George Fiott Day V.C. C.B.

George Fiott Day was one of the first recipients of the Victoria Cross.  He was born in Southampton in 1819 or 1820 and joined the Royal Navy as a volunteer in 1833.  The first ship he sailed on was wrecked off the coast of Patagonia in 1835. He then served off the west coast of Africa, followed by six and a half years in the Mediterranean Sea from 1838.  He returned to the coast of Africa for three years from 1845 and then travelled across to the eastern coast of South America. In 1854 he sailed to the Baltic Sea and then to the Mediterranean Sea. 

The Crimean War was in progress when George arrived as a Lieutenant on HMS Recruit in the Black Sea in 1855.  On the night of 17th September 1855 he went ashore alone at Genitchi, Crimea on a reconnaissance mission to check out the batteries, bridge and Russian gunboats on the Arabat Spit in the Sea of Azov.  He had to cross 4 or 5 miles of swampy ground and wade through water, which was knee deep in places, in order to get close enough to see the enemy position.  It was only lightly defended and undermanned.  He decided that a surprise attack would be feasible but when he carried out another reconnaissance mission on the night of 19th September he discovered that the gunboats were fully manned and that the Russians were on the alert.  On this occasion the weather was cold and squally, his mission took much longer and he returned exhausted from it.  The planned attack was called off.  George Fiott Day was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1857 for his reconnaissance missions at Genitchi.  He was promoted to the rank of Commander in November 1855.

George Fiott Day served off Africa again in 1857 and in 1858 he sailed to China.  He married Mary Ruddell-Todd in 1858 and they had three daughters.  He retired due to ill health in 1867 with the rank of Captain.  In 1875 he was appointed Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) by Queen Victoria.  The same year he moved to Weston-super-Mare with his wife and daughters.  He died at the Anchor Head Hotel in Claremont Crescent, Weston-super-Mare on 18th December 1876, aged 56.  He was buried in Milton Road Cemetery in Weston-super-Mare but his grave had no headstone until 2002 when a ceremony was held to unveil one.

Hotel where George Day lived and died
Anchor Head Hotel George Day lived and died on this site
Blue Plaque George Day
Commemorative blue plaque on the Anchor Head Hotel
Gravestone George Fiott Day
George Fiott Day Grave, Milton Cemetary

Vote for your favourite blue plaque

The Weston Mercury are inviting readers to vote for their favourite blue plaque in Weston-super-Mare.  The town’s heritage is being celebrated with 13 blue plaques dedicated to prominent people from the town’s past. The first – for Olympian Paulo Radmilovic – has already been installed by Weston Town Council. But now you have a chance to vote which plaques you would like to see go up next, subject to the agreement of the building’s owner. Simply read the biographies of these 12 people, then vote for your favourites in the poll on the website.

New heritage walk in Clevedon

Marlens have compiled a new walk covering the Clevedon seafront heritage trail.    

The trail begins at the pier’s toll house in Marine Parade and leads walkers to the other side of the seafront, along Poet’s Walk before ending at St Andrew’s Church in Old Church Road. The route also passes a number of interesting and historical landmarks and buildings along the way including the bandstand, Marine Lake and Clevedon Hall.

Littleton Gunpowder Works

Gunpowder was the only explosive available for military use and for blasting in mines and quarries until the mid-19th century.

Production of gunpowder is thought to have begun at Littleton between Winford and Chew Magna in around 1650. The production of gunpowder was hazardous, so the site chosen was away from existing towns and villages but reasonably close to the port of Bristol, to enable the export of the finished product.  The Winford Brook, a tributary of the River Chew, provided a source of power for watermills. There were two other gunpowder mills in Somerset: one at Woolley to the north of Bath and one at Moreton, which now lies beneath Chew Valley Lake.

Gunpowder was produced by mixing saltpetre (potassium nitrate) with sulphur and charcoal.  The saltpetre, which was imported from India by the East India Company, was boiled, drained, washed and crystallised to refine it.  The charcoal and sulphur were boiled and sieved.  Once prepared the three ingredients were mixed, moistened, glazed, pressed and heat dried.  The gunpowder was then packed into 100lb barrels. Most of the gunpowder produced at Littleton was sold in Bristol to merchant and privateer ships or exported via Bristol to Africa and America.  The remainder was sold for use in local mines and quarries and for private uses such as hunting.

At the height of production in the mid-18th century Littleton was the largest gunpowder producer in the South West of England. It had three watermills located in a row between the Winford Brook and a 250 metre long clay lined mill pond, which had been constructed to provide a head of water for the mills.  The three mills were used for different processes:

  1. Crushing – preparing the raw materials
  2. Incorporating – mixing the ingredients
  3. Corning – forming the gunpowder into pellets

A house was built to house the manager of the mill, a terrace of three cottages was built to house the millworkers, a clock tower was erected and other buildings were constructed to store and dry the gunpowder.  There was also a cooperage on site.

In the 1750s the mill at Littleton was owned and operated by five Bristol merchants led by Jeremiah Ames.  In 1755 a fire at the Littleton Gunpowder Mill destroyed most of the buildings but they were later rebuilt. The site was owned by the Strachey family in the second half of the eighteenth century. 

Production of gunpowder at Littleton ceased in the 1820s after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.  The site then became a farm: the manager’s house became the farmhouse, the storage facilities were used as a barn and the watermills fell into ruin. The farmhouse (which is still called Powdermill Farm), barn and the millworkers’ cottages are on private land but can be viewed from the public road to Upper Littleton.

Littleton Powdermill Farm
Powdermill Farm, Littleton
Littleton former Millworkers' cottages,
Millworkers’ cottages, Littleton
Littleton gunpowder storage barn
 Barn formerly used for gunpowder storage on left of photograph

 

Dundry’s Dole Table

Dole tables were stone tables or ledges usually located in church porches and more rarely in churchyards.  From medieval times until the 16th or 17th centuries they were used for settling contracts and the payment of debts, bequests, tithes and church dues.  They were also used to distribute money or bread to the needy of the parish and passing travellers in need of help. Very few dole tables have survived to the present day.  There are three in the historic county of Somerset: at Dundry in North Somerset; Nynehead near Wellington and Oake near Taunton.

Dole Table Dundry Churchyard
Dundry’s dole table

Dundry’s Dole Table is located in the churchyard of St Michael’s Parish Church.  It is a 1.5 metre cube of locally quarried Dundry Stone/Freestone, which is an Inferior Oolite limestone. An alternative theory is that it isn’t a dole table but is a sample of dressed Dundry Stone, which acted as a demonstration of its qualities as a building stone. 

Dundry Stone, which contains many fossils, especially ammonites, was quarried and mined around Dundry for use as a building stone from Roman times until the 1920s.  The quarries are now important wildlife habitats. The ornate tower of Dundry Church was built of Dundry Stone in the 15th century and is said to have been paid for by Bristol’s Society of Merchant Venturers. The church is on the top of a hill and the tower can be seen from most parts of Bristol and it also acted as a landmark for ships sailing up the Bristol Channel.

Dundry Stone was also used in the building of St Thomas’s and St Mary Redcliffe Churches in Bristol; Cardiff Castle and Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff; Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin and other parish churches across Ireland.

Church Dundry Village
Dundry Church
Top of Dundry Church Tower
Dundry Church Tower

Denny Island

Denny Island is a small rocky island in the middle of the Bristol Channel, three miles north of Portishead and halfway between Avonmouth and Redwick near Newport.  It lies at the southern end of the Bedwin Sands.  These are part of a huge complex of sandbanks collectively known as the Welsh Grounds, which are exposed at low tide. The boundary between England and Wales runs along the southern foreshore of the island, which is located in Monmouthshire for administrative purposes.

In 1373 Edward III granted a charter to Bristol, which made it a county of its own separate from Somerset or Gloucestershire.  Denny Island is referred to in the charter as Dunye.  This may mean that the name meant “island shaped like a hill” in Old English.

Denny Island has an area of 0.24 hectares and is covered in scrub vegetation. It becomes much larger at low tide, due to the Bristol Channel having the second highest tidal range in the world.  Strong tidal currents and the danger of quicksand on a rising tide make the island almost impossible to land on.

The island provides a roost for seabirds.  Small colonies of cormorants and great black backed gulls and a few pairs of rock pipits nest on the island.

View of Denny Island
Denny Island, Bristol Channel from Portishead

Talks for 2017

The Weston-Super-Mare Archaeological and Natural History Society (WAHNS) plan to host some new talks this spring for members and non-members. Recommended to check with the group before attending.

Tuesday 11th April 2017: “The Archaeology of Cross Rail, Western Section”
Vix Hughes, Project Officer, Oxford Archaeology.

Tuesday 9th May 2017: “Rock End and the lost cottages of Cheddar”
Susan Shaw, Somerset Vernacular Buildings Research Group.

Meetings will be held at Victoria Methodist Church Hall, Station Road,  Weston-Super-Mare, BS23 1XU
Doors open at 7.00pm for a 7.30pm start.  Parking behind church after 7pm.
Refreshments are free and will be served during the meetings.
Members £1, visitors £2.50.

John Locke

John Locke is regarded as possibly the most influential English language philosopher and political theorist. His works lie at the foundation of modern philosophical empiricism and political liberalism.  His ideas had an influence on the development of many important psychological concepts and provided inspiration for the European Age of Enlightenment and the Constitution of the United States.

John Locke was born in the village of Wrington on 29th August 1632 and baptised the same day in All Saints Church.  He probably spent his childhood in the hamlet of Belluton near Pensford. Locke attended Westminster School and Christ Church College, Oxford where he studied, among other things, medicine and later became a tutor at the University.  In 1666 he met Anthony Ashley-Cooper, later the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, who became his friend and patron. Locke became Shaftesbury’s aide and personal physician.  In 1675 Locke travelled to France for health reasons and because his personal safety was threatened, as Shaftesbury had lost favour with King Charles II.  He lived in France until 1679.  While he was there he studied the work of various French philosophers.

After trying unsuccessfully to exclude the Catholic James II from becoming king after Charles II, Shaftesbury fled to exile in the Netherlands in 1682 where he died the following year.  Locke travelled to the Netherlands in 1683 and stayed there until after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when King James II was overthrown in favour of the Protestant William of Orange and his wife Mary.  When Locke returned to England in 1689 he made his home with the family of his close friend Damaris Masham at High Laver in Essex and lived there until his death on 28th October 1704.  He is buried in the churchyard of All Saints Church, High Laver.

John Locke’s major works were Letters concerning Toleration (1689, 1690 and 1692), Two Treatises of Government (1689), An Essay concerning Human Understanding (1690); Some Thoughts concerning Education (1693) and The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695).

South Porch Wrington Church
 Bust of John Locke in the South Porch of All Saints Church, Wrington
John Locke site of birthplace
Stone in Wrington churchyard marking the site where the house in which John Locke was born once stood. It was demolished in the 19th Century
John Locke's obituary
John Locke wrote his own obituary, which was originally located above his grave, but was later moved inside High Laver Church to preserve it
Grave. John Locke, in Essex
John Locke Grave, All Saints Church, High Laver Essex
Plaque on John Locke's Grave
Plaque above John Locke’s grave acknowledging his contribution to the Constitution of the United States of America

Windmills

Windmills

 At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 there were about 370 mills in Somerset but these were all water powered or driven by animals. The earliest reference to a windmill in Somerset was at Seavington near Ilminster in around 1212.  References to windmills became more common from the 13th century onwards.  Many of the early windmills were erected on land which belonged to Glastonbury Abbey e.g. the Polden Hills, which had good soil for growing corn. 

The earliest windmills were post mills.  These continued to be used until the 19th century.  Post mills consist of a timber body containing the machinery and carrying the sails, which pivots around a single massive vertical timber post, so that the sails can be turned to face the wind. The post is held in position by 4 diagonal quarter bars, which are in turn fixed to 2 timbers known as cross trees at ground level.   Post mills were often set upon specially constructed artificial mounds or sometimes made use of existing round barrows (ancient burial mounds).

In the 16th century the power of the abbeys and manors began to decline and many windmills were abandoned.  By the early 18th century tower mills were replacing post mills in Somerset.  They were more stable than post mills and also had more storage and working space in them.  In a tower mill only the cap and sails had to be turned to face the wind.  In many cases the tower mills were built on sites that had previously been occupied by post mills.  No post mills have survived anywhere in Somerset and no windmills remain intact in North Somerset.

Many of Somerset’s windmills ceased to be used by the mid-19th century. After the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, cheap grain imports from the Americas flooded the market and prices dropped.  Imported grain was milled close to the ports where it arrived in the country. The decline in Somerset’s windmills was accelerated by a move away from arable to pasture and a series of bad harvests in the 1870s. 

The truncated remains of seven windmills still exist in North Somerset: at Portishead, Uphill, Worlebury Hill, Locking, Felton, Brockley Wood and Hutton.  There is also a replica windmill tower at Kenn.

Windmill at Uphill Hill

Uphill Hill

The windmill on Uphill Hill was probably built in the 1780s.  It was derelict by 1829.  The tower was rebuilt with a castellated top and internal spiral staircase in 1934 so it could be used as an observation tower.  It is still in use for this purpose.

Windmill, Portishead

Windmill, Portishead

Portishead Windmill

Portishead Windmill was built by John Nesbitt in 1832.  However it had stopped working by 1846 because it was unable to compete with a steam driven mill in the town.  Around 1848 the machinery was removed and the mill tower was converted into additional living accommodation for the tenants of Mill Cottage.  When a golf course was laid out around it in 1908 the tower was incorporated into the clubhouse.  It is currently an integral part of the Windmill Inn public house.

Observatory on Worlebury Hill

The Observatory on Worlebury Hill

A windmill was first recorded at the east end of Worlebury Hill in 1760.  In 1870 an advertisement was placed for the sale or rent of the windmill and its associated bakery business.  However it was converted into an observatory not long after and a parapet was added.

Replica Windmill at Kenn

Replica windmill at Kenn

 A three storey windmill with a thatched cap was built at Kenn in 1821.  By around 1883 wind power was being supplemented by a steam engine.  The windmill had stopped working by 1900.  It was used as a Home Guard lookout during the Second World War.  The ruined tower survived until 2003 when it was demolished during the building of Kenn Business Park.  A replica mill tower was built on Windmill Road.

It is not known when Brockley Wood Windmill was built but it was in ruins by 1829.  Part of the tower is still standing deep in the heart of Brockley Woods.

Vale Mill at Locking

Vale Mill, Locking

Vale Mill on Moor Lane at Locking was built in around 1813. The windmill stopped working between 1906 and 1910.  It stood empty but intact until it was gutted by fire in 1962.  It remained derelict until the late 1960s when it was incorporated into a new house.

Hutton Windmill was probably built in the early 19th century.  It had stopped working by 1864 and was derelict by the 1920s.  It was rebuilt and used a Royal Observer Corps Post during the Second World War.  It is now located in the garden of a private house on Windmill Hill.

Broadfield Windmill Felton

Broadfield Mill, Felton

Broadfield Mill on Felton Common was located on the top of a hill, 190 metres above sea level.  It is not known when it was built but it ceased to work late in the 1880s and was converted into a house soon afterwards.

Further reading:

Windmills of Somerset and the Men who Worked Them: Alfred J. Coulthard and Martin Watts. The Research Publishing Co., 1978.

 Somerset Windmills: Martin Watts. Agraphicus, 1975