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Banwell’s Old Fire Station

In East Street, Banwell there is a building which housed the town’s fire engine from the late 19th century until the 1980s.  The inscription over the main door reads as follows:

“This building is presented by Miss Fazakerley of Banwell Abbey and Fazakerley House, Lancashire, being the property of Banwell for ever to be used for the housing of the fire-engine belonging to that Parish.  19th Day of December 1887 in the year of the Jubilee of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria.”

Miss Emily Fazakerley was a wealthy, generous and eccentric lady.  She was born on Anglesey in 1840 and later lived at Denbigh Castle in North Wales.  She moved to Banwell for health reasons in 1883 but died in 1888 at the age of 48. She was buried in London.

Miss Fazakerley paid for a new horse drawn fire engine and for uniforms for the crew. She also provided instruments and uniforms for a village brass band.  The new fire engine replaced the wooden-wheeled hand-drawn machine, which was made by James Manley of Redcliffe, Bristol in 1810 and stored in the nearby church.  The 1810 fire engine had two reciprocating 4 inch bore and 8 inch stroke pumps.  It could deliver 44 gallons of water per minute to a height of 80 feet.  Four men were needed to man it and many volunteers forming a bucket chain were required to refill the engine’s reservoirs with water. 

The fire engine house also had a rest room and the fire bell, which was used to summon the firemen from their homes and workplaces, is still hanging on the roof.

The building is still used by the Banwell and District Volunteer Fire Unit.

Old Fire Engine House, Banwell
Banwell’s Old Fire Engine House
Banwell old Fire Station House
Inscription above the door and bell on the roof

North Somerset Heritage Forum

The North Somerset Heritage Forum was established on Thursday 16th November, with representatives from 22 different heritage interest groups from across the district in attendance. This was run by the Council’s Archaeologist, Conservation & Heritage Officer and HER Officer, along with the Heritage Champion, Councillor Robert Cleland at the Old Town Hall in Weston-super-Mare. These groups included a wide range of heritage interests such as archaeology, local history and civic societies.

Discussions took place around a number of topics including Know Your Place, heritage promotion, training opportunities and national heritage events, as well as regional research frameworks, current projects and enhancement of the Historic Environment Record.

Some great ideas for future collaborations between the groups themselves, and also with the Council’s heritage officers, were presented, and we’re very excited to move forward and put these thoughts into action!

These forums will be taking place every six months, in different locations across the district, highlighting the rich and varied heritage that North Somerset has to offer.

If you are a member of a local history, archaeology or heritage interest group and would like to attend future events, please contact the heritage officers at DM.Archaeology@n-somerset.gov.uk

History and Archaeology Walk in Weston

Join the first walk on 12 November, led by professional field archaeologist Shuan McConnachie, BA, pgCerts (Landscape archaeology, Classics) and member of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists.

Easy walk from Birnbeck, along the front and ending at the Museum.Dog friendly and good access for people with mobility issues on this one.

Looking at the history and some of the archaeology, of Weston. From the ancient geological past (Weston was once a rain-forest), to the builders of Worlebury Hill Fort and the Roman shrine on Brean Down. 
Also looking at the Regency beginnings of Weston and the town we recognise today. There’s so much more…and learn about the secret of Rusty, the Iron Age dog you can see in the museum….

No fee, as such, but contributions welcome (£3 suggested minimum). Carers and helpers for people with mobility issues free, as do children under 12.   See more details here.

 

Victorian Workhouses – North Somerset

Old Poor Law
The concept of parochial poor relief dates back to the late 14th century.  Over the next four centuries several Acts of Parliament were passed, which sought to address the issue of providing work for the able-bodied poor and basic care for poor people who were elderly, sick, disabled or orphaned and unable to work. Poor relief, which was funded by a tax on local property owners, was dispensed mostly as “out relief” in the form of food, clothing, fuel, rent payments or money to people in need living in their own homes. In a few places workhouses were founded by local Acts of Parliament from the late 17th century onwards. 

The 1782 Relief of the Poor Act, which was also known as Gilbert’s Act after its proposer Thomas Gilbert, allowed neighbouring parishes to work together in unions to construct joint workhouses.  These workhouses were only supposed to house the elderly, sick, disabled and orphaned. The able-bodied poor were to be found employment near their own homes.  In many cases the workhouses were ordinary local houses rented for the purpose.  The unions were overseen by Boards of Guardians.  One Guardian was elected from each parish.  Their work was overseen by a Visitor, who was appointed by local magistrates.  Around 100 unions were formed as a result of Gilbert’s Act but none were in Somerset.

New Poor Law
The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 was designed to reduce public spending on poverty.  Under the terms of the act England and Wales were divided into unions of parishes.  Poor relief, which was funded by local taxation, was administered in each union by an elected Board of Guardians.  Each union was required to build a workhouse to house the people in its area who were in need of help.  In some places the unions took over existing workhouses, while in others new ones were constructed, although some places were slow to build them.

Families were split up on entering workhouses, as men, women and children were housed separately. Inmates were given a uniform to wear and received basic food rations. Sleeping accommodation was usually in large dormitories. Children were given some education.  However conditions in the workhouses were supposed to be harsher than those for the poor outside their walls, in order to discourage people from entering them and thereby saving the parishes money.  Parish relief was no longer supposed to be given to the poor living in their own homes.  Many workhouses were overcrowded and insanitary, with the result that infectious diseases spread easily among the inmates.  Able bodied inmates were made to work hard, often doing unpleasant and monotonous jobs such as picking oakum or breaking stones.

Living conditions slowly improved after the 1880s.  Over time workhouses evolved into orphanages and hospitals for elderly and infirm people and those with mental health problems or learning disabilities. In 1929 Poor Law Unions were abolished and their powers were passed to County and County Borough Councils. Workhouses were renamed Public Assistance Institutions. The workhouse system was replaced by the National Health Service in 1948.

More information about the history of the poor law and detailed histories of individual workhouses can be found on this website:  http://www.workhouses.org.uk/

Somerset was divided into 16 Unions.  Two unions covered the area that is now North Somerset – Axbridge and Bedminster (later Long Ashton).

Bedminster Poor Law Union was formed on 11th April 1836. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of 34 Guardians, who represented its constituent parishes:

Abbot’s Leigh, Backwell, Barrow Gurney, Bedminster, Bishopsworth (from the 1890s), Brockley, Chelvey, Clapton, Clevedon, Dundry, Easton in Gordano or St George’s, Flax Bourton, Kenn, Kingston Seymour, Long Ashton, Nailsea, North Weston (from 1894), Portbury, Portishead, Tickenham, Walton in Gordano, Weston in Gordano, Winford, Wraxall, Yatton.

Bedminster Union workhouse was built in 1837-8 on what is now Old Weston Road at Flax Bourton at a cost of £6,600.  It could accommodate 300 inmates and was designed by architects George Gilbert Scott and William Bonython Moffatt.  They also designed many other workhouses in the south-west including those at Williton, Bideford, Newton Abbot, and Tavistock.

There were three parallel buildings: an entrance block with a central archway, which was single storeyed; the main building with a central hub and an infirmary at the back with a washhouse and workshops at each side of it. There was also a school, more workshops and an isolation hospital. In 1860 a chapel was built to the south west of the entrance block. It was paid for by William Gibbs of Tyntesfield, designed by John Norton and dedicated to St George.

The Bedminster Union was renamed Long Ashton Union in 1899. Between 1929 and 1956, the workhouse became Cambridge House, a Somerset County Council run institution for people with learning disabilities. It was known as Farleigh Hospital after 1956 and closed in about 1993.

The workhouse site has now been redeveloped for use as offices, although most of the original buildings have been preserved.  The office park is now called Farleigh Court.

Bedminster Union Workhouse
Entrance to the former Bedminster Union Workhouse
Bedminster Workhouse
Entrance Block of the Bedminster Union Workhouse
Bedminster Union Workhouse
Former Bedminster Union Workhouse in 2015

Axbridge Poor Law Union was formed on 14th May 1836. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of 49 Guardians, who represented its constituent parishes:

Axbridge, Badgworth, Banwell, Berrow, Biddisham, Blagdon, Bleadon, Brean, East Brent, South Brent (Brent Knoll), Burnham with Aston Morris, Burrington, Butcombe, Chapel Allerton, Charterhouse, Cheddar, Christon, Churchill, Compton Bishop, Congresbury, Highbridge (formed out of Burnham with Aston Morris in 1894),Hutton, Kewstoke, Locking, Loxton, Lympsham, Mark, Nyland with Batcombe, Puxton, Rowberrow, Shipham, Uphill, Weare, Wedmore, Weston-super-Mare , Wick St Lawrence, Winscombe, Worle, Wrington with Broadfield.

The Axbridge Union workhouse was erected in 1837 on the south side of West Street in Axbridge at a cost of £4,496.17s.6d.  The workhouse could accommodate 250 inmates. The architect was Samuel T Welch, who was also the architect of workhouses at Clifton and Wells.  In 1903, a new infirmary with 72 beds, designed by Mr A. Powell of Bristol was erected at the north-east of the workhouse at a cost of just under £7,000.  The site later became St John’s Hospital. After its closure in 1993, the main building was converted into residential flats and is now called St John’s Court.

Workhouse Axbridge
Former Axbridge Workhouse in 2015
Former Axbridge Workhouse
Entrance to the former Axbridge Workhouse

Records for the Axbridge and Bedminster/Long Ashton Union Workhouses are kept in the Somerset Heritage Centre at Norton Fitzwarren near Taunton. Inmates of workhouses are also shown on census returns.

Friends of the Museum talks

The Friends of Weston Museum host regular talks on topics of local historical interest. Two talks are planned in October and November: 


Friends of Weston Museum

On 18 October,  Stuart Burroughs (Director of the Museum of Bath at Work) will present ‘They Took to the Sea’ – a film made in 1962 about a group of children from Birmingham brought to Weston by train for a day’s outing; some had never seen the sea before. The film shows many places in 1960s Weston and may bring back some wonderful memories for any visitors who came here in decades past. 

The Friends welcome Amal Khreisheh, Assistant Curator from the South West Heritage Trust on 15 November to talk about ‘Bringing Weston Museum to Life: how we made the new displays’.  Amal looks after the North Somerset collections and played a key role in the museum’s redevelopment. She will talk about the gallery re-display from a curatorial perspective, highlighting some star items from the displays.

Talks are free to members of the Friends, a small fee on the door applies to non-members.  More details about the Museum and the Friends can be found on the museum website.

Heritage Action Zone in North Somerset

Heritage Action Zones 

Heritage Action Zones, Historic England
Heritage Action Zones, Historic England

Heritage Action Zones will unleash the power in England’s historic environment to create economic growth and improve quality of life in villages, towns and cities.

Working with local people and partners, Historic England will help to breathe new life into old places that are rich in heritage and full of promise – unlocking their potential and making them more attractive to residents, businesses, tourists and investors. We will do this with joint-working, grant funding and sharing our skills.

Historic buildings that have deteriorated through decades of neglect will be restored and put back into use; conservation areas improved to kick-start regeneration and renewal; and unsung places will be recognised and celebrated for their unique character and heritage, helping instil a sense of local pride wherever there’s a Heritage Action Zone. 

Great Weston Heritage Action Zone

Over three years Great Weston Heritage Action Zone aims to boost economic growth and keep Weston on the map as a great place to live and work.

  • Researching Weston’s heritage and urban development, to inform a new book
  • Reviewing Weston’s listed buildings
  • Bringing the town centre’s historic buildings back into use as high quality homes
  • Grant schemes to improve the public realm, shop signs and shopfronts
  • New, clear heritage routes across the town, plus new pedestrian access to Weston Museum, Weston Town Square, the seafront and side lanes
  • Improved design standards and quality in conservation areas and surrounding areas
  • A local listing project
  • Heritage health walks and a ‘Looking Up’ initiative to encourage appreciation of Weston’s heritage

Great Weston Heritage Action Zone aims to help unlock the economic potential of historic sites in Weston by encouraging local partners to make use of their resources in a creative and focussed way, to enhance local places and achieve sustainable growth. Weston’s beautiful, but often underappreciated, Victorian and early 20th century buildings stand ready to become new business premises and homes. The regeneration of Weston’s historic shopfronts and public places will tempt more shoppers and attract new businesses. Better links between the town centre, railway station and seafront will make sure visitors don’t miss all Weston has to offer.

The Great Weston Heritage Action Zone contact is Cara MacMahon.  E: cara.macmahon@n-somerset.gov.uk    T: 01934 42 6825

Post Boxes

Before 1840 most items of post had to be paid for by the recipient and the charges depended on how far they were being sent and on how many pieces of paper they contained.  Postage costs were too high for most people to afford.  In 1837 social reformer Rowland Hill proposed reforms to the postal system, which included the introduction of a single postage rate of one penny for all standard weight (up to half an ounce) letters.  This would be paid by the sender. The world’s first adhesive postage stamp, the Penny Black, was introduced in 1840. 

However people wishing to send letters had to take them to the nearest letter receiving office, which could be miles away.  A growth in use of the postal service after 1840 led to the need for many more convenient locations where stamped letters could be deposited. The novelist Anthony Trollope, who worked for the General Post Office, saw roadside post boxes in use in France.   He trialled the use of locked cast-iron pillar boxes with regular collection times on Jersey in 1852 and they were introduced to mainland Britain in 1853.

Some of the early post boxes were hexagonal in shape but a wide variety of designs were used.  Boxes inserted into walls were introduced in 1857.  In 1859 an improved cylindrical shape pillar box, with its posting aperture located beneath a cap to protect it from rainwater, was introduced for standard use.  By 1859 the colour for post boxes was standardised as dark green but this colour made them difficult for people to find them.  The standard colour was changed to bright red in 1874, although it was another decade before all post boxes were repainted red. 

Lamp post boxes were introduced in 1896.  These were designed to be attached to lamp posts but they were also attached to telegraph poles, set on their own posts or set into walls.  

Around 800 different designs for post boxes have been used so far and new designs are still being produced.

Post boxes usually have the insignia of the monarch reigning at the time of placement.  60% of British post boxes currently in use have EIIR for Queen Elizabeth II or a Scottish crown on them, 15% have the insignia of King George V and the remainder in descending order are from the reigns of George VI, Victoria, Edward VII and Edward VIII.  There are only 171 from the very short reign of Edward VIII in 1936 but one of these is located on the junction of Kenn Road with St Michael’s Avenue in Clevedon.

Edward VIII Post Box
Rare Edward V 111 pillar box, Clevedon
Replica Queen Victoria Post Box
Replica Victorian Penfold Pillar Box WsM seafront
George V Weston-super-Mare Post Box
George V pillar box on corner of Upper Church Road and Knightstone Road WsM
George VI Steep Holm Post Box
George VI wall box in Victorian Barracks, Steep Holm
Queen's Rd, Clevedon
Queen Victoria wall box, Queen’s Rd, Clevedon
Edward VII Post Box
Disused Edward V11 wall box, Littleton

Heritage Open Days, 7-10 September

A number of North Somerset venues are participating in Heritage Open Days this September.  Local venues include:

Dandy – Weston-super-Mare Railway Station’s Charity Collection Dog

One day in around 1923 a stray spaniel wandered into Weston-super-Mare Railway Station.  He was adopted by the staff who worked there. They named him Dandy, provided him with a kennel and put a charity collection box around his neck. 

Dandy Weston Station Dog
Dandy, Weston Station’s Dog

He spent the next five years mingling with people on the station platforms.  By the time he died on 16th January 1928, he had raised many hundreds of pounds for the GWR Widows and Orphans Fund.  He was buried at the end of one of the platforms.

A memorial plaque to Dandy can still be seen mounted on the wall in the waiting room at the railway station.

Weston Station Dog
Plaque to Dandy