction to shelter us from the cold and biting wind - the structure resembled nothing so much as an ordinary cow-shed - was, to begin with, not particularly inviting to the Weston visitor."Waiting for at least half-an-hour was no uncommon circumstance at Weston and by no means improved the impression, although it allowed sufficient time for reflection upon the noticeable objects in the neighbourhood. The inevitable windmill on Worle hill, of course came in for its share of admiration, as also did the picturesque Uphill old church."The seaward spur of Mendip Hill (Worlebury) was bare of houses, and with the exception of rabbit warrens, young trees, gorse, and grey rocks, with an occasional pleasant farm house (like that at Ashcombe) there was really nothing to interest the curious visitor."By-and-by came the train from Highbridge, and meeting it was another from Weston, drawn by a pair of miserable horses with broken shins and apparently broken hearts."The short space of ten minutes brought us close upon the town. The day, as I have said, was cold, and the wind high, and I confess the little watering place had a certain bleak and watery appearance that was anything but pleasant or prepossessing."With every gust of wind there came blinding clouds of sand straight from the shore. The few streets that met the eye seemed narrow and contracted, and for long distances together not a soul was to be seen excepting an idle shopkeeper who had ventured to his door to contemplate the outward desolution. 'A fine picture,' I said to myself, 'of a rising watering place!"Some years ago a Birmingham woman who had formerly lived at Weston sent the Mercury several pages of a time-stained manuscript she had found among her father's papers. It recorded his recollections of Weston as he knew it in 1825."An eventful year was 1825," he wrote, "and not the least important among the events was the re-opening of the Parish church, the re-building and restoration of which was completed within that twelve months. For nearly two years previously the weekly services had been conducted in the schoolroom, then situated on the rise of the batch or hill - a locality better known to the present generation as Bristol Road."The first of the new line of Rectors appointed to the living was a Mr. Blackburn. He was a most eccentric gentleman (if eccentric be not too wild a term), and many people attributed his death which took place in 1826, and was most tragic, to this cause."Being out for a row he ordered the boatman to pull the boat through the fishing poles at Birnbeck Island, probably in order to make a shorter cut, and although the man protested strongly, the Rector was determined, and the result was the boat was capsized and sank, with the reverend gentleman in it. The boatman, Harry Mintern by name, saved himself by swimming to the island."There is a memorial to Rector Blackburn in the chancel of the Parish Church. Aaron Fisher, a former day Westonian who was interviewed by the late Ernest Baker, also recalled this tragedy. In his version he said that when the boat capsized the Rector exclaimed to the boatman, "You mind yourself, never mind me."The time-stained manuscript discovered at Birmingham goes on to state: "Knightstone was really an island in those days, and the only approach to it (or to Anchor Head) was by a boat or by a pebble beach which was always covered at high tide. Somewhere about 1826-27 Dr Fox built walls and made a roadway from the island to the house known as Leeve's Cottage."This house, a thatched one, is still to be seen standing at the bend of Knightstone Road, facing the sea. I remember that in 1826 a Mr and Miss Clemons then resided there. The garden of the house contained a great curiosity, which was nothing less than a splendid specimen of the golden eagle kept chained by the leg to a huge block of wood."Up to 1833 there were but four houses between Reeves' Hotel (now the Royal) and Anchor Head. In that year, however, the owners of the land from the Mill to the shore (a Mr Parsley and a Mr Cox) divided it into building lots and soon Weston began to put on a new and improved appearance."The writer also recalled that Weston had a market place on the site of subsequent Market Hall (later the Playhouse) at the end of High Street. He said there was great rejoicing when a wooden roof supported on the sides by stone walls, and by wooden supports in the middle, was provided to give the stallholders shelter. Later the lofty former Market Hall was built."It is universally conceded that one of the greatest charms Weston possesses is the beautiful wooded hill which so effectively shelters the town from the chill northern blasts. But previous to 1825 the now verdure-clad hill, with its wealth of flowery glades, picturesque avenues and bosky dells, was as bleak and bare as that portion of it which frowns upon the villages of Milton and Worle. In that year, however, the then Lord of the Manor had it planted and afterwards replanted.So much then for some memories of old Weston in a time stained manuscript. One wonders how much more fascinating comment on local history lies in old cupboards and drawers awaiting discovery.This article, edited by Jill Bailey, was originally published on May, 1967


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