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South West Weston-super-Mare

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On the Bristol Channel, this is a popular seaside resort with promenade, gardens, long expanse of sandy beach, donkeys, Grand Pier and a big wheel. It is everyone’s idea of a seaside holiday.

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Mind you, with the second highest tidal rise in the world, the sea does go out a very long way, leaving a large expanse of thick mud which is dangerous to walk across, and the reason for the Marine Lake.

The name Weston is made up of two Saxon words meaning the west tun or settlement. Because there are several places called Weston in Somerset, descriptions were added to tell them apart.

The area has been settled since the stone age and flint tools have been found. Worlebury Hill overlooking the town is site of possibly the largest and most important hillfort in Britain with three Bronze Age ditches and seven Iron Age Valla (wall and ditch).

There is evidence of Roman settlement and they may have had a port at Uphill exporting for lead from local mines.

Weston was a small fishing village, slightly inland from the shore in the area around High Street. The sand dunes gave some protection against flooding, which was a problem along low lying stretches of the coast. Flagstaff Hill, to the north was used as a navigation point for passing ships. During the C18th and C19th it was also used by the coastguard to signal the revenue cutter to try and cut down on smuggling. 



The Napoleonic Wars put paid to the ‘Grand Tour of Europe’ and led to a new interest in exploring the English Countryside. The benefits of medicinal bathing were becoming increasingly popular after George III first tried in in Weymouth in 1789. Doctors from Bath and Bristol sent wealthy patients to Weston for ‘The Cure’. Lodging houses opened to meet the demand, followed by hotels, with the Royal Hotel being opened in 1810.

More hotels were soon built along the sea front, followed by terraces of houses designed to be let to a family plus their servants of anything up to a rent of six guineas a week.

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Howe’s Baths were built on Kightstone Island in 1820, with bathers being ferried across by local boatmen.

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Later the low causeway was built to allow easier access. Lodgings were built for invalids as well as a refreshment room and reading room.

The railway arrived in 1841 and the area grew rapidly with crescents, terraces and elegant rows of villas, all built from limestone quarried from the slopes of Worlebury Hill.

The impressive Town Hall was built in 1859.

With cheaper and better train service and better wages, the lower and middle classes descended in their droves for the day or weekend. They demanded fun and games rather than sedate promenades. The sea front promenade was extended with gardens, pavilions and shelters. Bandstands and amusement parks appeared. Prince Consort Gardens were opened on Flagstone Hill in 1863

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Birbeck Pier opened in 1867. An additional pier with a landing jetty was built beyond the island for pleasure steamers bringing day trippers. Many visitors never left the pier as Birbeck Island had cafes, pavilion, amusements and fun fair. On an average August Bank Holiday 15,000 passengers would arrive on the steamers.

The Pavilion was built on Knightstone Island in 1902 to provide refreshment rooms, billiard room, reading room and a theatre.

Local traders were not happy that many thousands of trippers arriving by steamer at Birkbeck Pier but never reached the town centre. It was decided to build another pier closer to the town centre and, in 1904, the Grand Pier opened. Instead of amusements, this pier had a large theatre offering all the top music hall stars of the day. Although originally built for steamer traffic, it was seldom used due to difficult currents around the structure. It soon became amusement centre for the crowds of holiday makers. An electric tram ran along the sea front between the two.

Marine Lake was created 1920 by damming Glentworth Bay with a new causeway. This provided safe sea water swimming and the tide was always in. This was initially equipped with diving stage, rafts, water shutes, rubber boats and children’s paddle boats. There were bathing tents and dressing enclosures.

The Winter Gardens and Pavilion opened in 1927.

Weston Airfield opened in 1936 and many South Wales miners flew over to Weston on their days off.

The Tropicana opened to the south of the Grand Pier as an open air swimming pool in 1937. At the time it was the largest open air swimming pool in Europe with an art deco diving board.


Now, the steamers no longer arrive and Birbeck Pier is now derelict, although there are plans to restore it.

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The Grand Pier burnt down in 2008 and has been replaced by the new pier.

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The bath house and pavilion on Knightstone has been redeveloped with commercial premises and new homes.

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Tropicana is now an arts and culture hub with live music, theatre, comedy, funfairs and circus by the sea.

Marine Lake became filled with silt over the years and and was no longer suitable for swimming in. It is is being dredged and hopefully reopening in summer 2022.

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There is plenty to do in Weston-super-Mare. Other attractions include the Helicopter Museum, based in a corner of the now disused Weston airport. Weston Museum covers the history of the area from prehistoric times and has a cafe. There is The Playhouse and the Blakehay Theatre.

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