When Weston aspired to a market hall

Weston's early development as a seaside resort followed the familiar pattern of other places. Seaside places copied the spas in providing Assembly Rooms

Weston's early development as a seaside resort followed the familiar pattern of other places. Seaside places copied the spas in providing Assembly Rooms for cards, dances, readings and concerts, and also in establishing reading rooms and libraries.In the early days of resorts the emphasis was on health rather than pleasure, and various types of baths were provided as soon as there was the custom to justify them. Indoor seawater baths were especially welcomed by more modest folk who did not relish the nude bathing from the beaches that was common until the early part of the last century. By the time its first guidebook was published in 1822, Weston obviously had the essentials. The accommodation now included hotels and lodging houses. Fry's Hotel (now the Imperial) visitors were told 'affords excellent accommodation', and "The attention of Mrs Fry to her numerous guests, her anxiety to promote their comfort while under her roof, and to direct them to suitable lodgings, afford universal satisfaction - Post horses and chaises are kept".The Plough Hotel 'in the village' is spoken of as 'a comfortable house', and Verandah House, which stood on the site of today's GPO (now replaced by the Sovereign Shopping Centre), is 'a favourite lodging', while Verandah Cottages are let from two guineas-and-a half to three guineas a week.""There are likewise many comfortable houses on the sands, which are eagerly sought after by those invalids to whom sea air and bathing, without much fatigue, are an object; the machines being nearly opposite."The bathing machines then numbered but three.Sea View Cottages, Holmes' View Place, and Marine Cottage, we are told, "are desirable lodgings, from five guineas to one guinea a week, while Pym's, White's, Shepherd's, Harvey's, Cook's, King's, Atwell's, Cooper's, Hancock's, Sergeant's, Shepherd's, Price's, etc., are lodgings from eighteen shillings to three guineas per week".Hillside accommodation in those days was the cheapest, since the guidebook says: "On the hill descending into the village are several low-priced lodgings".Knightstone already had its lodging house, hot and cold baths, and a reading room.Under the heading of 'Amusements' the guide dealt very briefly with such attractions as Weston could offer: "Health and not dissipation being the lure which Weston-super-Mare holds out the public amusements are few. There is, however, a billiard table near the hotel, and a reading room, commanding a fine marine view, at the Knightstone Baths, where the newspapers are taken daily".At that time Weston had only the old Town Hall at the back of High Street, which had formerly been a chapel, as its place of entertainment.At this time Weston's population was but a little over 700, and there were only about 126 houses. But the place was growing rapidly. Joseph Whereat was soon to cater extensively for Weston's residents and visitors at his establishment at the top of Regent Street.It was a stamp office, public library, and reading room, but Mr Whereat was also printer, publisher, bookbinder, and engraver, importer of foreign fancy merchandise, dealer in teas, patent medicines and perfumery.He could supply: "Religious and Moral Publications, Tastefully and elegantly bound, peculiarly suitable for presents." Not too peculiar one hopes!Mr Whereat was also a seller of musical instruments, would let pianofortes out on hire by the week, month, or year, and also sold musical boxes, accordions, and harmonicas. A large stock of music was for sale at 'less than half price'. In his library he had several thousand books, to which were continually added 'new publications of approved merit'.The high moral tone of Mr Whereat's establishment and of Weston generally in those days was unquestionable.The building of a new Town Hall on the site of the present municipal buildings provoked a row that divided the town. Posters were apparently plastered around the hoardings when the controversy was at its height. One of them purported to be "Poor Prudence Homely's Address to All Passers By. Do you understand Pigeon Pie? If so, here is some excellent Pie Crust."The poster goes on to refer to the cost of erecting "a handsome Dove Cote", the Dove Cote obviously being the new Town Hall.Items it lists include:"To a Handsome Dove Cote, with round topped Pigeon Holes, and Weather Cock complete, about £1,690."To Turkey Carpet for rare and valuable Birds to walk upon. Cost unknown. "To costly Velvet-covered Perches for same, Ditto."To Spanish Mahogany Table, at which Sucking Doves may learn manners, £37."To Forms and Benches for common Pigeons. Cost unknown."To splendid Chandelier for luring same to the Dove Cote, Ditto."Pray who are the Pigeons" Who has plucked them" Who has sauced them? And when will they be done sufficiently Brown?"Seven Town Commissioners issued a poster drawing the attention of ratepayers to their protest that the new Town Hall would be much too big and expensive for Weston's needs.One of the central figures in the controversy was Henry Davies, one of the earliest and most notable of Weston's developers, who was concerned in the building of Royal and Ellenborough Crescents and Oriel Terrace. His offer in connection with the new Town Hall sparked off the row.In a dignified poster addressed to the ratepayers he deplored: "The unkind and angry feelings which have prevailed" and referred to "the great and noble efforts" of "our venerable and esteemed Rector to restore universal peace to the Parish." This was a reference to Archdeacon Henry Law, who settled the controversy himself by buying the Town Hall and making it a gift to the town.The Town Hall arrived at its grand inauguration on March 3rd, 1859, and the poster collection includes one of the inaugural concert held: "Under the patronage of members of the County, The Magistrates of the District, The Mayors of the Cities of Bristol and Bath, The Lord of the Manor, the Inaugural Committee, and many other distinguished Personages."Weston-super-Mare began to go ahead quickly after the establishment of the Town Commissioners in 1842 and the adoption of a Local Act for: "Paving, lighting, watching, cleansing and otherwise improving the Town of Weston-super-Mare in the county of Somerset, and establishing a market therein".The market was on the site of the Playhouse. It is interesting to recall some of the by-laws adopted for it in 1869. These laid down that the market should be open daily from 7am until 7pm, with the exception of Saturdays, when the closing time was 11pm.The by-laws stated that: "the gates of the market shall be closed, and the gas shut off, when the market is ended; and the Market Bell shall be rung half-an-hour before the time appointed for closing."Butter and poultry stands were to be let by the day, and stalls by the week. There was also space in the market, apparently for sale of carts, horses, cattle, pigs and poultry.Apparently there was a fountain in the market, since there was a by-law stating: "No person shall throw any rubbish, cabbage leaves, or any other offal, garbage, or offensive matter into the basin of the Fountain, or in any manner foul or otherwise improperly use the water supplied to the market."Apparently even in those days High Street had its traffic problems, since it was laid down that carts might unload at the front entrance before eight o'clock in the morning, but after that they had to go to the back to unload in Market Lane.Another rule was: "That no person shall be allowed to smoke, loiter, play at games or cause any other obstruction or Nuisance."In the early days of village Weston its inhabitants had to go to Worle or Banwell to do their shopping. The establishment of a market was a big step forward in Weston's shopping facilities, and for many years flourishing business was done there. In fact, in bygone years the market end of High Street was the town's principal shopping area.The market hall that became the Playhouse was built in 1899 by Charles Addicott, a well-known local builder. It is rather sad that with the Playhouse fire the centrepiece of the interesting facade was destroyed. The architect responsible for this facade was the Hans Price, whose bizarre ideas found expression in a lot of work about Weston, including the Mercury offices and the Constitutional Club, formerly the Masonic Hall.At the entrance to the Market Hall in its last days before it became the Playhouse were the shop and fruit and flower stalls of Fred Wall, while beyond stretched rows and rows of secondhand books on the stalls owned by Mr Grace. My library must include at least three or four hundred books picked up at bargain prices at Mr Grace's stalls, some of them invaluable for their bits of local history.* This article, edited by Jill Bailey, was originally published on March 1, 1968


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