When Uphill's seafarers were replaced by tourists

PUBLISHED: 11:00 22 January 2007 | UPDATED: 10:30 24 May 2010

Rose Cottage is one of Uphill's oldest residences, built in 1695 using stone from the local quarry.

Rose Cottage is one of Uphill's oldest residences, built in 1695 using stone from the local quarry.

WITH the passing years industrial Uphill declined. The brickyards, quarry and lime kilns were closed, and even the cross-Channel trade in coal came to an end

When Uphill had a seafaring look - old hulks pulled up on the mud.

WITH the passing years industrial Uphill declined. The brickyards, quarry and lime kilns were closed, and even the cross-Channel trade in coal came to an end. But in those far-off days Uphill had its beginnings as a seaside resort. Uphill's two inns have served both seafarers and tourists. Of the two, 'The Ship' is the older. 'The Dolphin' was established at its present site after the destruction by fire of the former thatched 'Dolphin', considered to be 300 years old, which was burnt down over 150 years ago. It stood at the eastern end of what is now Ynishir Terrace. The inn was moved to its present position by 'Forty' Cox, and enterprising landlord who provided his house with gas, a small gasometer and plant being installed in the yard!During its early days as a seaside resort, Uphill had some distinguished visitors. Among them was the celebrated writer Hannah More, who used to stay at Rose Cottage opposite the east end of the new church, and who delighted in sea bathing. In 1773 she was at Uphill at the same time as the celebrated John Langhone, D. D.When they chanced to meet on the beach, the Doctor wrote the following lines with a stick, impromptu:"Along the shoreWalk'd Hannah More,Waves, let this record last: - Sooner shall ye, Proud earth and sea,Than what she writes, be past."Returning the compliment, Hannah More wrote: "Some firmer basis, polish'd Langhorne chooseTo write the dictates of thy charming muse;Her strains in solid characters rehearse,And be thy tablet lasting as thy verse."In time, the only reminders of Uphill's seafaring past were the hulks rotting on the banks of the Axe. These included an old Cardiff coal-lighter that lay on the sands at the mouth of the Axe. Children used to have great fun playing around this vessel. I myself had my first experience of sleeping in a hammock in her - or rather of not sleeping in a hammock. This was when for a time she was used as a houseboat.I remember the occasion distinctly because it had a rather adventurous journey across Weston Bay to Uphill with a couple of youthful local yachting enthusiasts.We set out from Knightstone with provisions aboard, to spend the night in the old hulk, and return on the morning tide. It was a spring tide and blustery, and somehow we managed to get the craft under the Grand Pier and got the mast wedged. Having cleared the Pier we next found ourselves in the breakers. However, we did get to Uphill. It was my first experience of the fact that yachting in Weston Bay has its dangers.The first of the hulks to be laid up was the Norah, another was The Daisy, and there was also the schooner R Pasmore. For many months the 300-ton tramp steamer, The Duke of Edinburgh, was also there.Eventually the Weston Bay Yacht Club made representations to the Borough Council about the danger the hulks were causing by obstruction, and the Council adopted a by-law enforcing their removal.There are some interesting references to Uphill as a port in The Warden of the Road - A Dreamland Cavalcade of Opopille and Weston-on-the-Moor written by a former well-known resident, Mr R B Chapman."Few old harbours of England," he observed, "have remained so untouched by the industrial age as that of Uphill, or can boast of such a pageantry of ancient shipping frequenting its waters down the ages - Phoenician Dhows, Roman Galleys, Viking Long-ships and Elizabethan Caravels - protected by Brean Down form the force of the westerly gales, they all found safe anchorage either anchored in the 'Pill' or else drawn up on the neighbouring sands at high tide, to be floated off again as required. It was an ideal harbour for the shipping of olden days."Mr Chapman says that the salt unloaded at Uphill was "for the making of our famous Somerset cheeses. The old brine-wells at Dunball on the River Parret still support a flourishing industry ..."In referring to Uphill's lime kilns he says: "Before pasture superseded the plough in Somerset, lime was used extensively as a fertilizer, to supplement farm-yard manure, and the old lime kilns are to be found in the most out of the way places, in which lime used to be burnt for this purpose."He also states that most famous of the old Uphill ships, the Arabella, mentioned earlier, was lost off Ilfracombe, and that at one time there used to be a regular packet boat service between Uphill and South Wales and between Uphill and France."The 'Pill' at Uphill has long been one of the few absolutely 'Free Ports' in England," he observes, "another being that reach of the River Torridge, below Bideford, where in these times of maritime depression long lines of idle ships may be seen lying up, awaiting better times."The freedom of the Pill from any kind of impost is attributable to the fact that, owing to the existence of these ancient rights no one has ever found it worth while to construct a wharf at Uphill, and explains why so many old coasters now come to end their days in the 'Pil.'" Mr. Chapman, incidentally, was writing in 1935. In referring to the old hulks he said that an old sailor from Penzance had found 'The Daisy' "snug quarters on retirement for himself and his old black cat".Grahame Farr in his 'Somerset Harbours' refers to Uphill's one-time importance as a harbour for the import of coal and iron and the export of local produce."Virtually all the trading craft would have been small sloops of 25 tons or thereabouts," he stated. "Some were built at Uphill, like the Hope, of 1802, of 18 tons; built by John Blannin, of Axbridge, one of a large family of shipwrights who built far larger ships at Bristol and Chepstow. Other contemporary craft were Henry Jones' William and Mary, 23 tons, and the Three Brothers ... owned by Peter Nethey, of Brean."He said there was also a diminutive schooner, The Swallow, of 23 tons, owned by Thomas Hewlett, a Banwell farmer, and the sloop Swansea Packet, 21 tons, owned by James Knight, of Bleadon."These few cases show how the farmers copied the merchant shipowners of Bristol in owning the ships to carry their own wares," he commented, "in contradistinction to the latter day practice of owning ships to carry other people's cargoes."Mr Farr also has a note on the end of the old hulks at Uphill. He states that they were auctioned and the R Pasmore went for £4 2s. 6d., and the Daisy for £5. The Norah failed to find a purchaser and she was subsequently deliberately burnt and her ironwork collected for scrap. An article by G E Farr, published in 1938, entitled The Passing of Four West Country Craft, mentions the auction that year of the old hulks at Uphill and gives some of their history. The oldest was the Norah. Built in 1868, she was the last example of the Bridgwater type of trow. The R. Pasmore was built at Burton Strather in 1890, and the Daisy at Goole. The smallest of the four, the Ruth, was one of the smaller type of Bristol Channel pilot cutters, which had been sunk near Birnbeck Pier a few years earlier, patched and raised and taken to the Axe. Both the ketches Daisy and R Pasmore had trans-Atlantic passages to their credit.No article on seafaring Uphill would be complete without a reference to its most colourful seafaring character, the late Captain Leonard Smart. Many Uphill residents and Westonians will remember him.Red-faced, white moustached, wearing heavy gold earrings, and always attired in navy blue jersey and uniform cap, he became known to thousands as the Uphill ferryman. He had a most explosive temper and on occasion could achieve a choice flow of language. Woe betide the visitor who complained about the irregularity of his ferry service.Edward Hutton, in his 'Highways and Byways in Somerset', wrote: "I went over the difficult estuary of the Axe by ferry, and the ferryman was more like Charon than any other I am likely to meet before I see the great original and cross the Styx." He was obviously describing Captain Smart.Caught in the right mood, however, Captain Smart could enthral with his stories of the sea. He ran away as a boy and had sailed the seven seas in windjammers. He also possessed a 40-ton ketch, the Jane, which was the oldest vessel on Lloyds Register. It was built of good old English oak at Runcorn in 1800, and yet in the World War of 1914 was still seaworthy enough to be chartered by the Government for work in the Bristol Channel.The origin of the River Axe ferry at Uphill appears to be obscure. Capt Smart once claimed to have obtained in 1923, or thereabouts, a 31 years' lease of the ferry from the Board of Trade. It is unlikely that the use of a ferry at that point would have been necessary in olden days, and it probably came into being with Weston's rise as a seaside resort.With this article I have almost reached the end of my journey down the Axe from source to sea. There remains a final chapter in which I shall tell of the scheme which was to have made Uphill a great West coast port link with America.This article, edited by Jill Bailey, was originally published on August 14, 1962

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