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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

Steep Holm’s Inn

In June 1830 Steep Holm was sold by William Willes to John Baker, a Somerset solicitor.  On the east coast of Steep Holm he built a small harbour around the Landing Beach, an inn just above the high tide level and a cliff side cottage higher up to house boatmen, fisherman and labourers.  Cliff Cottage and the inn were both nearing completion by July 1832.  The inn was built of island stone and rendered.  It was three storeys high with a castellated roof balustrade and a small walled garden.  The lower storey was built directly against the rock face.  On the north side a large water catchment tank was built.  In October 1833 John Baker sold the island to Colonel Charles Kemeys Kemeys-Tynte.

Steep Holm Inn and landing beach
Inn and landing beach

In the early 1840s John and Betty Harse leased Steep Holm for a few years.  Betty ran the inn while John farmed.

The tenancy of Steep Holm was acquired by Frederick and Mary Harris c1846.  They moved to the island with their children Emily, Mary, Frederick Henry and Rosa.  Fred Harris was an accomplished sailor and he ferried visitors to and from the island in his own boat.  Sailors, waiting in the Bristol Channel for high tide to enable them to sail into Bristol or the Welsh ports, also frequented the inn.  In 1851 Rosa Harris drowned off Steep Holm, aged 4½ .

In 1854, while on a trip to the Newport area, Fred exchanged his Newfoundland dog for a young Russian bear.  In 1857 the bear severely injured a young Italian governess called Ann Caroline Besozzi, who was visiting the island.  In 1858 a civil action was held at Bristol Assizes to obtain compensation for the governess.  Fred Harris was ordered to pay her £50 in addition to the court costs for both sides.  He failed to pay and the following year he was called to Taunton County Court where he pleaded insolvency and the judge believed him, although in reality he had transferred all his assets to other people.

In 1859 there was a great storm in the Bristol Channel.  Fred Harris’s boat Mystery was badly damaged and Steep Holm’s harbour wall collapsed, which made it much harder for people to land on the island.  The wall was never rebuilt.

In 1866 the inn was enlarged by the building of an adjacent three storey annexe to house workers building the forts on the island.  The inn prospered from 1866-8 with all the extra resident customers.

Steep Holm Annexe ruins at low tide
Annexe ruins at low tide

By 1871 Fred and Mary Harris were managing the Royal Claremont Pier Hotel in Weston-super-Mare, which was renamed Harris’s.  The Steep Holm Inn was being run by Frederick Henry’s wife Ann.  In 1872 their daughter was born on the island.  She was named Beatrice Steep Holmes Anne Cooper Harris.

In May 1884 Frederick Henry Harris was summoned to Axbridge Petty Session Court to answer charges of selling alcohol without a licence.  He argued that Steep Holm was not part of Somerset and that in the 38 years his family had run the inn they had never been asked to obtain a licence.  The case was dismissed but the Inland Revenue appealed to the High Court and in 1885 they won.  The Harris family gave up their tenancy of the island the same year but soon after they leased Flat Holm and ran an inn there.

Mrs Caroline Davies and her two adult sons Harold and Wallace/Wallis rented Steep Holm in 1885. They ran day excursions and fishing and rabbit shooting trips to the island and also grew crops and raised farm livestock.  However their business was not a success and they sold their stock and equipment to Thomas Henry Waite-Hall from Glastonbury the following year.  He had left the island by 1891 and the inn was closed for the last time.

By the 1930s the inn was derelict and during the refortification of the island in 1941 the walls of the inn and annexe were demolished to make way for a narrow gauge railway.  The walls were rebuilt and the inn reroofed in the early 1980s by the Kenneth Allsop Trust for use as a wardens’ depot and store but it proved to be too damp to be of much use.

Inn and Annexe ruins at low tide
Inn and Annexe ruins at low tide
Annexe ruins at high tide, Steep Holm
Annexe ruins at high tide
Steep Holm Inn from the shingle spit at low tide
Inn from the shingle spit at low tide

Steep Holm during the Second World War

Steep Holm during the Second World War

The refortification of Steep Holm and neighbouring Flat Holm began in July 1941 to protect convoy ships lying at anchor in the Bristol Channel waiting for high tide to enable them to unload their cargoes at the various ports along the Severn Estuary.

On Steep Holm two jetties were constructed, an iron one at the Landing Beach on the east coast and a smaller stone one at South Landing. 

Steep Holm Wartime Jetty
Remains of the wartime jetty at South Landing 

Two batteries were built on the top of the island.  Steep Holm North was on the site of the Victorian Summit Battery in the north west of the island and had clear views across to Flat Holm and Lavernock Point on the Welsh coast.  Steep Holm South was on the site of Garden Battery in the south east of the island, which had views over the whole of Bridgwater Bay. Each battery had two separate emplacements for 6 inch ex-Navy guns.  The batteries were roofed with “plastic armour”, which was a bituminous cement mixed with flint and granite chippings.

A rocket launcher was constructed at Split Rock Battery.  Observation posts were built at Rudder Rock and Steep Holm South Batteries.

South Battery Steep Holm
Steep Holm South Battery
Steep Holm Flat Holm from Rudder Rock Observation Post
Flat Holm from Rudder Rock Observation Post
Steep Holm Plastic Cladding
Remains of the plastic armour roof at Steep Holm South Battery

Two instrument pillars were built, one at each battery.  Royal Artillery spotters mounted their Depression Range-Finders on them, which enabled them to observe targets and correct the fall of fire.  They were surrounded by blast walls.

Steep Holm Instrument Pillar at North Battery
Instrument Pillar at Steep Holm North Battery

The remains of the inn and Cliff Cottage were demolished to make way for a narrow gauge railway, which was used for winching wagons of sand, cement, supplies and equipment up the Zigzag Path from the Landing Beach to the summit and across the plateau to Steep Holm North Battery.  A separate track was also laid from the South Landing up to the summit. The railway track used had been captured from the Germans on the Western Front during the First World War.  Three winch houses were built at the top of the three sections of the Zigzag Path.  An open winch was constructed at the top of the path down to the South Landing.  Indian soldiers with mules transported stores from ships to the summit of the island until the narrow gauge railway was completed.   The mules were later used to pull the wagons along the level sections of the narrow gauge railway.

Steep Holm Railway Line up the ZigZag Path
Railway Line up the ZigZag Path
Steep Holm Railway Track to South Landing looking down on the Searchlight Post
Railway Track to South Landing looking down on the Searchlight Post
Steep Holm Winch Top of South Landing
Remains of the winch at the top of the path leading to the South Landing

Up to 300 men were stationed on Steep Holm during the construction phase. Officers were housed in the Victorian barracks but lower ranks had to live in tents until Nissen huts were constructed. 

Four searchlight posts were built around the island: at South Landing; above Calf Rock; above Rudder Rock and on the north coast to the north east of Steep Holm North Battery. The purpose of these was to look out for German E-boats sailing up the Bristol Channel.  The top of the island was too high to allow the searchlights to pan across the sea, so the searchlight posts were built low on the cliffs.  Long flights of concrete steps had to be built to reach two of them.  There were 120 steps leading down the Rudder Rock searchlight post and 208 steps down to the post on the north coast. The posts and the steps to them were painted with zebra camouflage to disguise them.  Two Generator houses were built to power the searchlights.

Searchlight Steps Steep Holm
Steps leading down to 208 Steps Searchlight Post on the North Coast
Steep Holm Searchlight Post South Landing
Searchlight Post South Landing
Steep Holm Generator House 2
Generator House: this powered the Rudder Rock and 208 Steps Searchlight Posts
Steep Holm Rudder Rock Searchlight Post
Rudder Rock Searchlight Post

Two 3,200 gallon water tanks were erected on the top of the island, one for fresh water and one for salt water.  Water was pumped up to the summit from a supply ship.

The refortification of Steep Holm was completed by October 1942.  However the ex-Navy guns were never needed against enemy ships and they were useless against air attacks.

By the end of 1943 the threat to ships in the Bristol Channel had reduced significantly, so the island was relegated to “care and maintenance” status and most of the troops were moved off the island.

After the end of the Second World War German prisoners of war dismantled and removed most of the railway winches and trolleys and demolished the wartime piers.

Further reading:

Steep Holm at war: Rodney Legg.  Wincanton Press, 1991

The Steep Holm Guide and Trail.  Published by the Kenneth Allsop Memorial Trust, 2014

Steep Holm’s Pioneers: Stan and Joan Rendall. Published by the authors, 2003

 

 

Historical maps launched online

For the first time, historical maps of North Somerset are now freely available online thanks to the Know Your Place West of England project, supported by the National Lottery. 

From the coastal communities of Portishead, Clevedon and Weston, further inland to Blagdon and Leigh Woods, you can now discover how North Somerset has been transformed over time. Five historic map layers of North Somerset are now online, allowing you to explore some of the most famous natural and man-made landmarks, from Uphill to Wrington Vale, and Royal Portbury Docks to the famous Grand Pier at Weston. Alongside historic maps you can freely explore data from the Historic Environment Record for North Somerset.

Know Your Place logo
Know Your Place project logo.

You will also be able to upload and share your own information about the area straight onto Know Your Place helping to build a rich and diverse community map of local heritage for everyone – from schoolchildren to family historians and planners to enthusiasts of community heritage.

More than 50 project volunteers are working hard to prepare further historic maps, which will be added onto Know Your Place North Somerset over the coming months. South West Heritage Trust in Taunton supplied many of the original maps. In addition, collections from museums are featured in a touring exhibition that will visit North Somerset libraries in the coming months.

Cat Lodge, Archaeologist at North Somerset Council, said: “We are grateful for the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund in facilitating such an exciting project which will enable residents of North Somerset to better interact with and explore the history and heritage of their local areas. Through the use of digital mapping, users are able to see how their communities have developed over time and add to the historical knowledge of those places.

“Know Your Place is a valuable resource which will not only aid community historical and archaeological groups and schools in local research, but also contribute to adding new information to North Somerset Council’s Historic Environment Record and raise the profile of heritage in the district.”

Nerys Watts, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South West, said: “Know Your Place West of England is a fantastic resource, bringing together the history of this area so people can discover the ever-changing make-up of the places where they live and work. If you have bought a National Lottery ticket recently, you have helped to support these types of projects that are preserving the precious heritage of our communities for future generations. Thank you.” 

Heritage Lottery Fund
Heritage Lottery Fund logo

Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, the Know Your Place West of England project was awarded £379,800 by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), with generous match-funding and in-kind support from local authorities and heritage groups in the region, including £5,000 match-funding from lead partner South Gloucestershire Council.

You can start exploring North Somerset’s maps and heritage information at the project’s website www.kypwest.org.uk.