Tag Archives: Portishead

Battery Point Lighthouse, Portishead

Battery Point Lighthouse was built in 1931 by Chance Brothers of Smethwick on a rocky promontory on the north west edge of Portishead.  The deep water channel known as King Road passes very close to the coast at this point.  The lighthouse, which is also known as Portishead Point Lighthouse, is nine metres tall and consists of a black metal pyramid on a square concrete base.  The lighthouse is maintained by Bristol Port Company.  In 1999 they announced that they wanted to demolish the lighthouse and replace it with a modern navigational aid.  After a campaign by local residents, they agreed to build a replica of the original lighthouse.

close up Battery Point Lighthouse
Battery Point Lighthouse close up
Lighthouse Battery Point
Battery Point Lighthouse
Lighthouse Battery Point
A container ship passing Battery Point

A two tonne bronze fog signal bell was installed at Battery Point Lighthouse in 1939.  It was removed c1998.  It was found in a warehouse owned by Bristol Port Company in Avonmouth in 2010.  After a campaign by local residents, it was acquired by Portishead Town Council in 2012.  It was restored and re-sited on Wyndham Way in 2013.

Wyndham Way Battery Point Bell
Battery Point Bell on Wyndham Way

There is a Merchant Navy Memorial close to Battery Point Lighthouse with a brass plaque attached to it.  The words on the plaque are as follows: “This stone is situated here at Battery Point, the closest place on the coast of the United Kingdom which large ships pass.  It is dedicated to seafarers of the West Country who, since the Middle Ages, on voyages of discovery and in times of peace and war, have passed this point, some never to return. “Oh hear us when we cry to thee, for those in peril on the sea.”  Erected by the Merchant Navy Association North Somerset Branch, 2005”.

Battery Point Merchant Navy Memorial
Merchant Navy Memorial at Battery Point

Frederic Weatherly – Songwriter

Frederick Edward Weatherly, songwriter and barrister, was born at 7 Wood Hill (now 63 Woodhill Road) in Portishead on 4th October 1848.  He was educated at Hereford Cathedral School and Oxford University.  After graduating he remained at Oxford and worked as a teacher.  In December 1872 he married Anna Maria Hardwick in Worle and they had a son and two daughters.  They later separated and he lived with Maude Francfort for many years. 

At some point in his adult life Frederick dropped the k from the end of his name and became Frederic.  In 1887 he left teaching to qualify as a barrister in London. In 1893 he joined the western circuit and moved to Clifton, Bristol.  In 1900 he moved to Bath where he continued to work as a barrister. Frederic’s wife Anna died in 1920.  Maude Francfort died in 1923 and later the same year Frederic married a widow, Mrs Miriam Bryan.  He died in Bathwick on 7th September 1929 after a short illness and was buried at Bathwick Cemetery.

Frederic Weatherly published his first song lyrics, poems, two novels, many children’s books, and librettos for cantatas and oratorios while he was living in Oxford.  He went on to write the words to many of the most popular songs in the English-speaking world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  His songs were performed by the leading singers of the time.  He also translated several Italian and French operas into English.

Frederic Weatherly claimed to have published more than 1,500 songs in total. Dozens of them were extremely popular in his lifetime, and several of them, including Nancy Lee (1876), The Holy City (1892), Danny Boy (1912) set to the tune of ‘Londonderry Air’, and Roses of Picardy (1916) remained popular after his death.

Portishead, 63 Woodhill Road
63 Woodhill Road, Portishead
Plaque, 63 Woodhill Road
Commemorative plaque on the front of 63 Woodhill Road, Portishead
Portishead, Weatherly Drive
Weatherly Drive, Portishead

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



 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


Royal Observer Corps Monitoring Posts

The Observer Corps was set up in 1925 but had its roots in the First World War.  The need for an organised early warning system was recognised when the Germans started aerial bombing raids on southern England using Zeppelin airships in 1915. A network of observers stationed at strategic locations was set up.

During the 1930s the number of observation posts was greatly increased until by 1939 the whole of Britain was covered by the network. During the Battle of Britain in 1940 the Corps plotted the positions of German aircraft and passed the information to the RAF.  To recognise the value of this work, on 9th April 1941 King George VI conferred the title Royal on the Observer Corps.  Women were allowed to join the ROC from July 1941.

From 1940-42 a network of 150 satellite posts was established to improve coverage along the south and east coasts of Britain as far north as Dundee and on the coasts of Lancashire and Cheshire.  Some of these posts were manned by the ROC but most were manned by the RAF, coastguards or Anti-Aircraft Command.

The ROC was temporarily stood down on 12th May 1945 but was reactivated in 1947 in response to post war threats from the Soviet Bloc. In 1955 the ROC was given responsibility for giving warning of air attacks in a future war and to measure radioactivity levels in the event of a nuclear attack. The above ground monitoring posts offered little protection from radioactivity.  Therefore a programme of works was developed to build a network of underground posts.  By 1964 1,563 underground posts had been constructed across the UK.  They were designed to provide satisfactory blast protection and to be able to be used self-sufficiently for a number of weeks if a nuclear attack on the UK had occurred. 

Cuts in defence spending reduced the number of ROC posts to 873 in 1968. With the final end to the Cold War and more cuts in defence spending the ROC was finally stood down on 30th September 1991.

In North Somerset ROC Underground Monitoring Posts were located at Long Ashton, Portishead, Clevedon, Bleadon and Winscombe.  The Winscombe and Clevedon posts have been demolished.  Remains of the Portishead and Bleadon posts can be seen from public rights of way. The Long Ashton post may still exist but it is not on a public right of way. 

Bleadon’s ROC Monitoring Post is now in the middle of a new golf course on the top of Bleadon Hill. It was built in 1959 and used until 1991. The access and ventilation shafts are both visible from a public footpath, which runs northwards from Roman Road. Grid reference: ST345 579

 Remains of Bleadon ROC Monitoring Post

The very overgrown and truncated remains of the access shaft of Portishead ROC Monitoring Post can be seen in a small area of waste land on the south side of Down Road.  It was built in 1964 but closed down in 1968. Grid reference: ST448 759

Remains of Portishead ROC Monitoring Post

A comprehensive survey of the remains of all the ROC Monitoring Posts in the United Kingdom can be found on the Subterranea Britannica website: http://www.subbrit.org.uk/category/nuclear-monitoring-posts

A comprehensive history of the Royal Observer Corps can be found on the Royal Observer Corps Association’s website: http://www.roc-heritage.co.uk/roc-history.html

Further Reading:

Attack Warning Red: The Royal Observer Corps and the Defence of Britain 1925 to 1992: Derek Wood.  Macdonald and Jane’s Publishers Limited, 1992

International Marconi Day Saturday 23 April.

Saturday 23rd April 2016 is International Marconi Day. This is a 24 hour amateur radio event, which is held annually to celebrate the birth of Guglielmo Marconi on 25th April 1874. The event is usually held on the Saturday closest to Marconi’s birthday.

Guglielmo Marconi was born in Bologna, Italy. His father Giuseppe Marconi was Italian but his mother Annie Jameson came from County Wexford in Ireland.  As a boy he was very interested in physical and electrical science and in 1895 he succeeded in sending wireless signals over a distance of 1.5 miles on his father’s estate at Pontecchio near Bologna.

In 1896 Marconi brought his equipment to England because the Italian government was not interested in his work.  He was introduced to Sir William Preece, who was Chief Engineer at the Post Office.  In the same year he was granted the world’s first patent for a system of wireless telegraphy.  He demonstrated his system successfully in London and on Salisbury Plain.

On 13th May 1897 Marconi and his assistant George Kemp successfully transmitted long wave wireless messages between Lavernock Point on the coast of South East Wales and Flat Holm Island in the Bristol Channel, a distance of 3 miles. These were the first ever wireless messages to travel over open water.  On 18th May 1897 they succeeded in transmitting wireless messages from Lavernock Point across the Bristol Channel to Brean Down, a distance of nearly 9 miles.

Marconi Monument on Flat Holm


Brean Down 

In July 1897 Marconi formed the Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company Limited This was re-named Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company Limited in 1900.

In 1899 Marconi established wireless communication between France and England across the English Channel. In December 1901, in order to prove that wireless waves are not affected by the curvature of the Earth, Marconi transmitted the first wireless signals across the Atlantic between Poldhu in Cornwall and St. John’s in Newfoundland, Canada – a distance of 2100 miles.  In 1907 he opened the world’s first commercial transatlantic wireless telegraph service between Glace Bay in Nova Scotia and Clifden in County Galway, Ireland.

In 1909 Marconi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics jointly with German physicist Ferdinand Braun, “in recognition of their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy”.  He served in the Italian Army during the First World War and during this time and afterwards he continued his experiments into short wave wireless communication. In 1923 he successfully conducted trials between Poldu in Cornwall and his yacht Elettra, which was cruising in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea over 1,400 miles away.  This began the development of shortwave wireless communication, which is the basis of most modern long-distance radio communication. In 1924 Marconi’s company obtained a contract from the Post Office to establish shortwave communication between England and the countries of the British Empire.

In the 1930s Marconi conducted experiments in Italy using microwaves and in 1935 he gave a practical demonstration in Italy of the principles of radar.  He died at his home in Rome on 20th July 1937 following a series of heart attacks.

Guglielmo Marconi’s achievements are commemorated by numerous monuments and plaques in various locations around the UK where he lived, worked and conducted experiments.  He has at least 26 roads named after him in Great Britain, including ones in Weston-super-Mare, Portishead, Highbridge and Penarth.

Marconi Road, Portishead


Plaque in the Italian Gardens, Weston-super-Mare

Further Reading:

Marconi: A Biography: W.P. Jolly.  Constable, 1972

My Father, Marconi: Degna Marconi.  Frederick Muller, 1962