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Milestones and Mileposts

Milestones and mileposts are stones or short pillars set up at the roadside indicating the distance in miles from that point to a particular place or places.  The first milestones in England were erected by the Romans, who constructed good metalled roads to enable them to move soldiers and supplies quickly across the country.  They measured out distances to assist with timing and efficiency and marked every 1,000 double paces with a large cylindrical stone. 117 of these stones still survive in the UK, although most of them are no longer in their original locations. The Latin word for thousand is ‘mille’ and the Roman mile was 1618 yards long. In England the statute mile of 1,760 yards was defined by Act of Parliament in 1593 but various other miles continued in use in many parts of Britain until the 19th century. 

In 1697 an Act of Parliament enabled Justices of the Peace to order the erection of inscribed waymarkers known as guide stoops or guideposts at the intersection of paths in remote moorland areas.  These stone guide stoops, which often resembled farm gateposts, pointed the way to the nearest market town.

From the late 17th century to the 1840s Turnpike Trusts were set up by Acts of Parliament to improve the state of Britain’s roads, which often became impassable in the winter months. Local groups of wealthy people paid for improved roads to be built and then charged people tolls for using them. The turnpike milestones of the 18th and early 19th centuries used statute miles. At first these milestones were made of stone or were engraved in walls of buildings but the later ones were made of cast iron. After 1767 milestones were compulsory on all turnpike roads to inform travellers, to help coaches keep to schedules and for the calculation of charges for the changes of horses at coaching inns.

Most milestones and mileposts were removed or defaced at the beginning of the Second World War to confuse the Germans in the event of an invasion and not all were replaced afterwards.  Some have been demolished more recently during road widening schemes and others have been damaged by vehicles colliding with them or by hedge cutting equipment.  However several have survived in North Somerset.

Portishead Guidestone
1733 guidestone at the junction of Clapton Lane and Clevedon Road, Portishead
Nailsea Milepost
Bristol Turnpike Trust’s 1837 cast iron milepost in Clevedon Road, Nailsea
Tickenham Milepost
Somerset County Council’s 1911 milepost in Clevedon Road, Tickenham
Chelvey Batch Milestone and Milepost
Bristol Turnpike Trust’s 1823 cast iron milepost and an older milestone on the A370 at Chelvey Batch

Gems of Weston heritage walk

As part of the Heritage Action Zone initiative a new walk has been developed through Weston-super-Mare. The walk aims to highlight some of the wonderful buildings we have in the town and encourages you to ‘look up’ to enjoy the architectural gems in Weston.  Local artist John Hickley has taken some of the key features and developed a lovely map of the walk.  Follow the link to access the PDF of the walk  Gems of Weston Walk 2018

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

Villa Rosa and the Shrubbery Estate, Weston-super-Mare

From the 1850s a number of suburban housing estates of elegant villas were built around Weston-super-Mare for middle class people looking for peace and privacy away from the bustle of the seafront and the town centre, for example The Shrubbery, The Grove, Montpelier and Ellenborough Park. Their roads were private and they were sometimes protected by gatekeepers’ lodges.  The villas all had servants’ quarters and private gardens.  Some of the estates, including The Shrubbery, also had communal gardens for the sole use of the residents. However there were no shops or public houses. Goods were delivered to the houses from the shops in the town centre by donkey or horse.

Weston-super-Mare, Shrubbery Lodge
The Lodge, Shrubbery Road
Weston-super-Mare, Houses on Shrubbery Avenue
Houses on Shrubbery Avenue

Richard Parsley and William Cox became the owners of the land on which the Shrubbery Estate now stands in 1815 when the area was enclosed by Act of Parliament. Parsley and Cox subsequently quarrelled and in the 1830s Cox let or sold his half of the land to a formidable lady called Sophia Rooke, who built mansion on it, which she called Villa Rosa.  The house was Italian in style with a tower and it was built in pink limestone, hence its name.  It was surrounded by large grounds, which at one time contained a private zoo.

In the 1850s the villas of the Shrubbery Estate were built on part of the grounds of Villa Rosa.  An ornamental footbridge was constructed over the access road to the Shrubbery Estate to reconnect the remaining grounds with the house.  This bridge is still in existence today.  Most of the villas were built of local limestone quarried from the Town Quarry nearby.  Bath Stone was used around the doors and windows and for decorative ornamentation.

Shrubbery Ornamental Bridge Weston-super Mare
Ornamental Bridge over Shrubbery Road

The Shrubbery Estate and Villa Rosa had their own well and water tower, which was disguised as an octagonal mock castle with battlements, arrow slit windows and gargoyles.  This building has been converted into a house more recently.

Weston-super-Mare, Shrubbery Water Tower
Water Tower, now a dwelling

Villa Rosa was demolished in the early 1970s and replaced with two blocks of flats.

Grade II listing for Weston railway station

Weston-super-Mare’s railway station has been awarded Grade II listed status by Historic England. Designed by Francis Fox and completed in 1884, Weston’s station was granted the coveted status as part of the Heritage Action Zone (HAZ), a Historic England programme which focuses on supporting the on-going regeneration of the town’s centre and its areas of historic interest.

The station will join other listed town centre buildings such as the Odeon, the Magistrates Court, the Town Hall, Walliscote School, the Grand Pier, the Royal Hotel, Weston Museum and the HSBC building.

Deborah Williams from Historic England said: “We are delighted that the railway station in Weston-super-Mare station has been listed. This iconic building is a good example of a later phase of railway construction, and is interesting because of its role in the development of Weston as a seaside destination.

“Listing highlights what’s special about a building or place, and helps to make sure that any future changes to it take into consideration those special qualities. Listing doesn’t prevent change – in fact, listed buildings can be adapted and altered just like any other building, so that they can continue to be used and enjoyed for future generations.”

Cllr John Crockford-Hawley from North Somerset Council said: “Stations are so important because they are often the first architectural experience visitors have when approaching towns and cities. As a young boy I spent many a happy Saturday morning with friends polishing brass name plates on steam engines at Weston Station so have a rather prejudicial liking for the place and as an historian I’m delighted to see this fine piece of GWR architecture given national recognition.”

Mike Gallop, Director of Route Asset Management at Network Rail, said: “We are delighted Weston-super-Mare has been granted listed status. The new title reflects the iconic building’s impressive architecture and the historical interest in the station.”

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