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Weston Super Mare - Updated Facts And Figures

With settlements in Weston dating as far back as the Iron Age (and in all probability even further back than this), it was really the 19th century that saw Weston grow from a tiny village of about 100 or so inhabitants to a thriving Victorian seaside resort of nearly 20,000 people. How and why this occurred is really down to the local businessmen and entrepreneurs of the time whose vision for a sleepy seaside town turned Weston into the bustling resort it is today.

The name Weston is made up of two Old English or Saxon words meaning the west tun or settlement. Because there are several places called Weston in Somerset descriptions were added to tell them apart. What is unusual about Weston-super-Mare is that the descriptive part of its name has remained in medieval Latin. Super (with small s) means on or above, and mare is Latin for sea.

By the middle of the 18th century, doctors began to extol the virtues of drinking, and bathing in seawater. King George III tried it at Weymouth in 1789 and so set the fashion. For residents of Bristol and Bath, Weston was the nearest coastal village within easy reach of a road. It also offered the, at that time, popular attractions of a romantic and windswept rural aspect.

During the 18th century most people bathed naked. For this reason the sheltered and secluded cove at Anchor Head was chosen as Weston’s first bathing place for ladies whilst gentlemen often just stripped on the sands and ran down to the water. As modesty prevailed the bathing machine was invented. This was a hut on wheels. The bather entered and, as the machine was drawn down to the sea by a horse, they changed into a bathing dress. They were then able to descend the steps directly into the water, unseen from the beach.

Weston’s first guidebook for visitors was written in 1822. It paints a vivid portrait of the village at that time. The population was then 735. One hotel, two inns and a number of lodging houses catered for visitors. There was a Methodist chapel, in addition to the parish church and a post office. Weston was described as a "penny post from Bristol", the letters being brought by carrier every evening from May to November and every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning during the winter. There was little organised entertainment - a billiard table, a reading room and two pleasure boats for hire. Visitors would have read, sketched, walked and conversed. Dances would have been held at the Assembly Rooms. In September 1830 Dr Edward Long Fox of Bristol purchased Knightstone. This doctor was a pioneer in the humane treatment of the insane and a lot of development took place on the island, including an exercise courtyard for patients and a new elegant bath house. This fine building survives today.

Brunel’s Bristol & Exeter Railway reached Weston in 1841. The first station was at the end of a single branch line, where the famous floral clock is now. This left the main line at Weston Junction, the trains initially being drawn by horses as the residents were not too keen on having noisy and smelly steam engines in their growing town. In 1866 a new larger station was built, with a separate goods station nearby. It was, however, still a terminus on a branch line, albeit with a double track.

Birnbeck Pier was completed in 1867. The visitors now had further space to walk and take the air. The town grew, with villas, estates and boulevards. There were drives and walks through Weston Woods, planted on Weston Hill by the lord of the manor in the 1820s as a private game reserve, and from the top it was possible to enjoy splendid vistas as far as Exmoor and Wales.

Local traders were not happy about the fact that many thousands of trippers arriving by steamer from Wales never reached the town centre because there was so much to do on Birnbeck Pier. In 1890 the pier offered a theatre of wonders, alpine railway, shooting gallery, park swings, merry go round, tea and coffee rooms, bar, bandstand, photographic studios, switchback, waterchute, flying machine, helter skelter, maze, bioscope, cake walk and zigzag slide. On an average August Bank Holiday 15,000 passengers would arrive on the steamers! 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.

By the late 1960s foreign holiday destinations had become easier and less expensive to reach. All British seaside resorts faced a difficult period Weston was no exception but despite this, it has weathered the storms and still proves to be a magnet to holidaymakers looking for the more traditional type of vacation.

In 2008 fire took hold of the Grand Pier with most of the structure being burnt to the ground. Under the ownership of the Michael family, the decision to rebuild was met with huge approval and support and after what seemed like a lifetime, the new structure was opened to the general public on October 23rd 2010.

With the pier and other attractions like the Playhouse and Winter Gardens and Seaquarium and the welcome recent addition of the Weston Wheel, the future is more than hopeful. Weston still retains much of its original charm. There are still the lines of limestone houses, the beautiful parks, and the piers and of course the sands. Nowadays, people often take several short holidays a year and the town has adapted to meet those needs. With the current population standing at approximately 71,000 it’s clear that this fine resort, which has adapted accordingly to the times has a bright future ahead.

Famous sons and daughters.

Famous and Interesting People born in Weston Super Mare or resided in the area- including The Good, the Bad and the downright naughty include;

Jeffery Archer, Barron Archer of Weston Super Mare born Weston on the 15th April 1940, disgraced MP and author- His political career ended after an indictment for perjury

Ritchie Blackmore, born 14 April 1945 in Weston Super Mare guitarist (played with such bands as the Outlaws and Screaming Lord Sutch)

John Cleese, born October 27, 1939 in Weston Super Mare the man who famously brought us ’Faulty Towers’, renowned comedy group Monty Python. Films such as A Fish called Wonda’ Actor, James Bond and a comedian extraordinaire.

Mandy Miller,actress born July 23, 1944 in Weston-super-Mare- numerous film roles but well remember for her part playing a deaf child whose parents (played by Jack Hawkins and Phyllis Calvert) diden’t know how to cope with raising her

John Polkinghorne born October 16, 1930 Weston Super Mare, one of the greatest living writers and thinkers on science and religion: a truly world-class scientist turned priest,

Rupert Graves, born 30 June 1963 in Weston Super Mare, first entered the entertainment business by becoming a clown at the age of 15 then went into acting and was known for his costume drama adaptations and other films

Portishead well known pop band who came from and called themselves by their town, ’Portishead’ which is between Bristol and Weston Super Mare

Jill Dando Born 9 November 1961 - 26 April 1999 in Weston Super mare, a well known TV Presenter, Jill was murdered in April 1999, and police mounted a high-profile hunt for her killer. The Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science is named after her in recognition of her contribution to the fight against crime. A memorial garden was designed by the BBC Ground Force team in her memory and can be found at Grove Park in the centre of Weston-super-Mare

The hollywood star Deborah Kerr although born in Sctoland lived for a short time with her Grandparents in thier home in Weston where she attended Rosshulme, a private girl’s school in nearby East Brent.

Con O’Neill born 1966), born in Weston Super Mare (actor) nominated for Broadway’s 1993 Tony Award as Best Actor (Musical) for Blood Brothers.

Roald Dahl, Author Born in Llandaf Wales 13 September 1916 - 23 November 1990) He finished his education at St Peters Board School boarding school in Weston Roald attended St. Peter’s-Many of his stories, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach, have become classics in their own time.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel 1806-1859. He and his family lived in Weston, at Swiss Villa (eastern corner of Alexandra Parade and Swiss Road), for a number of months whilst he was supervising the construction of the Bristol and Exeter Railway

Dates for the diary

T4 on the beach. Since 2006 this one day open air pop concert brings well known faces from the music world to the town in a celebration of music and dance.

Weston carnival. Held on a Monday in November every year, the Weston carnival is one of the largest and best attended, attracting crowds of 100,000.

The Weston beach bike race. Held at the end of the summer each year, this motorcycle race grows in stature each year with young hopefuls travelling from all over the world to take part.

And finally…. Homage to the town was paid by local west country singing legends the Wurzels in their song "Sunny Weston Super Mare". Time to check it out perhaps…